Places We Protect

Carter Preserve

Rhode Island

An open forest of oak and pine trees, over a dense, green understory.
Carter Preserve Once cleared for sheep pasture, southern Rhode Island's coastal forest provides nesting habitat for a host of migratory songbirds. © The Nature Conservancy

One of South County’s best hiking areas

The trails wind over a landscape formed by glaciers and shaped by generations of farmers. From field to forest, this land has interesting stories to tell.



Why You Should Visit

The Carter Preserve is TNC 's second largest nature preserve in Rhode Island. With four interconnected loops, the preserve offers a mix of mildly rocky, up-and-down trails, plus a wide, flat path around one of the largest open grasslands in the state. 

Dogs must be leashed at all times. Bowhunting for deer is permitted on portions of the preserve from September 15 to January 31. All visitors are required to wear a florescent orange hat or vest during the hunting season. 

Why TNC Selected this Site

Straddling the rocky uplands of the Charlestown moraine, the Carter Preserve connects several thousand acres of contiguous forest. Together, they comprise an 11-mile corridor of protected open space, running from the Ninigret National Wildlife Refuge to the state-owned Carolina Management Area.

The Carter Preserve protects a mile-long stretch of the Wild & Scenic Pawcatuck River, and a variety of natural communities associated with it, including vernal pools, pitch pine barrens, and a 60-acre open grassland.

What TNC Has Done/Is Doing

TNC established the Carter Preserve in 2001, with major contributions from The Champlin Foundation, the Cove Point Foundation, and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. The preserve is dedicated to Francis "Frank" Carter, who led The Champlin Foundation for many years and helped build an enduring land conservation partnership with TNC and the RI Department of Environmental Management. 

TNC is restoring and maintaining wildlife habitat at the Carter Preserve, to help support declining grassland and shrub-nesting birds like grasshopper sparrows, prairie warblers, blue-winged warblers and American kestrels.


Volunteers assist with ongoing stewardship projects including trail maintenance, preserve monitoring, and treatment of invasive plants. If you would like to become a Friend of the Carter Preserve, please contact Jeanne Cooper at




Open year-round during daylight hours


Hiking, birdwatching, horseback riding, kayaking


1,100 acres

Explore our work in Rhode Island


The main parking area for the Carter Preserve trail system is located at 400 Old Mill Road in Charlestown. Trailhead signage, mounted on the side of the utility shed, greets visitors with an introduction to the preserve and its hiking trails. 

In addition, there are two satellite parking areas located at 250 Carolina Back Road (Route 112) and 1500 King's Factory Road (approximately). 


A public restroom is located at the main parking area on Plain Road. This trail amenity was funded by a grant from The Champlin Foundation. 

Pawcatuck River Access

There is a public kayak/canoe launch at the parking area on King's Factory Road. 


From the Old Mill Road trailhead, visitors have a choice of hiking the wide Narragansett Trail that leads downhill to the open grassland or exploring the narrower woodland trails that meander through the upland woods at heart of the property. 

The preserve is open to horseback riding on Narragansett Trail and the Grassland Trail. The parking area at the Old Mill Road entrance is large enough to accommodate horse trailers.

Preserve Guidelines

We hope you enjoy visiting our preserves in any season. We ask that you please observe the following guidelines:

  • Stay on the walking trails, using marked trails wherever they exist.
  • Respect preserve open hours (one hour before sunrise to one hour after sunset). Overnight camping is not allowed.
  • Do not ride bikes or any motorized vehicle through preserves or on the trails.
  • Do not disturb bird nesting areas. Between April 15 and September 1, nesting areas may be off-limits to visitors. People or dogs can easily destroy a nest with one misstep.
  • Do not remove any living materials from a preserve or disturb any vegetation.
  • Remove any trash you create and, if possible, any garbage that you see left by someone else.
  • After any walk on a preserve, it is a good idea to check for ticks when you return home.
  • Be careful! Your safety is your responsibility.

Thank you for your help.

What to See: Plants

The grassland is comprised of a mix of old field grasses and wildflowers, including little bluestem, switchgrass, common milkweed, butterflyweed, yarrow, and Queen Anne's lace. The upland woods feature black oak, scarlet oak, white oak, pitch pine, black huckleberry, and lowbush blueberry. However, visitors will encounter large areas of standing dead oaks, which succumbed to a combination of drought and gypsy moth caterpillar defoliation in 2016 and 2017.

What to See: Animals

The Carter Preserve provides habitat for wide range of mammals typically found in southern New England's forests, including white-tailed deer, red squirrel, red fox, gray fox, coyote, fisher and beaver. During the summer, colorful songbirds such as the indigo bunting, scarlet tanager, and prairie warbler are found around the grassland or in the treetops. Vernal pools and wetlands within the forest support a diversity of frogs, salamanders, dragonflies and damselflies.