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Nature Loop

Length: 1 mile

Difficulty: Easy/moderate

The Nature Loop is an easy trail that winds up and down through floodplain habitat. Highlights along the trail include a native plant meadow, where you can learn more about the importance of native plants and pollinators; a mixed deciduous/evergreen forest and the birds you might spot here;  a stand of pawpaw trees; and a path along the Burning Basin that features wetland plants and animals.  

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Nature Loop

Mallows Bay County Park

Explore the Nature Loop Highlights

image of Nature Loop Trail Entrance
Nature Loop Trail Entrance

Welcome to the Nature Loop! Once you're in the virtual trail: Click or tap on the screen to navigate along trail, highlighted by the text along the bottom of your screen. Click or tap on the orange hotspots to learn more information about the highlighted area. Use the mini-map in the upper left hand corner of your screen to navigate or skip ahead. And most importantly, have fun! read more

image of Meadow

The start of the Nature Loop passes through a meadow that is full of flowers during the spring, summer, and fall. This meadow is an important habitat for pollinators, such as Maryland’s 400+ species of ground-dwelling bees that leave nesting holes throughout the meadow. Charles County Parks has enhanced this meadow by seeding 19 native plant species that provide food and habitat for bees, butterflies, and other insects. read more

image of Iris

Though the meadow is filled with predominantly native plants, sometimes non-native species take root, such as the Yellow flag iris. Its resistance to deer and other wildlife led to its popularity as an ornamental plant and its introduction in the late 1700s. It expands quickly and can replace and crowd out valuable aquatic plants like cattails and other native irises, such as the Dwarf-crested iris and the Blue Flag iris. read more

image of Telescope Platform
Telescope Platform

Stop at this telescope platform for one of the best views of Mallows Bay. The telescopes offer a close-up view of the Accomac and the Ghost Fleet, without having to get out on the water! read more

image of Mixed Forest
Mixed Forest

On this part of the trail you’ll start to see a mixture of tree species, both deciduous and evergreen. This increases the diversity of bird species you can view. This is ideal habitat for the Ruby-crowned kinglet, a small native bird that can be spotted in this area during the winter. read more

image of Serviceberry

Serviceberry, shadbush, shadwood, and juneberry are just a few of the many names given to this shrub. Often found growing along the edge of the forest, it's white flowers are an indicator that spring has arrived. Several weeks later, berries will ripen and provide a food source for birds and mammals. read more

image of Ghost Ship
Ghost Ship

At low tide, one of the ghost ships may be visible next to the shoreline. In this marshy area, plants have taken over the wreckage and provide habitat for many species. Here, you’ll find several species of native plants that thrive in moist habitats, such as Marsh tickseed, Swamp rose mallow, and Common sneezeweed. These plants all attract various butterflies, moths, bees, and other pollinators, who rely on the plants as a source of food. Great blue herons, Bald eagles,... read more

Hiking Trails
image of Maples

While many trees may look similar to each other in the summer, certain distinctions can be seen in other seasons. In early spring, look for the trees with red tops - they are Red maples, with small, hanging clusters of bright red flowers that appear in spring before the leaves, while most other trees are still bare. Their early bloom makes them an important source of pollen. read more

image of Paw paw
Paw paw

This damp habitat contains a cluster of paw paw trees, a small understory tree that produces the largest edible fruit native to the United States. Raccoons, squirrels, opossums, and other small mammals are attracted to the mango-like fruit. Paw paws are also critical to the life cycle of the Zebra swallowtail butterfly, whose larvae feed exclusively on Paw paw leaves. read more

image of Snag Trees
Snag Trees

The standing dead or dying trees, or “snag” trees, in this area are an ideal place to see several woodpecker species, such as the Downy woodpecker, Hairy woodpecker, Red-bellied woodpecker, and Northern flicker. Woodpeckers create new cavities in these snags while searching for insects to eat, and several other bird species, such as Louisiana waterthrush, Prothonotary warbler, Carolina chickadees, Eastern bluebirds, and White-breasted nuthatch, will later nest in these cavities. read more

image of Native Wildflowers
Native Wildflowers

Look to the forest floor for small, native wildflowers, such as Cut-leaf toothwort, Pennywort, Yellow trout lily, Bloodroot, Virginia spring beauty, and Showy orchid. These woodland flowers require a forest habitat to survive, and are dependent on the trees surrounding them. They appear in early spring and soak up as much sunlight as they can before the large deciduous trees leaf out and cover the forest floor in shade. read more

image of Japanese Wineberry
Japanese Wineberry

Much of our habitat across the U.S. has been disturbed and replaced with invasive plant species. Many can be found here at the park, such as Japanese wineberry, an invasive shrub related to raspberries and blackberries. It is prolific throughout the park, easily identified by its red stems that form thickets along the forest floor. Aggressive and fast-spreading, it replaces native vegetation and reduces wildlife habitat. read more

image of Tree-of-Heaven

The downed trees along the trail are known as Tree-of-heaven, a native Chinese species that has become a widespread invasive species across North America. Easily identified by its large seed pods, it reproduces quickly, crowds out native species, and secretes a toxic chemical into the soil that can kill nearby plants. The tree has also advanced the spread of the Spotted lanternfly, an invasive insect that lays its eggs on the trees, and feeds on and damages many native trees. read more

image of Beaver Pond Overlook
Beaver Pond Overlook

This spot is the first overlook of the Beaver Pond, where the remnants of an old beaver dam can be seen. Over time, beavers expand their range and territory, building new dams and lodges further upstream. Evidence of an active dam can be seen further upstream along the Beaver Trail. read more

image of Wild Turkey
Wild Turkey

In addition to the osprey, eagles, and songbirds frequently seen at Mallows Bay, it is also home to the Eastern wild turkey. Turkeys use forests for roosting and nesting, as well as grassy fields, like this one, for insect foraging. Over the past 50 years, Maryland’s wild turkey population has significantly rebounded with a flourishing population in Southern Maryland supported by large expanses of natural areas like Mallows Bay Park. read more

image of Burning Basin
Burning Basin

This wetland area surrounds the Burning Basin, where Bethlehem Steel drained the water in 1942 to allow burning and scuttling of the WWI ships. Now a cove of calm waters, this area has become a popular fishing spot for recreational anglers. It also serves as a transition from the open Potomac River to the calmer, upstream waters of Marlow Creek. Several freshwater marsh plants can be found along the water’s edge, which serve as important habitat and a food source... read more

image of Freshwater Marsh Plants
Freshwater Marsh Plants

Four trail signs highlight common freshwater marsh plants that can be seen in the area surrounding the Burning Basin: Pickerel weed, Tuckahoe, Cattails, and Wild rice. Each of these plants offer habitat and a source of food for several species, as well as important ecosystem services such as filtering nutrients from runoff and preventing erosion along the shoreline. These species also have significant cultural uses by indigenous peoples dating back thousands of years, which are highlighted on the trail signs. read more

image of Osprey Nest
Osprey Nest

An osprey nest at the top of a tree is one of the best places to see a nest from land in the park. Ospreys, Blue herons, Bald eagles, cormorants, and gulls are all frequently seen in this area, as it is an easy place to catch fish. Owls are common as well, with Great horned owls being one of the biggest predators of osprey chicks during the nesting season. read more

image of Goldenrod

In the fall, the trail is full of goldenrod - one of the most important plants for biodiversity, providing an important source of late-season nectar and pollen in the late summer and early fall. Also in this area, numerous nesting birds will build their nests in trees along the water. read more

image of Flagpole Overlook
Flagpole Overlook

As you finish the Nature Loop, you'll see a tall flagpole adjacent to the parking lot. Walk to the edge of this grassy patch and you'll find some of the most spectacular views of Mallows Bay, including the iconic Accomac and the Ghost Fleet. Trail signs in this area welcome you to the park and detail the sanctuary's history and cultural significance. read more

Elevation Profile