6 Wetlands Hikes Protected by the Waters of the U.S. Rule—for Now

January 30, 2019
Bruce McCrackenNew Hampshire’s Pondicherry Wildlife Refuge is one of the wetlands hikes protected by the Waters of the U.S. rule.

Oceans, glaciers, rivers, lakes, and streams cover 71 percent of our planet. The 2015 Waters of the U.S. Rule ensures protection of these water sources from pollution and other exploitation. For now. Under the Trump administration, the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of the Army have moved to rescind the rule and return to previous regulatory measures regarding our country’s waterways.

So, what does this mean for our planet? The EPA’s proposed change—which it says would “protect navigable waters, help sustain economic growth, and reduce barriers to business development”—could blur the line between water preservation and economic prosperity. So, while environmental groups—including AMC—work to maintain the 2015 protections of our waterways, many of these protected areas are open for hiking. Here are six gorgeous wetlands hikes in the Northeast that will remind you why our waterways need to be cherished and protected.


1. Pondicherry Wildlife Refuge | Whitefield, N.H.
Hikers will encounter a variety of meadowsweet, balsam firs, peat moss, and leather leaf-covered bogs in this refuge just north of the Presidential Range. From the parking lot off Airport Road, walk northeast along the wide trail for 1.5 miles until you reach the former railroad station, Waumbeck Junction. Bear right and you will see Cherry Pond, where moose can be spotted wading in the shallows.

Head straight from the junction for 0.4 miles to join Little Cherry Pond Trail and direct your gaze down toward the forest floor to glimpse flowering plants like pink lady’s slipper, painted trillium, stair-step moss, and goldthread. After crossing over 600 feet of bog bridges (take care as they can be slippery when wet!), rest at the small viewing platform and bask in the grandeur of the Franconia Range visible in the distance, before looping back to Waumbeck Junction and to your car.
Distance: 8.9-mile loop
Difficulty: Moderate
Info: New Hampshire Audubon


2. Great Island Trail | Cape Cod, Mass.
Attracting 4.5 million visitors annually, Cape Cod National Seashore is more than just a destination for lazing the summer days away. The National Seashore offers ample year-round hiking as well. Allow three to five hours for the Great Island Trail hike, on which you’ll see salt marshes, sand dunes, and uplands. The trail even passes by the site of Smith’s Town: a meeting place for fishermen and seafaring swashbucklers during colonial times. After walking down Great Beach Hill, once an island, continue on toward the tidal wetlands of Jeremy Point. Be sure to check tide times before you go so that you can explore the two-mile expanse of sand flats and enjoy stunning harbor views looking out toward Provincetown before the point becomes fully submerged during high tide.
Distance: 8 miles, out and back
Difficulty: Moderate
Info: Discover Cape Cod (AMC Books); National Park Service


3. Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge | Middletown, R.I.
One of five National Wildlife Refuges in Rhode Island, Sachuest Point was formed by land donated by the Audubon Society of Rhode Island, the town of Middletown, and the U.S. Navy, which used the area as a rifle range and communications center during World War II. Choose either the 1.4-mile Flint Point Loop or, opt for the slightly more challenging 1.5-mile Ocean View Loop. Either way, you will quickly find yourself immersed in 40-acres of pristine salt marshlands. The Price Neck Overlook, a 0.1-mile offshoot of the Ocean View Loop, provides an outstanding vista of the former island’s rocky perimeter. Three observation platforms offer ideal vantage points for spotting wildlife, including the second largest harlequin duck population on the Atlantic coast. Look closely, and you may even see peregrine falcons, snowy and short-eared owls, and more than 200 other bird species.

Distance: 3-mile loop
Difficulty: Easy
Info: U.S Fish and Wildlife Service


4. Beaver Run Trail at Erie National Wildlife Refuge | Guys Mills, Pa.
Surround yourself with 5,700 acres of wooded marshes, fields, and beaver ponds as you hike in the center of Erie National Wildlife Refuge, located 35 miles south of Lake Erie, Pa. Entirely within the French Creek Watershed system, the refuge is home to 28 species of mussels, including the endangered Northern riffleshell and clubshell. Eight waterfowl species, river otters, hellbender salamanders, and bald eagles also call the refuge home. The eagles—there are three—nest in late February, and chicks hatch in April. After completing the full loop, head slightly north of Beaver Run Trail and to the west of Hank’s Road to see a sandstone springhouse that was once used to keep milk and food cool throughout the year. Get an early start for the best bird watching and stop by the Visitor Contact Station, open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., to grab a “Family Pack,” which includes a backpack, binoculars, guide books, and bird and plant lists.

Distance: 1-mile loop, spur trail at Eastern end
Difficulty: Easy
Info: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service


5. Patuxent Research Refuge | Laurel, Md.
As the nation’s first and only refuge dedicated to wildlife research, the Patuxent Research Refuge North Tract present hikers, bikers, cross-country skiers, and horseback riders a place to explore 20 miles of multi-use trails. Hikers will find 5 miles of trails in the South Tract, which also houses the National Wildlife Visitor Center, open from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily (except Thursdays). Opportunities to fish year-round and photograph migrating waterfowl and other wildlife are plentiful throughout the 12,800 acres of the former artillery training grounds. In the North Tract, set foot on one of the 9 miles of interconnected hiking trails—South Trail, South Road, Wild Turkey Way, Sweetgum Lane, Whip-poor-will Way, and Kingfisher Road—or wind your way around the 8-mile, car-accessible Wildlife Loop. In the South Tract, loop around the 53-acre Cash Lake and use one of two camouflaged viewing blinds to spot more than 270 species of birds. Be on the lookout for dragonflies, beavers, basking turtles, and, if you’re lucky enough to see one, the elusive scarlet tanager.

Distance: 20-mile network of trails and roads
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Info: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service


6. West Virginia Botanic Garden at Tibbs Run Preserve | Morgantown, W. Va.
Open 365 days a year, the West Virginia Botanic Garden provides visitors with a getaway from urban life. After acquiring the 82-acre Tibbs Run Reservoir in 1999, the nonprofit organization has gradually transformed the basin into a colorful array of flower gardens and forested hiking trails. Follow the 0.72-mile, handicap-accessible Reservoir Loop or use the Wetland Boardwalk to access the 0.3-mile Wetlands Loop Trail. Both trails connect to the centrally-located 0.5-mile Forest Trail, where you will find yourself surrounded by hemlock trees, great rhododendrons, and rattlesnake plantain orchids. Admission to the garden is free, but donations are encouraged.

Distance: 4.5 miles of trails in the garden
Difficulty: Easy
Info: West Virginia Botanical Garden



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Michaela Johnston

Michaela Johnston is the editorial intern at AMC Outdoors magazine.