Block Island, Rhode Island

Block Island, Rhode Island

First sighted by Giovanni da Verrazano in 1524, Block Island lies 12 miles south of Point Judith, Rhode Island, and 14 miles east of Montauk, New York. The 11-square-mile island (approximately five miles long by three miles wide), created by glaciers around 10,000 years ago, has some 850 year-round residents (summertime population is estimated at 20,000), most of whom want to keep the island from becoming overdeveloped. Strict zoning laws prohibit sprawl and commercialization, as evidenced by the island’s “low-profile” homes and buildings and large tracts of open land, much of it protected by conservation restrictions.

Tale of Two Harbors

The island has two harbors: Old Harbor and Great Salt Pond, the latter serving as the primary port for recreational boaters. The pond was a landlocked waterbody until 1898, when a breach was opened in the beach to link it with the ocean, creating what’s officially known as New Harbor. The harbor measures one mile long by 1/2-mile wide, and offers excellent protection.

Moorings Aplenty

Ninety fixed moorings maintained by the town are available to the public on a first-come, first-served basis, and there’s a large anchorage along the east side of the pond where you’re likely to find space to drop the hook, even on a busy summer weekend. Old Port Launch offers service to and from the Block Island Boat Basin—a busy place during the summer. The basin is home to a marine-supply store, The Oar restaurant, and a grocery store. Bike and moped rentals are available next door. Other New Harbor marinas include the sprawling Champlin’s facility (a resort marina with a pool, restaurant, grills and more) and Payne’s Dock (home to Mahogany Shoals bar & grill). A public dinghy dock is located between Payne’s and Deadeye Dick’s restaurant.

Paddling About

If you want to get to know the Great Salt Pond more intimately, consider paddling a kayak or SUP (rentals are available nearby) or taking a small dinghy to explore the pond’s shallow sand and mud flats on the northern and eastern ends. You can also explore Cormorant Cove (just south of the harbor entrance) or poke into the tidal creek on the southwest corner and follow it into Trims Pond and the surrounding salt marsh.

Around Old Harbor

While the Great Salt Pond may see the majority of boating traffic, the hub of Block Island remains Old Harbor, created in 1870 when stone breakwaters and a dock were built on the southeast side of the island to accommodate ferries from the mainland. There are few options for transient boaters here, although it’s worth a call to the New Shoreham Harbormaster to see if there’s an available slip. The downtown area is home to three large hotels—the Harborside, the National and the Surf—as well as numerous restaurants, boutiques, a theatre, ice-cream shops, and other small businesses.

Getting Around

Since Block Island is so small, it’s easy to tour the whole island in a day via bicycle or moped. Some 30 miles of hiking trails also wind throughout the island’s interior. Visitors should plan a visit to the Mohegan Trail, which runs along the island’s southeast coast and leads to the iconic Southeast Light, the famous lighthouse that sits atop Southeast Point. This handsome tower-style lighthouse was built in 1875, and the beacon is visible from 21 miles at sea. The Block Island Southeast Light Foundation offers guided tours.

Block to Nature

Off Southeast Light Road, Mohegan Bluffs drops 150 feet to the sandy beach below, which can be reached via a long, wooden stairway. This state-managed site is well known for its excellent view of the island’s dramatic southern coastline and of historic Southeast Lighthouse. There’s good surf fishing here as well.

Another worthwhile excursion is biking the Black Rock Trail, which passes through the Enchanted Forest in the Greenway, the largest tract of undeveloped land on the island.

A short distance from town, on the southern end of the island, is the spectacular Rodmans Hollow. The 50-acre nature preserve. accessible off Cooneymus Road, features numerous walking trails that wind through thickets and fields, and is home to a variety of birds and small mammals, including the one and only Block Island meadow vole.

Getting Beachy

If you’re looking for an easy-access family beach near New Harbor, set a course for Fred Benson Town Beach. This long, sandy public beach is just north of Old Harbor, off Corn Neck Road. It’s also easy to reach from the Great Salt Pond. The beach is a popular location for walking, sunbathing, and swimming. It has bike racks and a pavilion with changing rooms, and is staffed by lifeguards. Umbrellas, beach chairs, and boogie boards are available for rent. Showers are $2.

Another popular beach is Mansion Beach, at the eastern end of Mansion Road—a sandy lane and right-of-way on the northeast side of the island. This is a long, beautiful beach below bluffs that overlook Rhode Island Sound. It’s an excellent site for picnics and swimming.

Lighthouse Trail

Solitude seekers and wildlife lovers will want to spend some time at the 127-acre Block Island National Wildlife Refuge, on the northern tip of the island. The refuge has trails leading through the vast coastal marshland, around the perimeter of brackish Sachem Pond, and out to North Lighthouse and Sandy Point. The area boasts incredible birdlife, especially during the spring and fall migratory periods.

The above are just a few of Block Island’s many attractions. But make sure you leave yourself a few days to explore them all.