While looking for day trips from the Boston area, we decided to hike the Newport Cliff Walk in southern Rhode Island. We had walked a small section of it years ago and decided to try it as a family destination.
At only a 90 minute drive from Boston, Newport is a super cute seaside town with plenty to see and do. Beyond just beaches, hiking, and biking, there are mansions, forts, lighthouses, and museums, including the International Tennis Hall of Fame, to tour.
In normal times, there are summer festivals, delightful restaurants, and shopping – this would be a great town to spend a weekend in. But since we are in the middle of Covid-19, most of these activities were left for a different visit.
The Cliff Walk is 3.5 miles long, 7 miles round trip, so we needed to decide if we wanted to do the whole thing, or just a section. Given the July heat, our Covid-19 nervousness that the path would get too crowded in the afternoon, and our lack of desire to take a taxi back to our car, we opted for just a section.
While the official starting point for the Newport Cliff Walk is the western end of Easton’s Beach, we found some articles suggesting 40 Steps as a great alternative starting point. At 10:00am on a Saturday morning, we discovered that there was still plenty of parking. By the time that we left, around 1pm, this was no longer true.
We could have continued all the way to the end at Bailey’s Beach, but we were running short on water and were starting to feel hungry, so we turned around a little after Ledge Road, near Boat House Gully (#15 on the map).
Note that beyond the beaches at the endpoints, one of the only restrooms on the path is at Forty Steps, so keep that in mind before you start your walk.
Forty Steps to Ruggles Avenue
The views from the cliffs are quite lovely. One of the boys was curious about why the designer of the wall decided to make a jagged top and my thought was that it would keep boys like him from sitting on it and falling off.
We spent a while simply enjoying the feel of the sea air. There were a couple of points where the air got quite stinky, but for the most part it was quite pleasant.
As you continue past 40 Steps, you will get some nice views of the mansions on the campus of Salve Regina University. This one is Ochre Court, the main administrative building.
Another campus building visible from the path, McAuley Hall, hosts classrooms, as well as both faculty and administrative offices.
A little past the campus, you will find The Breakers, a famous Newport mansion. While is technically open, it a place I would love to go back and tour once Covid-19 risks are reduced. This 70 room “summer cottage” was commissioned by Cornelius Vanderbilt II, designed by Richard Morris Hunt, and inspired by some 16th century Italian palaces. Definitely an item on my bucket list!
At this point the path is still fairly walkable for most people.
But eventually it will turn a bit rougher.
Around this sign, really consider whether you are up for scrambling over large quantities of rocks, with no exit for 2 miles. If this is not for you, consider staying on the green sections of the map, turning around, and heading for Easton’s Beach.
Ruggles Avenue to Ledge Road
From this point, there will still be plenty of private homes to ogle and dream about owning, but there are also plenty of signs warning you that you are crossing private land – meaning that picnicking, playing on the rocks, and sunbathing is not allowed.
When packing up to drive down, we did remember to throw some water in the car, but we forgot to think about how to carry it on the walk. Fortunately, I had a reusable shopping bag, but a backpack would have been much better.
As we considered the terrain, we were starting to worry about how far we would be able to make it on one water bottle each. At least two of us were not doing all that well with the heat and were sweating quite profusely, even though the walk really isn’t all that strenuous.
Since we were walking on the cliffs, the elevation did go up and down a little, and there are a couple of tunnels with steps to walk through.
The boys particularly enjoyed scrambling around on the rocks.
For us, the path was fairly dry, but I could definitely see the rocks being wet and slippery on a high surf or windy day.
By the time we reached Ledge Avenue, we knew that it was almost time to turn back. It would have been fun to continue all the way to Bailey’s Beach, but we simply didn’t have enough water to make it there and walk all the way back to the car, so we continued around the point until we could see the beach, and then turned back.
What an amazing excursion! If you have the opportunity, don’t miss this amazing hike!