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Yes, Rhode Island Has a Desert


sand dune in west greenwich

With its lush greenery and oceanfront location, Rhode Island is probably one of the last places you’d expect to find a desert.

However, just off the I-95 in West Greenwich is a full-blown desert landscape, complete with massive sand dunes that extend a fair distance against the backdrop of a dense forest.

Making this random desert in RI even stranger is the presence of multiple water bodies, including the Carr River, Tarbox Pond, Carr Pond, and Lake Mishnock in the surrounding area.

So, how did this desert get there?

Why is it significant?

How do you visit?

Keep reading to learn more about the Big River Desert in West Greenwich, Rhode Island.

Why There’s a Desert in Rhode Island

First things first, this isn’t a real desert.

While this patch of land is a barren area covered with sand, much like you’d expect in a legitimate desert, it isn’t natural. The first clue should be the surrounding forest and nearby water, which you usually wouldn’t find in a true desert.

Instead, the Big River Desert is on the site of a former rock quarry. When the quarry closed up shop and abandoned the land, it left dunes behind that remain there to this day. It also left the earth unable to grow vegetation.

The result is a desert in the middle of the dense forest of the 8,319-acre Big River Management Area.

The desert provides something a little different from the rest of Rhode Island, which is perhaps one reason locals love the location. While the area’s trees and beaches are great, having the opportunity to hike through a desert mere minutes from your home is something most of the country will never experience.

How to Get There

Getting to the Big River Desert is relatively easy, but keep in mind that there are two distinct desert sections.

The northern section sits between the I-95 and Division Street. You can’t really see it from the highway, which is perhaps why many commuters don’t even know it’s there. There’s a parking area on Division Street marked by huge boulders that prevent vehicles from entering the dunes.

The other section is south of Division Street and also has a designated parking zone. It’s possible to walk between the two areas, and there is even a trail starting on the northwest corner of the southern section that leads to the northern desert.

You’ll get to both desert areas the same way: taking Exit 6 or 6A off the I-95 and following Division Street until you see sand. You’ll find some roadside parking spaces on Hopkins Hill Road, too, which offer a shorter walk to the sand than the main parking lots.

Summer and Winter Activities

Now that you know about the sand dunes, you’re probably wondering what you can do there.

In the summer, it’s all about hiking on the dunes. There are trails through the woods surrounding the dunes, and you can even walk to the top of them if you have the right footwear.

The great thing about these hikes is that the dunes are so high that you can see for miles around. These views provide excellent insight into the Rhode Island landscape, and you’ll quickly realize just how unique this site is compared to everything near it.

Wildlife and birdwatching opportunities are aplenty in the desert, too. The wide-open spaces give you clear sightlines, so when deer or red-tailed hawks leave the protection of the forest, you can see them from a fair distance away.

In the winter, the dunes end up covered with snow, so, as you might expect, they become popular with sledders. The northern dunes, in particular, are one of the state’s most popular tobogganing destinations, with kids from all over the state visiting every winter.

As such, the desert is a year-round attraction for West Greenwich residents and a place you’re sure to frequent if you buy a home in the area.

A Unique Landscape in West Greenwich

Deserts are incredibly uncommon in New England, making this barren area in Rhode Island a unique destination. Living here allows you to begin your day overlooking the ocean in nearby East Greenwich, Wickford, or Charlestown before wandering through some dense forests in the Big River Management Area. You can then head to the desert to experience your third landscape of the day.

If you’re looking to buy a property in southern Rhode Island, West Greenwich provides an unmatched rural lifestyle in an easily accessible location. The town is small and spread out, and that won’t change anytime soon because much of the area is government protected.

For serenity and peacefulness, very few locations can match what West Greenwich, Rhode Island, provides.