At a Glance
Hours: Grounds open sunrise to sunset, year-round. Nature Programs and Visitor Center open Wednesday through Friday 11 am to 4 pm and Saturday & Sunday 11 am to 5 pm. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays.
Cost: Grounds and trails are free. Fee for boat launch and boat rentals. Fees for summer camps and some nature programs.
Tips: Bring a scope. ■ Be prepared for steep and/or muddy sections on some of the trails. ■ Black Hill Regional Park has a managed deer hunting program and sections of the park will be closed on certain dates for the hunt. Check the website for closure dates. ■ Alcohol and firearms are prohibited. ■ Restrooms are located at the Visitor Center, near the volleyball court/playground, and at the public boat ramp. Some of the restrooms may be closed in the winter.
Best Seasons: Late fall, winter, and early spring for waterfowl; April-May for passerine migrants, September/October for fall migrants including raptors.
Breeding Bird Atlas Blocks: Germantown CE, Germantown CW, Germantown NE, Germantown NW
Local MOS Chapter: Montgomery Bird Club
Black Hill Regional Park
20930 Lake Ridge Drive, Boyds, Maryland 20841
Black Hill Regional Park, with 1,580 acres, is one of the showcases of the Montgomery County Parks system. The centerpiece of the park is the 505-acre Little Seneca Lake (known to birders simply as Black Hill), which was created as a drinking water reservoir in the 1980s. The lake has three major northward-facing arms that correspond to the three major streams that feed the lake: from west to east, these are Ten Mile Creek, Cabin Branch, and Little Seneca Creek.
[Note: Do not confuse Little Seneca Lake within Black Hill Regional Park with Seneca Creek State Park a short distance to the south. Seneca Creek State Park also has a lake but that one is called Clopper Lake.]
The large peninsula between Cabin Branch and Little Seneca Creek is the heart of the park, containing the visitor center, boat launch, picnic areas, restrooms, playgrounds, and other visitor amenities (see trail map at link at left). There are long extended branches of the park that follow the lake’s outline and there is a hiking trail system throughout the park, enabling birders to explore thoroughly the park’s mixed coniferous-deciduous woodlands, scattered meadows, and shrubby fields. The trails are well maintained and marked but be aware that there are some steep sections. An extensive paved trail system enables good access for mobility-impaired visitors.
Productive areas for birders to check include the Visitor Center with its deck overlooking the lake, and there is a bird feeding station adjacent to the Visitor Center. The area near the public boat launch along Black Hill Road is another favored spot; the parking lot itself offers a clear view of the sky for migrating raptors, and there is an unmarked trail leading to the water’s edge and providing access to the rock jetty that lies north of Black Hill Road. The boat launch parking lot also provides access to the trailhead for the Cabin Branch Trail, which will take you into good habitat for passerines in spring, summer and fall. The Ten Mile Creek Trail, which winds along the western shore of the Ten Mile Creek arm of the lake, is another good birding spot. The north end of the trail can be accessed from the dead-end of Ten Mile Creek Road just south of West Old Baltimore Road, while the south end can be accessed from a parking area along the east side of Clarksburg Road/MD Route 121 just south of the bridge over the lake. (Note that the printable trail map linked at left does not show the south end of the Ten Mile Creek Trail, connecting to the Route 121 parking spot. See the Montgomery Parks Interactive map and zoom all the way in to see the full extent of the trail.) The Clarksburg Road parking area also provides another spot to view the lake, including a very productive cove where waterfowl often gather to feed.
Another option is to explore Little Seneca Lake using the water trail that links all three arms of the lake. Canoe, kayak, rowboat, and paddleboard rentals are available, and the park offers tours on a pontoon boat. Visitors may also bring and launch their own boats at the public boat launch (fee and permit required) on the Cabin Branch arm of the lake.
This large park has a lot to offer the visiting birder. To help you make a choice, we suggest obtaining a copy of the publication A Birder’s Guide to Montgomery County, Maryland, now out of print but available as a free download from the Montgomery Bird Club website; see https://www.montgomerybirdclub.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/MoCoBirdersGuideScanReduced.pdf. The chapter on Black Hill has details on suggested birding routes. Also see the interactive county park map. As you zoom in on this map, detailed features such as parking, picnic areas, trailheads, and restrooms will be displayed, as well as trails.
An aggregate total of more than 230 species have been reported on eBird at Black Hill Regional Park, with six separate eBird hotspots covering the park and an adjacent area:
- Black Hill Regional Park is the overall hotspot for the park, with 209+ species.
- Black Hill RP–Boat Ramp area – 174+ species
- Black Hill RP–Crystal Rock Trail – 134+ species
- Black Hill RP–Little Seneca Lake, Rte.121 – – 177+ species
- Black Hill RP–Ten Mile Creek area, trails and lake – 161+ species
- Lake Churchill, Germantown – 137+ species. Lake Churchill is not part of Black Hill Regional Park; it’s adjacent to the park and is owned by a local community association. Lake Churchill can be viewed on foot while walking the Black Hill Trail, which crosses the foot of Lake Churchill on Wynnfield Drive.
The lake is an excellent area for wintering waterfowl, grebes, and loons. In winter it is not uncommon to record twenty species of waterfowl on the lake; a total of 33 species have been reported on eBird over time, including sea-going species such as the three scoters, Harlequin Duck, and Long-tailed Duck. Starting in 2014 and continuing through 2017, one or sometimes two or more Trumpeter Swans were seen regularly on the lake. Besides waterfowl, the lake hosts Common and Red-throated Loons and Pied-billed, Red-necked and Eared Grebes.
In November, gulls start congregating during the hour leading up to sunset where they spend the night. Among the numerous Ring-billed Gulls, Lesser Black-backed and Iceland Gulls have been seen. Bonaparte’s Gulls may be present from fall through spring, along with Herring and Great Black-backed. The lake may also host a few terns, mostly Forster’s or Caspian. In dry years, when the water level is down during the summer months, shorebirds can be seen in the shallower sections and muddy areas of the lakeshore.
Among wading birds, Great Blue Herons are numerous and present year-round. Also easy to see are Great Egret and Green Heron. Showing up from time to time, usually during post-breeding dispersal in late summer, are Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, Black-crowned Night-Heron, and even White Ibis.
Ospreys, which breed here, are numerous from March through November. Bald Eagles also breed near the lake and are found year-round. Other breeding raptors include Red-Shouldered and Red-tailed Hawks and Cooper’s Hawk. Sharp-shinned Hawks and a couple Northern Harriers spend the winter. The parking lot at the public boat ramp provides a good vantage point for hawk watching during migration, when additional species can be seen. Local owls are Eastern Screech, Great Horned, and Barred.
All seven species of Maryland woodpeckers can be seen on a regular basis. In addition to the usual woodland flycatchers (Eastern Wood-Pewee, Acadian, Eastern Phoebe, Great Crested, Eastern Kingbird), the shrubby areas of Black Hill are a good place to look for Willow Flycatchers. Breeding vireos include White-eyed, Red-eyed, Yellow-throated, and Warbling, plus there are migrating Blue-headed Vireos in spring and fall.
Fish Crows are abundant, but are still out-numbered by American Crows. Since about 2005, there has been a regular presence of Common Ravens – unheard of in the not-too-distant days when ravens were confined to Western Maryland.
The regular swallows include Purple Martin, Northern Rough-winged, Tree, and Barn, with small number of Bank and Cliff. In November of 2004, Cave Swallows made a surprise visit to the Route 121 bridge.
Spring and fall migration bring a good chance for migrating thrushes; Hermit Thrushes over-winter, and Wood Thrushes, Eastern Bluebirds, and American Robins nest in the park.
Winter songbird possibilities include American Pipit, Brown Creeper, Purple Finch, Common Redpoll (irruption years), Pine Siskin, and maybe even crossbills (irruption years). Breeding sparrows include Chipping, Field, Song, and Eastern Towhee; these are joined in winter by American Tree, Fox, Dark-eyed Junco, White-crowned, White-throated, Savannah, and Swamp. Grasshopper and Lincoln’s Sparrows may be found during migration.
Also breeding in the park are Yellow-breasted Chats, Baltimore and Orchard Orioles, Red-winged Blackbirds, Brown-headed Cowbirds, and Common Grackles. Rusty Blackbirds and Eastern Meadowlarks occur in spring and fall.
The woodlands of the park host a great set of warblers, with 33 species reported. Most are migrants, but possible and confirmed breeders include Ovenbird, Worm-eating, Louisiana Waterthrush, Blue-winged, Black-and-white, Kentucky, Common Yellowthroat, Hooded, American Redstart, Northern Parula, Yellow, Pine, and Prairie.
Indigo Buntings are numerous and easy to see and hear from May through mid-October, and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks are easy to find during migration. Northern Cardinals are abundant year-round.
Reserved handicapped parking is available in the designated parking lots. Handicapped-accessible restrooms are provided. Some of the trails are paved and wheelchair-accessible; the paved trails are clearly marked on the trail map at the link at left. There is also a wheelchair-accessible fishing pier near the boat rental area that can be used for bird viewing. There is good birding possible from the car on the roads within the park and at the parking lots at the public boat ramp and the roadside lot along Clarksburg Road/MD Route 121.
Pets on leash are allowed.
Black Hill Nature Programs and Visitor Center (BHNP) has been certified as a Maryland Green Center by the Maryland Association of Environmental and Outdoor Educators, providing support and professional development for schools and educators.
Black Hill Regional Park is a City Partner of Flying Wild, an internationally-recognized education program that engages students in bird biology, conservation, and stewardship. Special emphasis is on an approach that is adaptable for urban schools, often with under-served students who traditionally receive few opportunities to participate in environmental education initiatives. Black Hill is the second City Partner in the state, alongside the Ward Waterfowl Museum in Salisbury, Maryland. Flying WILD relies on a network of City Partners to distribute materials and to act as a central contact point for training other educators in the region.
Black Hill Regional Parks offers numerous visitor amenities and activities, including a fishing pier, public boat launch, boat and paddleboard rentals, playgrounds and other recreation facilities. The park is supported by the non-profit Friends of Black Hill Nature Programs. Black Hill Nature Programs includes a series of summer camps and other programs for families and children throughout the year.
The Black Hill Visitor Center is home to the Claudia Wilds Library, an extensive collection of bird and natural history books, established by the Montgomery Bird Club. Claudia P. Wilds (1931-1997) was an esteemed local ornithologist, author of Finding Birds in the National Capital Area, and co-author of Terns and Skimmers: A Guide to the Terns and Skimmers of the World. Claudia was also an associate editor of Birding magazine (the official publication of the American Birding Association), wrote articles for The Audubon Society Master Guide to Birding, and was a consultant in the preparation of the National Geographic Society’s field guide. She served as Chair of MOS’s Maryland/District of Columbia Bird Records Committee. Beyond that, Claudia was a friend and mentor to many within the Montgomery Bird Club and MOS.
Local MOS Chapter
The local chapter of the Maryland Ornithological Society is the Montgomery Bird Club, which offers field trips and meetings with informative programs, all free and open to the public.
The Montgomery Bird Club has published A Birder’s Guide to Montgomery County, Maryland (2008); this comprehensive, detailed book covers 17 major birding sites plus 18 “little treasures” in the county. The book is now out of print but is available as a free downloadable PDF, courtesy of the Montgomery Bird Club.
Montgomery Parks has created a YouTube playlist of short videos for Black Hill Regional Park. Some of the videos show the features and habitats of the park and there are a couple of short activity-based videos.
Ample parking near the visitor center and at several other spots around the park. Very limited parking for 4 or 5 cars along Ten Mile Creek Road, at the north end of the Ten-mile Creek Trail. Small gravel roadside parking lot at the south end of the Route 121 bridge over the lake.
Black Hill Regional Park is located northwest of Washington, DC, and southwest of Clarksburg, MD.
From the DC Beltway (I-495): Take Exit 35 to I-270 northbound for 15 miles. Then take Exit 16 onto MD Route 27/Father Hurley Boulevard northbound toward Damascus. In 1.0 mile, turn left to go north on MD Route 355/Frederick Road. Then in 0.9 miles, MD Route 355 will veer to the right; stay to the left to go west on West Old Baltimore Road. Go 1.5 miles and turn left to go south on Lake Ridge Drive, which is the entrance road for the park. The entrance station will be ahead in about 1.1. miles. To reach the Visitor Center, continue past the entrance station south on Lake Ridge Drive for another 0.7 miles.
From the Eastern Shore: Depending on your starting point, take US Route 301 (Upper Eastern Shore) or US Route 50 (Lower Eastern Shore) to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. From the bridge, follow US Route 50 west to the DC Beltway, then follow signs to north on the combined I-95/I-495 on the Beltway’s Outer Loop. At the split of I-95 and I-495, bear left to stay on I-495. Then take Exit 35 to I-270 northbound for 15 miles. Then take Exit 16 onto MD Route 27/Father Hurley Boulevard northbound toward Damascus. In 1.0 mile, turn left to go north on MD Route 355/Frederick Road. Then in 0.9 miles, MD Route 355 will veer to the right; stay to the left to go west on West Old Baltimore Road. Go 1.5 miles and turn left to go south on Lake Ridge Drive, which is the entrance road for the park. The entrance station will be ahead in about 1.1. miles. To reach the Visitor Center, continue past the entrance station south on Lake Ridge Drive for another 0.7 miles.
From Baltimore: Use the Baltimore Beltway (I-695) to reach the west side of Baltimore, and take Exit 16 to I-70 west toward Frederick. Stay on I-70 for 24 miles, to Exit 68. At the exit, follow signs for MD Route 27/Ridge Road southbound toward Damascus. Follow Route 27 south for 11.6 miles. Turn right to go west on Brink Road. In just 0.6 miles, Brink Road will merge with MD Route 355/Frederick Road; bear right here. In another 0.2 miles, MD Route 355 will veer to the right; stay to the left to go west on West Old Baltimore Road. Go 1.5 miles and turn left to go south on Lake Ridge Drive, which is the entrance road for the park. The entrance station will be ahead in about 1.1. miles. To reach the Visitor Center, continue past the entrance station south on Lake Ridge Drive for another 0.7 miles.
From Frederick and points west: From I-70, take I-270 south toward Washington, DC. Take Exit 18 onto MD Route 121/Clarksburg Road south toward Boyds. In 0.3 and 0.5 miles, at the traffic circles, follow signs to continue south on Route 121. In another 1.0 miles after the traffic circle, you will come to the intersection with West Baltimore Road. There is another traffic circle here. Follow signs to go east on West Old Baltimore Road. In 0.9 miles, turn right to go south on Lake Ridge Drive, which is the entrance road for the park. The entrance station will be ahead in about 1.1. miles. To reach the Visitor Center, continue past the entrance station south on Lake Ridge Drive for another 0.7 miles.
Montgomery County: Blue Mash Nature Trail ■ C&O Canal – Pennyfield, Violette’s & Riley’s Locks ■ Little Bennett Regional Park ■ Lois Y. Green Conservation Park ■ McKee-Beshers Wildlife Management Area (Hughes Hollow) ■ Rock Creek Regional Park – Lake Needwood ■ Rock Creek Regional Park – Meadowside Nature Center & Lake Frank ■ Seneca Creek State Park ■ Triadelphia Reservoir (Brighton Dam) ■Wheaton Regional Park – Brookside Gardens, Brookside Nature Center, Pine Lake Area
Bottomland DeciduousConifersHedgerowsUpland Deciduous Old Fields, Shrubby Meadows Freshwater Marsh or FloodplainFreshwater Pond, Lake, or ReservoirJetties & SeawallsMud Flats (Tidal or Non-Tidal)Rivers & Streams
Features and Amenities:Ball Fields or Other SportsBeginnersBicycle Trails (Bikes may be prohibited on some trails)Bird Feeding StationBirding By CarBoat or Canoe/Kayak LaunchBoat RentalsFishingFree - No Entry Fee at Any TimeHiking/Walking TrailsNature Education ProgramsParkingPets AllowedPicnic AreaPlaygroundRestroomsVisitor Center, Interpretive Displays, ExhibitsWater ViewWheelchair Accessible FeaturesYoung People / Families
Type:County ParksMAEOE Green CenterPonds, Lakes, and ReservoirsWater Trails