At a Glance

Hours: 6 am to 10 pm.

Cost: Free.

Tips: Bring a scope. ◾ No restrooms. ◾ Smoking is not allowed in any Howard County park. ◾ On warm days, especially weekends, the lake and park can be quite crowded.

Best Seasons: Year-round.

Breeding Bird Atlas Block: Savage CW

Local MOS Chapter: Howard County Bird Club

Lake Elkhorn

9705 Broken Land Parkway, Columbia, MD 21046
7200 Dockside Lane, Columbia, MD 21045
(410) 715-3000

Lake Elkhorn is a 37-acre man-made lake in Columbia in Howard County, formed by damming the Elkhorn Branch of the Little Patuxent River. It is the #3 eBird hotspot in Howard County. The lake was built in 1974 by the Columbia Association, the local community association that sponsors a wide array of recreational, cultural, and community services.

The lake is oriented roughly east to west, with the dam at the west end. The lake is 15 feet at its deepest, graduating to shallow water or even mudflats at the east end above the bridge. There can be extensive amounts of emergent and submergent vegetation depending on the season. Surrounding the lake are about 44 acres of parkland with groups of mature trees, interspersed with some shrubby vegetation and mowed grass. A few small streams enter the lake. East of the lake, the land under the powerlines has scrubby second-growth, wet meadow, and open water. The amount of water varies with annual precipitation and beaver activity. Forebay Pond,on the other side of the power lines at the east end of the lake, may have good edge for shorebirds, although that is relatively unpredictable from year to year.

A 2-mile paved loop trail surrounds the lake, at some points passing close to homes on the north and south sides of the lake. There are two major parking lots: one adjacent to Broken Land Parkway at the southwest corner of the lake; and the other off Dockside Lane.on the north shore toward the west end.

The loop trail offers access to all the available habitats, either directly or through side trails. By continuing east, it is possible to walk to Forebay Pond and a little farther, to the Elkhorn Branch Garden Plots on the east side of Oakland Mills Road. The Garden Plots are themselves a good birding site and are attractive to pollinators. At the west end of the lake, the loop trail connects to the Patuxent Branch Trail, which is a 4.6-mile path, mostly paved, that follows the Patuxent River from Savage Park to Lake Elkhorn; see trail map at https://www.howardcountymd.gov/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=ADPQ9zZVAEI%3d&portalid=0.

See also the Howard County Bird Club  website for more information about Lake Elkhorn: https://howardbirds.website/birding/birding-howard-county-md/site-guides/lake-elkhorn/.

Birdlife:

Though small, Lake Elkhorn and its surrounding park are a magnet for birds. Over 210 species have been reported on eBird, making this the #3 eBIrd hotspot in Howard County. This is a bonanza of birds in a highly developed area, and consequently Lake Elkhorn is much prized by local birders for its species diversity, convenient location, and east of access.

The lake is well-known for its assortment of waterfowl (28 species), Common Loon, and grebes (Horned, Red-necked, and Pied-billed, with an occasional Eared). When the lake freezes in winter, the unfrozen area below the dam can offer close looks at diving and other ducks. Herons are present in the warmer months; some notable sightings have included both American and Least Bitterns, Tricolored Heron, Snowy Egret, and both Black- and Yellow-crowned Night-Herons. Warblers are found in migration, with some species nesting.

Gulls are around the lake in winter; terns and swallows in summer.  Shorebirds appears any time from April through October, depending on water levels. With its open view of the sky, the north side of the lake is a good place to observe raptors during migration. Songbirds include the usual assortment of flycatchers, vireos, wrens, kinglets, thrushes, finches, sparrows (13 species), blackbirds, and warblers (32 species). Notable sightings include Olive-sided Flycatcher, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Alder Flycatcher, Philadelphia Vireo, Marsh Wren, Gray-cheeked Thrush, Snow Bunting, Golden-winged Warbler, Orange-crowned Warbler, Prothonotary Warbler, Connecticut Warbler, Mourning Warbler, Summer Tanager, Dickcissel, and Pine Siskin.

Parking:

Paved lots–see directions below and the trail map at link at left.

Special Features:

Lake Elkhorn provides good access for those who are mobility-impaired, as the loop trail is paved, with only a few gentle grades. The connecting Patuxent Branch Trail, at the west end of the lake, is an additional 4.6-mile path, mostly paved, that follows the Patuxent River from Savage Park to Lake Elkhorn; see map at https://www.howardcountymd.gov/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=ADPQ9zZVAEI%3d&portalid=0.◾ The nearby Elkhorn Branch Garden Plots, on the east side of Oakland Mills Road, are themselves a good birding site and are attractive to pollinators.  See https://ebird.org/hotspot/L607303. ◾ A seasonal list of birds, butterflies, dragonflies, mammals, and herps at Lake Elkhorn is available at https://howardbirds.website/birding/birding-howard-county-md/site-guides/lake-elkhorn/lake-elkhorn-species-lists/, courtesy of the Howard County Bird Club. ◾ The Howard County Bird Club, a chapter of the Maryland Ornithological Society, holds bird walks at Lake Elkhorn and elsewhere in the county; such walks are free and open to the public. See the Howard County Bird Club’s calendar for more information. ◾ The Howard County Bird Club has a detailed online guide, “Birding Howard County,” on their website at https://howardbirds.website/birding/birding-howard-county-md/site-guides/. Edited by Joanne Solem, the online guide replaces an older printed guide, now out-of-print. The website is up-to-date and extremely detailed. Check it out!

Directions:

From points south, or from the Baltimore Beltway, use I-95 or I-295 or I-97, and then take MD Route 32 westbound toward Columbia. From MD Route 32, take Exit 14 to go north on Broken Land Parkway toward the community of Owen Brown. In just 0.4 miles, make a sharp right into a small paved parking area on the east side of Broken Land Parkway. This parking area is on the south side of the west end of the lake (9705 Broken Land Parkway). Consult the trail map at the link below for walking trails that start at the parking area.

Alternatively, from points south, or from the Baltimore Beltway, use I-95 or I-295 or I-97, and take MD Route 32 westbound toward Columbia. From MD Route 32, take Exit 14 to go north on Broken Land Parkway toward the community of Owen Brown. In 0.8 miles, turn right to go east on Cradlerock Way; then in 0.2 miles, turn right again to go south on Dockside Lane. The entrance to the parking area is on the left in only about 140 feet; look for a paved lane that goes into a woodlot. Turn left here and the parking lot will be straight ahead in about 250 feet. This parking area is on the north side of the west end of the lake (7200 Dockside Lane); consult the trail map at the link below for walking trails that start at the parking area.

From points west, take I-70 east to Exit 87 for US Route 29/Columbia Pike southbound. Go 7.3 miles on Route 29 and then take Exit 16 onto MD Route 32 eastbound. Go 1.4 miles east on MD Route 32; then take Exit 14 to go north on Broken Land Parkway toward the community of Owen Brown. In just 0.4 miles, make a sharp right into a small paved parking area on the east side of Broken Land Parkway- this parking area is on the south side of the lake at the west end. Consult the trail map at the link below for walking trails that start at the parking area.

Or, to reach the parking area on the north side of the lake, stay on Broken Land Parkway for another 0.4 miles, and urn right to go east on Cradlerock Way; then in 0.2 miles, turn right again to go south on Dockside Lane. The entrance to the parking area is on the left in only about 140 feet; look for a paved lane that goes into a woodlot. Turn left here and the parking lot will be straight ahead in about 250 feet.

Nearby Sites:

Centennial Lake; David Force NRA; Middle Patuxent Environmental Area; Mount Pleasant Farm (Howard County Conservancy); Patapsco Valley SP – Daniels Area; Patapsco Valley SP – Henryton; Rockburn Branch Park; Schooley Mill Park; Wilde Lake.

Habitats:

Bottomland DeciduousHedgerowsUpland Deciduous Garden or ArboretumLawn, Ballfields, Golf CourseSuburban Neighborhood Old Fields, Shrubby Meadows Freshwater Pond, Lake, or Reservoir

Features:

BeginnersBicycle Trails (Bikes may be prohibited on some trails)Free - No Entry FeeHiking/Walking TrailsParkingPets AllowedWater ViewWheelchair Accessible FeaturesYoung People / Families

Type:

Community and Urban ParksHiker-Biker Trails (Paved)Ponds, Lakes, and Reservoirs