How to Soar Through Blackwater Wildlife Refuge? On a Bike!

Here’s a cycling route circling the marshes and waterways that make up the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. You’ll feel like you’re soaring on the bike just like the eagles and other birds cruising the sky above you.


The Ride

  • The circular route is 25 miles
  • Off-shoots can add up to 75 miles

Difficulty

  • Moderate
  • Flat, but constant peddling plus any wind makes it challenging

The Payoff

  • Riding through beautiful vast marsh wilderness

Highlights

  • Harriet Tubman Museum – the starting point on this route
  • Asphalt roads – some with shoulder, mostly without but light vehicle traffic
  • Side roads – several lanes you can take to shorten the ride
  • Cell phone coverage gets sketchy in parts
  • No towns along the way – only remains of former towns; it’s all rural
  • Riding at water level – expect to ride through water on the road in sections if there’s been a good rain



Route Overview

Blackwater is constantly changing moods with weather and time of the year.

It’s always beautiful.

The cycling route through Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge takes you through 29,000 acres of tidal marsh, hardwood and pine forest, freshwater wetlands and past a bit of cropland.



You. The Road. And the Marshes.

The route goes along asphalt highways marked with a yellow center line as well as narrow country lanes without any shoulders. Some of the roads can be rumbly.

Road bikes will get you through faster, but you’ll be more comfortable with a hybrid or gravel bike.

Typical lane with no shoulder

Also, check the wind forecast if you’re taking a road bike. Wind sweeps across those marshes and can be challenging to stay balanced on a light road bike. I rode with a friend on an e-bike who loved the route despite the wind.

Roads are not busy with vehicle traffic and local residents are used to dealing with cyclists. A pickup truck may zoom by but it’s not bad for the most part.

Stock up on water and nutrition. There are no stores or restaurants to stop in along the way.



Route Details


The refuge has a visitors center with parking, open Tuesday through Sunday. There are a also a couple park-and-hike/ride lots on the route.

We parked at the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Museum (4068 Golden Hill Road, Church Creek, MD). It’s a large lot and the museum has public restrooms. The museum is also a great place to walk through.

Leaving the museum entrance, go right or left. Just remember which way you went — clockwise or counterclockwise. You’ll need to remember that you’re turning constantly to the right or left. It’s easy to get confused.

While I’ve ridden through Blackwater several times, I decided to follow the wildlife refuge cycling map from their website. It’s a PDF and not interactive. It doesn’t contain small roads and the road names switch without notice.


NOTE: the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge cycling map also contains a 20 mile loop along the farmland between Cambridge, MD, and the refuge. The highways have wide shoulders for farm equipment. The 20-mile loop is a great addition for people who want 45-50 miles. If you want a short ride, go with the 25 mile loop. It’s so much more scenic.

What’s Around the Loop?

The western side of the loop is marshes with a few private residences build on land that’s barely higher than the water.

At the south end of the loop, you’ll ride past Gootee’s Marina skirting the Honga River. There’s a bit of farmland along the southern side, but you’ll curve back into marshland.

I was stopping to take pictures when a couple from Philadelphia caught up with us. We kept together for a bit, but where Andrews Road turns into Maple Dam Road, we took a wrong turn.

The couple insisted that we had to turn right. Yup, we went along.

This is on Andrews Road. It turns into Maple Dam Road after that intersection.

They’d lost track of which direction we were going and misplaced where they actually were on the map.

That’s the off-shoot you’ll notice on the Ride With GPS map.

However, that road takes you to Hooper Straight Sanctuary and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s environmental university. An interesting and scenic route extender.



Going around the eastern side of the circle takes you past Blackwater Adventure Chesapeake Bay, a boat and bike rental place that lively in the summers. Closed in the late fall and winter.

Most of the road along this section is along a slightly raised causeway, but not all of it.

You cycle past freshwater marsh ponds that rise up with high tide and lots of rain.

We went through several flooded sections but the water was only a couple inches deep at its highest.

This is also where you’ll be cycling at water level and really feel like you’re part of the marshland. Trees are far away in the distance.

The main route is the one suggested by the park. There’s an alternative route at the top of the circle that is a bit more scenic, but will also add about a quarter of a mile to the ride.

Instead of riding on Key Wallace Drive past the wildlife refuge visitor center, turn onto Wildlife Drive. It’s the one-way drive recommended for car tours of the park.

Wildlife Drive alternative route

What Else to Know

This is a great ride. Can’t help but feel happy afterward.

The Bay Journal’s Kate Livie also wrote about cycling Blackwater.

Keep in mind that there’s very little shade along this route. On hot days, it’s really hot.

And, it can be a buggy ride in the spring and summer because of all the marshes. But if you keep riding, and the stops short, you’ll get through just fine. A bit of wind also helps push them along. Bugs seem to go elsewhere in the fall and winter.

Also, there are several century rides starting in the spring and throughout the summer that go through Blackwater. Those are a fun way to experience it with other people and have folks watching out for cyclists.

Enjoy your peddling!



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