At a Glance
Hours: Sunrise to sunset, daily. Except:
- There are annual closures in October when the local recreation council sponsors a “Haunted Dungeons” event throughout the park.
- There are other annual events, including an Easter Egg Hunt and Defenders Day in August or September.
- Unfortunately there is no one website that provides a calendar of events for the park, so it is difficult to check on the park’s status for any given date. If you plan to visit Fort Howard, you might want to have a back-up plan in case a large event is taking place.
Tips: Bring a scope. ◾ There are spots on North Point Road just north of the park where you can pull over and check the shoreline for ducks, gulls, and terns. ◾ There are portable restrooms on the north side of Battery Key and near the playgrounds near Battery Striker and Battery Harris.
Best Seasons: Winter, spring, and fall.
Breeding Bird Atlas Blocks: Sparrows Point CW, Sparrows Point CE
Local MOS Chapter: Baltimore Bird Club
Fort Howard Park
9500 North Point Road, Fort Howard, MD 21052
Fort Howard Park is a Baltimore County facility on the shore of the Chesapeake Bay, southeast of the City of Baltimore and two miles south of North Point State Park. The park is located at the southern tip of a peninsula, situated on the Chesapeake Bay between the mouth of the Patapsco River and the mouth of Shallow Creek. The actual tip of the peninsula, within the park, is known as North Point. As it names implies, the park is built on the site of a military fort, and many of the military fortifications are still here, including the gun batteries. The batteries and other named military buildings make good landmarks for the visitor.
[Note: Fort Howard Veteran’s Park is a separate, smaller facility with a confusingly similar name, that is located further north on North Point Road (9105 North Point Road). See discussion below of places to stop on the way to Fort Howard Park.]
For the birder, the lure of Fort Howard lies in its strategic position at the end of a south-facing peninsula, making it a dynamic migrant trap for raptors and songbirds during fall migration. The location also makes it a great place to look for offshore waterfowl during winter and early spring.
Habitats at Fort Howard include deciduous woods, tidal wetlands, bayshore, lawns, and hedgerows. There is an excellent 180° view of the water from the base of a pier at North Point (the pier itself is closed to the public), or better yet, climb the steps to the top of Battery Harris or Battery Striker, which sit on high ground and look out over North Point.
The park is small (93 acres) and can easily be covered in an hour or two. A paved loop trail runs around the south part of the park, past the military emplacements (see trail map at the link at left). A natural surface foot-trail goes north from Battery Clagett and the Quarters Building, to skirt a wetland that occupies the north part of the park. Parts of the foot-trail may be inaccessible during high tides. In addition to the paved loop trail, there are numerous natural-surface trails that criss-cross the peninsula; these are not shown on the trail map but most are short and easily explored. The wealth of trails makes it easy to check the park thoroughly for birds.
On the way to Fort Howard Park, there are three sites that are also worth a stop for birders.
1). North Point State Park is, of course, a splendid birding spot on its own, worth a separate visit.
2) Just south of the entrance to North Point State Park is Todd’s Inheritance (address 9000 North Point Road | website | Google Map). Todd’s Inheritance is a historic home now owned by the State of Maryland and operated as a museum (open weekends only) by a private non-for-profit organization. It is permissible to park on the wide roadside near the entrance to Todd’s Inheritance and walk south along the road to the south boundary of the property, marked by a white board fence. Follow the fenceline a short distance to the east to the back corner of the property, to obtain a view over Shallow Creek, which is often teeming with waterfowl in the winter. The land on the other side of Shallow Creek is part of North Point State Park. A Bald Eagle nest is visible in the trees at the State Park, best viewed in winter when the trees are bare.
3) Then, travel further south on North Point Road to the small Fort Howard Veterans Park on the right (west) side of the road (address 9105 North Point Road | website | Google Map). The park has a prominent brick memorial facing the road, with a paved parking area behind the memorial. From the parking area, you can walk across the open grassy sports field to a line of trees to get a view of the waters of Old Road Bay to the west. Check the treeline and phragmites for songbirds. And from the front of the memorial, you can use your scope to look across the street to view the waters of a cove of Shallow Creek visible on the east side of North Point Road, tucked between some houses. Stay in the park or on the public roadway and do not enter the yards or driveways, or go out on the docks, of any of the private residences nearby.
Fort Howard was built in 1896 to defend the entry to Baltimore harbor; the Fort became known as “the Bulldog at the Gates,” a reference to its strategic position guarding the harbor. The Fort was decommissioned in 1926 and the grounds were later transferred to the Veterans Administration, which built a hospital in 1943. The hospital closed in 2002, but an outpatient clinic on the grounds operated until 2016, when even that ceased operations. Now, the former hospital site, criss-crossed by old roads and full of crumbling buildings, sits abandoned behind a chain-link fence and is strictly off-limits. The old hospital occupies the western part of the North Point peninsula, while Fort Howard Park is on the east. The park was a gift to the county from the US Government in 1973. There have been plans and discussion about redeveloping the hospital site, but various setbacks have prevented these plans from going forward.
Fort Howard didn’t exist during the War of 1812, but is associated with that war because on September 12, 1814, the British came ashore at North Point, on their way to Baltimore in an attempt to capture the city. However, the British were met by American troops at the Battle of North Point further up the peninsula, in what is now the Dundalk area. On their way back to their ships off North Point, the frustrated British soldiers burned Todd’s Inheritance, which was being used by the American militia as a lookout and gathering point. The Todd family rebuilt the house in 1816, and this is the house we see today.
The land invasion by the British at North Point was part of two-pronged attack on Baltimore; the British also approached by water, resulting in the Battle of Fort McHenry on September 13-14, 1814, where the British were again defeated. Of course the Battle of Fort McHenry led Francis Scott Key to write the Star Spangled Banner. Hence the National Park Service hosts the Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail, showcasing historical sites associated with the War of 1812, including North Point and Todd’s Inheritance.
Because of the association with the War of 1812, when Fort Howard was built, its gun batteries were named in honor of men who took part in the War of 1812: Lt. Levi Clagett, who died at Fort McHenry; Col. Davis Harris, who commanded a regiment of artillery; Brig. Gen. John Stricker, who commanded the 3rd brigade Maryland Militia; Judge Joseph H. Nicholson, who served as Captain of Volunteer Artillery at Fort McHenry; and, of course, Francis Scott Key, who wrote the Star Spangled Banner. Interpretive signage throughout the park will help you relive the history of the Fort.
And a bit of trivia: North Point takes its name not from geography, but from Captain Robert North, who in the late 1700s operated a commercial sailing vessel out of the area now occupied by Fort Howard Park, at the tip of the peninsula. Captain North named the area after himself.
Over 225 bird species have been reported from the Fort Howard Park hotspot on eBird. In the winter, deep water fairly close to shore can host Common Loon, grebes, and a wide variety of diving ducks. Dabbling ducks may also be present in the shallower waters.
Look for an assortment of sparrows in the overgrown areas from September through May. In invasion years, winter finches such as Pine Siskin and Common Redpoll favor the park’s many Sweet Gum trees.
The shoreline provides a good place to look for gulls (year-round) and terns (April through October). Swallows cruise the shoreline as well as the grassy fields from March through October. Spring and fall migration can bring an excellent assortment of warblers and other passerines.
Theoretically, the paved loop trail accommodates wheelchairs, but it may be difficult to get a wheelchair through the narrow entrance gate without help. The paved trail has some slopes but they are an easy grade. However, the trail surface may provide a rough ride. The gun batteries and some of the side-trails feature steps. At least one of the portable restrooms is handicapped-accessible and there are handicapped spaces in the paved parking lot.
Pets are permitted on leash; pick up after your pet. Expect to see many dogs at this popular park.
Fort Howard Park and Todd’s Inheritance, along with many other local places, are sites on the National Park Services’ Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail. You can download a Travel Guide for the Star-Spangled Banner Trail.
Fort Howard Park is, of course, rich in history and would be a good place for a family outing. Two small play areas overlooking the Bay will keep the kids happy. There are picnic benches and park benches scattered throughout the park. The paved loop trail is stroller-friendly. ◾ The Edgemere-Sparrows Point Recreation Council sponsors a “Haunted Dungeons” event on weekends in October. It’s like a haunted house but outdoors. Because props are placed throughout the park, there may be full or partial park closures during October. ◾The Dundalk-Patapsco Neck Historical Society & Museum hosts an annual Defenders Day celebration at Fort Howard to remember the Battle of North Point in 1814. The date of the one-day event varies from late-August to late-September. Although the park is open for regular visitation on Defenders Day, it becomes a busy place with military reenactments and other large-scale events. In addition, there may be military re-enactments at the park at other times of year. ◾ Other annual events include an Easter egg hunt. Unfortunately there is no one website that provides a calendar of events for the park, so it is difficult to assess the park’s status for any given date. If you plan to visit Fort Howard, you might want to have a back-up plan in case a large event is taking place.
The Friends of Fort Howard Park works to improve the park grounds, expand the range of activities, and make visitors aware of the historical significance of the property. The Friends have created a downloadable Walking Tour of the park. It’s a simple PDF that you can print and take with you. The Friends website also includes photos and information related to the military history of the park.
The local chapter of the Maryland Ornithological Society is the Baltimore Bird Club. The Baltimore Bird Club is the founding chapter of the Maryland Ornithological Society, and remains an important hub of birding activity in the state. The club offers monthly meetings with informative presentations and a full schedule of field trips and bird walks, all free and open to the public.
Large, paved lot at the end of the entrance drive.
From the north or east side of the Baltimore Beltway/I-695: Take the Inner Loop of the Baltimore Beltway/I-695 toward Essex/Key Bridge. Follow I-695 to Exit 42 (MD Route 151/North Point Boulevard). Exit and bear right onto MD Route 151 south to the first traffic light. Make a left onto North Point Road. Follow North Point Road southbound through the town of Edgemere for 4.3 miles to Fort Howard, passing the entrance to North Point State Park on the left. As you approach Fort Howard, bear left to the park entrance (the right fork goes to the old Fort Howard Veterans Affairs facility, now gated closed).
From the south or west side of the Baltimore Beltway: Take the Outer Loop of the Baltimore Beltway/I-695 toward Glen Burnie/Key Bridge. Follow I-695 over the Key Bridge (toll) to Exit 43 (MD Route 158/Bethlehem Boulevard). Get off at Exit 43 and make a left at the first traffic light onto MD Route 158/Bethlehem Boulevard. Follow Bethlehem Boulevard east for one mile to North Point Boulevard. Cross over North Point Boulevard onto North Point Road. Follow North Point Road southbound through the town of Edgemere for 4.3 miles to Fort Howard, passing North Point State Park on left. As you approach Fort Howard, bear left to the park entrance (the right fork goes to the old Fort Howard Veterans Affairs facility, now gated closed).
North Point State Park; Hart-Miller Island State Park; Fort McHenry National Monument; Patterson Park; Druid Hill Park; Gunpowder Falls State Park; Marshy Point Nature Center; Fort Smallwood Park; Kinder Farm Park.
Features:BeginnersBicycle Trails (Bikes may be prohibited on some trails)FishingFree - No Entry Fee at Any TimeHiking/Walking TrailsHistorical FeaturesParkingPets AllowedPicnic AreaPlaygroundRestroomsWater ViewWheelchair Accessible FeaturesYoung People / Families
Type:Chesapeake Bay Western ShoreCounty ParksHistorical SitesThe Rivers of the Western Shore