Spring Revealing Itself at Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary

Located along the tidal Patuxent River in southern Maryland, Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary includes more than 1,700 acres of tidal freshwater wetlands, forests, meadows and fields. As you hike the well-marked trails around the sanctuary, you’ll enjoy both gorgeous water views of the Patuxent River and Jug Bay, as well as get that distinctive earthy, woodsy smell from walking through a forest.

About an hour away from Baltimore or from Washington DC and a little off the beaten path, the Sanctuary offers a great day out for kids and adults alike. Its miles of trails and boardwalks offer you glimpses of several different habitats — tidal freshwater wetlands, forests and meadows. This was my first visit to the sanctuary, so I decided I’d explore the two most most popular trails: the Otter Loop (yellow blazed) which is 2.2 miles, and the Marsh Boardwalk trail, which is a short one way trail that begins at the visitor’s center and ends on the Otter Loop trail. 

I arrived at the Sanctuary just as the morning fog was lifting. The early March visit offered us some thrilling hints that Spring was revealing itself: as I headed down the dirt path to the marsh boardwalk, the high-pitched notes of bald eagles announced their presence, but soon the paired ospreys stole the show as I watched one perform areal acrobatics above his mate. The boardwalk isn’t very wide — and I almost fell off because I was just so focused on watching the osprey courtship.

Other signs of spring included turtles sunning themselves on a log and the very first wildflowers of the season poking out through the leaf detrius along the path.

Did I mention the birdsong? In addition to the piercing cries of the osprey and the high-notes of the bald eagles, there was the rhythmic sounds of woodpeckers as well as a delightful mocking bird that regaled me with its extensive repertoire.

Although I saw some paw prints, I didn’t see any critters other than grey squirrels, who chattered and scolded me as I walked through their territories. I must have caught one by surprise, because it did a somersault before scrambling across the trail into what it must have believed to be its safe haven, all the while issuing a high-pitched shriek. I felt bad. I tend to forget squirrels are wild animals — the squirrel family that lives in the tree behind my house are so tame they’ll all but knock on the patio door to let me know I need to refill the bird feeders (so they can have their breakfast/lunch/dinner).

It’s no surprise I found this place so magical — the area has been used pretty much continuously for the past 10,000 years. Archeological investigations have uncovered hundreds of thousands of artifacts, all pointing toward continuous use of this area due to its rich natural resources, bounty and beauty.

In addition to the archeological sites indicating use by paleoindians and Native Americans, there are post-European invasion historical sites, including remains of colonial towns, farms and plantations, shipwrecks from the War of 1812, and a railroad built in the 1890s to bring residents of Washington DC to nearby Chesapeake Beach during the summer months.

The Sanctuary’s small rustic visitors center offers some good information and simple but interesting interactive exhibits. There are also, thankfully, restrooms. This is a good place to introduce kids to nature and hiking, as well as for everyone to see some of Maryland’s most scenic views of the Patuxent River.

Next time, I’m going to head to the Patuxent River Jug Bay Sanctuary on the western side of the river.

Know before you go: Dogs are not allowed at the sanctuary. In the warmer months, they also request that you don’t feed the mosquitos, gnats, biting flies and ticks, so prepare accordingly. Despite all the boardwalks, none of the trails are stroller or wheelchair friendly.

Getting there: 5702 Plummer Lane, Lothian, MD
Hours: Wednesday, Friday – Sunday 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.; closed Sunday – Tuesday, Thursday December – February.
Website: Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary