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Looking to get back in touch with nature this summer? Need some quiet time to be alone with your thoughts? South County’s many hiking trails may be your solution for both. Karen Pinch, pictured above, makes her way over a stream during a hike at the Crawley Preserve in West Kingston.

The last year of isolation left many people feeling cooped up and longing for a breath of fresh air. One local couple used that isolation to take an activity they already loved a step further. Steven Pinch and his wife Karen have always been physically active, but they decided to use the past year as an opportunity to really embrace hiking on many of South County’s trails. To them the benefits were obvious, hiking trails not only have much better scenery than a neighborhood walk, but you also do not have cars to contend with and the chance of encountering another person is typically lower.

“Like many other people, we started hiking when the pandemic hit. Even during the worst of it, we felt very comfortable outdoors. When you’re hiking on acres upon acres, you don’t run across a lot of people during the course of a hike. We’ve found everyone on the trails to be very conscious of keeping their distance; one party or the other always steps off the trail to allow the other to pass,” said Steven Pinch.

Rhode Island is known for its beaches and many people visit year after year for that specific reason. What they may not realize, however, is just how many spectacular hiking trails the state has to offer its guests.

“It’s good clean fun! And a bit of exercise never hurt anyone. You’ll find parts of Rhode Island that you never knew existed and realize you don’t need to go to New Hampshire to hike,” said Pinch.

Novice hikers need not worry about venturing out into the wild as Mr. and Mrs. Pinch have a few hiking tips and tricks to keep you safe and to help you fully enjoy your adventure.

You can start your hiking prep by downloading an app called AllTrails to your cell phone. The app will help you find new trails to explore and provides an interactive map so you can see exactly where you are if you get lost or find yourself on a poorly marked trail.

A pair of quality hiking boots are not required but are the safest footwear to use as you explore. It is easy to twist an ankle on a stray root or uneven terrain, and hiking boots provide extra traction and surer footing.  

In spring, summer and fall always make sure to spray yourself with bug spray to avoid ticks and it would be wise to familiarize yourself with what poison ivy looks like before you head out.

The Pinchs also suggest bringing water and a bag of your favorite trail mix, especially on longer hikes. When hiking they also always carry their cell phones.

Do not forget your camera! Steve Pinch loves exercising his photography skills while he and Karen are out hiking. While hiking, you are sure to see some breathtaking sights. You will be glad that you can save snapshots of your adventure to show your friends and save for years to come — these memories will be fun to look back on in the future if hiking becomes a steady part of your life.

Grills Preserve

Grills Preserve spans between the Westerly Land Trust and the Hopkinton Land trust.

Westerly Land Trust: Most of the walking trails here are considered easy with wide, flat paths, but there are some paths that rise steeply up a granite hill. The steeper hike does provide views that are worth the trek if you are able. The preserve also has a diverse sampling of flora and fauna to see, including areas that are specially managed for New England Cottontail Rabbits.

Hopkinton Land Trust: According to the Rhode Island Land trust Council, “most of the three miles of paths east of Tomaquag Brook, including the peninsula between Tomaquag Brook and the Pawcatuck River, are along old cart paths and are relatively flat.” Thus, providing an easy to moderate hiking experience. For a more challenging hiking experience there is a section of the trail that crosses a wooded terrain containing numerous high rock overlooks interspersed with wooded swamps.

Long and Ell Ponds

If you are feeling adventurous and have plenty of water with you, the 5-plus miles of moderate-to-strenuous hiking at Long and Ell Ponds is worth the effort. You will traverse unblazed terrain, climb a rocky cleft and spend most of your day completing the hike, but you will see mountain laurel blooming in mid-June and experience Audubon and Nature Conservancy protected land in all its wild glory.

Another great hiking location in this area is the North Road Trailhead in Hopkinton.

Dr. John Champlin Glacier Park

The Dr. John Champlin Glacier Park has over two miles of trails and is part of the Westerly Land Trust. According to The Rhode Island Land Trust Council, “the 134-acre Glacier Park is a dramatic example of a recessional moraine glacial landscape, with kettle and kame topography, carved canyons, glacial erratic boulders and the moraine ridge.”

Ninigret National Wildlife Refuge

The Ninigret National Wildlife Refuge offers over four miles of hiking trails for visitors to explore.

Salt Pond Unit: Visitors can see Ninigret Pond, the largest coastal salt pond in Rhode Island, from the observation platform at Grassy Point. Over 250 species of birds have been recorded by birders, so this is an ideal place to observe and photograph wildlife. Trails include the Grassy Point Nature Trail, the Charlietown Runway Trail, the Foster Cove Nature Trail and the Cross Refuge Trail.

Kettle Pond Visitor Center & Northern Section: According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, “hiking along these trails offer visitors a chance to witness visual reminders of the great ice sheet, see changes in the seasonal vernal pool and enjoy great views of Watchuag Pond.” Hiking in this section include the Watchaug Pond Trail, the Toupoysett Pond Trail, the Burlingame Trail and the Ocean View Trail.

Trustom Pond

The Trustom Pond National Wildlife Refuge Trail is a two-and-a-half-mile loop trail located near Wakefield that is a good hiking experience for all skill levels. Trails here include the Otter Point Trail, the Osprey Point Trail, the Red Maple Swamp Trail and the Farm Field Trail.

The Schoolhouse Pond Preserve

The Schoolhouse Pond Preserve is a very easy hike that is accessed from Kings Factory Road in Charlestown. Here you can hike on flat trails that begin as a blue blazed trail with pond views and then, as the trail heads west, it becomes a network of trails and paths. Hikers can also find nesting boxes for wood ducks and small owls that have been placed throughout the property.

Sunset Farm Trail

The Sunset Farm Trail is a 1.5-mile loop trail in the shape of a lasso that is mostly flat with a few sections of elevation change, but none are steep. Hikers can find the trail head on the far northwest point of the parking lot, next to the gate entering the farm area. At the far west section of the trail, there is an overlook over Champlin Cove of Point Judith Pond.

Don’t be afraid to take a hike this summer and experience more of what beautiful South County has to offer.

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