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Elena Gilroy, Mallows Bay Operations Manager, Charles County Recreation, Parks and Tourism, gives an introduction of what you can experience while exploring the Nature Loop Trail within Mallows Bay Park in Nanjemoy, Maryland. Credit: National Marine Sanctuary Foundation/NOAA.

Nature Loop

Length: 1 mile

Difficulty: Easy/moderate

The Nature Loop is an easy trail that winds up and down through an area of low-lying ground that is subject to flooding, creating floodplain habitat. As you hike the trail, you will see a native plant meadow, where you can learn more about the importance of native plants and pollinators. There is also a forest mixed with both deciduous and evergreen trees that are home to a variety of birds. Further down the path, there is a stand of pawpaw trees, which are small trees that grow an edible sweet fruit. The path along the Burning Basin also has many different types of wetland plants and animals.

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Nature Loop

Mallows Bay County Park

Explore the Nature Loop Highlights

image of Flagpole Overlook
Flagpole Overlook

When you finish the Nature Loop, you will see a tall flagpole next to the parking lot. Walk to the edge of the grassy patch and you will find some of the most amazing views of Mallows Bay, including the iconic 𝘈𝘤𝘤𝘰𝘮𝘢𝘤 and the Ghost Fleet. Trail signs in this area welcome you to the park and tell you about the sanctuary's history and cultural significance.   To see a photogrammetry model of 𝘈𝘤𝘤𝘰𝘮𝘢𝘤, click here. read more

image of Nature Loop Trail Entrance
Nature Loop Trail Entrance

Welcome to the Nature Loop! Once you are in the virtual trail: Click or tap on the screen to navigate along the trail, which is highlighted by the text at 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 takes you through a meadow that is filled with flowers during the spring, summer, and fall. This meadow is an important habitat for pollinators, like Maryland’s 400+ different kinds of ground-dwelling bees. These bees build their nests by digging small holes in the ground all over the meadow. Charles County Parks has made this meadow even better by planting 19 different kinds of native plants. These plants provide food and habitat for bees, butterflies,... read more

image of Iris

The meadow is a vibrant and diverse ecosystem, home to a wide variety of native plants. But non-native species like the yellow flag iris can also take root and quickly spread. This plant, with its large, colorful blossoms, was introduced in the late 1700s as a decorative plant. Unfortunately, it's also very invasive. Yellow flag iris pushes out aquatic plants like cattails and native irises, such as the dwarf-crested iris and the blue flag iris. It's resistant to deer and... 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!   To see a photogrammetry model of the vessel, click here. read more

image of Mixed Forest
Mixed Forest

On this part of the trail, you will see a mix of deciduous and evergreen trees. The variety of trees makes it a great place to see different kinds of birds. Keep your eyes open for the ruby-crowned kinglet, a tiny native songbird that lives in this area during the winter. read more

image of Snag Trees
Snag Trees

In this area, you will find dead or dying trees that are still standing. They are called 'snag' trees. This area is a great place to see many different kinds of woodpeckers, such as the downy woodpecker, hairy woodpecker, red-bellied woodpecker, and northern flicker. Woodpeckers search for insects by using their beaks to make holes in the snag trees. Later, these holes often become nesting places for other birds, like the Louisiana waterthrush, prothonotary warbler, Carolina chickadees, eastern bluebirds, and... read more

image of Ghost Ship
Ghost Ship

At low tide, you can see one of the ghost ships near the shore. The wreck site is overgrown with plants, creating a lush habitat for a variety of creatures. Marsh tickseed, swamp rose mallow, and common sneezeweed are just a few of the plants that like to live in this wet environment. These plants attract butterflies, moths, bees, and other pollinators, which rely on them for food. Great blue herons, bald eagles, green herons, ospreys, hawks, and red-winged blackbirds... read more

image of Serviceberry

Serviceberry, shadbush, shadwood, and juneberry are just a few of the many names given to this shrub. You can often find it growing along the edge of the forest. Its white flowers are a sure sign that spring has sprung. A few weeks later, red to purple-black berries ripen and provide food for songbirds and mammals. read more

image of Maples

While many trees may look similar during the summer, in other seasons, there are definite differences. In early spring, look for trees with red tops. These are red maples with small, hanging clusters of bright red flowers. They bloom in the spring before most other trees have leaves. Their early bloom makes them an important source of pollen for bees and other pollinators. In the fall, their leaves turn a brilliant red color, again helping them stand out. read more

image of Native Wildflowers
Native Wildflowers

In the spring, look down at the forest floor to see small, native wildflowers. Cut-leaf toothwort, pennywort, yellow trout lily, bloodroot, Virginia spring beauty, and showy orchid are all common. These woodland flowers need a forest habitat to survive and depend on the trees surrounding them for nutrients. They bloom in early spring and soak up as much sunlight as they can before the leaves of the large trees grow and shade the forest floor. read more

image of Pawpaw

In this wet habitat, you’ll find a group of pawpaw trees. Pawpaws are the largest edible fruit native to the United States. Pawpaw trees are small understory trees, meaning they grow in the shade of taller trees. Their fruits are a bright yellowish-green color and taste like a mix of mangoes and bananas. This delicious fruit attracts animals such as raccoons, squirrels, opossums, and other small mammals. Pawpaws are also essential in the life cycle of the zebra swallowtail butterfly,... read more

image of Japanese Wineberry
Japanese Wineberry

Across the United States, invasive plants have taken over much of the land, reducing habitat for wildlife. Many invasive plants are found in this park, like Japanese wineberry. It is a type of shrub that is in the same family as raspberries and blackberries. It is everywhere in the park, and it is easily identified by its red stems that form thick patches on the forest floor. It's very strong and spreads quickly, replacing the native plants. Without the native... read more

image of Beaver Pond Overlook
Beaver Pond Overlook

This spot is the first overlook of the Beaver Pond. Look and you will see the remains of an old beaver dam. Over time, beavers expand their territory, building new dams and lodges further upstream. Follow the Beaver Trail, and you'll see evidence of an active dam further upstream. Look closely, and you may see wading birds or turtles basking in the sun.  read more

image of Tree-of-Heaven

The fallen trees along the trail are known as tree-of-heaven. Originally from China, they have spread widely in North America as an invasive species. They are easy to spot by their large seed pods and reproduce quickly, which allows them to push out native species. They also release harmful chemicals into the soil that kill nearby native plants. In addition, tree-of-heaven has helped to increase the spread of an invasive insect called the spotted lanternfly. The lanternflies like to lay... read more

image of Wild Turkey
Wild Turkey

Mallows Bay is a great place to see ospreys, eagles, and songbirds. But did you know it's also home to the Eastern wild turkey? Turkeys live in forests to roost and make nests. They use grassy fields, like this one, to find insects to eat. In the last 50 years, Maryland's wild turkey population has made a huge comeback. With more natural areas like Mallows Bay Park, they now have a thriving population in Southern Maryland. read more

image of Burning Basin
Burning Basin

In 1942, Bethlehem Steel drained the water in this area to sink and burn the World War I ships anchored there. This created the Burning Basin that is now surrounded by wetlands. Today, it is a popular recreational fishing spot because of its calm and slow waters. The area also serves as a transition from the Potomac River to the calmer, upstream waters of Marlow Creek. Many freshwater marsh plants can be found by the water’s edge, which are important... 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 near the Burning Basin, such as pickerel weed, tuckahoe, cattails, and wild rice. Each of these plants offers habitat and food for many species. They also absorb nutrients from runoff water and help prevent erosion along the shore. The trail signs also highlight how these plants have been used by indigenous peoples for thousands of years. read more

image of Osprey Nest
Osprey Nest

This osprey nest at the top of a tree is the best spot to see a nest from land in the park. This area is a popular spot for ospreys, great blue herons, bald eagles, cormorants, and gulls, 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

During the fall, the trail is full of goldenrod. It's a wildflower with small, yellow flowers that grow in clusters. Goldenrod is important for biodiversity because it provides bees and other pollinators with nectar and pollen in late summer and early fall. The trail is also a popular nesting spot for many birds, who build their nests in the trees near the water. read more

Elevation Profile