Powder Mill Ledges Wildlife Refuge

Area:  Powder Mill Ledges Wildlife Refuge
Trails:  Orange Trail, Blue Trail, Yellow Trail
Region:  RI - Northern  
Location:  Smithfield, RI
Rating:  Easy  
Features:  Pond, stone walls
Distance:  2.9 miles  
Elevation Gain:  Minimal  
Hiking Time:  Actual: 1:20     
Outing Duration:  Typical: 2:00  
Season:  Summer
Hike Date:  09/06/2007 (Saturday)  
Weather:  About 70 degrees
Author:  Webmaster

Route Summary   

Although it's possible to do one big perimeter loop, I ended up hiking two loops:
  • Orange Loop: 0.9 mile, 26 minutes
  • Blue and Yellow Loop: 2.0 miles, 54 minutes
Map of hike route at Powder Mill Ledges Wildlife Refuge (map courtesy of Audubon Society of Rhode Island)

White pines on Orange Trail (photo by Webmaster)

Orange Trail (photo by Webmaster)

Orange Trail (photo by Webmaster)

Trail signs (photo by Webmaster)

Pitch pine trunk (photo by Webmaster)
  Bench along the Blue Trail in the shade of white pines (photo by Webmaster) Trail Guide   

Before hitting the trails, I went inside the visitor center to get a map. The helpful attendants not only gave me a map but several other brochures. This is Rhode Island's Audubon Society's headquarters and everyone was very friendly. There was a nature library there that was hard to pass up but it was almost closing time and late in the day so my first priority was to do some outdoor hiking before darkness set in. Along these lines, I purchased from the gift shop Ken Weber's Weekend Walks in Rhode Island. This is a great guide to 40 outings throughout Rhode Island. Unfortunately, the author who was in his sixties had passed away just a few weeks prior to my visit. Ken Weber has written several other guides that are worth checking out.

Now onto the trail network. This is a well-marked system of three main routes: orange, blue, and yellow. Each route is blazed in its respective color and there are colored arrows at each junction.

I had intended to link the three colors together to do one big perimeter loop, but I'm embarrassed to admit that in spite of the blazes and map in hand, I unexpectedly ended up back at headquarters after missing a blue trail junction. But not to worry, all I had to do was start again. So I did a loop on the orange trail; and then I did a loop combining the blue and yellow trails (which also involved a little bit of orange trail).

The woods start out as mainly white pine and then later transform into hardwoods. There are gentle ups and downs throughout and a few benches are placed along the trails. Stone walls are abundant throughout the preserve, indicating that, like most of the northeast, this area was once cleared for farming. Although this property is located in the heart of a busy business and shopping district, it was a wonderful escape and there were only a few places on my ramble where I was reminded that I wasn't deep in a wilderness area.

Two trails leave from behind an information kiosk - one leaves straight behind it and the other off to the right (at first running alongside the parking lot). Both of these trails are orange; the blue trail is reached via the orange trail and the yellow trail is reached via the blue trail.

Stone wall along the Orange Trail (photo by Webmaster)

Orange Loop   

I went straight ahead to enter at the left-most trailhead. I had to duck my head to descend a small decline beneath an arch of sumacs and other shrubs and small trees. The path skirted around a meadow with the back of a building visible on the other side of the trail. Birdhouses were placed in the meadow.

Pond on Orange Trail (photo by Webmaster) The trail soon left the field and entered white pine woods. Both cones and needles carpeted the ground and the path ascended a short steep pitch near a stone wall. I stuck to the outermost perimeter of the orange trail (keep bearing left at orange trail junctions) but shorter loops can be made if desired.

The tall pines made for a really beautiful and peaceful setting. I spotted a cardinal. After a while hardwoods were also present and boardwalks passed through wet areas. I eventually wound my way around to a small pond. The pond itself was somewhat uninspiring with muddy banks, but there were some entertaining blue jays squawking and flying back and forth over the water.

The trail went past a field, through some beautiful hardwoods, along many stone walls, and before I knew it, I was out of the woods and walking alongside the parking lot to complete this first loop.

Blue and Yellow Loop   

For the longer blue and yellow loop, I again went straight ahead behind the kiosk to enter at the left-most trailhead. I skirted the meadow again and climbed into white pine woods. At the first blue trail sign, I turned left to get on the blue trail, and I bore left at the next blue trail junction to follow the outermost perimeter.

Yellow and green leaves on the Yellow Trail (photo by Webmaster) There were a few pitch pines (3 needles to a bundle) mixed in with the white pines (5 needles to a bundle). They first caught my eye because the bark looks so different from that of white pine (reddish-colored and irregular looking).

After a while the trail broke out of the woods to a power line crossing. The blue trail ascended the hill for a bit at the edge of the woods to a junction with the yellow trail. There was a bench here and I sat to take in the sights. Wildflowers were prolific in this open area and this is a good spot to bird watch.

Resuming my walk, I went left to cross the power lines on the yellow trail. Optionally, you could go right here to continue along the blue trail on a shorter loop.

The path crossing the power lines was overgrown and marked by a rail fence and yellow paint on the rocks underfoot. Upon coming out onto the dirt road servicing the power lines, continue straight back through a thin patch of woods. Next you will cross a dirt road for a gas line. Pop back into the woods on a narrow and rocky footpath. Unlike all the smooth terrain covered up to this point, the yellow trail starts out rocky but will switch to better footing after a while.

The yellow trail is entirely within hardwood forests giving it a different feel from the rest of the preserve. These woods were a kaleidoscope of yellow and green leaves with a few interesting boulders along the way.

Before long, the trail exited back to the dirt gas line road. Cross the road and pick up the trail on the other side - a few steps downhill from where you entered. Then make your way downhill through a thin stand of trees back to the dirt road that services the power lines.

Turn left to walk up the dirt road until you return to the narrow footpath crossing the power lines. Everything is so overgrown that the trail by itself may not be obvious but it occurs at a point where the power line road forks: just before the fork, the yellow footpath along the rail fence will be visible to the right.

Meadow near start of loops (photo by Webmaster) After crossing, you are back at the bench and the blue trail junction. Bear left to loop back using a different segment of the blue trail. You will pass through more hardwoods and pines with ferns growing close to the ground.

Soon you will be back to the orange trail system. At the orange junction, I went right so I could follow a different route back to the car than what I did on my first loop. When I got back near the meadow at the beginning of the loops, I went left, and then at the next junction, I went right to return to the parking lot.

During my entire walk, I only encountered one other person on the trail. I felt kind of sorry for all the people nearby caught in the hustle and bustle of traffic and shopping when this beautiful escape was only a stone's throw away from them.


RI - Northern

  Driving Directions   

White pine branch and cone (photo by Webmaster) Powder Mill Ledges Wildlife Refuge is located at 12 Sanderson Road (Rt. 5).

  • From Rt. 295, take exit 7B onto Rt. 44 west (a.k.a. Putnum Pike).
  • At the fourth set of lights, turn left (south) onto Rt. 5 (Sanderson road).
  • Turn left at the second driveway into the parking lot.

Rt. 44 was very busy when I was on it and had multiple lanes of traffic. I couldn't see route or street signs until I was right at the intersection. So in case you lose count of the number of traffic lights or are coming from the opposite direction, here are some landmarks, one located on each corner of the intersection:
  • Smithfield Commons
  • Apple Valley Mall (CVS, etc.)
  • Exxon
  • Burger King

Sanderson Road is the road between Smithfield Commons and Burger King. When heading west on Rt. 44, Apple Valley Mall will be on your right and Smithfield Commons on your left. When heading east on Rt. 44, Exxon will be on your left and Burger King on your right.

Orange Trail (photo by Webmaster) About Powder Mill Ledges Wildlife Refuge   

Powder Mill Ledges Wildlife Refuge is a 120-acre Audubon property. Although not a site of a powder mill nor ledges of any significance, this wooded preserve is a great place to get into the woods for walking or bird watching.

Check out Audubon's website for an interesting write-up of the preserve's history.

Rhode Island's Audubon Society's headquarters is located at this site and includes a great visitors center. There is a nature library which is open to the public and lends out books. There's a small gift shop, many free pamphlets, and a very helpful and pleasant staff.

Audubon Society of Rhode Island maintains over 9,500 acres of natural habitat. Most of these refuges are open to the public and have groomed trails for hiking and nature study.

Audubon Society of Rhode Island Headquarters
Hours: Monday-Saturday, 9-5

White pines (photo by Webmaster) Property Use Guidelines   

Please respect the natural habitats of these refuges and avoid disturbing their inhabitants. Please respect also the rights of others using the trails and avoid running and making excessive noise. In order to ensure these areas remain as healthy habitats we ask that you please abide by the rules.

Not permitted are:
  • Motorized vehicles
  • Horses or bicycles
  • Dogs and other pets
  • Hunting, fishing, trapping
  • Jogging
  • Picnicking or camping
  • Littering
  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Collecting plants or other natural objects
  • Geo-caching or Letterboxing

Permitted (and encouraged!):
  • Hiking on the trails
  • Observing and learning about wildlife
  • Photography
  • Bird watching
  • Spending time enjoying the solitude and natural ambience of the area
  • Cross-country skiing
  • Snowshoeing

For you own comfort, please be aware of poison ivy and always check for ticks.

White pines (tall and small) along the Orange Trail (photo by Webmaster)


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