Charlestown, Rhode Island 02813Ninigret NWR Official Website
Ninigret National Wildlife Refuge has two sections, east and west. The west refuge parking area is easily reached from the northbound lanes of US-1 in Charlestown. Watch for the large signs on the highway. The directions to the east area are farther on in this discussion. In the west parking area, walk to the kiosk by the parking lot to get your bearings. Ninigret NWR is unique among national wildlife refuges because it was a Naval Air Station during World War II. A few years ago the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began to remove the old runways but their imprints are still obvious as you walk the refuge. The runways are being replaced with native grasses in an effort to bring grassland species back to the area. Wetlands are also being constructed and recovered here.
Start your loop through the west refuge by taking the trail to the right of the kiosk. In the woods, look for locally common birds such as the Northern Cardinal and Eastern Towhee. As the trail bends to the left, smaller birds will emerge including Yellow Warblers, Redstarts, Blue-winged Warblers, and Red-eyed Vireos. On your right is Foster Cove. When you reach the bench facing the pond, stop and check the water for ducks. This is a good place to see Buffleheads in winter. Watch for Belted Kingfishers along the shoreline.
Continue along the trail looking for Black and White Warblers, Yellowthroats, and White-eyed Vireos in summer and White-throated Sparrows in winter. White-crowned Sparrows have been seen in this area during migration. Gray Catbirds are very common in this part of the refuge. When you reach the runway, search the edges for birds including the Eastern Phoebe.
Cross the runway to reach an area frequented by sparrows and finches. Fox Sparrows are often seen here. The path goes between two small ponds where Redstarts, Red-winged Blackbirds, and Yellow-rumps are regular visitors. Spring migration brings a variety of warblers to these ponds. The trail takes a sharp left after the ponds and goes back toward the runway. As you approach the runway the habitat becomes grassland and on evenings in the spring American Woodcocks do their mating rituals here. During the winter Eastern Bluebirds are usually perched in the low bushes along the runway.
Go right along the path that follows the runway. Look for Willow Flycatchers, Phoebes, and Yellow-rumps in the fields and woods on your left. When you reach the next runway turn left and follow the path back to the parking lot. In summer there are usually Prairie Warblers and Killdeers along this runway. Glance overhead for Red-tailed and Sharp-shinned Hawks and American Kestrels.
When you leave the west parking lot go right onto US-1 and, almost immediately, right again to US-1A. Go past the Charlestown Tourist Center and look for the gates to Ninigret Park on the right. Go into the park and follow the small signs that point the way to the wildlife refuge. You will pass the Frosty Drew Nature Center and Observatory before you reach the refuge parking lot.
If you look from the parking lot toward the ocean, you will see the refuge kiosk. At that kiosk, turn left and follow a short loop that borders Ninigret Pond. On the inside of the path are varied coastal habitats including a small pond and marsh. This is good habitat for the common coastal species of the region. Looking out over Ninigret at any time of year will produce a variety of waterfowl on or over the water. Continue along the loop to return to the kiosk.
Pass the kiosk and head along the road leading through heavy thickets to an observation platform at Grassy Point. In spring and summer, this is prime territory for Yellow Warblers and Common Yellow-throats. The platform is a good viewpoint for many ducks and cormorants. Herons and egrets can often be seen in the marsh on the far shore of the pond. Returning to the parking lot, watch for Ospreys. They nest here from early April to September. As you leave the refuge parking lot you re-enter Ninigret Park. Take the first right and go to the Senior Center. The area around it is honey-combed with old roads and paths and the surrounding thickets and woods harbor a lot of birds. This can be a fine place to see a variety of sparrows including Field, Savannah, Lincoln’s, Clay-colored, and White-crowned as well as other ground feeders such as the Hermit Thrush.
See all hotspots at Ninigret NWR
Ninigret National Wildlife Refuge is one of five national wildlife refuges in Rhode Island. Established in 1970, it consists of 409 acres of diverse upland and wetland habitats including grasslands, shrublands, wooded swamps, and freshwater ponds. You may enjoy an excellent view of Ninigret Pond, the largest coastal salt pond in Rhode Island, from the observation platform at Grassy Point. For the birding enthusiasts, over 250 species of birds have been recorded at Ninigret. Also, refuge shores support a large diversity of marine life such as blue crab, bay scallop, and winter flounder.
The parcel of Ninigret National Wildlife Refuge where the Kettle Pond Visitor Center is located is referred to as the headquarters unit. Purchased in 2001, this parcel of forested uplands is home to pitch and white pines, black and white oaks, blueberry shrubs, sweet fern, and princess pine. Hiking along the trails offers visitors a chance to witness visual reminders of the great ice sheet, see changes in the seasonal vernal pool, and views of Watchaug Pond.
At the east entrance of the Salt Pond Unit is the Trails Through Time trail.
Along the Grassy Point trail, several signs lead you through the history of the area from glacial re-creation about 12,000 years ago, through the Native Peoples era, the Colonial farming period, the World War II era as a Naval airfield, and finally leading up to what you see today! The Trails Through Time is an enjoyable way to view the landscape through its various uses in the past.
At the west entrance of the Salt Pond Unit, a usually quiet section of trail leads you past Foster's Cove, through the restored runways where many white-tailed deer congregate in the evenings, and out to Fisherman's point for a nice view of Ninigret Pond and the barrier beach on the far side of the pond.
The Cross Refuge Trail and the Charlietown Runway Trail connect the west and east entrances. The Cross Refuge Trail moves through some excellent birding locations with some fresh-water sources for the many migratory birds that stop here to rest and refuel.
On the Headquarters Unit of Ninigret, where you will find Kettle Pond Visitor Center, there are two trails that leave the parking area and two others that connect to Burlingame State Park and Kimball Wildlife Sanctuary. The Watchaug Pond Trail is a favorite among birders, particularly since it ventures along the Audubon Society's Kimball Wildlife Sanctuary, Watchaug Pond, one of the best vernal pools in the State, and Burlingame State Park.
Formerly part of Charlestown Naval Auxiliary Landing Fields, the refuge now provides visitors with over four miles of hiking trails. The AllTrails website has a map of the trails at Ninigret NWR.
Last updated June 10, 2023