This Underrated Wildlife Refuge In Northeastern America Is On A Stunning Island

Travelers with a passion for wildlife and spectacular scenery can find a place to satisfy their dual interests within the National Wildlife Refuge System. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, there are over 560 refuges across the nation to explore. While every refuge is set up with the mission of protecting vital species and ecosystems, some come with features that stand out from the rest.

Birding enthusiasts looking for off-the-beaten-path surroundings to enjoy will find a plethora of inspiring observation opportunities waiting at the Block Island National Wildlife Refuge in Rhode Island. Getting here requires hopping onboard the Block Island Ferry — which departs from Point Judith, operates year-round, accommodates vehicles, and takes nearly an hour to reach Block Island. The trip covers about 12 miles of water separating the southern shore of the state and the island. 

Additionally, there's a summer seasonal ferry that runs from downtown Newport's Perrotti Park to Block Island through August and carries passengers and bikes exclusively. The ferry connecting Montauk, New York to Block Island operates between Memorial Day and Labor Day as well. If you're traveling from Orient Point, New York, you can now transfer to the Block Island Express in New London, Connecticut from the Cross Sound Ferry as of June 2023 for a more convenient travel route. The Block Island Hi-Speed Ferry runs from mid-May through mid-October and is the fastest option between Point Judith and Old Harbor at just 30 travel minutes total.

A place to enjoy incredible birding year-round

You can freely visit this wildlife refuge year-round with daily opening hours listed as dawn to dusk. The entrance to the refuge is 4 miles from the Block Island Ferry landing. If you don't bring your vehicle with you on the ferry, you can always stop at Island Moped and Bike Rentals and rent transportation on two wheels for the day. 

Once you arrive, you'll have the chance to reach for your binoculars and set your sights on over 70 species of birds that inhabit the island at varying times throughout the year. Those hoping to admire migratory species in droves will want to make sure to visit in the fall. The Block Island National Wildlife Refuge first opened in 1973, and today, continues to fascinate visitors from near and far. The refuge sprawls across more than 134 acres of lush terrain and the island setting makes it a truly unique destination to explore.

In all seasons, it's a place where nature photographers will want to be sure to have a camera ready. There are opportunities to set your sights on everything from black-crowned night herons and oystercatchers to northern goshawks. The refuge is also home to an impressive population of seagulls, as well as wood ducks, razorbills, cedar waxwings, and red-tailed hawks. The opportunity to view piping plovers at the Block Island National Wildlife Refuge is particularly meaningful as they currently occupy a place on the federally recognized threatened species list.

Options for exploring the refuge and island

Birding is a fan-favorite activity for many Block Island National Wildlife Refuge visitors, but angling tops the list of on-site activities too. Visitors who love casting a line will find the Block Island National Wildlife Refuge is a great place to indulge in sport-fishing fun. The refuge's shorelines typically see anglers reeling in striped bass successfully year-round. Here, you'll also have options to fish the Atlantic Ocean or enjoy freshwater fishing adventures across hundreds of local ponds.

There are many other routes to exploring the refuge and its island landscapes during a visit. Throughout the year, the refuge puts together an inviting lineup of educational programs and events that are designed to inspire guests of all ages. For those traveling this way with kids, summer camps are hosted at the refuge with a focus on wildlife appreciation.

If you're interested in getting out and exploring the refuge alongside a knowledgeable guide, there are options for that here as well. All year long, there are nature walks that are led by either on-site volunteers or rangers. These outings are opportunities to ask questions about local wildlife and ecosystems, while learning more about refuge features you might otherwise overlook, like the North Lighthouse.