August 29, 2018
Destination Block 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 (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.
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 dinghy dock, 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 and grill). A second dinghy dock is located between Payne’s and Deadeye Dick’s restaurant.
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 saltmarsh.
While the Great Salt Pond may see the majority of boating traffic, the hub of Block Island remains Old Harbor, a manmade 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.
Around the Block
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 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.
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, now a 50-acre nature preserve. The hollow, with access 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.
If you’re looking for an easy-access family beach near New Harbor, set a course for Fred Benson Town Beach. This is a long, sandy public beach with lifeguards 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. 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.
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.
Block Island Names & Numbers
Dockage & Moorings
Great Salt Pond: The town of New Shoreham maintains 90 transient moorings in Great Salt Pond (New Harbor), available on a first-come, first-served basis. The marinas in Great Salt Pond (see below) also offer transient moorings and slips. Contact the harbormaster (401-466-3204; VHF 12.
Old Harbor: The town dock in Old Harbor has space for boats on a first-come, first-served basis and comes with water and electric service. Call the Old Harbor dockmaster (401-466-3235).
(on Great Salt Pond)
Champlin’s (800) 762-4541, VHF 68: Hotel, resort and marina with 220 slips. Also offers a dockside restaurant, snack bar and live entertainment. Diesel, gas, water, ice, electricity, pumpout, hot showers, pool, private beach, boat and kayak rental, bike and moped rental, grill and picnic area, theater and arcade, tennis courts, laundromat, haulout, repair. Note that boats may need to raft up when space is at a premium.
Block Island Boat Basin (401) 466-2631, VHF 9: Maintains 85 transient slips with all services except fuel, and 270′of dinghy dockage. BIBB Is home of the venerable and popular Oar restaurant and bar. Old Port Launch picks up and drops off at the Basin and monitors VHF 68.
Payne’s Dock (401) 466-5572: Maintains slip space for 100 boats (mostly 30′or under). Sells breakfast items on-site. Also home to Mahogany Shoals dockside bar and grill.
A.H. Edwards Marine Repair (401-466-2655, VHF 11): At Block Island Boat Basin, Edwards hauls boats up to 35′and services inboards, electronics and more.
Great Salt Pond: A large town-managed anchorage is located east of the main channel, in depths of 50′to 20′. This anchorage provides decent protection in moderate breezes, although dragging can be a problem in stronger winds. Experienced visitors recommend setting 2 anchors for added security. For more information on anchoring, contact the harbormaster (401-466-3204, VHF 12). The town pump-out boat monitors VHF 73.
A public launch ramp is available in the southeast corner of Great Salt Pond, off Ocean Avenue next to Pond & Beyond Kayak Tours and Dead Eye Dick’s restaurant. Parking is very limited.
Trailerboaters launching from the mainland will find the closest ramp located in Galilee, on Point Judith Pond.
Great Salt Pond (401) 466-3204
Old Harbor (401) 466-3235
Boat & Kayak Rental
Pond and Beyond (401) 5780-2773: Offers kayak rentals and guided tours of the Great Salt Pond and connecting waters.
Champlin’s Marina and Resort: Rents kayaks, bumper boats, paddleboats and pontoon boats on Great Salt Pond.
Bike & Moped Rental
Champlin’s (800) 762-4541
Boat Basin Car & Bike Rental (401) 466-5811
Block Island Bike & Car Rental (401) 466-2297
Island Bike & Moped (401) 466-2700
Where to Eat
Manisses (800-MANISSE): Fine dining.
Atlantic Inn Restaurant (401) 466-5883: Fine dining.
The Oar (401) 466-8820: Lively bar and restaurant at Block Island Boat Basin.
Aldo’s (401) 466-2198, VHF 68: Boatside delivery of pastries and coffee on Great Salt Pond. Also sells homemade ice cream at shoreside shop.
Spring House Hotel (401) 466-5844: Fine dining.
The 1661 Inn (401) 466-2836
19th Hole, Yellow Kittens Deck (401) 466-5855
Aldo’s Italian Seafood Restaurant (401) 466-5871
Ballard’s Inn (401) 466-2231
The Beachead (401) 466-2249
Rebecca’s Dockside (401) 466-2599
Dead Eye Dick’s (401) 466-2654
Eli’s (401) 466-5230
Things to See & Do
Horseback riding and carriage rides are available at Rustic Rides Farms, (401) 466-5060, on West Side Road.
Abrams Animal Farm: petting zoo featuring exotic animals, including emus, lemurs, kangaroos, zedonks and more.
Hiking: There are 30 miles of hiking trails on the island and a variety of nature preserves and parks, as well as 17 miles of beaches. All can be accessed free of charge. Visit the Nature Conservancy office on High St. for trail maps.
The historic Empire Theatre at 17 Water Street in New Shoreham shows movies. A good rainy-day option.
Fred Benson Town Beach on Corn Neck Road. Open daily 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. from mid-June through Labor Day and weekends from Memorial Day through mid-June. Rental of beach chairs, umbrellas, and boogie boards. Restrooms and showers available. Concession serves lunch and snacks until 6:00 p.m.