By Bob Difley
When you think of states that identify with the ocean, Florida and California come to mind. But the state that lays claim to the motto “The Ocean State” is the minuscule state of Rhode Island.
Measuring only 36 miles by 48 miles, you could bicycle around it in a weekend. When driving, by the time you get the map unfolded, you’re through it. If you try to locate it on a United States map, you might not even be able to find it.
But don’t let the size of the state fool you when it comes to shoreline – you will find nearly 400 miles of tidal shoreline and more than 100 freshwater and ocean beaches – enough to keep all beach bums, surfers, anglers, sailors, kayakers, clam diggers, sunbathers and photographers in your RV occupied.
When the Italian adventurer Giovanni da Verrazzano crossed the forbidding Atlantic and dropped sail in Narragansett Bay in 1524, he became the first European to wiggle his toes in Rhode Island’s sandy beaches. Permanent settlement, though, was left to Roger Williams after he got kicked out of Massachusetts for quarreling with the puritanical Puritans.
The beauty of the islands and inlets of Narragansett Bay, the shallow lagoons and salt marshes along the Atlantic shore, long stretches of sandy barrier beaches stretching from the entrance of Narragansett Bay to the Connecticut border, and the rolling hills of Block Island, which rise like a sentinel out of the sea, draw vacationers like fish to bait.
For those of you unfortunate enough to have never experienced the Ocean State, pull out your calendar and block out an open date for a trip to the nation’s smallest state.
Charlestown Breachway campground is one of those places that is so treasured by those who frequent the place that (even though to a person they deny it) you would bet in the middle of the night they take down the signs so outsiders can’t find it. They are quick to point out, especially to writers who intend to publicize the place, that there is no grass – it’s all dirt, puddles form after a rain, there are no hook-ups, no dump station, no cable TV, no planned entertainment or activities and no horseshoe pit. All of this is true.
What they neglect to mention is the prime waterfront campsites along the breachway, an inlet from the ocean to a small bay that divides Charlestown Town Beach from East Beach to the West. From here seven miles of white sandy beach stretch east. The townspeople of Charlestown call their hometown “the best-kept secret in Rhode Island.”
The $2 Tour
Just a few feet away from the trailhead parking lot near Green Hill, the natural area of Trustom Pond National Wildlife Refuge seems miles from the nearest civilization. The trail leads by a small pond, where lily pads covered the tranquil waters, bullfrogs croaked, and I spotted a huge turtle easing through the lilies just below the surface of the water. Farther on, the big pond opens out to the ocean through a tidal narrows.
Catch one of the ferries for a day trip to Block Island that only rises to a height of 200 feet, so slip on your hiking shoes, grab your bike and wander – and, of course, lunch on local seafood.
The pristine sandy beaches and lush woodlands around Narragansett attracted the wealthy who transformed the area into an exclusive resort. The restored stone structure of the Towers remains as Narragansett’s signature landmark.
Twenty miles of curvy roads around Conanicut Island are ideal for bicycling, and the Jamestown waterfront invites wandering. Catch a ferry here for a fun water route to Newport. Narragansett Bay was protected on one side by Fort Adams in Newport, one of the most heavily armed forts in America from 1799 to 1945, and on the other side by Conanicut Island’s Fort Wetherill, now a 61-acre state park.
Old Newport ranks near the top of the list of great eastern port towns that is fun to wander around. Seafood restaurants, coffee houses, narrow alleys and boutique shops mix with the port town ambiance of sailboats, powerboats, ferry boats, tug boats, ship’s chandlers and yacht clubs.
The city’s palatial mansions and estates represent what had once been “the” fashionable summer resort town. Many of the estates are now open to the public and can be seen from Bellevue Avenue and Ocean Drive. The oldest operating tavern in America, the White Horse Tavern built in 1673 at Marlborough & Farewell Streets, still functions as a Colonial restaurant.
That’s the $2 tour. Now come see coastal Rhode Island for yourself.
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