Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), located on Maryland's Eastern Shore, attracts a vast number of waterfowl to model Chesapeake Bay tidal wetlands. While primarily a tidal marsh, the refuge also includes a mature pine forest. 

The NWR preserves over 26,000 acres as a wintering area for vast numbers of migratory birds. The most notable bird species that attracts birders from states away are the tundra swans that can be seen by the thousands in the winter months. Visit the Wildlife Reguge's website to see a month, by month calendar of wildlife species that can be seen on the property. 

Blackwater also serves as a haven for several threatened or endangered species, including one of the largest concentrations of nesting bald eagles along the Atlantic Coast.

Before its designation as a Refuge, the marshland along Blackwater River was managed as a fur farm. Muskrats were the primary species trapped. Most of the wood-lands, including islands, had been timbered. Remains of old drainage ditches and furrows which crisscross in some existing woods indicate past agricultural use.

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Image Credit: Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge - Michael Land Photography



  • Monday - Friday: 8:00 - 4:00
  • Saturday - Sunday: 9:00 - 5:00

Wildlife Drive

  • Open daily dawn until dusk

Visitor center

  • Monday - Friday: 8:00 - 4:00
  • Saturday - Sunday: 9:00 - 5:00

(Note: Many places fill to capacity on busy, nice weather days, especially holiday weekends. Please call ahead or visit the official website to get the most up-to-date information before visiting.)


Wildlife Drive

  • $3 per vehicle
  • $1 per pedestrian or bicyclist

A daily permit is required for all visitors to the Wildlife Drive unless they possess an annual pass, lifetime passport, or current Duck Stamp.


  • Wildlife drives
  • Nature walks (wheelchair accessible)
  • Birdwatching
  • Fishing
  • Hunting
  • Crabbing

The Friends of Blackwater hold their "Spring Fling" in May with special demonstrations and exhibits and discount prices on books and gift store items. The Friends also sponsor a refuge open house each December.

Additionally, the staff and volunteers offer educational programs that can be modified to meet the needs of teachers and students including: refuge orientation, guided tours of wildlife drive, visitor center tours, habitat explorations, mobile exhibits, assistance to scouts, educational videos.


The landscapes at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge look much like they did in the early 1600s when Captain John Smith and his crew explored the Chesapeake region.  Smith’s only clue that a town was nearby would have been the smell or sight of smoke.  Some of refuge’s fields and forest groves could have been the setting for an American Indian village.  The homes in these towns were covered with bark or reed mats. In winter, they blended in with the surrounding deciduous trees and shrubs. In summer, foliage hid the communities from view.

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge is celebrating the life and history of Harriet Tubman, whose heroic actions helped many slaves escape to freedom on the Underground Railroad.  Now a sanctuary for migratory birds, areas of Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge were once part of the landscape where Harriet Tubman was born and raised. The refuge is situated in Dorchester County on the Eastern Shore of Maryland where Tubman was born in 1822. The natural habitats of the refuge, wetlands, waterways, swamps, and upland forests, are representative of the landscape that Tubman experienced and grew up in.  Tubman’s experiences in this region put her in situations in which she developed a familiarity and understanding of the natural landscape that she was able to later draw on during her escapes.


Last updated: March 23, 2022
Bay Gateways Captain John Smith Chesapeake Trail