50 Hikes 50 States Project–Rhode Island

In grad school, I spent the weekend with high school friends in Newport, RI, and I couldn’t wait to get back to this beautiful hamlet on the sound. The surprises continued when I stumbled upon our next hike for our 50 Hikes 50 States Project, the Cliff Walk. It was quite a change from our last hike in Connecticut!

A Seaside Walk that becomes a Hike

Meandering along the bluffs, sandwiched between the sound and mulit-million dollar heritage homes of the U.S. tycoons, a concrete path takes you by opulence on the natural shores that overlook Long Island and Martha’s Vineyard. We didn’t think twice about taking the Cliff Walk even though it was 4th of July weekend.

The trail had originally been built at the turn of the century and became a National Historic Trail in 1976. What would we uncover on this national holiday?

First, You Have to Park

Our biggest challenge of the day was parking. Every spot on the beach held family vans filled with 4th of July revelers. We decided to park up in the neighborhood on the street and walk the 1/3 mile to the trailhead. Paying careful attention to the parking signs, we found a calm residential street where our rental stayed in the shade the entire day. To the trailhead we ambled!

Thinking that the Cliff Walk would certainly have vendors for at least lemonade and ice cream, we didn’t bring any water nor snacks. Big mistake. Whereas I had thoughts of an action-packed boardwalk like found in Mission Beach, CA or along the Atlantic City boardwalk, we found something very different.

The trail starts at the giant Cliff Walk sign and opens with some expectations and maps. We made sure our QR code scanner worked because the signs mentioned there would be interpretation of the mansions along the way that we could uncover by scanning the QR code. Throughout the walk, I enjoyed these tidbits of info and found others listening in as I shared the history with my family. It made the walk that much more interesting.

Take Your Time

Under 80 degree sun with a light ocean breeze, we moved southerly along the trail, passing tourists enjoying the same route. Many of the tourists were just dropping in on the trail; it was easy to discern them as they wore fancy shoes. Although 3 of the 4 miles are on concrete path, the final mile, which we would soon uncover, requires good walking or hiking shoes. I had on my Chaco sandals, which were sufficient, and I was very happy I did not have on flip flops!

A Castle Here, a Mansion There

Who says the US doesn’t have castles? Well, maybe a mansion is different than a castle, but surely, these giant stone homes overlooking incredible views must qualify for something! As we walked along the shore, a who’s who of industrial capitalists dropped their names into our paths with the Vanderbilts dominating the conversation.

As the path continued, we stopped at the only public restroom and took note of the water bottle filler. Just beyond this stop, a local high schooler sold water bottles from a cooler. We expected to see more and bypassed him. (We never saw others and ended the journey both very hungry and very thirsty.)

Around every corner, a cottage, aka Giant Mansion, loomed from the right side of the path. Scrumptious gardens adored the mansions like diamond drop earrings on Queen Elizabeth. Nothing was subtle. Trail markers gave architectural provenance and history. I learned about styles I’d never even dreamed about–my favorite being the Harry Potter quidditch-field looking posts that bugled our arrival at the Japanese pagoda and tea house.

Occasionally we’d take a break and enjoy the views over the sound. The tourists started to thin out and were replaced by locals doing their daily exercise.

Soon, breaks in the path became more abundant.

At each break, we’d have to walk across large boulders, through pebbles, or across sand. The path turned from an easy concrete path to a challenging boulder scramble at times. Large oddly shaped rocks, rip rap, shoreline hardware, and other concrete barriers became the path and required sturdy shoes, strong legs and sure feet.

From a Walk to a Hike

The walk turned into a hike.

Although I had liked the trail to the point, I loved it from here on out. To go from an easy concrete path to a rugged, rocky, bluff awakened my hiking legs and my climbing spirit.

I just wished we hadn’t been so hungry and thirsty.

None the less, we continued on, still scanning the QR codes and enjoying the information. Stunning views continued to pop up around each bend, giving infinity vistas up and down the shoreline.

Butterflies fluttered by.

At the end of the trail, we climbed up the rocky cliff to a bluff and walked through a tunnel of sea vines to reach the end of the Cliff Walk. Again, I was hoping for a lemonade stand and some ice cream. Perhaps if we had continued to the beach pavilion, we might have found them.

But the beach trolley pulled up right as we finished the trail. Not knowing when the next would arrive, we jumped on the opportunity and took it back into town.

In the center of Newport, we jumped out of the trolley to grab some Nutcracker Lattes and scones at Empire Tea and Coffee while we people-watched the holiday crowds enjoying their day.

Let me know if you walk the Cliff Walk as well. What did you like? Tag your pictures with #eatwalklearn and #50hikes50states so I can follow along. Also, if you wanted the video above, be sure to subscribe to my channel so you can get updates! Next up in our 50 Hikes 50 States Project, Montana!

What You Need to Know about this Hike (click for interactive map)