Exploring Rhode Island: Road Trips in the Ocean State
By Kimberly Graf. Published on May 14, 2023
Here's the thing: Rhode Island is small. It's only 48 miles by 37 miles, but that doesn't mean that there aren't some great sightseeing adventures to be had here! It's the perfect place to go for day trips or a weekend away, where you still won't be too far from home.
Besides being the last of the 13 colonies to become a state, Rhode Island is steeped in colonial history and proudly displays that heritage at every turn. You're sure to encounter it whether you're looking for it or not!
Bristol to Newport
We're going to start this trip in Bristol, Rhode Island. It's a historic city, named after its British counterpart. There are so many backroads and lanes filled with restored colonial homes here, as well as large estates on the outskirts. One of those estates is Blithewold. This mansion offers tours of its ground, which span about 33 acres. The huge gardens have a lot of rare plants and gorgeous settings. You're sure to enjoy it!
When you've looked around in Bristol, you're going to go 35 minutes south to Newport. You'll pass over the Mount Hope Bridge on your way, which is an impressive bridge that stretches over the Ocean on its way to Aquidneck Island.
This is where you'll find Newport, on a small, scenic island that is famed for its gilded-age mansions and colonial history. The Newport Historical and Preservation Societies offer tours of these mansions, as well as various restored colonial-era buildings. One of these, called the Revolution House, dates from about 1697 and is as beautiful today as it was then.
Get some lunch in the White Horse Tavern – it's the country's oldest continually-operated taverns, dating from revolutionary times. And then strap on your hiking shoes, because we're going on the Cliffwalk!
The Newport Cliffwalk is one of the major draws to the city. It's 3.5 miles long, mostly paved, and winds behind and through some of the biggest, most historical mansions in Rhode Island. You can look out over the ocean, walk through tunnels and along gorgeous paths. In the Fall, this is particularly beautiful.
Some of the mansions you will pass are Marble House, The Breakers, Ochre Court, and Rosecliff. These mansions all date from the 1890s and 1900s, and many of them are still just a splendid as they were then.
One of the biggest mansions here is the Beechwood. Built in 1851, it later became the summer home of someone you might have heard of. It was purchased by John Jacob Aster III, whose son was one of the most famous casualties of the 1912 sinking of the Titanic. His wife survived, and lived there until she died. It then became a historic place, and has been one ever since.
Newport is full of history, and it's a great place to go to see buildings from between the 1600's and 1800's, and observe the completely different lifestyle they had during those times.
Historic Fall Foliage Drive
Part of the charm of New England is in the remoteness, the rural drives with gorgeous views. It's easy to see what made the colonists so happy to fight for this land. This trip isn't very long either, but it will take you through one of the remote, rural drives and some excellent little villages and towns along the way.
In the fall, this route has gorgeous fall foliage, making it an excellent for leaf-peepers!
We'll start in North Kingstown. It's a deceptive start to our trip, because it's one of the largest towns in Rhode Island. There are a lot of parks and even a Marine Biology center. But the real fun starts when you leave North Kingstown on your way to Exeter. It's about six miles away over a two-lane mountain road.
Exeter is the site of something pretty amazing in folklore: in 1892, people believed that vampires were to blame for an outbreak of consumption. If you like weird history, you're going to love this stop!
Another ten miles away is Coventry, Rhode Island. There are parts of this city that are like stepping back in time. Old villages that used to be here haven't been touched since the 19th century. There are buildings from the 18th century still standing throughout town. Some are still acting as homes. Most of the churches here are also 19th-century buildings, and they still function today.
The road on to Foster is where the real fun begins. It's about a 33-minute drive up the road. On either side, there are dense green forests that are alive with color in the fall, all in gold and scarlet. The Foster Town Building was built about 1796 and remains a meeting place today, making it one of the oldest government houses in the country.
Glocester is 7 miles away, and it houses the villages of Chepachet and Harmony. It's just as beautiful as any place before it on the road. It was here that British Loyalists were exiled during the Revolution, and like many of the places in Rhode Island, there is much of it that remains the same since that time.
Between Glocester and Burrillville is the Purple Cat Vineyard and Winery. There's so much going on there that you're sure to be able to stop in on your way and check out a class or an event that they're hosting!
Burrillville is a small town six miles away, and while most of its historic buildings have met with unfortunate ends, it's still an important part of the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor.
Our final stop is only 11 miles down the road in North Smithfield, Rhode Island. This entire area is just gorgeous in the fall, and even though most people don't really think of Rhode Island as part of New England, it certainly does fit in.
North Smithfield incorporates about seven other historic villages, and there are still plenty of buildings standing to reflect that. Most have been restored in all of their original splendor, so you can go and look at those. The old buildings with a backdrop of fall foliage make this stop absolutely incredible.
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