At a Glance

Hours: Grounds open daily, sunrise to sunset, except closed on Federal Holidays. Visitor Center Building: Open Friday through Wednesday 9:00 am – 4:30 pm; closed every Thursday and closed on Federal Holidays

Cost: Free. Donations to Friends of Patuxent are appreciated.

Tips: Don’t forget to check the bird feeders near the Visitor Center.

Best Seasons: Year-round.

Local MOS Chapters: Patuxent Bird Club

Patuxent Research Refuge – South Tract (National Wildlife Visitor Center)

10901 Scarlet Tanager Loop, Laurel, MD 20708-4027
(301) 497-5760

Patuxent Research Refuge is a facility of the National Wildlife Refuge System and consists of three tracts: South Tract in Prince George’s County, North Tract in Anne Arundel County, and Central Tract, which overlaps both counties.  North and South Tracts are open to the public but Central Tract, which houses the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, is closed to the public.  For North Tract description, see the entry under Anne Arundel County at https://www.mdbirdingguide.com/Patuxent_Research_Refuge_North_Tract.

Established in 1936 by executive order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Patuxent Research Refuge is the nation’s only national wildlife refuge established to support wildlife research. Today most of the research on the refuge is conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) through the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center.

South Tract houses the National Wildlife Visitor Center, a state-of-the-art building with displays about wildlife and projects at the Refuge, an  area for rotating art and photography exhibits, a permanent exhibit of wildlife photographs, a viewing area that looks out over one of the lakes at the Refuge, a large auditorium, smaller meeting rooms, a gift shop, and restrooms. Just outside the Visitor Center is a native plant and pollinator garden with a bird feeding station and comfortable benches for viewing.

The Visitor Center area includes the trailhead for South Tract’s network of trails. One of the trails encircles Cash Lake, and also offers viewing of several smaller ponds. Redington Lake, located immediately behind the Visitor Center, can be viewed from the patio at the Visitor Center as well as from the causeway separating Cash Lake and Lake Redington. Other trails and old roads wander through woodlands and meadows. Notable is the Laurel Trail, which is dedicated to the late Chandler S. Robbins, the esteemed ornithologist whose remarkable career at Patuxent Research Refuge started in 1943 and ended only with his death in 2017. The trail is marked with a bronze plaque placed by MOS to commemorate Chan’s 50th year of research at Patuxent.

Birdlife:

About 220 species have been reported on eBird. The official checklist for Patuxent Research Refuge includes 270 species. Notable are breeding populations of Wild Turkey, Bald Eagle, Osprey, Wood Duck, Hooded Merganser, Green Heron, Pileated Woodpecker, Warbling Vireo, Willow Flycatcher, and several swallow species.  Spotted Sandpipers lurk in the vegetation at the edge of Cash Lake, where a floating boardwalk takes you into marshy habitat. In winter, look for waterfowl, American Tree, Swamp, and Savannah Sparrows, and Rusty Blackbirds on the lake shores.  South Tract is a good spot to look for migrant thrushes and warblers.

Parking:

Free. Large paved parking lot near Visitor Center.

Special Features:

The non-profit organization Friends of Patuxent works to support the Refuge and Visitor Center. ◾ The refuge offers a wide range of public programs at both North and South Tracts. Patuxent public programs are small-group interpretive activities conducted by staff and volunteers. The programs are designed for individuals and/or families. Some programs are “all ages”. Some are intended for specific age ranges including groups as young as 18 months. Typically, registration is required. Programs are free. Check monthly schedules. ◾ The entire Patuxent Research Refuge has been designated as an Important Bird Area by the National Audubon Society. ◾ 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 Washington, D.C.: Take Baltimore/Washington Parkway (MD Route 295) North, Exit 22 for Powder Mill Road. Turn right (east) onto Powder Mill Road and go 2.0 miles. Turn right into Visitor Center entrance (Scarlet Tanager Loop). Go 1.4 miles to Visitor Center Parking area. ◾ From Baltimore, MD: Take Baltimore/Washington Parkway (MD Route 295) south to Powder Mill Road Exit. Turn left onto Powder Mill Road (East). Go 2.0 miles and turn right into Visitor Center entrance (Scarlet Tanager Loop). Go 1.4 miles to Visitor Center Parking area. ◾ From Annapolis, MD: Take US Route 50 West to Exit 11 for MD Route 197/Collington Road and Bowie. Follow Route 197 North for about 7 miles, past Bowie State University. Turn left at Powder Mill Road. Follow Powder Mill Road for about 1/2 mile; then turn left into Visitor Center entrance (Scarlet Tanager Loop). Go 1.4 miles to Visitor Center Parking area.

Nearby Sites:

Fran Uhler Natural Area; Greenbelt National Park; Lake Artemesia Natural Area; Greenbelt Lake Municipal Park; Patuxent Research Refuge – North Tract; Oxbow Lake Natural Area; Piney Orchard Nature Preserve (the latter three are in Anne Arundel County).

Habitats:

Bottomland DeciduousConifersHedgerowsUpland Deciduous Old Fields, Shrubby Meadows Forested SwampFreshwater Marsh or FloodplainFreshwater Pond, Lake, or ReservoirRivers & Streams

Features:

BeginnersBicycle Trails (Bikes may be prohibited on some trails)Bird Feeding StationBoardwalkFishingFree - No Entry FeeGift Shop or BookstoreHiking/Walking TrailsLake, Pond, Bay, River, OceanNative Plant Garden or Meadow/Pollinator PlantsNature CenterObservation Platform or TowerParkingPets AllowedRestroomsVisitor Center, Interpretive Displays, ExhibitsWheelchair Accessible FeaturesYoung People / Families

Type:

Audubon Important Bird AreasNational Wildlife RefugesNature CentersPonds, Lakes, and Reservoirs