Narrow River

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Welcome to Narrow River

Exposed sandbars on the lower river serve as great spots
to beach the ‘yak and eat lunch. Photo by Tom Richardson

FLOWING THROUGH THE RHODE ISLAND TOWNS OF NORTH KINGSTOWN, SOUTH KINGSTOWN AND NARRAGANSETT, THE NARROW RIVER (ORIGINALLY THE PETTAQUAMSCUTT RIVER) IS A GREAT PADDLING DESTINATION. EVEN INTERMEDIATE KAYAKERS AND CANEOISTS CAN EASILY PADDLE ITS ENTIRE 6-MILE LENGTH, FROM CARR POND TO RHODE ISLAND SOUND, IN A SINGLE DAY.

 

The river, which is tidal for much of its length, begins at the Gilbert Stuart Birthplace Museum.
Across the street you’ll find a dirt parking lot and a narrow path leading to the river (actually more of a creek at this point).

SAT map

Looking at this shallow trickle of water, you’d never guess that the Narrow River supports one of the largest runs of river herring in the state (although the number of returning fish has declined significantly in the last decade). Each spring, thousands of adult herring and alewives manage to struggle up the fish ladder alongside the mill dam and into Carr Pond, where they spawn on the sand-and-gravel bottom. In the fall, juvenile herring leave the pond and make their way back to the ocean.

The Gilbert Stuart Birthplace Museum, a former snuff mill,
marks the river’s headwaters. Photo byTom Richardson

Just a few hundred feet downstream, the river opens into Upper Pond, the shorter (1/2-mile long) and wider of two ponds along the upper river that were carved by a glacier some 18,000 years ago. The ponds have surprising depths, up to 45 feet in Upper Pond and 60 feet in Lower Pond‚ given their small size. The water here is stratified, with a top layer of fresh water covering denser salt water below. Deeper still is a layer of anoxic water where no oxygen-breathing creature can survive and where biologists have discovered the presence of a rare phytoplankton.

Paddlers should note that a stiff headwind can make crossing the open water of the ponds difficult. Watch the wind forecast and plan accordingly.

The sylvan banks of the river are home to many species of birds, including turkey vultures.
Photo by Tom Richardson

At the extreme southern end of Upper Pond you’ll find a narrow channel leading to Lower Pond, which is roughly 1 1/4-miles long and about a 1/4-mile wide. On the east side of the pond, there are put-ins off Indian Trail and Woodsia Road. Both spots offer limited parking.

At the southern end of Lower Pond, the channel narrows to 200 feet or so as it flows below Lacey Bridge, the first of three bridges spanning the river. Below the bridge, the river becomes even more constricted and its shoreline more developed, with numerous small homes and cottages crowding both banks, their lawns extending to the water’s edge. You’ll also start to notice more tidal influence at this part of the river. There is a small right-of-way at the end of Pettaquamscutt Avenue, on the east bank of the river just below the bridge, that may be used to launch small boats and kayaks. Parking is limited along the street.

The lower river is a prime spot for striper fishing.
Photo by Tom Richardson

After roughly a mile, the river widens again, becoming shallower and less developed. Broad meadows of cordgrass spread out on either side, and you’ll detect the scent of salt marsh detritus. In summer and fall, terns flit and hover over the shallows and baitfish dimple the surface near mudbanks sprinkled with ribbed mussels and oysters. On the river’s west bank, about a 1/2-mile north of Middle Bridge, is a good, free access point with parking for 20 vehicles at the end of Mitchell Avenue, off Middlebridge Road. This is a concrete-slab ramp suitable for small powerboats.

The next landmark is Middle Bridge, a popular spot among fishermen (watch out for their lines as you pass). At the eastern end of the bridge is small shingled building—home of Narrow River Kayaks, which offers kayak and canoe rentals, as well as guided trips along the river. This is also a convenient put-in spot if you want to start your trip farther along the river, although you’ll have to pay a small parking fee at the kayak shop. You can also launch for free on the other side of the river, just below the bridge, where you may be able to find parking along Middlebridge Road.

A skiff fishermen works the waters just below Sprague Bridge.
Photo by Tom Richardson

South of Middle Bridge, broad mudflats and sandbars can make navigation tricky at low tide, especially for powerboaters.

Just above Sprague Bridge (scenic Rt. 1A), where the main channel makes a sharp bend to the east, is a big, shallow sandbar that’s exposed at low tide and makes a good spot to stretch your legs and eat lunch. Immediately to the south is Pettaquamscutt Cove, part of the 317-acre John H. Chafee National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge, established in 1988, provides habitat for over 200 coastal species, including the largest population of black ducks in Rhode Island. Pettaquamscutt Cove is a paddling destination in itself, and is best accessed by launching at Sprague Bridge. You’ll find access to the lower river and the cove, along with free parking, on either side of this bridge.

Mute swans are common along the river, and can often be aggressive toward kayakers.
Photo by Tom Richardson

As you pass below Sprague Bridg you’ll enter a sluiceway of tidal rapids and shallow bars leading to the river mouth, 3/4-mile east. There is great fishing for striped bass and sometimes bluefish along this stretch of the river, which features deep holes and channels, as well as undercut banks and lots of current flow. Just about 1500 feet east of the bridge, at a spot called the Narrows, is a side channel that branches off to the north. Hug the north bank and you’ll enter this smaller waterway, which offers paddlers a scenic and peaceful detour to the inlet, and also keeps you clear of powerboat traffic.

The mouth of the river is about 3/4-mile below Sprague Bridge. The sandy northern tip of Narragansett Beach abuts the southern side of the inlet, offering a great spot for boaters and kayakers to beach their craft and enjoy a picnic or a swim during the summer. Boulders and granite ledge form the northern side of the inlet. Note that the river mouth can be dangerous when an ebb tide is dumping into the ocean against a stiff easterly wind. Many boaters and swimmers have found themselves in trouble here, so use extreme caution. If you’re new to the river, plan to navigate the mouth at slack tide.

The Narrow River makes a great day trip for kayakers of all skill levels.
Photo by Tom Richardson

Narrow River Headwaters/Gilbert Stuart Museum: Across the street from the Gilbert Stuart Birthplace Museum on Carr Pond you’ll find a dirt parking lot and a small path leading to the river. Depending on the water level, you may have to carry your kayak or canoe several hundred feet to find a spot to launch.

Indian Trail: Small put-in with limited street parking on the east bank of Lower Pond.

Woodsia Drive: Beach put-in for kayaks and canoes on east bank of Lower Pond.

Pettaquamscutt Avenue Right-of-Way: Small ramp with limited street parking just below Lacey Bridge.

Narrow River Fishing Access: Concrete-slab launch ramp with free parking for 20 vehicles. Off Middlebridge Road.

Middle Bridge: Parking available next to ramp at Narrow River Kayak.

Sprague Bridge (Rt. 1A): Good launch spot for kayaks and canoes near Pettaquamscutt Cove and the river mouth. Parking available on both side of the bridge.

Rentals & Guided Trips

  • Narrow River Kayaks (401-789-0334): Kayak rentals and guided trips. Located at Middle Bridge on the Narrow River. You can also launch your own kayak or canoe at the store for a small fee. NRK is a great source of information on kayaking the river and can offer advice on launch sites.
  • The Kayak Centre (401-295-4400): Kayak rentals and guided trips.
  • Queens River Kayaks (401-284-3945): Kayak rentals and guided trips.

Things to See & Do

  • Gilbert Stuart Birthplace Museum (401-294-3001): Gilbert Stuart was a popular early-American portraitist whose painting of George Washington adorns the dollar bill. Stuart was born in the former snuff mill at the headwaters of the Narrow River. Today, the restored mill that Stuart’s father ran, including the giant water wheel that once turned the grinding machinery, is a national historic monument and museum.
  • John H. Chafee National Wildlife Refuge: Bordering Pettaquamscutt Road, the refuge provides habitat for numerous bird species.

General Information

Narrow River Preservation Association (401-783-6277): The NRPA was formed in 1970 to thwart efforts by the Boy Scouts to sell off a large parcel of donated land to developers, who wanted to create a subdivision on the east bank of Lower Pond. The NRPA negotiated with the Scouts and eventually reached an agreement under which only 7 homes were built, helping to protect both the beauty and ecology of the entire river.

Like most waterways along the East Coast, the Narrow River suffers from excess nitrogen and phosphorous in groundwater and feeder-stream runoff. The nutrients enter the water largely via residential and agricultural fertilizers and septic systems.

The NRPA seeks to educate river abutters and homeowners throughout the watershed on what they can do to improve the water quality, whether through limiting the use of fertilizers, establishing buffer zones of vegetation to absorb excess nitrogen or discouraging the feeding of waterfowl, such as swans, ducks and Canada geese, whose plentiful droppings contribute to high levels of fecal coliform bacteria that have resulted in the continual closing of downstream shellfish beds.

To help pay for its efforts and to raise awareness of the river’s importance to the community, the NRPA holds fundraising events, such as its annual road race and the Turnaround Swim.

Explore RI’s Greenways and Blueways: Great website packed with information for boaters on where to launch and what to expect on many Rhode Island waterways. Also provides links to useful satellite and topo maps.

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welcome hotel guests

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Salem’s famed author,
welcome hotel guests

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978-825-4311
HawthorneHotel.com

Salem’s famed author,
welcome hotel guests

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18 Washington Square W, Salem, MA
978-825-4311
HawthorneHotel.com

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welcome hotel guests