Fall is one of my four favorite seasons to go hiking. Seriously! I love hiking all year round with my children in tow. It’s an easy, usually free, way for my family to have fun while enhancing our health and well-being.
It wasn’t always easy though. After I became a mother, finding the time and motivation to hit the trails was difficult. Plus, I never hiked with little ones. But I did recognize how much better my children behave, ate, and–mercy!–slept if we ran around, climbed some trees, and splashed in a few puddles. So I started checking out parks and preserves all over the state and started a long list of my favorite kid-friendly hikes.
Some Rhode Island hikes are long, rugged, and generally difficult to navigate. Think rock hopping and tree root jumping over miles. But others are short, flat, and easy, and afford the same beauty and benefits for your family.
Here are a few that are just right if you’re pushing a stroller or if you’re wearing some type of infant carrier (or both!):
1. Ninigret National Wildlife Refuge, Park Lane, Charlestown
Ninigret NWR is interesting for many reasons, not the least of which is that it’s split in half by Route 1. Both the northern and southern sections are fairly easy to navigate, but the Grassy Point Trail in the southern section is a lovely 1.3 mile hike. Kids are fascinated to see remnants of Runway 30 of the Charlestown Naval Auxiliary Landing Field or “Charlietown” and love looking through the spotting scopes at the point at Ninigret Pond.
2. McIntosh Wildlife Refuge, 1401 Hope Street, Bristol
Most RI parents know about the Audubon Society’s Environmental Education Center (EEC), but fewer realize that it’s sitting on a wildlife refuge that is just right for little ones. Behind the EEC, you can check out the butterfly garden and a large meadow. On the far side of the meadow, you can pick up a short boardwalk that ends at an observation deck with a majestic view of Narragansett Bay. I especially like to visit this property in the dead of winter and use the EEC as the reward for hiking in the cold. Admission fees apply for the EEC, but the hike is free!
3. Dundery Brook, Meetinghouse Lane, Little Compton
Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. She wants me to cross how many bridges?! But I promise you, this one is soooo worth it. The 0.6 mile long boardwalk meanders through forested wetlands and ends at Bumble Bee Pond, a great spot to bird watch and explore. There’s even a nice bench to help you linger. In addition, there’s a playground near the parking lot just right for picnicking and playing.
4. Upper Roaring Brook, Tefft Hill Trail, Hopkinton
This quarter mile long boardwalk sits right in the heart of Arcadia Management Area, so despite the short distance, you’ll still feel like you’re in the forest, and there are beautiful views including two ponds. You can also explore along the connected wooded trails a bit, though these aren’t stroller friendly. Right across the street is the Browning Mill Pond Recreation Area, a great place to picnic and play.
5. Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge, 769 Sachuest Point Road, Middletown
Once a municipal landfill, this 40-acre refuge now includes breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean and Sachuest Bay. Both of the trails are easy to navigate, but the slightly shorter Flint Point Loop has a couple of observation platforms (one with spotting scopes) that are helpful in keeping children motivated and moving along. There is also a small visitors center that is open to the public.
Jeanine Silversmith grew up playing outside in the suburbs of New York City and found a love of hiking when she was a college student in Buffalo, New York. An environmental educator and mother, she established RI Families in Nature in 2009 and works to engage students in outdoor learning experiences in both formal and informal settings. Jeanine is also the author of The Rhode Island Family Hiking Guide and Journal. She lives with her family in Wakefield, Rhode Island.