From fishing, to education, to observation, to photography, Ninigret National Wildlife Refuge has it all. There is even a public restroom at the East parking lot! The section of the refuge South of Rt. 1, a glacial outwash plain, is surrounded on three sides by Ninigret Pond, the largest salt pond in Rhode Island. This relatively flat terrain is dotted with a few freshwater sources throughout the interior. Therefore the habitat is complex enough to support a number of different animals, all of which make Ninigret NWR a great place to see wildlife. In addition, at the East entrance, there is a kayak/canoe launch area making a convenient place to get out on Ninigret Pond and see the refuge from the "duck's point of view!" The Northern section of Ninigret NWR, where our Kettle Pond Visitor Center and Headquarters are located, sits on top of the glacial moraine left from the Wisconsin glacial period. This area of the refuge is more forested upland than the Southern section, though water still plays a prominent role in the landscape. A prime example of a vernal pool and Watchaug Pond are only a short distance down easy trails from the Visitor Center. Burlingame State Campground and Kimball Bird Sanctuary are also connected to our Visitor Center via our trail system here.
Hours of Operation:The trails in both the Headquarters and Salt Pond Units of the refuge are open to the public from sunrise to sunset.
The Kettle Pond Visitor Center is open everday from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM, except we are closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Year's Day. Please call ahead for unexpected closures, or current weather conditions.
Kettle Pond Visitor CenterA great place to begin or end your visit to Ninigret National Wildlife Refuge. The following link provides a more detailed description of Kettle Pond Visitor Center and our Headquarters.
School groups, conservation groups, birding clubs, and a variety of other groups frequently reserve time with the refuge staff and volunteers to take part in environmental education activities. Several guided tours of Ninigret National Wildlife Refuge are given each year, both on the Headquarters Unit at Kettle Pond Visitor Center, and along the trails and shoreline of the Salt Pond Unit.
Many unique and enjoyable educational opportunities await the visitor to the Salt Pond Unit of Ninigret. Each of the five trails provides a fun and safe way to see and actually be in nature. With assistance from refuge staff, some groups have been able to don waders and do some seine netting. In their nets they always bring to shore amazing samples of plants and animals that lie just below the surface (and out of view) of Ninigret Pond. Other groups participate in bird walks with experienced staff and volunteers, and are treated to an array of wildlife, from deer to butterflies, that would be difficult to find anywhere else.
At the Headquarters Unit of Ninigret NWR we have the impressive Kettle Pond Visitor Center. With an award-winning, environmentally-friendly building, and fabulous exhibits, Kettle Pond is a treat for all. There are four trails that make for ideal segways to the outdoors after an enlightening program in the classroom. Various school groups and scout groups have made Kettle Pond Visitor Center their home for their programs related to the natural world. With various programs offered throughout the year, including Wildlife Wednesdays, summer nature classes, and Green Cafés, there is something here for everyone and for all ages.
An EarthCache involves using a GPS unit to go to a certain location. Before going to the location the user needs to research the EarthCache and perform the educational lesson at the site. Visitors to the refuge EarthCaches will discover unique land features, geological processes, and a treasured landscape.
Approximately 20,000 years ago the last ice age ended. The geography and landscape of Rhode Island and New England is a direct outcome of glacial retreat. Go to the EarthCache page for more information and a quiz.
Fishing on Ninigret Pond, the largest coastal salt pond in Rhode Island is a spectacular treat not only because of the fish available, but also because of the expansive vistas and gorgeous sunsets. Fishing is allowed under State regulations, and during the short cinder worm hatch in May, striped bass fishermen line the shores with the hopes of landing these prized sportfish. Coinciding with the worm hatch striper frenzy is an annual fly-tying workshop (held at the classroom at Kettle Pond Visitor Center) coupled with a fishing in a cove along the trail to Grassy Point at the East entrance. The following is an enticing description of the fly-tying workship:
To celebrate the rich history of the refuge, a variety of kiosks, interpretive panels, and educational materials are available to the public to enrich their visit and assist them in learning about the refuge and the wildlife which abounds there.
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 air field, 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. As a special treat, we often provide guided Trails Through Time walks, for those who like to hear the stories behind the scenery. On very special occasions we have Navy veterans who were stationed here at the "Charlietown Air Base," or their relatives, who provide additional stories for our "Trails Through Time" walks and talks. For additional information and a map, please see the Trails Through Time brochure.
At the West entrance of the Salt Pond Unit, a usually quite 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. You will often be able to hear the waves crashing on the shoreline from this point.
The Cross Refuge Trail and the Charlietown Runway Trail connect the West and East entrances. The Charlietown Runway Trail often provides good viewing of the male American Woodcock's mating ritual during the spring. 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 re-fuel.
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 Audobon Society's Kimball Wildlife Sanctuary, Watchaug Pond, one of the best vernal pools in the State, and Burlingame State Park. With the variety of forested habitat types and the ponds, there is something to see here year-round. The Ocean View Trail is a short, easy trail providing striking views of Kettle Holes left behind by melting glacial ice 12,000 years ago. If you prefer a long hike, you can connect with Burlingame trails around Watchaug Pond and make a large loop hike back to our parking lot.
Wildlife Observation and Photography:
Spring and fall are favorite viewing times, although something will be seen at any time of year. Over 3 miles of nature trails, interpretive panels, kiosks, and viewing platforms combine to provide a unique and rewarding experience for the refuge visitor. The platform at the end of Grassy Point is particularly picturesque, and a great place to view a sunset. Please use the Contact Us link above to get on our email list for special events regarding wildlife photography provided by our talented volunteers and our Friends group. In addition, our Friends group holds a photography contest every year in the Fall. The entrants are limited to pictures taken on the national wildlife refuges of Rhode Island, but the photographers have plenty of beautiful subjects for the competition. Every year the competition provides wonderful images for our nature-loving friends and visitors.
Kayaking and canoeing on Ninigret pond provide unique views of wildlife from the water, and our recently added kayak/canoe launch area is a perfect place for paddle boaters to start their tour. The launch is located off of the East entrance (through Ninigret Park). There is a short gravel road down to the water where you can drop off your kayak, and then return to the parking lot. At times we have volunteers who will help first-time visitors with their experience paddling around Ninigret National Wildlife Refuge.
The following was excerpted from:
Commonly Seen Species
All of the refuges of the Coastal Birding Trail have special species you may encounter. However, there are many northeast bird species that occur anywhere and everywhere in this region. Among the species you will almost certainly see, most of the year, even if you only stop at a couple of refuges are the Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Downey Woodpecker, Blue Jay, White-breasted Nuthatch, Gray Catbird, Northern Mockingbird, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Northern Cardinal, Brown-headed Cowbird and American Goldfinch. Coastal area regulars include Herring, Great Back-backed and Ring-billed Gulls, Sanderlings, Mallards and American Black Ducks, Pie-billed Grebes, Belted Kingfishers and Great Blue Herons.
Winter brings the wide-spread appearance of Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned Kinglets, White-throated Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos, and along the coast, Common Loons, Horned Grebes, Red-breasted Mergansers, Common Golden-eyes, Ruddy Ducks and all three Scoters. In spring and summer Common Terns, Great and Snowy Egrets, Green herons, Ospreys, Greater Yellowlegs, Dowitchers, Least and Semipalmated Sandpipers and Semipalmated Plovers are easy to find near the water, while in the woods and fields Eastern Phoebes, Eastern Kingbirds, Tree and Barn Swallows, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Yellow Warblers, Common Yellowthroats, American Redstarts, Chipping and Song Sparrows, Common Grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds are abundant.
Ninigret National Wildlife Refuge/Ninigret Park – Charlestown, RI
Start you 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 on 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 trial 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 nest 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 Rt. 1 and, almost immediately, right again to Rt. 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 her from early April to September.
As you leave the refuge parking lot your 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.