Green Ridge State Forest & Town Hill Overlook
Green Ridge SF: 28700 Headquarters Dr, NE, Flintstone, MD 21530-9525
Town Hill Overlook: 31101 National Pike NE, Little Orleans, MD 21766
Green Ridge State Forest is huge. At 47,560 acres, it is the largest contiguous block of public land in Maryland. Green Ridge is located in Allegany County, within the Ridge and Valley Province of the Appalachian Mountains. It is rich in both natural and cultural heritage and remains a “working forest” today, managed by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Forest Service to conserve natural ecological processes while supporting the economy of the region. Within the State Forest are three areas designated as State Wildlands: Deep Run (1,416 acres), Maple Run (5,125 acres), and Potomac Bends (2,645 acres). State Wildlands are sensitive areas with special protections that limit development; only passive recreation is allowed.
The general geographic boundaries of Green Ridge are Town Creek to the west and Sideling Hill Creek to the east. The northern boundary extends to the Mason-Dixon Line (the state boundary with Pennsylvania), and the southern boundary parallels the Potomac River (the state boundary with West Virginia), so the State Forest entirely spans the panhandle of Maryland at one of its narrower north-south points. Elevations in the State Forest range from 500 feet above sea level on the Potomac River to 2,000 feet on Town Hill. Green Ridge receives the least amount of rainfall in Maryland, averaging 36 inches annually. The forest at Green Ridge consists primarily of a 110-year-old, even-aged mixed oak forest, along with a wide diversity of younger pockets resulting from various forest management activities over the years.
[Note: Bond’s Landing on the Potomac and the adjacent Kasecamp Neck are part of Green Ridge State Forest, but because they offer access to the C&O Canal, are covered in this Birder’s Guide within the entry for C&O Canal – Town Creek Aqueduct to Fifteen Mile Creek Aqueduct. See that entry for details.]
The State Forest features an extensive hiking trail network, primitive campsites (one of the last places in Maryland where primitive camping is allowed), hunting, a shooting range, fishing, paddling, and mountain biking. Green Ridge has 50+ miles of hiking trails that connect with both the Buchanan State Forest Trail and the C&O Canal National Historic Park Trail. The trail map at the link below will give you an idea of the trails, but if you are planning extensive hiking, you should purchase a large-format topographic trail map at the State Forest Office, and carry a GPS or compass. The trail system varies in terrain and can be very rugged. There are stream crossings or steep climbs on most trails. Visitors are encouraged to wear blaze orange during hunting seasons. Despite the rugged terrain, there is a short Scenic Overlook Trail that is wheelchair accessible. The Green Ridge State Forest headquarters office is also wheelchair-accessible, and the State Forest offers a mobility-impaired hunting program.
Green Ridge offers a 44-mile, 3-hour driving tour that offers good birding opportunities, as it takes visitors through a wide variety of habitats and managed forest areas. The driving tour begins and ends at the State Forest headquarters. We recommend that you bring a picnic lunch with you, as food is not available along the way. The driving tour is ideal for mobility-impaired birders. The driving tour description provided by the State Forest covers the natural history and human history of the forest.
During fall or spring migration, be sure to make a stop at the Town Hill Overlook, located on Scenic US Route 50/National Pike. The overlook is located near the top of Town Hill and provides an extensive view of the eastern slopes of Green Ridge State Forest. There is a long covered shelter with a few benches at the overlook, which is open to the public but is located on private property owned by the Town Hill Bed and Breakfast across the road. Please be on your best behavior here, to ensure that this outstanding overlook remains open to the public. In the 1990s, this was the site of the Town Hill Hawk Watch, which was especially famous for its Golden Eagles. The Hawk Watch is no longer staffed, but the Town Hill Overlook is still a great place to watch for hawks during spring and fall migration. The address is 31101 National Pike NE, Little Orleans, MD 21766.
Conservation note: Green Ridge State Forest contains many sensitive habitats that support birds and other wildlife. The 2019 Green Ridge State Forest Management Plan prepared by the MD Forest Service describes how these sensitive habitats are being managed for different species. It is worth reading about the many steps that the Forest Service is taking to preserve and improve habitat for birds.
Green Ridge State Forest offers an opportunity to be immersed in habitats that support the community of forest interior-dwelling bird species found in low-to-mid elevations. Over 165 species have been reported on eBird, which has 15 different hotspots for the state forest:
The combined total for these hotspots is 168 species, as of summer 2020.
Surveys of nightjars at Green Ridge SF from 2006 to 2013 found some of the highest counts for breeding Whip-poor-wills in Maryland and in the northeastern U.S. Some of the other specialty breeding birds of Green Ridge include Ruffed Grouse; Wild Turkey; Black-billed Cuckoo; Broad-winged Hawk; Pileated Woodpecker; Least Flycatcher; Acadian Flycatcher; Eastern Wood-Pewee; Yellow-throated Vireo; Blue-headed Vireo; Warbling Vireo; Common Raven; Black-capped Chickadee (not Carolina); Brown Creeper; Veery; Wood Thrush; Cedar Waxwing; Yellow-breasted Chat; Eastern Meadowlark; Orchard Oriole; Baltimore Oriole; and Scarlet Tanager. There are also a host of breeding warblers: Ovenbird; Worm-eating; Louisiana; Golden-winged; Blue-winged; Black-and-white; Common Yellowthroat; Hooder; American Redstart; Cerulean; Parula; Yellow; Chestnut-sided; Pine; Prairie; Black-throated Green; Yellow-throated; and many more warblers pass through on spring and fall migration.
The Town Hill Overlook is outstanding for migrating raptors in the fall and spring. It has a reputation as the best place in Maryland to see Golden Eagles. Jim Paulus, who staffed the hawk watch there in the 1990s, counted 13 Golden Eagles on March 6, 1997, and between 1990 and 1997 personally tallied 400 Goldens – a remarkable number for Maryland, where Golden are considered “accidental” (Paulus, J. 1997. Record Golden Eagle Day at Town Hill, Allegany County, Maryland. Maryland Birdlife, Vol. 53, #3, pp. 84-85). In addition, Town Hill sees Northern Goshawks and Mississippi Kites, and has contributed the sole accepted record of White-tailed Kite in Maryland. There is also an unaccepted report of Ferruginous Hawk. Other notable birds observed at Town Hill include Anhinga and Snow Buntings, and occasional remarkable numbers of Pine Siskins. Click here for a summary of the hawk count data and a reference list.
Pets are permitted and must be leashed.
The Driving Tour at Green Ridge State Forest is an outstanding birding opportunity for anyone, but especially for those who are mobility-impaired. ◾ The Headquarters Building is also wheelchair-accessible, and there is a scenic overlook trail that is accessible. Further, the State Forest offers a hunting program for handicapped hunters.
Green Ridge State Forest forms the nucleus for the Green Ridge Important Bird Area as designated by the National Audubon Society. ◾ Three areas within the State Forest are designated as State Wildlands: Deep Run (1,416 acres), Maple Run (5,125 acres), and Potomac Bends (2,645 acres), with special protections that limit development; only passive recreation is allowed. The Driving Tour at Green Ridge State goes past two of the Wildlands.
A canoe/kayak launch is available at Bond’s Landing on the Potomac. This section of the Potomac is mostly flat, but DNR cautions that the river must be considered potentially dangerous at all times. River currents are strong, deceptive and unpredictable. ◾ The protocol for a nightjar survey at Green Ridge in 2008 became the standard for ongoing surveys of nightjars nationwide. See http://dnr.maryland.gov/forests/Documents/greenridge/NightjarSurveys.pdf. ◾ The local chapter of the Maryland Ornithological Society is the Allegany & Garrett Counties Bird Club, which hosts field trips in the region as well as meetings with informative presentations. Field trips and meetings are free and open to the public.
Designated lot at Headquarters; parking at campsites; gravel lot at Town Hill Overlook; otherwise roadside parking (see driving tour instructions at http://dnr.maryland.gov/forests/Documents/GRSF-Driving-Tour.pdf).
To reach Green Ridge State Forest Headquarters: From I-68, take Exit 64 and at the base of the exit, turn right to go southeast on M.V. Smith Road NE. Headquarters Drive will be on the right in just 0.2 miles, immediately after crossing over I-68. For other locations in the State Forest, see the instructions for the Driving Tour.
To reach Town Hill Overlook: From I-68, take Exit 68 at Piney Grove and follow Orleans Road north for 0.3 miles. At the first intersection, turn left to go west on Scenic US Route 40/National Pike. The overlook will be on the left in 1.5 miles, across from the Town Hill Bed and Breakfast.
Allegany County: C&O Canal – North Branch Recreational Area, C&O Canal – Spring Gap & Oldtown, C&O Canal Terminus, C&O Canal – Town Creek Aqueduct to Fifteen Mile Creek Aqueduct, Finzel Swamp Preserve (see entry under Garrett County), Rocky Gap State Park
Washington County: Fort Frederick State Park/Big Pool, Sideling Hill Wildlife Management Area and Environs
Bottomland DeciduousUpland Deciduous Forested SwampFreshwater Marsh or FloodplainRivers & Streams
BeginnersBicycle Trails (Bikes may be prohibited on some trails)Birding By CarBoat or Canoe/Kayak LaunchCampingFishingFree - No Entry FeeHawk WatchHiking/Walking TrailsHorseback RidingHuntingParkingPets AllowedPicnic AreaRestroomsWater ViewWheelchair Accessible FeaturesYoung People / Families
Audubon Important Bird AreasC&O Canal AccessDriving Tours (Birding By Car)Hunting AreasState ForestsState Natural Areas & Wildlands