New England Weekend Getaways: Things to Do in Rhode Island

Adventure Travel, City Travel, Featured, Parties, Festivals & Events, Rhode Island, Wildlife & Animals — By on August 26, 2010 at 6:00 am

New England is best known for its fall foliage but the region has plenty of natural attractions to see this time of year. From Maine to Massachusetts, this mini-series highlights what each of its states has to offer outdoors while the weather is still warm.

By Michele Herrmann

Rhode Island may be the smallest state in the Union, but its formal name is quite hefty: State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. And so is its reputation for nature. The Ocean State has more than 400 miles of coastline and more than 100 public and private beaches that make it the perfect late summer getaway. Here are some places to consider visiting.

Once Upon a Gilded Age

Newport’s opulent mansions reflect an bygone era of summer homes for the wealthy and elite. These estates can be admired from the outside. The Cliff Walk is a three-and-a-half mile public access coastal walk that borders along the back lawns of The Breakers and other properties. Or drive along the 10-mile Ocean Drive laced with historic landmarks and waterside views.

Bristol is also home to two grand estates worth seeing. Featured in the film version of The Great Gasby, Linden Place is a circa 1810 federal period estate. Drew Barrymore’s grand-aunt and fellow actress Ethel married into the family that once owned the home. Her relatives entertained guests there. Blithewold Mansion, Gardens & Arboretum reflects its past owners’ interest in the outdoors with 33 acres of lawns, gardens, specimen trees, and historic stone structures surrounded by Narragansett Bay.

Beach Days

Called the “Bermuda of the North,” Block Island offers 17 miles of beaches, graced by lighthouses and bluffs and surrounded by rolling roads. Hike into Rodman’s Hollow, 230-acre glacial outwash basin with winding paths that lead to the sea. The two-and-a-half mile Crescent Beach stretches along the east coast from Old Harbor (where the ferries dock) to Clay Head. The Block Island Ferry provides year-round service to the Island.

Rhode Island’s South County region is rife with sugary, white beaches, while Scarborough State Beach in Narragansett is a good spot for body or boogie board surfing. Another popular locale is Misquamicut State Beach in Westerly with over a half mile of beach front.

Right across from Misquamicut, get soaked at WaterWizz, with its 35-foot-high giant water slides and 50-foot-high super speed slides. Take a swing at the batting cages at Adventureland in Narragansett or on an 18-hole nautical themed mini-golf course. Yawgoo Valley Ski & Sports Park in Exeter offers three pools and two water-slides.

Pedal Onward

Hop on a bicycle and pedal down Rhode Island’s still growing network of bike paths. The 14.5 mile East Bay Bike Path runs by coves and marshes, over bridges and through state parks, and hugs the shore of Narragansett Bay. William C. O’Neill Bike Path in South Kingston is just over five-mile paved course that starts at the historic Kingston Train Station and leads through the village of Peace Dale and the town of Wakefield, ending at Route 108.

Finding Sanctuary

The Audubon Society of Rhode Island maintains nearly 9,500 acres of natural habitat across Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Most of the refuges are open to the public and have groomed trails for hiking and nature study. The Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Association lets the public explore the lands and rivers of the Pawcatuck watershed.

Used as a Naval Auxiliary landing field during World War II, Charlestown’s Ninigret National Wildlife Refuge still has remnants of runways, taxi-ways, and buildings that supported the war effort. Fort Barton Nature Walk in Tiverton is topped off by a 30-foot-high observation tower for panoramic views of the Sakonnet River and Mount Hope Bay plus the Portsmouth and Bristol shorelines.

Arcadia Management Area in Hope Valley, the state’s largest recreational area, offers everything from fishing and boating to mountain biking, and horseback riding. Animal lovers will enjoy the Roger Williams Park Zoo in Providence, home to more than 100 species from around the world, and the Newport Butterfly Zoo, part of the Newport Butterfly Farm.

Street Scene

Tired of nature? Then hit the city streets. Walk along Thayer Street in the College Hill neighborhood of Providence’s East Side, a hang out destination for students attending the area’s nearby colleges and universities. Find vintage shops, cafes, a movie theater, and bookstores.

In the evening, head to the waterfront to observe  WaterFire Providence, an ignited sculpture along the three rivers of downtown Providence. These torch-lit vessels start at sunset. Upcoming showings include Saturday, August 28 and October 9.

From August 20 through September 26, the Pawtucket Arts Festival is a showcase of visual, performance and participatory arts in the city’s Downtown Arts and Entertainment District, the State Pier, and Slater Memorial Park. Or venture back to Newport for the Newport International Boat Show, September 16-19.

History Stays Alive

Rhode Island contains a good portion of America’s past with 20 percent of the country’s historic landmarks. The Slater Mill Historic Site in Pawtucket is considered the birthplace of America’s Industrial Revolution, being the first water powered cotton textile mill in the U.S.

An archeological site, Smith’s Castle in North Kingstown, founded as a colonial trading post, became the center of 17th-century land disputes between settlers and the Narragansett Tribe and then in the mid-1700s was turned into a working plantation.

The Rose Island Lighthouse, just minutes from Newport, is an operating lighthouse maintained by working vacationers who sign on for the job as part of an environmental education program. In Jamestown, Beavertail Lighthouse Museum features a collection of artifacts about the history and site of the third-oldest lighthouse in North America. Spend some time in the adjoining Beavertail State Park.

Down on the Farm

Watch cows being milked at  Wright’s Dairy Farm in North Smithfield and purchase goods from their bakery. In Little Compton, DeLucia’s Berry Farm is a berry lover’s delight. Casey Farm in Saunderstown, a mid-18th-century homestead, now raises organically grown vegetables, herbs, and flowers in a Community Supported Agriculture program. In Pascoag, Grace Note Farm lets horseback riders travel down mostly sandy marked trails. Rhode Island also has vineyards and wineries to see and sample from.

For more information on Rhode Island, check out these websites:

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