The Jug Bay Natural Area of Patuxent River Park provides some of the best birding in Maryland. More than 250 species have been recorded here, more than 100 of those confirmed as nesting. The marshes boast one of the largest stands of wild rice in Maryland, attracting large numbers of migrating Sora Rails and waterfowl in the early fall.
Jug Bay's 350 acres of water are very shallow...only about a foot deep beyond the river channel. The valley through which the Patuxent flows here is actually no wider than the valley immediately upstream or downstream, but it has spread out over its floodplain, a marsh nestled between low river terraces. Other activities available here include walking through wetlands, participating in guided boat tours, hiking and horseback riding over eight miles of woodland trails, boating and canoeing, fishing, camping, hunting, and visiting a museum and outdoor exhibits of nineteenth century life along the Patuxent, a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay.
Jug Bay Natural Area is a component of the Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve in Maryland, a nationwide network of diverse coastal estuaries that serve as laboratories for scientific research, education and monitoring.
Jug Bay Natural Area is open from 8:00 AM to dusk; its Visitor Center is open from 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM.
(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.)
The park offers a wide range of amenities for the public. There are more than eight miles of scenic woodland trails for hikers, bicyclists and horseback riders. The park provides facilities for camping and picnics. There are two fishing areas at Jug Bay that offer good tidal fishing year-round. Jug Bay has two standard boat ramps, but no overnight tie-ups or fuel facilities. Bow hunting and waterfowl hunting are permitted in designated areas. A limited number of blind sites along the river are leased on a seasonal basis. Jug Bay is excellent to explore by canoe or kayak along the Patuxent Water Trail. The park offers guided trips, as well as daily and hourly canoe and kayak rentals.
The park is home to the Patuxent Rural Life Museums. This collection of late 19th century and early 20th century buildings tells the story of life in southern Maryland. Visitors can also enjoy the Chesapeake Bay Critical Area Tour, a four-mile roadway that connects the park with Merkle Wildlife Sanctuary.
A reservation is required for most activities.
The Patuxent River was first recognized by the State of Maryland as a valuable natural resource, worthy of protection, in the Patuxent River Watershed Act of 1961.
This legislation declared that "flood prevention, land conservation, erosion control and protection from urban development within the watershed is a public benefit and conducive to the public health, safety and welfare."
In 1968, the river was designated one of Maryland's scenic rivers.