Rhode Island -- Cool Places to Run – Rhode Island
There are hundreds of terrific places to run in Rhode Island. Yes, it is the smallest of the 50 states, but there are wide-ranging wooded areas, trails, and an unbelievable 450 miles of ocean shoreline.
Posted Monday, 15 May, 2006
The State of Rhode Island, officially named the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, offers a tremendous variety of running opportunities. Known as the Ocean State, as well as Little Rhody, a surprising number of its 1,214 square miles are open to recreation, and that includes some terrific running trails and bike paths—some that will take your breath away.
Narragansett Bay, at least a dozen rivers, and more than 80 coastal islands make Rhode Island a treasure land of scenic runs. Two of those islands, Block Island (Aquidneck) off the south coast, and just east of the tip of Long Island, and Conanicut Island (Jamestown), in the middle of Narragansett Bay, are both terrific places to run. Both have loop options, as well as out and back tours, and there are no wrong turns on these islands, because every mile is beautiful.
Picking Rhode Island runs at random—a difficult choice to say the least, we will go with the Newport Cliff Walk and Ocean Avenue loop; the southern portion of the East Bay Bicycle Path from West Barrington to Bristol; two Block Island runs, the Misquamicut beach run near Westerly; a downtown Providence tour; and the Kingston to Peace Dale Bike Path with an option to Narragansett Pier. There are hundreds of other options.
The Newport Cliff Walk is on the southeastern or ocean side of Newport overlooking Rhode Island Sound. As the name implies, there are significant cliffs on this end of the island, and this 3.5-mile run is, in a word, magnificent. With awesome natural beauty on one side and incredible Gilded Age mansions on the other, the miles float by. There are gardens and beautiful lawns along side, and crashing surf below. It is easy to understand why the mansions were built in such an incredible place—they could build anywhere, but chose this island.
The Breakers, Rosecliff, and Marble House are the mansions closest to the path; and many others are near by on Bellevue Avenue. But the real story here is natural beauty. The easiest way to get to this trail/walk is to cross the impressive Newport (Pell) Bridge from Jamestown on Route 138. Once in Newport, go south from the bridge through the main part of town, then turn east on Route 138A until the ocean is visible at Eustis Avenue.
Starting near Memorial Boulevard (Route 138A) the Cliff Walk will take you south along the ocean, finally making a sweeping turn around the southernmost tip of Newport, then tuning north. It ends at Ocean Avenue near Bailey’s Beach. The Cliff Walk was designated a National Recreation Trail in 1975.
At Ocean Avenue there are two choices: Turn right or east on Ocean, then left on Bellevue for a tour past the mansions and gardens. It is approximately 2.5 miles back to the starting point at Memorial Boulevard by going straight north on Bellevue until intersecting Memorial, with a right turn to the start point—about a six-mile loop.
Or you can opt for a wonderful long-run (14-miles) as an alternative by turning left on Ocean Boulevard and heading west past Hazards Beach. Ocean Avenue continues through Brenton Point State Park (rest rooms) then north along Narragansett Bay. Ocean Avenue ends with a right on Castle Hill Road, and a quick left on Ridge Road, which leads to Fort Adams State Park. (I suggest you drive the loop first, and plant bottles.) Going into Fort Adams will add about one mile, but it too has rest rooms and a beach on the bay. Fort Adams was built in 1799, and was one of the largest forts of its day. It could house about 2,500 soldiers to guard the bay from attack.
From the fort, Ridge Road becomes Wickham Road, and then merges into Ruggles Avenue, which intersects Bellevue. A left on Belleview takes you back to Memorial and the start.
The East Bay Bicycle Path runs from East Providence to Bristol along Narragansett Bay, about 15 miles in total. The southern portion, from Haines State Park to Bristol Harbor, makes for an outstanding eight-mile run—point to point. Or it can be an out and back of any length, up to 16 plus. This pathway is almost perfectly flat, but offers panoramic views of the Bay, running through Barrington, Warren, and Bristol. It runs through marshes and parks, and is almost entirely traffic free.
Haines Park is on the East Providence-West Barrington line on Route 103, and is accessible from Route 114 via Lincoln Road and Washington Road. Alternatively, you can access it from Independence Park along Bristol Harbor on the south end.
The path crosses the Barrington River and the Warren River (with traffic) in quick succession heading east, before turning south to Bristol. The path is maintained by the state as a parkway.
For a shorter, quieter, tremendously beautiful out-and-back loop, go to Bristol Harbor and Independence Park as above, and hug the harbor heading west into Colt State Park; it is located along the Bay as well. This is approximately a six-mile loop, including paths through the park, which has excellent views of Narragansett Bay. It includes 464 acres of groomed gardens, fruit trees, beautiful lawns, and flowering shrubs—it has rest rooms. The bike path runs through a more natural environment along the shore, whereas the Colt Park is more of a lawn and garden environment. Both are beautiful, and both provide impressive views of Narragansett Bay.
Block Island, New Shoreham
Block Island offers a very different running experience, with many miles of scenic roads, both paved and unpaved, and over 30 miles of running/hiking trails, there are many options. Block Island, which constitutes the township of New Shoreham, sits about 10 miles off the main Rhode Island Coast at Point Judith. It is only 12 miles from Montauk Point, Long Island, New York, and much smaller and quieter than its more famous neighbors to the east. Home to the Manissean Indians for hundreds of years; its present name was taken from Dutch explorer Adriaen Block (visited in 1614). The island is only seven miles long and 31/2 wide, but packs a lot of spectacular and varied scenery, history, views, and enjoyable running options.
North Lighthouse Out-and-Back is a 9 mile run with options, including great beach views, the clay Head trail, and, of course, North Lighthouse on the very northern tip (Sandy Point) of the Island. From the ferry landing at Old Harbor (there is an information facility there with maps) turn right on Water Street and run through a portion of the historic village to the end of Water. Turn left on Dodge Street, and then the first right on Corn Neck Road. Corn Neck Road will take you to the North Lighthouse, and along the way you will see several miles of beach on your right before the road moves away from the ocean to a rural farm landscape.
Two off road options: A right turn and tour down Mansion Road, 1/3 mile to the site of the old Searles Mansion (only the foundation remains, but it is impressive and scenic). The second option is definitely recommended, which is the next right on Clay Head Trail, a dirt road that turns to a footpath for a 1 ½ mile trail run. Whether you stay on Corn Neck Road to the end, or going out near the cliffs on Clay Head, you will arrive at Sachem Pond and a narrow, low spit of land approaching Sandy Point.
The pavement ends, and there is a half mile road/path to the impressive old North Lighthouse, which was built in 1867. North Light sits adjacent to the National Wildlife Refuge. The remains of the 1837 light is a few meters south of the present light, and the 1852 light just north. Retrace you route back to the Old Harbor, and you will be amazed at what you missed on the way out.
The Mohegan Trail Loop tours the south end of the island. Beginning at the Old Harbor, take a left on Water Street to the roundabout, and then go straight up the small incline on Spring Street. The ocean will be on your left with wonderful views. Spring Street heads south through farms and fields, and becomes Southeast Road. At about two miles from town you will see the impressive Southeast Light on your left. Run up and take a good look at the impressive red sandstone structure. There is a great view from there.
Continuing on Southeast Road, you will gradually turn to the west as the road changes to Mohegan Trail. About 1/3 mile from the lighthouse you will see a turnoff on the left for Payne Overlook on Mohegan Bluffs. From the overlook you can see the Atlantic to the south, and Long Island Sound to the west. Montauk Point on the tip of Long Island is visible. And you get a great view of the Southeast Light to the left. The bluffs are about 100 feet above the ocean, and you can do some cross training by taking the stairs down to the beach, and then back up to continue your trek.
Mohegan Trail ends at the corner, where you only option is to turn right on Lakeside Drive. About a mile on Lakeside takes you to Fresh Pond, and just beyond is a left turn onto the Rodman’s Hollow Trails. Continuing straight on Lakeside will take you past the Old Indian Burial Ground where the road changes to Center Road. Center Road will pass the airport on your right (good diner there), and take you down the slope toward town. If you turn right on Old Town Road back to the town center you will have about a 6-½ mile run. If you continue to the right turn on Ocean Avenue, it will be approximately seven.
Many side roads and paths offer many additional options. There is a west side loop as well as an out and back to the Coast Guard Station. Stay over and try several.
You will enjoy running the Shad Bloom 10K Trail Run in May, the Block Island Triathlon in August, or the 15K Road Race in September.
Misquamicut State Beach provides several miles of continuous beach shoreline. Running along this beach, especially in the fall and spring off-season, can be a terrific and usually very private workout. Running along the beach in the summer offers another type of workout (dodging beach-goers), but either way, the sand and the waves create a different and challenging surface. This run provides wide-open views of the Atlantic and Long Island Sound, and makes for a serious workout, but one that is as invigorating as it is picturesque—and really easy on the joints.
I always head east from the main area, and run about 2 ½ miles before turning around at Weekapaug, about a five-mile round trip. You can add another mile by then heading west before reversing course. Misquamicut is on Route 1A, just south of Route 1 in Westerly, and just east of the Connecticut border.
Running is a great way to see a city, and especially a dynamic, historic town such as Providence. And it is a great place to explore before or following your run. Sightseeing and shopping can become cross training in Providence. There are revitalized retail shops, a bonanza called Providence Place Mall, a model for any downtown; there are historic canals, and 18th century homes and shops. And there is the State House. If you have never been to Providence, you are in for a terrific treat with something for every interest. History buffs love the area, especially the state capitol. And there are many restaurants for those post run meals and refreshments.
The State House alone is an attraction, and a national historical landmark. The dome is the fourth largest self-supported dome in the world, topped by the sculpture “Independent Man”. This beautiful building of gleaming marble contains the original colonial charter of 1663 from King Charles II; the large, priceless parchment is visible to all in its glass and steel vault. An array of famous paintings and other treasures, as well as famous battle flags from Rhode Island units are inspiring.
Not far from downtown is Roger Williams Park, an island within an island. With wooded paths and roads, it is the home of hundreds of cross-country events. There are many loop options under venerable shade trees.
Touring downtown Providence is very enjoyable, and easily accessible by Amtrak and MBTA Commuter Rail; there is plenty of free parking near the state offices and the state capitol. And there is paid parking at the Providence Place Mall.
South County Bike Path is another terrific path used for running, and gets rave reviews, including mine. It begins at the Kingston Amtrak Train Station, which has parking and is a quaint little gem in itself. This location is very close to the University of Rhode Island (the campus is also a good running area with several loops), and is just off Route 138.
The Kingston Station is located on the fringe of the Great Swamp, famous for the battles that ended the King Philips War (1675-76) between the Wampanoags, the Narragansetts, along with other tribes from the Connecticut Valley, and the Massachusetts colonists who were pushing into tribal lands. King Philip was Chief of the Wampanoags.
The South County Bicycle Path is nearly traffic free, running for four miles into the village of Peace Dale with only a few road crossings—each well marked. Peace Dale houses an excellent Native American Museum, and a beautiful library. This Kingston to Peace Dale and back run provides a relaxing eight-mile tour, much of it wooded.
Alternatively, you can do a point-to-point by continuing into the adjacent town of Wakefield (Route 1A near US Route 1), and then taking South Pier Road east southeast to Narragansett Pier and the ocean; this is 10 miles in total to Narragansett Beach.
Many Beautiful Miles
As with other states in New England, there are innumerable areas, routes, and locations to run. As with the island loops mentioned above, there are many areas to explore and to log miles: The Blackstone River Valley, trails in the Arcadia Management area, shoreline runs from Narragansett to Warwick, the Greene Summit Trestle Trail through apple country, the rich history and charm of downtown Providence, the George Washington Management Area and surrounding trails in the northwest corner, and the beautifully picturesque southeast tip where Little Compton to Sakonnett Point rivals other coastal areas.
One of the many great things about Rhode Island is you can get to anywhere in the state very quickly. Runners and walkers can quickly and easily visit the famous mansions of Newport, walk the Oceanside cliffs, or stroll the beaches of South County. There are hundreds of scenic places to run and walk, and some unusual spots as well. Museums and parks abound, and are as varied as the Gilbert Stuart Birthplace and Museum in North Kingstown, to the Daggett Farm and Slater Mill of Pawtucket, also home of the Pawtucket Red Sox. Opportunities abound in the Ocean State. It has thousands of miles of “Rhode work”.