Norman Bird Sanctuary – Middletown

  • Norman Bird Sanctuary
  • Third Beach Road, Middletown, RI
  • Trailhead: 41°29’58.69″N,  71°15’3.14″W
  • Last Time Hiked: October 10, 2014
  • Approximate distance hiked: 3.8 miles
  • Moderate with difficult terrain in areas.


This property situated at the southern end of Aquidnick Island is truly a gem. There are several miles of trails here that vary from a stroll to sections that require some climbing. The views on the overlooks are absolutely remarkable. The property is abundant with species of all sorts including mammals, reptiles, and of course birds. The sanctuary is a privately owned but open to the public. The hours are 9 A.M. to 5 P.M. daily except Thanksgiving and Christmas. There is also a (well-worth) fee to enter the property. All of that information along with information on programs can be found on their website. After stopping in the Welcome Center to pay entry and get a trail map I made my way down the main trail just to the right of the building. This trail, known as the Norman Universal Access Trail, is a stone dust covered trail that first leads towards an open farm field with a chicken coupe and rolls of hay. The trail then turns to the left and loops behind the Welcome Center passing the first of several stone walls. I soon found myself following the signs leading me to the pond. The trail meanders slowly downhill passing intersections (all with signs) for the Woodland and Quarry Trails. I continued following signs leading me to the pond and found myself on the first of the boardwalks. At the end of this first boardwalk and to the right is the small pond. Here there is a small observation deck. The pond, surrounded by grass and wildflowers, has a few boulders and fallen tree limbs in it. On this pass of the pond I saw a lone mallard resting on a stone and a heron was coming in for a landing. The trail then continues over a wooden bridge that crosses a spillway. Up to this point the hike is very easy. The remainder of it is on trails with several roots, rocks, and follows ridge lines.  Soon I approached the next boardwalk and intersection. Here I turned left. The trail splits again in a few feet. I opted to stay to the left onto a trail that winds through areas of small boulders, stone walls, and ferns. It soon passes the Shady Glade Trail to the left. I continued straight. Along this trail I caught my first glimpse of the water of Gardiner Pond on the left. To the right is the first sign of the elevation coming up as a large ledge becomes visible. The trail soon turns to the right and a set of wooden steps appear. At the top of the steps I turned left onto the Hanging Rock Trail. This would be the first of four ridge trails of this hike. I followed the 70 foot high puddingstone ridge to an overlook at the end of the trail. This overlook is the reason you want to bring binoculars. From this overlook you can see the cathedral of St. Georges School to the west beyond the pond below. You can see Purgatory Chasm as well to the southwest. From this vantage point it appears as a large crack in a ledge near Second Beach. Beyond Easton Point (just south of the chasm) you can make out another point aptly named Lands End. That is where the Cliff Walk in Newport ends. To the south and overlooking Second Beach is a sweeping view of the Atlantic Ocean. You will occasionally see large ships using the shipping lanes just south of Rhode Island. To the southeast you see the peninsula that is home to the Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge. On a clear day (overlooking Sachuest, just to the left of the large building and parking lot on the point) you can see the Sakonnet Point lighthouse. And finally to the east is Gardiner Pond just below, Third Beach, and the Sakonnet River. Beyond that is the rolling hills and farms of Little Compton. After taking in the view for a little while, I retraced my steps back to wooden steps. Instead of going down them, I continued straight along the ridge line trail slowly going downhill to the next intersection. Then I turned left passing a four way intersection where the Valley Trail begins. I continued straight and then went left onto the Red Fox Trail at the next split. The Red Fox Trail also follows a ridge line and near its end it follows a stretch that has sheer drops on both sides. Fear of heights could be an issue here. Just before the trail loops is another great view. The view from here includes much of the same from Hanging Rock, but from here you can see just how impressive Hanging Rock actually is. I also found this stop very serene in sound. A cool ocean breeze was rustling through the thousands of cattails in the valley below. Continuing, I followed the trail as it looped back north. I came to another intersection and noticed a set of signs on a tree. The signs simply read “Difficult” and “Easy” each with an arrow. I choose to go left here onto the Nelson Pond Trail. If you don’t like climbing or heights you should go straight here. The signs are true to word. After crossing a small boardwalk, I found myself climbing up a series of rocks along the trail to the third ridge of the hike. The trail then levels out a bit. The “easy” trail eventually rejoins to the right. Here I found myself entertained by a murder of crows. One was actually hanging upside down from a tree branch as if it were a bat. Continuing straight, the trail splits. The trail to the left leads further uphill the another overlook. From here you can see the sprawling Gray Craig Mansion as well as Nelson Pond. I then continued. What goes up must come down, and that is exactly what this trail does next. I found myself cautiously and methodically making my way down parts of the trail. The trail the bends right and then left, levels out, and passes the entrance of the Red Fox Trail to the right before coming to the four way intersection where the Valley Trail begins. Here I turned left making my way to the Gray Craig Trail. I passed a trail to the right, and then came to another boardwalk that crosses Paradise Brook. After crossing the boardwalk I continued to the loop trail after being greeted by a wild turkey. At the beginning of the loop I opted to follow the trail clockwise as it climbed the fourth and final ridge on the property. After completing the loop I retraced my steps back to the last intersection. Here I turned left following a trail that would lead me back to the end of the Universal Access Trail by the pond, then turning left again and crossing the wooden bridge by the pond once again. At the pond there was no sign of the mallard or heron I saw on the way in, however, several turtles were here sunbathing. I also got a glimpse of a muskrat here. From here I retraced my steps back to the Welcome Center. Along the entire hike I could hear rustling of squirrels and birds in the fallen leaves all around. Some of the birds I observed here were blue jays, a red tailed hawk, robins, cat birds, finches, and geese. I also noticed an abundance of shrubs and bushes with berries as well as several different types of trees. The Norman Bird Sanctuary offers a little bit of everything to any nature enthusiast.

Trail map can be found at: Norman Bird Sanctuary.

Red Fox Trail Looking Toward The Atlantic Ocean

Red Fox Trail Looking Toward The Atlantic Ocean

Hanging Rock

Hanging Rock

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