Length: About 40 miles.
When to go: Popular year-round, but best in summer because of water activities.
Not to be missed: The Flying Horse Carousel, Watch Hill.
Nearby attraction: Block Island (take ferries from Galilee, RI, and New London, CT).
Further information: Rhode Island Tourism Division, 1 W. Exchange St., Providence, RI 02903; tel. 800-566-2484, www.visitrhodeisland.com. South County Tourism Council, 4808 Tower Hill Rd., Wakefield, RI, 02879; tel. 800-548-4662.
A drive over the Jamestown Bridge leads to the celebrated city of Newport, playground for the rich and famous. Many of their turn-of-the-century mansions and modern multimillion-dollar yachts can be seen along Ocean Drive, a 10-mile seaside loop. Though not marked, the route consists of Harrison Avenue, Ridge Road, Ocean Avenue, and Bellevue Avenue. The best views are from Cliff Walk, a 31/2-mile trail that begins at Easton’s Beach near Bellevue Avenue and runs along the bluffs
Take one look at a map of Rhode Island and you will quickly see why this pint-size package is nicknamed the Ocean State. Despite its modest size—only 48 miles long and 37 miles wide—this New England nugget has 400 miles of coastline. Though officially named Washington County, the southern fringe of the state is known to locals as South County. No matter what you call it, though, the area is replete with scenic Rhode Island riches.
1. Watch Hill
Traveling south from Westerly, take Rte. 1A toward Watch Hill, one of the prettiest seaside resorts in South County. Built on a series of bluffs, the town has hills galore, many of them with handsome Victorian-style summer homes nestled into their slopes.
For one of the best beach walks in Rhode Island, follow the path at the end of Fort Road to Napatree Point. Situated at the westernmost tip of the state, this long peninsula is a good spot to watch migrating hawks and waterfowl. The Watch Hill Coast Guard Station (on Light House Road) offers a sensational panoramic vista.
2. Misquamicut State Beach
At Winnapaug Road head south to Misquamicut State Beach, the state’s largest. Misquamicut, which is flanked by Winnapaug Pond and the ocean, is one of more than a dozen public beaches that dot the coast of Rhode Island. Continuing east on Atlantic Avenue, the road passes through the quaint oceanside community of Weekapaug, where gingerbread-style homes punctuate the rocky shoreline.
3. Burlingame State Park
Back on Rte. 1A, the drive leads to one of Rhode Island’s most popular camping sites, Burlingame State Park. This 2,100-acre park, located in a wooded area beside Watchaug Pond, offers freshwater swimming, boating, and fishing. On the pond’s south side is Kimball Wildlife Refuge, a 29-acre preserve with several hiking trails and an abundance of oaks, maples, starflowers, and, in season, pink lady’s slippers.
4. Ninigret National Wildlife Refuge
Set on a coastal plain that once served as a U.S. naval-air installation, this 400-acre sanctuary is bordered by a large saltwater pond. Yet the water is so shallow (only four feet deep in most spots) that sunlight can easily reach the bottom, promoting the growth of vegetation that in turn nourishes a wide variety of life—from shrimp and flounder to black ducks and snowy egrets.
In late September visitors may glimpse hordes of orange-and-black monarch butterflies as well as flocks of migrating hawks. A walk along one of the old airplane runways is a good way to spot a deer, fox, or even a coyote.