At a Glance

Hours: Open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Cost: Free.

Tips: No restrooms in the WMA. Nearest restrooms are in the Sideling Hill Welcome Center at Mile Marker 74 on I-68. ◾ If birding from the public roads, exercise extreme caution with traffic on the road. ◾ If birding the WMA on foot, take a compass and/or GPS. ◾ This is an active hunting area. Be aware of hunting seasons and plan your visit accordingly. ◾ There are black bears in the area.

Best Seasons: Year round. Some areas may be inaccessible during winter because of snow. Also some areas may be closed at almost any time of year because of flooding, particularly near the Potomac and C&O Canal.

Breeding Bird Atlas Blocks: Bellegrove NE, Bellegrove CW, Bellegrove CE, Bellegrove SW, Bellegrove SE

Local MOS Chapter: Washington County Bird Club

Sideling Hill Wildlife Management Area and Environs

1829 Riser Road, Hancock, MD 21750
(301) 842-2702

Sideling Hill Wildlife Management Area (WMA) is located south of I-68 and overlaps the boundary line between Allegany and Washington Counties.This 3,100-acre tract of mixed oak forest with scattered stands of Virginia Pine is a must for birders who love mountain scenery. The WMA has a rolling to steep topography, with elevations ranging from 500 to 1,500 feet. Old logging roads are scattered throughout Sideling Hill WMA, creating both easy and challenging walks for birders, hunters, and hikers.

The goal of Sideling Hill WMA is to provide forest wildlife habitat and protection of water quality in Sideling Hill Creek. This area is managed to provide habitat for game and non-game wildlife species including Wild Turkey, Ruffed Grouse, and songbirds. Agricultural fields and small herbaceous wildlife openings are planted and maintained to provide feeding and brood rearing habitat for a variety of birds and other wildlife. A special section of the WMA, with 1,555 acres, has been designated as a State Wildland, with special protections to keep it in a natural state and to preserve it for passive recreation.

At its south end, Sideling Hill WMA abuts the C&O Canal National Historic Park; the towpath there provides a long-distance hiker-biker trail from Washington, DC to Cumberland, MD. The towpath near Sideling Hill WMA provides access to the Potomac River. In addition, the Western Maryland Rail Trail parallels the C&O Canal towpath, running for about 28 miles from Fort Frederick/Big Pool in Washington County to Little Orleans in Allegany County. The Rail Trail provides access to the same habitat as the Canal towpath, but is a paved, level surface and wheelchair accessible. There are cross-connections between the towpath and the Rail Trail, allowing birders to switch back and forth.

In the spring, Wild Turkey strut through the forest and forest clearings, displaying their beautiful array of feathers. Black Bears are commonly seen in this area. Sideling Hill Creek is stocked with trout for fishing. Canoeing or kayaking is possible during the spring melt, but the water is too shallow at other times. Dramatic rock formations include scenic cliffs and rocky outcrops of shale and sandstone. The steep shale barrens along sections of Sideling Hill Creek support a number of plants that are endemic, meaning they only occur on these barrens and nowhere else.

There is also good birding in the nearby countryside. This is a rural area with minimal traffic and beautiful mountain and countryside views. Habitat runs from high mountain ridges to river bottom. The directions below include instructions for a driving route that has good shoulders on most roads and lots of places to stop on back roads where you can walk as well. Nearly deserted roads run through the area and there are old logging trails to walk. Henline and Willow Roads run thru old, abandoned orchards.

Nearby at Mile Marker 74 on I-68 is the Sideling Hill Welcome Center, where the geology of the area and of the deepest road cut east of the Mississippi River can be fully explored. The Maryland Geological Survey calls Sideling Hill “one of the best rock exposures in Maryland and indeed in the entire northeastern United States.”  Almost 810 feet of strata are exposed in the road cut. The Welcome Center has a paved  parking lot, paved walkways, an observation bridge, and restrooms.

Birdlife:

Over 120 species have been reported on eBird from the Sideling Hill area. There are a  number of eBird hotspots that cover this area:

The forests of the WMA are especially good for warblers, such as Northern Parula, Chestnut-sided, Black-throated Green, American Redstart, Louisiana Waterthrush, and Worm-eating; Cerulean and Blue-winged Warblers are specialties of the area.  Vireos include Blue-headed, Yellow-throated, and Warbling. Other highlights include Black-billed Cuckoo, Black-capped Chickadee, Wild Turkey, Eastern Whip-poor-will, and American Woodcock.

Parking:

Designated WMA parking lots and roadside shoulders. Do not block private lanes and driveways.

Special Features: 

Although the terrain at Sideling Hill is rough, this can be a good place to visit for those who are mobility-impaired, because of the possibility of birding from the car and/or roadside. ◾ At the Sideling Hill Welcome Center at Mile Marker 74 on I-68, a fenced walkway and a pedestrian bridge over the interstate provide a close view of the rock formations as well as a wonderful mountain vista. ◾ Sideling Hill WMA is contained within the Green Ridge Important Bird Area, as designated by the National Audubon Society. ◾ A portion of Sideling Hill WMA, with 1,555 acres, has been designated as a State Wildland, with special protections to keep it in a natural state and to preserve it for passive recreation.  ◾ To the south, Sideling Hill WMA borders the C&O Canal National Historic Park. The Canal Trust has produced a mobile app, the C&O Canal Explorer, with over 600 points of interest mapped  in a searchable format, allowing you to find hiking trails, campgrounds, history, trailheads, parking, and more at a glance, along the entire length of the Canal.  The app is available to download for 99 cents and runs on Android and IOS devices. ◾  Wake up with the birds along the Canal: through the Canal Quarters Program, visitors may arrange for overnight stays at seven historic lockhouses along the Canal: five in Montgomery County, one in Frederick County, and one in Washington County. See https://www.canaltrust.org/programs/canal-quarters/canal-quarters-lockhouses-overview/ for details. ◾ Sideling Hill WMA is adjacent to a portion of the Western Maryland Rail Trail, a paved surface that is open to hikers, bikers, and wheelchairs. The Rail Trail runs parallel to the C&O Canal for about 28 miles from Fort Frederick/Big Pool in Washington County to Little Orleans in Allegany County. ◾ The local chapter of the Maryland Ornithological Society is the Washington County Bird Club, which offers field trips and meetings with information presentations, all free and open to the public.

Directions:

To reach the northern section of Sideling Hill WMA, take I-68 to Exit 77 for US Route 40, MD Route 144 and Woodmont Road. Turn right (west) onto MD Route 144 (National Pike). At the top of the mountain, where National Pike makes a hairpin turn, make a left (south) onto Riser Road into Sideling Hill WMA. Look for a gated forest road that forks left off of Riser Road; there is a designated parking lot beyond the gate. You can park there to hike south into the WMA along the forest road.

To reach the southern section of the WMA, from I-68, take Exit 77 for US Route 40, MD Route 144 and Woodmont Road. At the end of the exit, turn left to go east on MD Route 144/National Pike for a short distance, then make an immediate right (south) onto Woodmont Road. Follow Woodmont to Pearre Road (which runs parallel to the C&O Canal and Potomac River) and turn right (west). At Allegany Line Road, make another right to go north. Follow this road into the WMA. The road eventually comes to a dead-end within the WMA.

Directions for a suggested birding-by-car route (a good map and/or GPS is essential):

  1. Take I-68 to Exit 77 for US Route 40, MD Route 144 and Woodmont Road. Turn right (west) onto MD Route 144 (National Pike).
  2. Bear left (west) off of National Pike onto Western Pike.
  3. Take the second left to go south on Henline Road (just past Mt. Olivet Church on the right).
  4. Travel Henline, stopping to bird where you see good habitat.
  5. Then turn left (south) onto Exline Road. Bird along Exline Road.
  6. After approximately 1 ¾ miles, Exline will come to a T-intersection at Woodmont Road; turn right to go south on Woodmont Road.
  7. Stay on Woodmont to the Potomac River and turn left (east) onto Pearre Road.
  8. Take Pearre to Deenen Road and Deneen to a left (north) onto Willow Road.
  9. Continue north on Willow to Western Pike (Md Route 144); turn left (west) to return to I-68 at Exit 77.

Nearby Sites:

Indian Springs Wildlife Management Area, Greenbrier State ParkFort Frederick State Park/Big Pool, Antietam National Battlefield, Rocky Gap State Park, C&O Canal Terminus (latter two both in Allegany County).

Habitats:

Bottomland DeciduousConifersHedgerowsUpland Deciduous Old Fields, Shrubby Meadows Rivers & Streams

Features:

Birding By CarFishingFree - No Entry FeeHiking/Walking TrailsHuntingParkingPets AllowedVisitor Center, Interpretive Displays, ExhibitsWater View

Type:

Audubon Important Bird AreasC&O Canal AccessDriving Tours (Birding By Car)Hunting AreasState Natural Areas & Wildlands