Essential RV Rhode Island:
The Ultimate Guide
to the Ocean State
by Jake Poinier
The smallest state in the union, Rhode Island punches above its weight with 400 miles of coastline, 100-plus beaches, tourist attractions, fabled mansions, and a rich industrial history. Thanks to the fact that Rhode Island is only less than 40 miles wide and 50 miles long, all of the RV campsites mentioned below are a relatively short drive from just about anywhere you choose to spend the day—meanwhile, short trips to Massachusetts or Connecticut will expand your overnight options.
As with any major metro area, a trip to Providence will be guided by your family’s interests, whether they run towards the greatest hits of the popular sites or veer off the beaten path. Also known as the "Mile of History," stone-and-brick Benefit Street offers a glimpse into cultural heart and interesting architecture of Providence, dating back to the colonial days: gardens, burial grounds, churches, and more. Among the most-notable period homes, the John Brown House is an elegant home built for a prosperous colonial merchant. Befitting its impressive art scene, Providence is home to the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), one of the most reputable art schools in the country. The RISD Museum displays an amazing collection of paintings, sculptures, photography and various other media from historic to contemporary. With more than 500,000 visitors every year, Roger Williams Park Zoo ranks among Rhode Island’s most popular tourist attractions. In addition to 100 species from around the globe, the park includes a museum of natural history and the largest indoor botanical garden in New England, a planetarium, and a carousel. On the north end of town, baseball fans wanting to check a ballpark off their list and catch a game can check out McCoy Stadium, home of the International League’s Pawtucket Red Sox, a farm team for the Boston Red Sox. To the south, Crescent Park Carousel is a notable landmark: one of the most elaborate designs built by Charles Looff, the grandfather of carousel design, that is still open and operating 125 years later. Great restaurants and brewpubs abound, but foodies should absolutely bring their appetites when visiting the Federal Hill section of town—also known as Little Italy—which is packed with delicious authentic restaurants and shops.
Heading down Route 114 to Bristol, on the way to Newport, you’ll find picturesque Colt State Park overlooking Narragansett Bay. The East Bay Bike Path borders the shoreline and offers a good way to explore, while the park museum provides history on the former farming estate. Blithewold Mansion, Gardens and Arboretum was built at the turn of the 20th century to resemble a 17th-century English country manor, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This area’s seafaring heritage makes it a suitable location for the Herreshoff Museum, which includes a vast array of maritime exhibits and hosts the America's Cup Hall of Fame.
Where to Stay
As you’d guess, after a busy day exploring Providence, you’ll need to leave the city limits to set up camp. The nearest options include Holiday Acres Campgrounds in North Scituate, which has been hosting camping families since 1945, and Water’s Edge Campground in Coventry, on the shores of 7-mile-long Johnson's Pond.
Newport offers an eclectic mix of history, grand architecture, and natural beauty year round—though the buzz ramps up in the summer months for events such as the Newport Jazz Festival, Newport Folk Festival, and many others. The prime introduction to the famed Gilded Age mansions of the city along the eastern shore is the 3.5-mile National Recreational Trail. Step off the trail to get a guided tour of The Breakers (built by the Vanderbilts in the Italian Renaissance style), The Elms (commissioned by coal magnate Edward J. Berwind to imitate the mid-18th century Château d'Asnière in Paris), and seven other lavishly furnished palaces and gardens of the rich and famous of a bygone era. For a tour of the south coast of Aquidneck Island, the Ocean Drive (a.k.a., the Ten Mile Drive) is the go-to. Stunning views are punctuated by several points of interest such as U.S. Coast Guard Station Castle Hill, Brenton Point State Park, and a few tucked-away beaches. Around the point and heading north again, sights include the Naval War College Museum and New York Yacht Club. Fort Adams State Park, which hosts both of the major music festivals, is also the location of the Museum of Yachting and President Eisenhower's summer White House. In the center of town, you’ll find lots to explore, including Redwood Library and Athenaeum (the oldest lending library in the U.S., which served as a British officers club during the Revolutionary War), as well as the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Best of all, just about anywhere you can step into a pub for great food, cold beer, and fresh oysters.
Where to Stay
Property commands a premium in this exclusive area, so camping options are limited close to Newport: that means Meadowlark Mobile Home & RV Park in Middletown or Melville Ponds Campground and RV Park in Portsmouth. Otherwise, you’ll need to head off the island for a more suitable setup.
The coastal stretch of Rhode Island from Watch Hill at the far west to Point Judith at the easternmost point is all about the beach scene during the day—and old-fashioned resort towns at night. Quite literally, it’s a laundry list of fine white sands, paddle boats, jet skis, tidepooling, and surfing lessons. If anything, you’ll have trouble choosing between locations such as Misquamicut State Beach, Blue Shutters Town Beach, East Beach, Charlestown Town Beach, East Matunuch State Beach, Roger W. Wheeler State Beach, Scarborough State Beach, and Narragansett Town Beach. At the far eastern end, Point Judith in Narragansett has a long history of being a challenge for mariners due to heavy traffic, dense fog and dangerous shoals. The lighthouse location dates back to the days of whale oil in the early 1800s, with the current building having been constructed in 1857 and automated in 1957.
The island of Conanicut, accessible by bridge from Narragansett and Newport, includes a few worthwhile side trips. At the southern point, the Beavertail Lighthouse Museum is the third-oldest lighthouse in the U.S., built in 1856. The surrounding Beavertail State Park offers some of the most beautiful vistas along the coast, as well as excellent hiking and fishing.
Where to Stay
Timber Creek RV Resort in Westerly and Ashaway RV Resort in Hopkinton are a quick drive to the beach—and close to the attractions in Mystic, Connecticut, too. Burlingame State Park & Campground in Charlestown sits on 3,100 acres of rocky woodland that surrounds Watchaug Pond, in case you want to do hike the loop trail around or go boating and fishing on one of the state’s largest freshwater lakes. If you’re looking for a beachfront experience right on Block Island Sound, your options include East Beach and Charlestown Breachway. In Narragansett, Fishermen's Memorial State Park and Campground lets you set up camp for the night within about a mile of Point Judith. And finally, if you’re on Conanicut Island, Fort Getty Park & Campground offers seasonal and transient RV campsites with a 2-week minimum stay.
Although there are no RV camping options on Block Island, it’s an easy day trip by car ferry or high-speed ferry from Newport or Point Judith to visit this rugged island a few miles off the coast. Activities such as bicycling, hiking, sailing, fishing, and horseback riding have made this a popular summer destination—along with 17 miles of beaches. Among the noteworthy attractions are the 150-foot-high Mohegan Bluffs, which offer views of the Atlantic and beaches at the base of the cliffs. The Southeast Lighthouse and Block Island North Light offer grand views as well as a glimpse into seafaring history.
On an atlas, the upper-left corner of Rhode Island is largely rural, and sprinkled with freshwater lakes and ponds for boaters and fishermen. For those who prefer to explore on foot, there’s a wide variety of wooded areas, including the George Washington, Buck Hill, and Durfee Hill management areas, Pulaski/Washington State Forest, and town forests such as Sprague Farm and Hopkins Woodland. Far from the bright lights of Providence, it’s also an excellent place to view the stars at night. This region is also notable as the home of Jerimoth Hill, the highest point in the Ocean State. While its 812-foot elevation and 0.3-mile trek to get to the top may not be impressive, it’s still a landmark for highpointers—people seeking to climb the highest point in each of the 50 states. Oddly enough, it was one of the most difficult peaks to bag from the early 1980s till 1998, due to a legendarily cranky landowner (“the madman of Jerimoth Hill”) who eventually sold out to friendlier owners. Today, the property is owned and operated by the state and open for the brief, albeit checklist-worthy, ascent to the peak.
Where to Stay
Bowdish Lake Campground in West Glocester specializes in longer stays, but can accommodate shorter visits when there is availability. Echo Lake Campground in Pascoag can please hikers and boaters alike, sandwiched between the Pulaski/Washington State Forest and Pascoag Reservoir. Located on the shores of Bowdish Reservoir and within the 4,000-acre George Washington Management Area, George Washington State Campground in Chepachet offers 45 gravel sites, but no hookups.