Winter Hikes in Newport and Beyond

By Bob Curley

Suggestions for seeking solitude, scenery & sanctuary on a snowy day

Most Rhode Island trails that can be hiked in the summer can also be navigated on foot or — weather permitting, on snowshoes or cross-country skis — in the winter. What makes some hikes sparkle a little more brightly on a crisp, cold day comes down to three elements: solitude, scenery, and sanctuary.

On these hikes, solitude is almost guaranteed, as there are a lot fewer people on the trails when the temperature drops. The season provides many scenic bonuses: Surf-pounded coastlines take on a harshly beautiful aspect when rimmed with ice, and hilltop vistas obscured by foliage at other times of year open up dramatically in winter.

As for sanctuary — hey, it’s cold out there, so you need somewhere cozy nearby to warm up by a fire, nosh some comfort food, and raise a hearty toast to the completion of the day’s outdoor activities. Here are the hikes in Newport County and beyond that hit the mark on all three of these snowy “S”s:

Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge, Middletown

A snowy owl. | Dave Hansen photo

Why it’s cool: Ducks and owls, for starters. A three-mile loop trail around this 40-acre wildlife sanctuary offers hikers plenty of coastal views, including the chance to spot an overwintering population of colorful harlequin ducks. The grassy center of the preserve is also the occasional domain of snowy owls — majestically puffy hunters who are themselves pursued by long-lensed photographers.

Where to warm up: Rusty’s on Wave Avenue in Middletown is a local dive bar with reasonably priced drinks, live bands, and a menu of pub grub that includes the usual burgers, fries, and nachos, plus highly recommended homemade stuffies.

Colt State Park, Bristol

Why it’s cool: There’s more to this park than meets the eye. Venture past the twin lions guarding the gates on Hope Street (Rt. 114) and you’ll discover four miles of hiking paths weaving down through 464 acres of Poppasquash Neck and alongside Narragansett Bay and the Mill Gut fishing area. The paved Colt Drive makes a nice loop hike and flat base for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, and the park is bisected by the East Bay Bike Path for further explorations.

Where to warm up: If you believe that there’s no better place to take refuge on a cold winter night than an Irish pub, you’re in luck: Bristol has a pair of fine ones. Aidan’s is a local institution equally famed for its perfect Guinness pours and hearty Shepherd’s Pie, while The Nest is the new domain of Irish emigre Eddie Woods, the longtime owner of Warren’s Tinker’s Nest pub who has brought his dependable craic back to the East Bay.

A trail at the Norman Bird Sanctuary. | Courtesy of the Bird Sanctuary

Norman Bird Sanctuary, Middletown

Why it’s cool: A winter hike at this 300-acre nature preserve can cover up to seven miles of trails through farms, forests, and coast. Some of the best views are from the Hanging Rock Trail, which follows a 70-foot-high ridge that overlooks Gardiner Pond, the Sakonnet River, and St. Georges School. Want some company? Join a guided nature walk on Wednesday afternoons or a guided bird walk held every other Sunday morning.

Where to warm up: Quahog chowder and mac and cheese are winter menu highlights at Newport Vineyards and Taproot Brewing Co., pairing nicely with a glass of the new In the Buff red wine blend or an IPA, English bitter, or barley wine from the brewery.

Simmons Farm Goat Hike, Middletown

Why it’s cool: Goat yoga is all well and good, but those goats need to stretch their legs, too. The two-hour Saturday and Sunday goat hikes at Simmons Farm in Middletown go all winter and will have you leading a leashed goat on a trail through woods and farmland, with snack stops (for the goat) and hot chocolate (for you) at the end.

Where to warm up: You can’t go wrong with The Newport Creamery just down the road, where you can enjoy comforting lunch staples, such as a BLT, classic (or waffled!) grilled cheese and tuna melts. For good measure, order a large hot chocolate with whipped cream.

Beavertail State Park, Jamestown

Why it’s cool: The raw beauty of watching waves driven by a winter storm crash into the rocks at the base of Beavertail Light is unmatched, and the 153-acre park also has a loop trail that traces the shoreline of both the east and west passages of Narragansett Bay, including a particularly peaceful and beautiful stretch of clifftop in the northwest corner.

Where to warm up: If a post-hike coffee is your jam, then make a beeline to Slice of Heaven on Narragansett Avenue, which also has exceptional gourmet sandwiches. It does close early, but a great alternative is the Narragansett Cafe across the street, where you’re likely to catch some live music to go along with tasty bar fare (the garlic parmesan boneless chicken tenders are sinfully good), unfussy cocktails, and ’Ganny and other local beers on tap.

Coastal winter views from the Norman Bird Sanctuary. | Courtesy of the Bird Sanctuary

Goddard Memorial State Park, Warwick

Why it’s cool: Weather permitting, this might be the most underrated park in Rhode Island for winter hiking, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing. About half of the 490-acre park in Warwick is devoted to playing fields and picnic areas, affording the opportunity to trek across a sunny, open snow-covered landscape that also has several good sledding hills. The hilly, wooded coastal section of the park conceal more than 18 miles of hiking and bridal paths for idyllic walks with frequent glimpses of Greenwich Bay through the bare trees.

Where to warm up: The Trap on Old Forge Road is the obvious pit stop for an afternoon drink; the Sweet Emotion is a warming cocktail made with bourbon, cranberries, lemon juice and cinnamon syrup.

Mount Tom Trail, Exeter

Why it’s cool: Winter finds the banks and modest waterfalls of the Wood River and Harris Brook in Exeter’s Arcadia Management Area fringed with snow and ice. The 6.7-mile Mount Tom Trail spends quite a bit of time tracing these pretty waterways — including a scenic bridge crossing — before ascending the 480-foot Mount Tom ledges, where winter is the best time of year to enjoy the high-elevation (for Rhode Island, anyway) views.

Where to warm up: Winter fare at the Cornerstone Pub on Route 3 includes chili, burgers, pizzas, and a very good house-made meatball grinder.

Pulaski State Park and Management Area, Chepachet

Why it’s cool: Any old school Rhode Islander will tell you that “Foster-Gloucester” is the best place to find winter, as rain on the coast tends to fall as snow in this northeastern corner of the state. That’s why Pulaski State Park and Management Area is a favorite destination for cross-country skiers, who head for the park’s 10-mile network of designated ski trails.

Where to warm up: Mr. Z’s Pipasa by the Lake is a local favorite just over a mile from the park on Putnam Pike (Route 44) and serves more than 20 creative varieties of pizza plus calzones, grinders, burgers and pasta dishes in a cozy dining room.