Seven Places to Get Your Nature Fix
You've heard of the "Seven Wonders of the World," but we have some neat natural sites in the Ocean State, too.
Rhode Island doesn’t have anything on the scale of Mount Everest or the Grand Canyon — two of the seven Natural Wonders of the World — but the littlest state still has some pretty wonderful natural treasures, including the largest estuary in New England and a river that launched the Industrial Revolution. Both are among the seven most beautiful Rhode Island features wrought by the hand of nature:
• Mohegan Bluffs, Block Island
The 200-foot cliffs on the Southeast coast of Block Island rise majestically above the pounding surf of the Atlantic; the beach at their base can be reached by clambering down a steep 141-step staircase. The cliffs got their name from a famous battle in 1590 between the native Manissean tribe and
Mohegan invaders that resulted in the attackers being driven over the edge.
• Narragansett Bay
The only Rhode Island feature visible to the naked eye from space, Narragansett Bay sprawls for more than 147 miles over two states and includes more than forty islands, an estuary fed by seven rivers, and is home to more than sixty species of fish and shellfish. It’s the state’s single most important natural resource worth billions of dollars to the local economy.
• The Blackstone River
The forty-eight-mile Blackstone River starts as a series of streams near Worcester and flows through northern Rhode Island before emptying into Narragansett Bay. Its waters powered the first cotton mill in the U.S. in 1790, and other mills and dams followed, but the Blackstone still flows wide, strong and — thanks to cleanup efforts — clearer than it has in centuries. A ride on the Blackstone River Bikeway is the best way to see the river and its accompanying canal.
• Ell Pond, Hopkinton
Rhode Island’s only National Natural Landmark is tucked away at the bottom of a deep valley. Along with Long Pond, this kettle hole pond created by glaciers is part of the Nature Conservancy’s Ell Pond Preserve. Both ponds, along with an unusual cedar bog and wetlands, can be viewed from hiking trails along the surrounding cliffs.
• Purgatory Chasm, Middletown
Glaciers and erosion, not the Devil, rent this fifty-foot deep, ten-foot wide crack in the cliffs overlooking Second Beach and Sachuest Point. You can cross a short wooden bridge for the best view of the surf surging into the crevice with every passing wave, slowly making the chasm deeper and wider.
• Stepstone Falls, West Greenwich
Rhode Island’s prettiest waterfall drops only ten feet over the course of 100 feet of river, but it does so over a series of broad granite slabs that you can walk out onto when the water flow is slow and admire from the shore when the spring melt gets the Wood River moving in earnest. Hike to the falls via the Ben Utter Trail (Falls River Road is no longer passable by vehicle).
• The Narrow River, South County
Formally known as the Pettaquamscutt
River, this undammed tidal river flows more than six miles from Carr Pond in North Kingstown to Narragansett Bay. With fjord-like lakes and calm stretches lined with summer homes, the Narrow River is a favorite with boaters and kayakers who paddle up and down with its rising and falling tides.