There is no better time to hike than autumn in New England. The leaves change. The geese honk their way across the sky. The air is crisp and perfect. All over the world, people see photos of our rambling trails – surrounded by that blaze of red and yellow – and they wish they were here.
We have plenty of famous footpaths and multi-use trails, from the Cliff Walk to the East Bay Bike Path. But even lifelong Rhode Islanders don’t know all the rustic routes that await them. There are simply too many parks to compile here, so here are some of our favorite out-of-the-way destinations to break in those new boots.
The Cross-Country Hiker
The Sakonnet Greenway Trail cuts through the well-developed landscape of Aquidneck Island, including farms, a polo field, and the Newport Rifle Club. Yet you’ll also find swathes of swamp and forest, plus 10 miles of paths and secondary paths to explore. To really appreciate this island’s varied terrain, Sakonnet is an illuminating walk. Middletown and Portsmouth
The Weekend Warrior
Diamond Hill State Park is a playground for scrambling and mountain biking; you’ll find plenty of boulders and slopes, as well as still water and leafy vistas. Meanwhile, Diamond Hill is a quick drive from Mercy Woods, Handy Pond, and the Blackstone Valley Bike Trail. You could spend an entire weekend hopping from one forested sanctuary to the next, which carpet the land between the capital and the Massachusetts border. Cumberland and Lincoln
Ninigret Park is a sprawling park on the southern coast, most famous as the setting for the Frosty Drew Nature Center and Observatory. But there are also playgrounds, picnic areas, tennis and basketball courts. You could spend an entire day exploring this 227-acre landscape. Ninigret has a storied past: until the 1970s, it was home to the Naval Auxiliary Air Station of Charlestown, and the blistered remains of the old airfield can still be seen today. Charlestown
Not many places in Rhode Island can qualify as a “valley,” and certainly none as scenic as Ell Pond Preserve. Located so far west that it’s practically in Connecticut, the preserve is a rare glimpse of near-wilderness. The “kettle hole” pond is ringed with sloped banks and dense trees, and on a misty morning, Ell can feel as isolated as an Alaskan fjord. The ground can be slippery, especially on the rocky parts, but for many hikers, these setbacks are a small price to pay for a slice of sylvan serenity. Hopkinton
Even by Rhode Island standards, Mount Tom Trail doesn’t really scale a mountain, yet this six-mile loop is a dynamic promenade through the Arcadia Management Area. Arcadia is our state’s largest recreational plot, and Mount Tom is a beautiful sample of those 14,000 acres: there are rolling hills, massive boulders, and an elegant bridge over a glassy brook, along with scattered overlooks. Mount Tom is considered a “rigorous” hike, so come prepared. Exeter
From the trailhead of the George B. Parker Woodland Wildlife Refuge, you can see farms and fields. But the paths runs deep into the woods, over hills and streams. Wildlife is a common sight here, as are the mysterious cairns that dot the landscape. The first loop will get your heart rate up, but the longer loop measures seven miles – which could take most of a day. If you like Parker but don’t have time, try Snake Den State Park, a similar refuge in nearby Johnston. Coventry