At a Glance
Hours: Sunrise to sunset.
Tips: Bring scope in winter for waterfowl viewing. ■ Restrooms are located near picnic areas and parking. ■ The lake and picnic areas are very busy on weekends during the summer; try to visit in early morning and/or weekdays.
Best Seasons: Winter, for waterfowl; spring and fall for migrant passerines.
Breeding Bird Atlas Blocks: Gaithersburg SE, Rockville NE
Rock Creek Regional Park – Lake Needwood
West Entrance – 6700 Needwood Rd, Derwood, MD 20855
East Entrance/Boating Area – 15700 Needwood Lake Cir., Rockville, MD 20855
Lake Needwood, located northeast of Rockville in Montgomery County, is in Rock Creek Regional Park, operated by Montgomery County Parks. (Note: Do not confuse this county park with the similarly named Rock Creek Park, a National Park Service property located in Washington, DC. See the Birder’s Guide description for Rock Creek Park in DC at https://birdersguidemddc.org/site/rock-creek-park/).
The 75-acre freshwater Lake Needwood was formed by damming Rock Creek. The lake is surrounded by deciduous woods, and the majority of the habitat here is representative of Piedmont wooded stream valleys. There are also some fields and overgrown meadows. Shorebird habitat appears in a few places along the lake shore, when the lake water level is naturally low, or when the lake is drawn down for silt removal.
Foot-trails follow the lake shore; some trails are hilly and most are natural-surfaced. It is not possible to circle the entire lake on foot, because the trail system is interrupted at the north end of the lake by Needwood Road.
There are several access points to the trail system. On the west side of the lake, there is an entrance and parking lot at 6700 Needwood Road. On the east side, Beach Drive runs roughly north-south, paralleling the lake shore, and there are parking and picnic areas dotted along the lake (see trail map at link at left; there is also an interactive park map available at https://mcatlas.org/parks/?find=G10). The main boating area is located at 15700 Needwood Lake Circle near the southeast corner of the lake. Trails on the west side of the lake abut a golf course and feature habitat that is different from the east side, and all are worth exploring.
Lake Needwood is the northern terminus of the Rock Creek Hiker-Biker Trail, a paved, 14.5 mile trail that winds its way through several park systems on its way to the DC boundary line. There is good habitat and good birding along the trail, making it an attractive option for those who cannot negotiate natural surface trails.
Over 205 species have been reported on eBird for Lake Needwood. There are four eBird hotspots for the lake area:
- Lake Needwood overall – 208+ species
- Lake Needwood – North End – 173+ species
- Needwood Mansion pond and trails – 128+ species
- Gude Trail–E. Guide Dr. – Lake Needwood – 134+ species
The lake attracts diving ducks such as Ring-necked in winter; in all, 23 species of waterfowl have been reported. Wood Ducks breed at the lake and are present year-round. Pied-billed Grebes can be spotted from fall through spring, and Horned and Red-necked Grebes show up in spring.
Over a dozen species of shorebirds turn up sporadically in the warm months, when water levels are low enough to create exposed mudflats.
The brushy areas are good spots to look for sparrows in migration, when Lincoln’s, Grasshopper, and others may be present. Warblers – 31 species in all – are found in wooded areas during migration, along with some breeders that are present during late spring and summer.
Overall, Lake Needwood presents a good diversity of birds from fall through early summer.
Most of the foot-trails along the lake are unpaved and not appropriate for a wheelchair, but at the boating area off Lake Needwood Circle at the southeast corner of the lake, there are paved roadways that lead to boat docks, offering wheelchair access to lake views. The Rock Creek Hiker-Biker Trail is asphalt-paved and wheelchair-accessible; the trail starts at the south-most parking lot on the east side of the lake (near the dam) and runs for 14.5 miles to the DC boundary line. The Hiker-Biker Trail Map shows wheelchair-accessible access points; be aware of some steep slopes along the trail, also marked on the map.
Pets are permitted on a leash; be prepared to clean up after your pet.
Rock Creek Regional Park has numerous visitor amenities, including boat rentals, boat rides, picnic areas, a visitor center and snack bar, playgrounds, an archery range, the Needwood Golf Course, and a zipline/treetop adventure facility (fees apply for some activities).
Montgomery Parks has an interactive map available at https://mcatlas.org/parks/. As you zoom in on a county park, detailed features such as trails, parking, picnic areas, trailheads, and restrooms will be displayed.
Local MOS Chapter:
The local chapter of the Maryland Ornithological Society is the Montgomery Bird Club, which offers field trips and meetings with informative programs, all free and open to the public.
The Montgomery Bird Club has published A Birder’s Guide to Montgomery County, Maryland (2008); this comprehensive, detailed book covers 17 major birding sites plus 18 “little treasures” in the county. The book is now out of print but is available as a free downloadable PDF, courtesy of the Montgomery Bird Club.
Designated parking lots are located throughout the park; see trail map at link at left. Roadside parking at the north end of the lake is possible along Needwood Road, which however is very busy.
To reach the trails on the west side of the lake: From I-495/DC Beltway: Take I-270 north for about 6.7 miles, taking Exit 8 and bear right off the exit ramp for Redland Boulevard eastbound. Follow Redland Boulevard for 2.1 miles, then make a right to go east on Needwood Road. The entrance to the parking area will be on the right in about 1.1 miles, just past Jousting Terrace on the left.
To continue to trails on the east side of the lake: From the west side parking lot at 6700 Needwood Road, exit onto Needwood Road and turn right to go northeast. In under half-a-mile, Needwood Road will cross the north end of the lake; immediately after the bridge, turn right to go south on Beach Drive. There are parking areas scattered along Beach Drive from the north end to the south end of the lake; consult the trail map at the link below and use the map to access parking for the desired trail-head. There is also an interactive park map showing parking and trails at https://mcatlas.org/parks/?find=G10.
Montgomery County: Black Hill Regional Park ■ Blue Mash Nature Trail ■ C&O Canal – Pennyfield, Violette’s & Riley’s Locks ■ Little Bennett Regional Park ■ Lois Y. Green Conservation Park ■ McKee-Beshers Wildlife Management Area (Hughes Hollow) ■ Rock Creek Regional Park – Meadowside Nature Center & Lake Frank ■ Seneca Creek State Park ■ Triadelphia Reservoir (Brighton Dam) ■ Wheaton Regional Park – Brookside Gardens, Brookside Nature Center, Pine Lake Area
Bottomland Deciduous Garden or ArboretumLawn, Ballfields, Golf CourseSuburban Neighborhood Hay Meadows, Pasture, Grass FieldOld Fields, Shrubby Meadows Freshwater Marsh or FloodplainFreshwater Pond, Lake, or ReservoirRivers & Streams
Features:BeginnersBicycle Trails (Bikes may be prohibited on some trails)Boat or Canoe/Kayak LaunchBoat RentalsFishingFree - No Entry Fee at Any TimeHiking/Walking TrailsParkingPets AllowedPicnic AreaRestroomsSnack Bar, Camp Store, Food ConcessionsWater ViewWheelchair Accessible FeaturesYoung People / Families
Type:County ParksPonds, Lakes, and Reservoirs