At a Glance

Hours: Dawn to dusk.

Cost: Free to visit grounds; fee for camping.

Tips: Visit on weekdays to avoid crowds in summer. Some trails may be wet; boots are recommended. Watch for bicyclists on the roadways.

Best Seasons: Spring and fall migration.

Local MOS Chapters: Patuxent Bird Club

Greenbelt (National) Park

6565 Greenbelt Rd, Greenbelt, MD 20740
(301) 344-3944

Temporary partial closure in effect. The National Park Service has announced that the Greenbelt Park campground and picnic areas are closed until late spring 2020. Park trails remain open but the main Park Central Road and Sweetgum Picnic Area are closed effective October 1, 2019. The closures apply to drivers, pedestrians, and bicyclists.The closures are due to a major road paving project along with replacement of a bridge and stormwater culverts. During the work, visitors will have access to park trails, but picnic areas and campground will remain closed until spring 2020. The National Park Service is operating a temporary visitor contact station in the park’s administrative offices. Visitor parking is available at Greenbelt Park Headquarters throughout the project.

Greenbelt Park is managed by the National Park Service and is located in the Maryland suburbs of Prince George’s County, just inside the Capital Beltway near the cities of Greenbelt and College Park. Don’t confuse this park with the nearby Greenbelt Lake Municipal Park, a community park managed by the Town of Greenbelt. The land for the national Greenbelt Park was originally set aside during the 1930s as part of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal project to develop the city of Greenbelt as a model community. The park received its national park designation in 1960,  and offers camping amid a natural setting easily accessible to city dwellers. At the same time, the right-of-way for the Baltimore-Washington Parkway was laid out across the planned park boundary, so the park ended up bisected into a western parcel (about 2/3 of the park area) containing all the roads, trails, and facilities, and a little-visited eastern 1/3, inaccessible by vehicle and scarcely by foot – wild, overgrown, and forgotten.

Greenbelt Park is unusually large for a park in the DC-area suburbs, at about 700 acres. In fact, Greenbelt Park constitutes one of the largest tracts of forest inside the Washington Beltway. Upland forest trees include Virginia Pine and oaks, often with an understory dominated by American Holly, Mountain Laurel, or blueberries. This habitat supports nesting populations of Forest Interior Dwelling Species. Oaks killed or damaged by outbreaks of gypsy moth caterpillars (Lymantria dispar) in years past provide habitat for cavity nesters such as Great Crested Flycatchers, woodpeckers, chickadees, titmice, White-breasted Nuthatches, and Carolina Wrens. Scrubby vegetation along forest edges or in disturbed areas provides nesting habitat for Gray Catbirds, Brown Thrashers, Blue Grosbeaks, and Indigo Buntings. Song Sparrows, White-throated Sparrows, and occasional other sparrows use these habitats in other seasons. Urban birds like Rock Dove, House Wren, Northern Mockingbird, European Starling, House Finch, and House Sparrow are found sparingly in Greenbelt Park, mostly along the edges that border residential neighborhoods.

There is a good trail network throughout the mostly wooded western tract. There are clearings along roads and around campsites. Given the busy highways nearby, traffic noise can be distracting. Note that along Kenilworth Avenue, there is an inholding in the park: the privately owned Westchester Apartments. The open space near the apartments is a traditional venue for American Woodcock in late February through March. The campground area is sometimes good for migrants in spring and fall. Come early and walk quietly so as to avoid waking the campers.

The adventurous may like to try the eastern parcel of the park. The access is,m Good Luck Road at the south border of the park. Leave your car at the small parking lot on Good Luck Road just west of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway and walk (with extreme caution on this busy road!) along the shoulder of Good Luck Road, crossing over the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, to the gated-off old fire road, now abandoned, that goes north into the park (see trail map at link below). The start of the fire road is located between Oakland and Auburn Avenues on the opposite side of Good Luck Road. The fire road affords some access, though much encumbered by fallen trees, overgrown shrubs, and standing water, and may be difficult to find in summer when trees and shrubs are fully leafed out. But in winter or early spring, the fire road is more visible, and will eventually bring you to a sizable marshy section that may harbor wetland birds, and surprises may await the keen-eyed.

Birdlife:

More than 125 species have been reported on eBird from Greenbelt (National) Park.  Given the wooded habitat, you can expect a predominance of woodland birds.  In migration, the park is good for all migrant thrushes (Swainson’s, Gray-cheeked, Bicknell’s). Hermit Thrush is resident in winter and Wood Thrush breed here.  Low-lying areas along streams may have breeding Barred Owl, Yellow-throated Vireo, and Louisiana Waterthrush. Hooded and Kentucky Warblers and Louisiana Waterthrushes nest in the forest bordering the park’s streams. In fall and winter, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, Brown Creepers, Golden-crowned Kinglets, and, in some years, Red-breasted Nuthatches, join foraging flocks of resident birds, and the abundant fruits of American Holly attract occasional Hermit Thrushes and flocks of American Robins. Many species of flycatchers, vireos, thrushes, and warblers use the forest during migration.

The park is best for a chance fall-out during spring and fall migration. It is a pleasant place for either a short walk or a longer hike to get away from the surrounding suburbs.

Parking:

At entrance and various designated places along the roads. It is not allowed to pull off the road onto the grass.

Special Features:

As much of the park can be birded from the car by driving the paved roads, Greenbelt Park offers good birding for those who are mobility-impaired. ◾ Camping is available at the south end of the park. ◾ An online bird checklist is available; the name of each species is linked to its description on the USFWS/Patuxent Wildlife Research Center’s website. ◾ 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.

Directions:

From I-95 near College Park, MD: Take Exit 23 to MD Route 201/Kenilworth Avenue Southbound (toward Bladensburg). Proceed south on Kenilworth Avenue (Route 201). Watch for sign for MD Route 193/Greenbelt Road. Bear right to take Route 193/Greenbelt Road eastbound and at the end of the ramp, make a left onto Greenbelt Road. The park entrance is a quarter-mile on the right (south) side of Greenbelt Road across from Fridays Restaurant and Marriott Courtyard.

Nearby Sites:

Greenbelt Lake Municipal Park (Buddy Attick Lake Park); Lake Artemesia Natural Area.