Solitude can be tough to find on the beautiful, busy beaches of Miami, Los Angeles or Cancun. But that’s not so at Block Island, 12 miles off the southern coast of Rhode Island. There are no lack of tourist-friendly amenities: grand Victorian seaside inns and cozy little bed-and-breakfasts; cute shops offering ocean-themed trinkets and treasures; bustling beaches just steps from the central Old Harbor commercial district.
Visiting Block Island
But Block Island RI has a prominent natural side, too. The Island has a wide-open feel, despite the throngs of visitors arriving every summer day. More than 40 percent of the island remains undeveloped, thanks in part to national and local conservation organizations that have helped preserve large tracts.
Visitors can rent cars on the island, although bicycles are a popular option. Mopeds are another choice, although they (but not cars) are banned from the many dirt roads, making a bike the best vehicle for a leisurely exploration of the island’s more natural side. Block Island (like Big and Little Darby creeks in central Ohio) was named a “Last Great Place” by the Island’s Nature Conservancy office.
Although the first white settlers landed in 1661, the island outpost was extremely sleepy for a couple of centuries, until a breakwater was built at Old Harbor in 1870, allowing boats to safely dock. The island’s other commercial center, New Harbor, was established in 1895 after a large channel was cut from the open ocean into Great Salt Pond, the large saltwater lake at the center of the island. Although the harbor entrances are on opposite sides of the island, New Harbor is only about a mile from Old Harbor as the crow flies or the hiker walks.
New Harbor is smaller than Old but has several popular attractions such as Payne’s Dock, a center of activity for both boaters and landlubbers. It’s a good spot to rent a kayak and explore the Great Salt Pond or the channels and quiet connecting bodies such as Harbor Pond and Trim’s Pond.
Although it’s simple to find solitude, the friendly denizens also make it easy to make new acquaintances.You can see huge yachts and spectacular summer homes, but Block Island also is comfortably scruffy around the edges, in contrast to local mainland resort towns such as Newport. In addition to the trails, the island is ringed by 17 miles of beach and dotted with dozens (local legend says hundreds) of small freshwater ponds.
Those who are willing to make a long trek, or have a wheeled vehicle, might also want to explore historic lighthouses at both the north and south ends of the island. Because, as nice as finding solitude can be, sometimes a traveler likes to hear the friendly voices of his fellow humans. Fortunately, a Block Island vacation is a great place for both.