Fall colors in Cumberland, Rhode Island.

These Small Towns in Rhode Island Come Alive in Fall

There is a reason people flock to the Northeastern part of the United States in autumn – it is because some of the most beautiful fall foliage in the US is found here. Rhode Island, though small in size, is mighty in its autumnal displays. Though Rhode Island is mainly made up of coastal villages, there are plenty of farms, nature walks, lakes, festivals, historical towns, and forests to tour and enjoy one of the best seasons of the year. Leaf peepers will be able to witness some of the most brilliant fall displays and enjoy some of the state's wonderful fall activities while they travel through the "Ocean State." 


Watchaug Pond in Burlingame State Park, Charlestown, Rhode Island.
Watchaug Pond in Burlingame State Park, Charlestown, Rhode Island.

Charlestown, Rhode Island, is probably known more as a summer tourist destination with its great Atlantic beaches, but once the summer tourists have disappeared, the other parts of Charlestown come alive in the fall with the brilliant colors of the hardwood trees, such as the Maple, Beech, Cypress, and Poplars. Ranging in colors from golden yellow to scarlet, leaf peepers will be surprised at the sheer beauty of Charlestown's nature. To see the leaves at their best, walk around the Watchaug Pond in Burlingame State Park. Don't let the word Pond deceive you. Watchaug Pond is a gorgeous lake that, on a dazzling autumn day, reflects both the blue sky and the vibrant fall colors. Burlingame State Park is 3100 acres, and one will feel miles away from civilization as you hike around the lake, taking in Rhode Island's stunning natural scenery. 


Aerial view of Beavertail Lighthouse in Beavertail State Park.
Aerial view of Beavertail Lighthouse in Beavertail State Park.

Located in Newport County on the Island of Conanicut, with a population of approximately 5500 people, Jamestown is a small but mighty addition to the autumn small-town repertoire in Rhode Island. Located on the coast, Jamestown offers several natural attractions to appreciate the season. A visit to the interior of the Conanicut Island near Jamestown takes you to Watson Farm. This is one of the best places to view some very old and brilliantly colored trees. This farm not only has great historical significance but has one of the oldest living trees on the island – the Black Tupelo. In the fall, the Black Tupelo will change from a warm, buttery yellow to a bright orange to a flaming scarlet before the leaves fall. It's probably one of the best and showiest of deciduous trees. At the same farm, you will also find another hardy and ancient tree called the Tulip Poplar. This Poplar tree shows off its Autumn finery in a glorious sunny gold before the leaves begin to fall.

Several parks sit along the water's edge, from Fort Weatherill State Park to Fort Getty to the Beavertail Lighthouse and Park. Though these parks mainly consist of sand, rocky cliffs, and bushy vegetation, one can still enjoy the autumn season here. One of the biggest attractions is the Beavertail Lighthouse and Park. Cooler days bring fewer tourists, allowing one to walk quietly along the normally crowded beach and tour the lighthouse. You can enjoy the mists of autumn rains or an endless blue sky while taking in the changing Seaside Goldenrod that grows along the edges of the cliffs. 


Chepachet, Rhode Island.
Chepachet, Rhode Island. Image credit: Doug Kerr via Flickr.com

Chepachet, Rhode Island, is found in the northwestern part of the state and has some of the most striking fall foliage in Rhode Island. Chepachet was known historically as a favorite place to gather for many of the supporters of Independence in the Revolutionary War. These days, though, it's home to only a couple of thousand people. So, other than its historical significance, it's a rather quiet town. However, it makes for the perfect place to see the changing of the autumn leaves without the tourist crowds that you see in several other parts of the state. One of the state's best hikes, the North-South Trail, goes straight through Chepachet. It has several photographic-worthy moments as you take in the glorious colors of the changing leaves. If a road trip sounds more to your liking, Route 102 runs right through the town and is considered Rhode Island's best leaf-peeping drive. 


The Point Judith light near Narragansett, Rhode Island.
The Point Judith light near Narragansett, Rhode Island.

Narragansett, Rhode Island, is known mainly as a coastal summer town and is flooded with tourists from June to September. However, when the cooler weather arrives and the tourists have left the beaches, one has the beaches and local displays of the gorgeous fall foliage to oneself. Some of the best beaches to visit are on Narragansett Bay. This is also a well-known spot for bird watching that has been designated a "Globally Important Bird Area" by the National Audubon Society. There are 86 acres on Narragansett Bay that are considered a conservation area and a perfect spot not only to catch the fall flora but also to see some rare birds.

Narragansett is next to the Arcadia Management Area, which has 14,000 acres of recreational parks, hiking, fishing, biking, and riding trails. If one is seeking to get lost in a carpet of fall leaves, this would be the place to go. With 4000 acres of evergreens and 1700 acres of deciduous trees, one is sure to find many wonderful spots to witness the glory of autumn.


Aerial view of Cumberland, Rhode Island.
Aerial view of Cumberland, Rhode Island.

Cumberland is one of the larger towns in Rhode Island, with a population of about 37,000 at the last census. To see the fall foliage here, a walk along the Diamond Hill Reservoir or a hike through Mercy Woods are two of several options to enjoy the many varieties of deciduous trees Rhode Island has to offer. Diamond Hill Reservoir, which is also known as the Pawtucket Upper Reservoir, is surrounded by some wonderful scenery. There is a 3-mile trail that runs around the reservoir, giving one a full panoramic vista of the Autumn foliage at its best.  

Cumberland recently acquired Mercy Woods, which has 6 miles of hiking trails and 211 acres of undeveloped land. There is a moderately difficult trail named the Mercy Loop that runs 3.4 miles around the woods. At the southern end of the trail, there is a gorgeous vista of the forest and the reservoir. These are just two of the options to take in the changing colors, but there are several others. The Blackall Family/Ballou Farm Preserve, the High Rock Preserve and Scott Brook, and Otis Smith Far and Rowbottom Preserve, to name a few. The farms offer not only a delightful view of the changing leaves but are also great destinations to learn about the history of the settlers of early Rhode Island.

Little Compton

Sakonnet Lighthouse Little Compton Rhode Island
Sakonnet Lighthouse in Little Compton, Rhode Island.

Little Compton, Rhode Island, is probably one of the prettiest tourist towns in Rhode Island. It is a colonial town with significant historical areas, magnificent mansions, gorgeous beaches, and a few less-known tourist destinations that are hidden gems in the autumn. One such place is called the Sakonnet Garden or "Secret Garden," as the locals refer to it. These gardens are privately owned and maintained but open to the public in small group tours. It's a bit like one has stepped into a fairytale garden when one wanders the trails lined by stone walls, unusually large trees, a well-manicured British garden, and other whimsical nooks and crannies. Plants and trees have been brought in from many places around the world, so this area will give one a glimpse into what the Fall foliage might look like in areas like England or other places. There are some native trees and plants, but many are not. There is just something slightly magical about this place, though, and even more so in the autumn when the fog or mists descend. Arrange ahead of time to get tickets as it's only open three days a week. 

The John C. Whitehead Preserve – Dundery Brook Trail System offers something that many other natural preserves do not – it has a raised boardwalk so those in wheelchairs can enjoy the outdoors and the Fall foliage. It has three arms, each about six blocks long, and spreads out among wetlands and meadows filled with late-summer flowers and early-autumn shrubs. Oaks and the Holly trees are the dominant flora in this area, but there are more than 350 different plants, trees, and bushes to enjoy in this preserve. If it grows in Rhode Island, you will likely find it in the Whitehead Preserve. For those who want an easy outdoor stroll, this is one of the better trails to enjoy.

West Greenwich

Tarbox Pond, West Greenwich, Rhode Island
Tarbox Pond, West Greenwich, Rhode Island.

Located in the center of the state, closer to the Connecticut border, you will find the small town of West Greenwich, Rhode Island. This town is surrounded by lush forests, waterfalls, and parks and is one of the most gorgeous landscapes in autumn. The Big River Management Area is found in West Greenwich and is one of the largest recreational areas in Rhode Island, measuring approximately 8300 acres. In such a small and populated state, it's one of those places that offers a real getaway feeling. There are four major rivers in the area: Big River, Nooseneck River, Congdon River, and Carr River. One can enjoy hiking, bird watching, fishing, and hunting in this densely forested preserve. It also has almost 1800 acres of deciduous trees, so it is one of the best places in the state to see the blazing fall foliage show.

Stepstone Falls is located at the end of a 3-mile trail that is called the Ben Utter Trail. It's a gorgeous walk/hike that wanders quietly alongside the river. Though the waterfall isn't dramatic in height, it's a beautiful and peaceful walk to enjoy the sounds, smells, and sights of this area.

The Takeaway

Rhode Island may not be the first state that comes to mind on the East Coast to celebrate the season of autumn. Yet with its natural preserves, historical farms, hidden coastal beaches and lighthouses, and the huge variety of deciduous trees, it should be right up there with the gorgeous fall foliage displays in Connecticut and Vermont.

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