Parkers Creek Wildlife Management Area: Creeks, Eagles, and the Chesapeake Bay – Pick Two

I’ve been on the hunt for new places to hike that are within about an hour of my home in the Baltimore/Washington area. I’m running out of options. On an overcast October day, I decided I could put in some extra windshield time, so I picked a hike in Calvert County, one of Maryland’s southernmost districts. Parkers Creek Wildlife Management Area was a nearly two-hour drive, but it was Saturday and I had nothing but time on my hands. In typical fashion, I frittered away my morning and didn’t get on the road until early afternoon. I arrived at the parking area near Double Oak Farm at around 3:00pm.

I checked my water supply and then looked for the Old Parkers Creek Road Trail. Finding it, I started off only to immediately take a wrong turn. My route was blazed blue and purple – I took the blue-blazed PF Trail when I should have remained on the purple Parkers Creek Loop. I got myself back on the right path. The Old Parkers Creek Road Trail snaked, single track, through the southern Maryland forest for a half mile before crossing Double Oak Road. Beyond the road, the trail widened and began a slow descent toward Parkers Creek. This made for pleasant and easy hiking and helped with safe distancing when encountering other hikers. The park was by no means crowded, but I did pass the occasional group of meandering teens. There is a campground nearby from whence I suspect they came – they didn’t look the types to willingly commit a Saturday to walking in the woods with patchy mobile service.

I was two miles into my loop when I came to Parkers Creek. Slow-moving and serene, the creek meandered through the woods toward the Chesapeake Bay. I could have crossed here and continued south on the aptly named North South Trail. I would have ended up near the Scientist Cliffs area of Maryland’s well known Calvert Cliffs.

Calvert Cliffs should be well known for its geologic significance. From the Maryland Geologic Survey website: “The Calvert Cliffs on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay in Calvert County are justly famous as a fossil collecting area. The fossiliferous deposits belong to the Chesapeake Group of Miocene age geological strata in the Atlantic Coastal Plain region. These deposits are exposed in cliffs up to 100 feet high between Chesapeake Beach and Drum Point and constitute the most complete section of Miocene deposits in the eastern United States.” Unfortunately, the area is the home of nuclear power in Maryland, and that sometimes overshadows its scientific superlatives.

Although I didn’t cross, I almost wished I had. Parkers Creek was forded by a small and crudely built cable ferry, which looked like fun. I might have taken the ferry just for kicks had a giggling party of campground teens not been already cackling their way across. Instead I snapped some pictures of the muscle-driven raft and headed east along the creek.

The trail along Parkers Creek was a delight. It undulated along the north bank, through forest and swamp, often crossing tributaries via small wooden bridges. The swampy areas were easily navigated via planked pathways that hovered inches above the murk. Though glimpses of the creek were abundant, spurs to the water’s edge came few and far between. Those occasional off ramps offered spectacular views of the reed-choked waterway as it flowed toward the bay. At one such overlook, I heard a thin, shrill cry and snapped my head around to see a bald eagle soaring downstream toward me. It’s not easy to catch a bird in flight with an iPhone, but I managed to capture a respectable, if distant, shot of the majestic creature at it winged its way past. I hiked on with strains of America the Beautiful wafting through my head.

After just over a half-mile along Parkers Creek, the trail veered north and began to climb. Despite being three weeks into autumn, American aster was still in full bloom, its thin, white petals standing out against the brown duff to each side of the trail. Fleabane had gone to seed and was shedding, while the bright red berries on flowering dogwood trees added a splash of color to my surroundings. The trail continued to alternate between hard-packed dirt and wooden plank as I traversed the spurs and draws that flanked the creek. Eventually my path widened, turning due north toward the parking lot. Along the water, the trail had just been called the Parkers Creek Trail; now I was on the last leg of the loop, the Turkey Trail.

About halfway up the hill, my way was barred by a chain across the trail. Why I don’t know, but I was diverted from the wide, smooth Turkey Trail onto a single track that twisted through the woods to the east of the main trail. Far from bothered, I enjoyed this more interesting route for an all-too-short distance before returning to the main trail. Near the junction, I spotted a short spur that tracked back to a long-forgotten structure that was slowly being reclaimed by the forest. A crumbling foundation surrounded a mostly collapsed wooden building, its tin roof nearly at ground level. I approached and peered through an opening. Inside was more decay but no clue as to its original purpose. The internet didn’t know either.

I continued for another half-mile before approaching Double Oak Farm – where I had parked. With a paltry four miles under my boots, I wasn’t finished with the Parkers Creek Wildlife Management Area. I bore east onto the Horse Swamp Trail, intending to visit both the swamp and two viewpoints that looked over the creek and bay, respectively. Three-quarters of a mile through a forest of red oak and black cherry took me to the equine quag. Horse Swamp was unremarkable save for the network of plank pathways and narrow bridges that carried me across the soggy bog. Once across, I began the descent back to Parkers Creek, a mile of winding single-track away.

When I reached a fork, I chose to head for the bay view first. I was disappointed. Perhaps in the winter this wooden, viewing platform “overlooks” the mighty Chesapeake, but in early October, with most of the summer greenery still on the trees, it just looked out at a wall of foliage. Specks of light were visible through the trees but were indistinguishable as water or sky. I headed back. When I reached the fork, I continued towards the trailhead. I had already seen Parkers Creek, and I had no interest in being disappointed by a second overlook that day. I retraced my steps back to the parking area.

Despite the nonexistent view at the bay overlook, this was a satisfying hike. The trails at the Parkers Creek Wildlife Management Area were well marked and well maintained. There was an abundance of forest scenery to please the dendrophile and bald eagles to charm the twitcher. Even the trail past Horse Swamp and down to the less-than-stellar overlook was interesting and fun to hike. Stop by this out-of-the-way preserve if you’re looking to hike in Calvert County, MD. It has a lot of scenic views to offer, but, at least when the leaves are on the trees, the Chesapeake Bay isn’t one of them. ♦

Date: October 10, 2020
Location: Prince Frederick, MD
Trailhead: 38.547210, -76.533379
Distance: 7.3 miles
Elevation Gain: 472 feet
Difficulty: Moderate

BIT|Hiker acknowledges the indigenous peoples who are the original inhabitants of the lands on which we hike. Our research for this post indicated we were on ancestral lands of the Piscataway and Susquehannock.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s