At a Glance

Hours: Dawn to dusk.

Cost: Free.

Tips: Restrooms are at both ends of the trail and at parking/access points in between; see trail map set at link below. ◾ Firearms, alcohol, drugs and smoking are not permitted. ◾ Bikers must wear helmets. ◾ Hunting takes place in several adjacent tracts. Be aware of hunting seasons and stay on the paved trail.

Best Seasons: Year-round.

Breeding Bird Atlas Blocks: Indian Head NE, Port Tobacco NW, Port Tobacco CW, Port Tobacco NE, La Plata NW

Indian Head Rail Trail

Eastern Terminus: 10390 Theodore Green Boulevard, White Plains, MD 20695
(301) 932-3470

Charles County is justifiably proud of the Indian Head Rail Trail, a paved hiker-biker trail that runs east-west for 13 miles between the towns of White Plains, on US Route 301, and Indian Head, on the Potomac River. The Rail Trail follows the right-of-way of an abandoned railroad that was originally built to carry supplies to the Naval Support Facility at Indian Head. The railbed was donated to the county through the Federal Lands to Parks Program of the Department of the Interior and the trail is now maintained by the Charles County Parks Department. The Rail Trail has several access points with parking and portable toilets. See the trail map set at link at left.

For the birder, the allure of the Indian Head Rail Trail lies in the fact that it passes through prime bird habitat and through thousands of acres of protected lands in the Mattawoman Natural Environmental Area, Chapman Residual Wildlife Management Area, and Myrtle Grove Wildlife Management Area. At its western end, the Rail Trail lies in the stream valley of the Mattawoman Creek, with its extensive wetlands and it rich network of tributary streams. Near the middle, the Rail Trail parallels Old Woman Run, and as it nears White Plains at its eastern end, the Rail Trail passes through the stream valleys of several tributaries of Port Tobacco Creek. As a result, more than 11 miles of the 13-mile Rail Trail go through designated wetland habitats. Much of these wetlands are wooded, so there is a mix of interior-forest-dwelling birds and wetland birds. Between Chapel Springs Place and Bensville Road, the south side of the Rail Trail parallels a power line cut, adding some brushy habitat to the mix. The National Audubon Society has designated two Important Bird Areas that are adjacent to the western end of the Rail Trail: the Chapman State Park Important Bird Area and the Mattawoman Creek Important Bird Area.

And, all this habitat is easily accessible to the walker, biker, or wheelchair user. The Rail Trail has parking near its two ends and also at several intermediate points: the Mason Spring area at Livingston Road, Bensville Park on Bensville Road, and at Middletown Road (see trail maps at link at left). It’s not necessary to traverse the whole Rail Trail at one time; instead, you can use one of the intermediate access points to focus on a particular section. Most of the Rail Trail is on level ground, with only a few easy grades.

Birdlife:

A trio of eBird hotspots are on or near the western half of the Indian Head Rail Trail:

Perhaps more eBird hotspots will be established to cover the eastern portion of the Rail Trail, as more birders use it.

The area near the Mason Spring hotspot has been the most productive to date. A baker’s dozen of waterfowl have been reported: Canada Goose, Tundra Swan, Wood Duck, Blue-winged Teal, Gadwall, American Wigeon, Mallard, American Black Duck, Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal, Bufflehead, Hooded Merganser, and Common Merganser.

American Woodcock is sometimes found in the spring. Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, and Green Herons frequent the wetlands. Ospreys and Bald Eagles are plentiful breeders, with eagles being present all year and Ospreys from March through September. Other locally breeding raptors include Red-tailed and Red-shouldered Hawks.

Red-headed Woodpeckers also breed along the Rail Trail, and are found all year round. Summer brings breeding populations of neo-tropical migrants such as Acadian Flycatcher, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Eastern Phoebe, Great Crested Flycatcher, White-eyed Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Yellow-throated Vireo, and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers. House Wrens are present in the warm months, replaced by Winter Wrens in the cold months, and Carolina Wrens are present all the time. Eastern Bluebirds are prevalent year-round, and Wood Thrushes are here during breeding season. Hermit Thrushes over-winter. Swamp Sparrows are abundant in winter, and White-crowned Sparrows can sometimes be found during winter.

Other breeding birds include Baltimore Oriole, Orchard Oriole, Yellow-breasted Chat, Summer Tanager, Scarlet Tanager, Blue Grosbeak, and Indigo Bunting. In some years, Rusty Blackbirds can be found in winter along the trail. Breeding warblers include Ovenbird, Louisiana Waterthrush, Prothonotary, Kentucky, Common Yellowthroat, Hooded, American Redstart, Northern Parula, Yellow, Pine, Yellow-throated and Prairie. Yellow-rumped Warblers over-winter here, and can be found through a long span, from October through May.

Parking:

Lots near both ends of the trail and at intermediate points: at Livingston Road, Bensville Park on Bensville Road, and at Middletown Road. See Directions below and trail map set at link at left.

Special Features:

The entire Indian Head Rail Trail is wheelchair-accessible, and motorized wheelchairs are permitted. No other motor vehicles may use the trail. ◾ The Rail Trail lies, in part, within the Chapman State Park Important Bird Area and the Mattawoman Creek Important Bird Area, as designated by the National Audubon Society. ◾ The Mattawoman Creek Water Trail uses Mattingly Park as one of its access points. The Water Trail goes into prime wetland habitat in the Mattawoman Natural Environmental Area. The Water Trail is depicted on the interactive map of the Maryland Public Water Access Atlas. ◾ The Mason Springs Conservancy maintains a kayak launch near the Mason Springs Parking Area for the Rail Trail. See Google map. ◾ There is no chapter of the Maryland Ornithological Society in Charles County, but many birders participate in MOS through the Anne Arundel Bird Club or the Patuxent Bird Club; both of these MOS chapters offer field trips and meetings with informative programs, all free and open to the public. In addition, the Southern MD Audubon Society serves birders in Charles, Calvert, St.Mary’s and Prince George’s Counties.

Directions:

All directions start at US Route 301 at White Plains, beginning with the eastern end of the Indian Head Rail Trail and proceeding to the western end at the town of Indian Head.
To parking at the eastern terminus in White Plains: From Route 301 in White Plains, turn west onto Theodore Green Boulevard. In approximately ¼ mile, trail parking is on the right side of the road at 10390 Theodore Green Boulevard. Weekend (only) overflow parking is available at the Charles County Health Department parking lot (intersection of Route 301 and Theodore Green Boulevard).
To the Middletown Road parking area (approximate address 4480 Middletown Road, Pomfret, MD): From US Route 301 just south of White Plains, turn west onto MD Route 227/Marshall Corner Road and go 1.8 miles, then turn right to go north on Middletown Road for 0.2 miles. The parking for the Rail Trail will be on the right (east) side of the road, immediately before crossing the Rail Trail itself.
To Bensville Park parking area (address 6980 Bensville Road, White Plains, MD): From US Route 301 just north of White Plains, turn west onto Billingsley Road. Drive west for 2.3 miles, then turn left to go south on Middletown Road. Drive south for just 0.2 miles, to a traffic circle; take the first exit to continue west on Billingsley Road. In 2.2 miles, turn left to go south on Bensville Road. The park will be on your right (west side of the road) in just 0.6 miles. The park has two big paved parking lots: a triangular one and a smaller square one that lies between three baseball diamonds. At the southeast corner of the square lot, there is a paved trail that heads east and then south, parallel to Bensville Road, providing access to the Rail Trail.
To Mason Spring Parking area (approximate address 4970 Livingstone Road, Indian Head, MD): From US Route 301 just south of White Plains, turn west onto MD Route 227/Marshall Corner Road and go 4.9 miles. Turn right to go northwest on Pomfret Road (still MD Route 227) for 3.2 miles, then turn left to go southwest on MD Route 224/Livingston Road. The Indian Head Rail Trail will be ahead in 2.5 miles. Carefully turn into the parking area on the right, at the intersection with the Rail Trail.
To parking near the western terminus of the Rail Trail in the town of Indian Head: There is no parking at the Rail Trail itself. Nearby parking is at Village Green Park, 100 Walter Thomas Road, Indian Head, MD. From US Route 301 just north of White Plains, turn west onto Billingsley Road. Drive west for 2.3 miles, then turn left to go south on Middletown Road. Drive south for just 0.2 miles, to a traffic circle; take the first exit to continue west on Billingsley Road. In 6.4 miles, turn right to go north on Warehouse Landing Road for just 250 feet, to the intersection with MD Route 210/Indian Head Highway. Turn left to go southwest on Indian Head Highway for 4.9 miles, to the town of Indian Head. Turn right onto Lackey Drive. The Village Green Park and its large paved parking lot will be on the left in just 0.1 miles. Follow signs to the start of the Indian Head Rail Trail about 3 blocks away, at Mattingly Avenue.
ALTERNATE PARKING IN INDIAN HEAD: Another option is to park at Mattingly Park, at 105 Mattingly Avenue in Indian Head. Although this parking lot is slightly farther from the start of the Rail Trail, access to the trail is a little more straightforward, and, as a bonus, you will be treated to a view of the Mattawoman Creek from the dock at the end of Mattingly Avenue. To reach Mattingly Park: Follow directions above to the western terminus of the trail in Indian Head, but instead of turning right onto Lackey Drive from Indian Head Highway, continue straight for another 600 feet and turn left to go south on Mattingly Avenue. Obey posted speed limits on this residential street. You will pass the start of the Indian Head Rail Trail on your left in just two blocks; continue straight ahead. Mattingly Park will be ahead on your left in 0.5 miles. Additional parking is at the city-owned Slavin’s Dock at the end of Mattingly Avenue, where there is a great view of Mattawoman Creek. Return north on Mattingly Avenue on foot or by bike to the start of the Rail Trail.

Nearby Sites: