Wilderness Experiences in a Unique Coastal Community
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Planning a visit to Block Island? Our guide will help you find the best hiking on Block Island so you can experience all of the natural beauty that this unique destination has to offer. We also cover the history of Block Island and its geological formation, wildlife viewing opportunities you’ll encounter on the island, in addition to the best places to find glass floats throughout Block Island.
Block Island is accessible via short ferry rides from either Point Judith(RI), New London(CT), or Orient Point(NY). Once you arrive, you’ll likely notice the bustling downtown center of New Shoreham, also referred to as Old Harbor. This is the heart of this beloved tourist destination, however there’s so much more to Block Island for you to experience. We highly recommend you set aside some time on your trip to traverse some of the over 28-miles of well maintained hiking trails that Block Island has to offer.
The History of Block Island
Block Island has a rich history and has been inhabited by various groups of people throughout the last few hundred years. The island was initially inhabited by the Narragansett tribe, who called the island Manisses, meaning “little island.” The first European settlement on Block Island was established in the early 1600s by Dutch settlers. In 1664, the English took control of the island and it became part of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.
Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, Block Island was a popular location for fishing and farming. The island also played a role in the American Revolution, with residents providing supplies and support to the Continental Army. In the 19th century, Block Island became a popular summer resort destination for wealthy families from the mainland.
Today, Block Island is a popular tourist destination, known for its beautiful beaches, historic sites, and unique atmosphere. The island is also home to a thriving fishing industry, with many local fishermen still fishing the waters around the island. The island’s population is around 1,000 year-round residents, with a summer population that can swell to several times that number.
Geological Formation of Block Island
Block Island is a small island located off the coast of Rhode Island in the Atlantic Ocean. It’s a glacial outlier, which means it was formed by glaciers that moved across the area during the last ice age nearly 10,000 years ago. The island is composed primarily of sedimentary rocks such as sandstone, shale, and siltstone, which were laid down in ancient seas and river systems and later exposed by the erosive power of the Atlantic Ocean’s wind and water.
Block Island is home to 365 freshwater ponds, one for each day of the year. The presence of so many freshwater ponds on Block Island is due to the island’s unique geology and hydrology. The island’s permeable sandstone and siltstone layers allow rainwater to filter into the ground and recharge the island’s aquifer. Over time, this groundwater has formed numerous ponds and wetlands that provide habitats for a wide variety of wildlife and plants. In addition to its geological features, the island’s location on the Atlantic coast and its exposure to the prevailing westerly winds have also played a role in shaping its hydrology.
Overall, the geological formation of Block Island has played a critical role in shaping its unique landscape and ecosystem, and its many freshwater ponds are a testament to the island’s rich natural heritage.
The Glass Float Project
Over the previous decade, there has been a unique development on Block Island related to its hiking trails. The practice, which has started as the result of the generosity of a local Rhode Island glass blower, involves the scattering of several hundred hand-blown glass orbs on the nearly 30 miles of hiking trails that are present on Block Island. Known as the Glass Float Project, what started as a way to connect and engage the local community with the outdoors has transformed into an activity that attracts outdoor enthusiasts far and wide who want to explore the island and seek out these beautiful works of art.
Wildlife Viewing on Block Island
Block Island is a true coastal wildlife destination with a variety of animals and birds that can be observed depending on the season. The island is home to several species of mammals, including white-tailed deer, raccoons, and gray foxes. Harbor seals can also be seen on the island’s beaches and rocky shorelines. There are several species of reptiles and amphibians that can be found on the island, such as painted turtles, snapping turtles, and green frogs. The waters of the Atlantic surrounding Block Island are also home to a variety of marine life, including fish, lobsters, and crabs. Whales and dolphins can also be spotted in the area.
For bird enthusiasts, Block Island is a popular spot for birdwatching. The island is a stopping point for several migratory birds, including songbirds, waterfowl, shorebirds, raptors, and seabirds. Thousands of visitors travel to Block Island every year to view the variety of birds that migrate through this area. Overall, Block Island offers a unique wildlife viewing experience with diverse fauna and spectacular birdlife.
Block Island Hiking Trails
Tips for Hiking and Getting Around Block Island
- There are bikes, mopeds, and small passenger cars for rent through a number of vendors in Old Harbor.
- Alternatively, many of the hiking trails throughout Block Island are connected via the Greenway Trail system managed by the Nature Conservancy. You can purchase a full color map detailing all 28 miles of trails on Block Island at their office on High Street for $2.00. They’re also available from the Tourist Information Building in Old Harbor.
- Check yourself well for ticks when stepping off the trails on Block Island. The deer ticks of Block Island have been known to carry lyme disease in the past.
- Be cautious and do not approach any bluffs or dunes. The ecosystems present on Block Island are fragile and deserve to be protected and conserved by those who enjoy them.
Rodman’s Hollow Nature Preserve
Rodman’s Hollow Nature Preserve provides visitors the opportunity to experience all of the natural beauty Block Island has to offer. Hikers will traverse through a variety of natural settings on this 230-acre preserve including a glacial outwash plain, wooded outcrops, coastal bluffs, and a beautiful beach. Rodman’s Hollow is one of the areas that makes Block Island so special as thousands of hikers traverse the trails here each year. Additionally, it’s been known to be one of the top locations for hunting for glass floats with many of the orbs being found along the trails of Rodman’s Hollow every year.
Tips for the trail at Rodman’s Hollow:
- You’ll find a parking area and entrance for Rodman’s Hollow on Black Rock Road off of Cooneymus Road in the southwest area of Block Island. Continue along Black Rock Road for about 0.25 miles until you see a wooden gate and turnstile on your left, marking the entrance to the trail.
- Continue along the trail until you reach the fork, at which point you may decide what path you’d like to take. Head left to hike to the bottom of Rodman’s Hollow and to connect to an additional trail which leads to Fresh Pond. Heading right will take you up a knoll and provide hikers with a beautiful view of some of the most pristine wilderness here on Block Island.
- The trails will reconnect again and return hikers back to Black Rock Road, by turning left and continuing down the road you’ll reach another trailhead which leads you down to the secluded and pristine Black Rock Beach.
Clay Head Preserve
Commonly referred to as “The Maze” by locals, Clay Head Preserve is a gem located on the northeast side of Block Island which maintains an extensive trail system over about 190 acres. You’ll find the parking area on a small bumpy dirt road located off of Corn Neck Road, look for a post marker located on the eastern side of the road roughly two miles out of town. About one third of a mile down the road you’ll find the parking area and trailhead.
When hiking on the trail you’ll traverse alongside clay bluffs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean which lead into a maze of brush and meadow trails that provide you with plenty of options as far as alternative routes. There’s also an infamous field of daffodils within the maze that you can find! The trail also provides access to the rocky shoreline, and at low tide adventurous hikers can follow the shoreline north to the North Light or all the way south back into town. This trail system is incredibly popular throughout the warmer seasons, and is also known to be one of the best places to locate glass floats for those who are seeking them. Clay Head Preserve and its hiking trails are managed by the Nature Conservancy, and you can find more information including detailed trail maps on their website.
Mohegan Bluffs and Southeast Lighthouse
One of the most scenic destinations you’ll find anywhere, Mohegan Bluffs tower 200 feet above the Atlantic Ocean and offer a panoramic view of the surrounding landscape and shoreline. On a clear day, visitors can view Montauk out in the distance, the eastern tip of Long Island. The 141-step staircase leads down to one of the most secluded and beautiful beaches on Block Island. You can walk along the beach and explore the unique landscape for miles. While here, take some time to enjoy the historic Southeast Lighthouse as well. Over the years, the bluffs here have actually receded significantly, having eroded over 250 feet. As a result, the Lighthouse has been moved back about 360 feet from its original location to avoid it from collapsing into the ocean. You can find parking areas for Mohegan Bluffs and the lighthouse along Spring St on the south side of the road, roughly a mile south of town.
North Lighthouse and Beach (Block Island National Wildlife Refuge)
The North Lighthouse and Beach are located on the Block Island National Wildlife Refuge on the northern tip of the island. The current lighthouse was constructed in 1867 and has undergone extensive restoration over the years. They’re open for tours Thursday-Monday from 10 a.m.- 4 p.m. throughout the summer season and are also closed on rainy days. The parking area for this hike can be found at the north end of Corn Neck Road, which directly provides access to North Light Beach. Walk north along the beach for about a half of a mile to reach the lighthouse. As you hike along the beach, keep an eye out on the cove as this area is commonly known as a location for spotting marine wildlife such as seals. There are also some short trails within the refuge near the lighthouse, however make sure to not step off the cleared beach or trails. It’s important to stay off the dunes to protect the fragile coastal ecosystem of Block Island.
Lewis-Dickens Farm Wildlife Refuge
Spanning 120 acres of coastal meadows, Lewis-Dickens Farm Wildlife Refuge offers fantastic opportunities for bird watching, wildlife viewing, and scenic views of the Atlantic Ocean. You’ll find just over 2 miles of trails that traverse along meadows and ponds, and lead hikers to bluffs overlooking the shoreline. This area is commonly known to see different migratory birds, as well as raptors and owls, making it a must visit destination for those seeking to observe the different bird species of Block Island. This area is managed by the Audubon Society of Rhode Island, and you can find more information on Lewis-Dickens Farm including trail maps on their website.
The Greenway Trails
The Greenway Trail system connects various other trails across Block Island and is managed by the Nature Conservancy. Hiking along these trails provides adventurous visitors the ability to traverse much of Block Island without the use of a vehicle. Along the way, you’ll witness much of the glacial land formations that populate Block Island including ponds, bluffs, and glacial outcrops. We’d recommend these trails for more experienced hikers who are interested in getting in a hike of greater distance than what’s offered individually by any of the other trails on Block Island. The interchangeable nature of this trail system is what makes it so great. We’d highly recommend picking up a map from the Tourist Information Booth in Old Harbor if you’re visiting Block Island for the first time, as this will provide you all of the details needed to hike any of the 28 miles of trail located across Block Island, including the Greenway Trails.
Explore Block Island Hiking
Block Island is a unique and beloved tourist destination, known for its natural beauty, rich history, and unique atmosphere. With over 28 miles of well-maintained hiking trails, visitors can experience the island’s unique geological formations, diverse wildlife, and spectacular birdlife while hiking on Block Island. The Glass Float Project, which involves the scattering of hand-blown glass orbs on the hiking trails, has become a popular activity for outdoor enthusiasts. Among the best locations to explore the natural beauty of Block Island are Rodman’s Hollow Nature Preserve, the North Lighthouse and Beach, Clay Head Preserve, Mohegan Bluffs and Southeast Lighthouse, Lewis-Dickens Farm Wildlife Refuge, and the Greenway Trail system, which offers the chance to traverse much of the island without the use of a vehicle. Whether you’re a seasoned hiker or a nature enthusiast, Block Island offers a unique and unforgettable wilderness experience in a truly unique coastal community.