At a Glance
Hours: Open from 8 am to dusk, year-round.
Tips: Wear sturdy waterproof hiking shoes. ■ You may wish to join a monthly bird walk sponsored by the Patuxent Bird Club and Prince George’s Audubon Society. See MOS calendar for details. ■ A portable restroom is at the parking lot.
Best Seasons: Year-round.
Breeding Bird Atlas Block: Bowie CW
Governor Bridge Natural Area
7600 Governor Bridge Road, Bowie, MD 20716
Located on the banks of the Patuxent River in northern Prince George’s County, Governor Bridge Natural Area is on the site of a former sand and gravel quarry. As such, it is pock-marked with numerous small ponds embedded in woodlands; there are also gravelly semi-barren areas. The property is operated as part of the Patuxent River Park by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (MNCPPC) and contains about 354 acres. A natural depression has been converted into a substantial (8-acre) pond, and another is an emergent-vegetated wetland. There are numerous small streams that flow into the Patuxent, the major one being Green Branch. Much of the park is wooded, but there are also shrubby fields, grassy areas, and cultivated farm fields. There are many native plants that are attractive to pollinators.
Trails criss-cross the park, allowing a walk through all the different habitats. From the parking area just off Governor Bridge Road, there are three main choices:
- Go straight ahead, heading south on the gravel lane that leads out of the parking area (Blue Trail on the trail map at the link at left), which takes you past the large pond on the left. There are a couple of small trails leading to the left that go around the pond or through the adjoining woods. Continuing on the gravel lane past the pond brings you up a hill to a gate in a chain link fence. The area beyond the gate and fence is still MNCPPC property, consisting of some large arm fields, leased to a local farmer, interspersed with woodlands. This area is good for sparrows and other passerines.
- The second choice from the parking area is to go to the left (east), past a metal gate, onto a dirt road marked with a sign for the canoe launch (Red Trail on the trail map at the link at left). This dirt road winds a bit through a small woodland, past a scrubby/shrubby field and a couple of small ponds and wetlands, to eventually reach a spur trail that goes downhill to the canoe launch at the Patuxent River. Before reaching the river, a prominent side trail on the left (not shown on the trail map) leads to the northern property boundary at Governor Bridge Road. The Red Trail continue past the spur for the canoe launch, bending to the right as it passes a large wetland and leading south toward the large pond. You can continue past the large pond into the woods on the Blue Trail, which will take you west to join the gravel lane described in #1 above. You can then turn right (north) onto the gravel lane, following the Blue Trail to return to your car. This option makes a nice loop.
- The third choice from the parking area is to go to the west, using a dirt road beyond a green metal gate (not shown on the trail map). This dirt road will take you uphill into the woods, passing by a large open equipment shed left over from the gravel mining days. The dirt lane continues into an area of second-growth forest, and breaks up into many threaded and un-maintained foot trails.
- If you want a longer walk, a fourth option is to start as in #2 above, following the Red Trail to the large pond, but instead of picking up the Blue Trail to make a loop, continue on a section of the Red Trail that veers east, following Green Branch, to eventually emerge on the banks of the Patuxent River, where it turns south to reach a small observation platform. The trail ends here, so turn around to retrace your steps to the vicinity of the large pond. This out-and-back section of the Red Trail goes through heavy undergrowth and may have fallen trees. The reward is that the trail takes you into prime riverside habitat for migrating songbirds.
All four options take you into good habitat for thrushes, tanagers, orioles, flycatchers, warblers, vireos, and other passerines. Option 2 has the added advantage of the open water on the pond, so there may be waterfowl as well as swallows, herons, and egrets in season. The Red Trail along the Patuxent River is excellent for migrating and for breeding warblers, including Kentucky and Hooded.
Over 205 species have been reported on eBird from Governor Bridge Natural Area.
The park offers good birding year-round, but especially so in spring migration. The area around the large pond and along the Patuxent River is especially good for warblers. Olive-sided Flycatcher is almost regular in spring and fall migration.
In fall, sparrows may be found in the shrubby areas.
In winter, the Red Trail along the river is good for wintering passerines, and the pond may host various ducks and grebes.
Breeding birds include Hooded Merganser, Wood Duck, Bald Eagle, Prothonotary Warbler, Hooded Warbler, Kentucky Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat, and Blue Grosbeak. American Woodcock formerly bred here, and some still come through on migration.
The foot-trails in Governor Bridge Natural Area are not wheelchair-accessible.The road from the parking area to the canoe/kayak launch is gravel and may be navigated by a wheelchair with large tires; call the park office (301-627-6074) to obtain the combination to the gate so that you can open it and drive or ride a wheelchair to the launch site. There is also a paved road from the parking area that heads north toward the large pond; this road is blocked by a gate, but if you have someone to help you set up your wheelchair on the other side of the gate, this road would provide good birding.
There is a handicapped-accessible portable restroom at the parking area.
Pets are allowed on leash; pick up after your pet.
There are a few picnic tables and benches near the large pond. ■ Governor Bridge has a launch site for canoes and kayaks. There is a locked gate between the parking area and the put-in; contact the park office (301-627-6074) to obtain the combination so that you can drive in to the launch site. ■ Governor Bridge Natural Area is one of the sites on the 80-mile-long Patuxent Water Trail. ■ The “Governor Bridge” itself spans the Patuxent River between Prince George’s and Anne Arundel Counties. This historic bridge, built in 1912, is now closed to vehicle traffic but one may walk across on foot. It is a metal truss bridge, one of only two remaining in the State of Maryland. A bridge has stood at this site since the mid-1700s; the first bridge was constructed by Governor Samuel Ogle, who lived in Bowie – hence the name of the bridge. To reach the bridge, continue on Governor Bridge Road past the park to where concrete barriers block the road. Park on the side of the road and walk to the bridge.
Prince George’s Audubon Society sponsors the park and offers free monthly walks here on the third Saturday of every month at 7:30 am, in partnership with the Patuxent Bird Club. See the MOS calendar for details.
Local MOS Chapter:
The local chapter of the Maryland Ornithological Society is the Patuxent Bird Club, which offers field trips and meetings with informative programs, all free and open to the public.
Large gravel lot immediately off the entrance from Governor Bridge Road.
From US Route 301 in Bowie: Just south of the US Route 301/US Route 50 interchange, turn east onto Governor Bridge Road. Go 1.5 miles to the park entrance on the right (south) side of the road.
Prince George’s County: Beltsville Agricultural Research Center (restricted access) ■ Bladensburg Waterfront Park, Colmar Manor Community Park & Anacostia River Trail ■ Cedarville State Forest ■ Fort Foote Park ■ Fort Washington (National) Park ■ Fran Uhler Natural Area ■ Greenbelt (National) Park ■ Greenbelt Lake Municipal Park (Buddy Attick Lake Park) ■ Lake Artemesia Natural Area ■ Merkle Natural Resources Management Area ■ Milltown Landing Natural Resources Management Area ■ Oxon Cove Park & Oxon Hill Farm ■ Patuxent Research Refuge – South Tract (National Wildlife Visitor Center) ■ Patuxent River Park – Jug Bay Natural Area ■ Patuxent River Park – Mount Calvert Historical & Archaeological Park ■ Piscataway MOS Sanctuary ■Piscataway (National) Park: National Colonial Farm, Boardwalk, Wharf Road/Farmington Landing & Marshall Hall ■ Rocky Gorge Reservoir – Supplee Lane Recreation Area & Duckett Dam ■ Rosaryville State Park ■ Schoolhouse Pond
Anne Arundel County: Davidsonville Park ■ Downs Memorial Park ■ Greenbury Point ■ Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary ■ Kinder Farm Park ■ Lake Waterford Park ■ Oxbow Natural Area ■ Patuxent Research Refuge – North Tract ■ Piney Orchard Nature Preserve ■ Quiet Waters Park ■ Sandy Point State Park
Bottomland DeciduousHedgerowsUpland Deciduous Reclaimed Industrial Site Agricultural Crop Fields or Fallow FieldsOld Fields, Shrubby Meadows Forested SwampFreshwater Marsh or FloodplainFreshwater Pond, Lake, or ReservoirRivers & Streams
Features:BeginnersBicycle Trails (Bikes may be prohibited on some trails)Boat or Canoe/Kayak LaunchFishingFree - No Entry Fee at Any TimeHiking/Walking TrailsNative Plant Garden or Meadow/Pollinator PlantsParkingPets AllowedWater ViewYoung People / Families
Type:Community and Urban ParksThe Rivers of the Western ShoreWater Trails