Of course, you know that South County, Rhode Island is packed with outdoor activities for the entire family. There are beaches, parks, marinas, and squares everywhere in this area, so you can always find something to do outside at any time of the year.
Did you know, however, that the area around Westerly has some of Rhode Island’s best hiking trails thanks to its dense forests and abundance of uninhabited land? While downtown Westerly and the Watch Hill neighborhood get much of the attention around here, the forests provide a great place to escape for a few hours, especially if you’re into peace and quiet or getting up close to some wildlife.
The following hiking areas as well-known with locals and once you buy a home in Westerly, you’ll have all this and more right at your doorsteps whenever you feel like getting away from it all.
Dr. John Champlin Glacier Park
Sitting just south of Westerly State Airport and right beside Winnapaug Country Club, Dr. John Champlin Glacier Park is 134 acres in size and has about two miles of hiking trails. The park is unique thanks to its glacial landscape, with its moraine ridge, kettle ponds, and carve canyons creating a topography that you won’t see anywhere else.
Some hiking trails follow the park’s ridges while others head through the valleys, so you can get a different hiking experience depending on the path you take. There are two trailheads with parking available: Shore Road Trailhead, which has a small pullout for parking on Kettle Close, just off Shore Road, and Tom Harvey Road Trailhead, which has 12 spots on Newbury Drive near the airport. Choose a parking spot based on the area of the park that you wish to explore.
Wahaneeta Preserve and Woody Hill Management Area
The Wahaneeta Preserve and the Woody Hill Management Area are right beside each other, with the main difference being that Wahaneeta is owned by maintained by the Westerly Land Trust and Woody Hill is owned by the state. Wahaneeta’s trail starts at the site of a former Girl Scout camp and is about two miles long. The trails are well blazed and marked, making this a great place for inexperienced hikers to start.
Woody Hill is a massive series of trails that run through an area that is 723 acres in size. The trails aren’t well marked, and about 91% of the space is made up of dense forest, so make sure you have your GPS if you venture too far into the woods.
To reach the Wahaneeta Preserve trailhead, drive on Dunns Corner Road until you reach Moorehouse Road. From there, you'll pass the Trombino Sports Complex, and the paved road will eventually turn to dirt. The road leading to the preserve is marked, and there is a parking area near the trail. Don't park along the dirt road, however, as this is private property.
The Woody Hill parking area is nearby, but there aren't any connecting roads between the lots. To get to Woody Hill, take South Woody Hill Road from Post Road until it ends and then turn left onto Fallon Trail. Follow Fallon Trail until you reach the parking lot and then choose a trail. The Woody Hill Loop heads north around a lake and is probably the most popular path here.
Napatree Point Conservation Area
At one time, Napatree Point was a populated area with about 40 families calling it home. Every single home here was washed out by the Great New England Hurricane of 1938, however, leaving very little behind. The trail here is a 3.2-mile loop with views of the beach and the option to slip down to the water at many different points. You can also pass over the sand dunes at the end of the trail to reach the ruins of Fort Mansfield, a former coastal artillery installation.
The Napatree Point Conservation Area has perhaps the easiest trailhead to reach, as you can park at Watch Hill Beach and be there within seconds. Keep in mind that this area is incredibly popular during the summer months and, therefore, spaces can fill up. You should also know that dogs are only permitted on the trails before 8 AM and after 6 PM between early May and early September.
Avondale Farm Preserve
The shortest and easiest trail on this list is found at the Avondale Farm Preserve. This loop is just 0.6 miles in length and is part of a grassland habitat, which means that native species are maintained here, while invasive species are eliminated. The trail makes for great birdwatching and is popular with joggers and bikers because of its scenery. It’s also very flat, so you can bring the kids.
Getting to the preserve involves taking Watch Hill Road to Avondale Road and then turning onto Grassland Way. From there, you'll turn right on Kings Way, where you'll see a parking area. Kings Way runs in a loop around part of the preserve, with the main trail being outside of it.
Some of the Country’s Best Hiking
You don’t have to travel far from downtown Westerly to find a world-class hiking area. Many of these trails also permit mountain biking and are accessible for snowshoers, so you can even explore them in the winter.
Try as many of South County’s hiking trails as you can because you never know when you’ll come across one that checks all the boxes as your new favorite place to go for a stroll or bike ride.