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Exploring Charlestown, Rhode Island's Burlingame State Park

As you start becoming immersed in the South County lifestyle, you’ll surely want to get out there and explore the beautiful natural environment. While the oceanfront beaches get a lot of the attention, and with good reason, the small population means there is a lot of wide open space here that provides you with some great places to spend a weekend with friends or family.

Burlingame State Park Enterance sign.One such location is Burlingame State Park, a 3,100-acre region in Charlestown offering camping, swimming, boating, and hiking opportunities throughout most of the year. Here, you can walk through the woods for an entire day without seeing another person or find your own private swimming hole.

The park was first established in 1930 and opened as a campground in 1934, so it has a long tradition as a summer destination for locals. Heading to Burlingame State Park gives you the chance to not only participate in outdoor activities, but also potentially see the over 80 bird species, otters, weasels, rabbits, deer, reptiles, and foxes that call the park home.

Once you buy a home in Charlestown or one of its surrounding communities, Burlingame State Park is sure to become part of your life any time you want to escape the busyness of the towns and relax in silence.

Watchaug Pond

The focal point of Burlingame State Park is Watchaug Pond, a 573-acre body that sits within 3,000 acres of public land. There is a public boat launch on the east end of the pond, just off Sanctuary Road, which was rebuilt in 2018 to make it wider and, therefore, more accessible for users. You can also launch your boat at the campsite when staying there.

Keep in mind that many parts of the pond are shallow, as the average depth is only eight feet, although sections in the middle reach a depth of 36 feet. The pond also has a healthy population of smallmouth and largemouth bass. Lures that mimic crayfish and shiners tend to have success here because they are the principal food for the resident fish.

Watchaug Pond is one of the more popular freshwater bodies in the Charlestown area because it is so close to everything. You can reach the pond in about five minutes from downtown Charlestown, and it's only 18 minutes from the heart of Westerly. You can even get there from places like Narragansett, Wickford, and Mystic in under half an hour, so no matter if you're in South County or across the border in Connecticut, it's a viable place to head for the day or an entire weekend.

Campsites and CabinsBurlingame State Park in Charlestown, RI covers 3,100 acres.

Camping at Burlingame State Park is a great way to spend the weekend because there's so much to do. The park has over 700 basic campsites from which to choose, in addition to 20 cabins. You'll want to book the cabins well in advance because they get booked quickly, especially in the summer.

Also on-site at the campground is a convenience store, arcade, shower, sandy beach, and boat launch. You can rent a canoe through the campground, as well, if you don't feel like bringing your own boat to the pond. Taking a paddle through this large pond is a relaxing experience because it’s large enough that you can usually avoid other boaters.

The park is home to Camp Watchaug, as well, which is operated by the YMCA and provides programs for children throughout the summer. Children from four years old to grade nine can participate in the camps, which include activities like swimming lessons, a climbing wall, nature activities, outdoor skills, field games, banana boat rides, and a variety of other ways to pass the time. Families and large groups can rent the camp when the YMCA isn't using it.

Hiking Trails

From the campground, there is a hiking trail that leads to the Kimball Wildlife Sanctuary. This sanctuary is popular with birdwatchers, and there are often family-friendly programs to check out during the summer. The hike isn’t very long, making it a nice jaunt to take with young children, especially if you’re worried about having to carry them back to your site.

On the east side of the pond is the trailhead for Vin Gormley Trail, a 7.8-mile loop that also heads through the Kimball Wildlife Refuge before passing the campground and continuing all the way around the pond. Parts of the trail are along the main roads, but much of the hike involves walking through heavily wooded areas. Some parts of the path are steep, as you'll gain nearly 400 feet of elevation, and there are rocky sections, as well. You can bike the trail, but past riders have said the rocky parts make it difficult to navigate at points.

You’ll find a secondary trailhead for the Vin Gormley Trail at the north end of the pond. There isn’t much parking in this area, but it also isn’t heavily used, so you should have much trouble finding somewhere to leave your vehicle. This area is a great place to start if you want a shorter hike in the wilderness and is perhaps the least used section of the pathway. One thing to consider is that the north part of the pond is a hunting area and, therefore, you should proceed with caution.

The Perfect Place to Spend a Weekend

You don’t have to travel far to spend a weekend, or even just a few hours, in the wilderness once you move to South County. Burlingame State Park is close to everything, as it’s located just off Route 1, but, yet, is quiet and completely away from it all.

After you settle into your new abode in Charlestown, Westerly, or any other nearby town or village, you’ll quickly see why locals love Burlingame State Park so much. Here, you can spend your time away from the crowded beaches, while enjoying a little slice of paradise in your own backyard.