“Amazing wildlife watching.” USA Today named Dorchester County’s Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge — where some of our paddling trails are located — in its list of 10 best places in America for “amazing wildlife watching.” Blackwater is in good company: the list also includes Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks.
Located in the heart of Maryland’s Eastern Shore, Dorchester County has more than 1,700 miles of shoreline, flat waters, and countless creeks and coves. It all makes for great kayaking, canoeing, and stand-up paddleboarding. In addition to more than 30 miles of established, charted water trails, you can put in at many other spots around the county. Here you’ll find unspoiled landscapes and waterscapes, wildlife including bald eagles, great blue herons, egrets, osprey, and more. This is also the birthplace of Harriet Tubman of Underground Railroad fame, and some of these waterways are the same that she once traversed.
We’ve put together six of our favorite paddling routes around the county in our Dorchester Paddling Guide. See the routes below, download the entire Paddling Guide as a PDF, or order the hardcopy brochure. You can also view a map of the county with all the routes shown.
Dorchester Paddling Trails
1a: Blackwater Purple Trail
9 Miles One-Way
Best for experienced paddlers, since it includes open water where winds can be powerful. Trail is closed to paddlers October 1 through March 31. More about the trail.
1b: Blackwater Orange Trail
7.6 Miles Round Trip
Big cordgrass and saltmarsh cordgrass thrive here. In late July and August, marsh hibiscus is covered in white and pink blooms. More about the trail.
1c: Blackwater Green Trail
8 Miles Roundtrip
Good for beginning paddlers. During fall and winter, waterfowl hunting may be active on and along the Green Trail. More about the trail.
2: Transquaking River Loop
Scenic loop trail that goes by wooded islands where Native Americans once lived. The trail is unmarked. More about the trail.
3: Island Creek Trail
This out-and-back trail heads south on Island Creek toward Fishing Bay through the Fishing Bay Wildlife Management Area. The trail is unmarked. More about the trail.
4: Chicone Creek Trail
This out-and-back trail includes a little time on the wide Nanticoke River before leading you to the quiet Chicone Creek. The land here was part of what Captain John Smith mapped in 1608. More about the trail.
If you don’t have your own kayak, canoe, or stand-up paddleboard (SUP)
Don’t have your own vessel? Don’t know how to paddle? No problem! Local outfitters offer rentals, lessons, and guided tours.
OverBoard Paddle & Fitness
Most excursions leave from the Dorchester Visitor Center, 2 Rose Hill Pl., Cambridge, MD, or from Suicide Bridge Restaurant, 6304 Suicide Bridge Rd., Hurlock, MD.
- SUP beginner classes
- SUP sunset and glow paddles
- Custom events for groups
- SUP yoga, Big Buddha Yoga, and Big Buddha Floating Fitness
Location 1: 2524 Key Wallace Dr., Cambridge, MD (near Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge)
Location 2: 100 Heron Blvd., Cambridge, MD (at the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Resort)
- Kayak and SUP rentals
- Guided tours include wildlife, Underground Railroad, moonlight, and wine tasting paddles, as well as a combined kayak/bike tour
Where to launch
Dorchester County has 13 designated soft launches designed for kayaks, canoes, and SUPs, as well as 26 boat ramps which usually have concrete ramps. Use of the launches and ramps is free for individuals. In Maryland, non-motorized vessels may launch from boat ramps but are encouraged to use separate soft launch areas if one is provided at the same site. For an online map with detailed directions to each soft launch or boat ramp, visit the Maryland Department of Natural Resources page on public boating access.
What you’ll see
Dorchester County is known for its pristine landscapes and waterscapes. As you paddle, keep your eyes open for wildlife including bald eagles, osprey, egrets, and great blue herons. During migration times in spring and fall, you might also see a wide range of ducks and geese and other waterbirds. In the mid- to late summer, watch for marsh hibiscus blooming on the banks of some waterways. The views you’ll find in these areas around the paddling trails hasn’t changed much in hundreds of years, so in your mind’s eye, imagine what life was like here for the Native Americans who once used these waterways for hunting and traveling, and for Harriet Tubman and other enslaved people, who used the waterways as a means to escape to freedom.
Important safety notes
- Check tides before you go.
- In warmer months, wear insect repellant and light-colored clothing.
- Certain types of mud and marsh appear to be safe to cross on foot, but they can be deceiving. Use caution.
- Beware of stinging sea nettles and jellyfish in the water in the summer months.
- Plan ahead. Leave your route and return time with a relative or friend. Check weather conditions before you leave.
- Always wear a life jacket.
- In an emergency, stay with your vessel. Marshes cannot be crossed on foot.
- Cell phone service is not always reliable. Don’t count on it for rescues.
- Bring a spare paddle or pole, rain gear, water, sunscreen, insect repellant, a hat, and snacks.
- If your canoe/kayak gets stuck, stay put. Try shifting your weight carefully as you push off with your paddle or pole.