An Insider’s Guide to Family Fun on Block Island

Thu, 08/01/2013 - 1:15pm
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Growing up on Block Island over the past 18 years, it seems I’ve experienced everything the island has to offer. And for such a small island, there is so much. Of course, chances are you’ll find me at the beach when I’m not working — who doesn’t want to spend their vacation sprawled on the beach! But when it’s too windy or cloudy or my friends and I actually get bored with the beach and we set off to explore the rest of the island, we always end up having a great time. 

So I’ve put together a list of my favorite island places and my favorite ways to explore them, hoping your family will discover all the things I’ve grown to love about this beautiful little place. The island is so busy in summer, but I think it is best to counter that and explore at a slower pace — by bike, kayak or paddleboard. 

If you’re biking with little ones, just remember that outside of town there aren’t any places to grab food or drinks, so pack accordingly. 

By Bike 

Filled with unique and renowned landmarks and settings, Block Island’s not-quite-10 square miles makes almost anywhere accessible by bike. The transportation of choice for both visitors and locals, biking immerses you in the island’s idyllic nature. The rolling landscape creates a generally low level of difficulty, meaning it’s perfect for everyone in the family. 

Regardless of how you get to the island, rental bikes are easy to find. From the ferry dock in Old Harbor, just steps away into the casual bustle of town, you’ll find Aldo’s and their extensive array of bicycles and mopeds along Weldon’s Way. On the same street you’ll find Island Bike and Moped, and just one street over on Water Street are Moped Man and Old Harbor Bike Shop — and if you’re sailing in through New Harbor, at the docks of the Boat Basin and Champlin’s Resort you’ll also find an assortment of rental bikes. 

The laid-back aura of the island makes relaxed bike rides the perfect way to navigate through the tranquil winding roads. And despite it’s small size — seven by three miles — Block Island is full of natural beauty and distinguished landmarks from lighthouses to nature trails. 

Here are four rides that begin and end downtown, you can do them all in one day, or spread them out over many days. 

To the North Light 

Midway through the ferry ride from Point Judith you can see the North Light emerge at the tip of the island that quickly turns from steep bluffs to low beaches near town. It’s about a 3 1/2-mile bike ride from the center of town to the end of Corn Neck Road. Once there you can leave your bikes at Settlers’ Rock and take the 20-minute walk out to the lighthouse itself. 

Heading back toward town, in about a mile you’ll find the entrance to Clay Head Nature Trail — otherwise known as “The Maze.” Down a quiet dirt road are the winding and scenic nature trails, which take you through open fields, through wooded trails, down to the beach, or up above the sweeping bluffs. 

To the Southeast Lighthouse 

Biking up Spring Street from the statue of Rebecca, the Southeast Lighthouse is just a mile and a half uphill, located at the top of the island’s rugged bluffs. The lighthouse is open as a museum during the summer months, with an absolutely unobstructed view of the Atlantic. 

Less than a quarter mile further you’ll find the entrance to the Mohegan Bluffs, leading to the cliff’s edge that offers a sweeping panoramic view of the ocean, Southeast Lighthouse, and rugged bluffs. There are also stairs leading down to the beach — be aware of how tiring they can be, though! If you stop anywhere along your bike ride, make sure you don’t miss this — it offers some of the most breathtaking scenery you’ll ever find. 

When I was younger, I loved walking down the stairs to the beach below, and covering myself with the natural clay that collects there. Do not climb the bluffs to get clay, though, erosion causes them to be very unstable. 

From here the easiest way back into town (what locals do) is to take a right onto the dirt Pilot Hill Road that winds its way to the top of a hill where it becomes paved and is all downhill to High Street and back to Rebecca. 

To Rodman’s Hollow 

If you’re still not ready to head back into town yet, continue westward over to Cooneymus Road, where you’ll find Rodman’s Hollow — a sunken dale of nature trails that wind through shadbush. Whether you choose to hike through or just take in the view from above, Rodman’s Hollow is a spectacle of the island’s unadulterated natural beauty. Check the map on page 23 as you have many options from Rodman’s Hollow, including just following this road just under 5 miles back to town. 

To Coast Guard Beach 

From the statue of Rebecca, it’s just over 3 miles to reach Coast Guard Beach. Down a winding dirt road, you pass rolling green farms, quiet beaches, and discover the tranquil ambience of Block Island. At the end of the mile-long dirt road, you’ll find Coast Guard Beach, known for its fishing, where you can watch boats sail in and out of New Harbor or enjoy the sunset. 

By Kayak or Paddleboard 

Made up of thin, interconnected waterways, the southern end of the island’s Great Salt Pond leads into a series of linked inlets, one of my favorite spots on the island and a setting perfect for exploring by kayak or paddleboard. The Salt Pond is an intricate ecosystem of nature, including cormorants, seaweed, and shellfish, an environment exciting and adventurous for kids. You can paddle out to the sandbars and get out to explore or go clamming at Andy’s Way where you’re surrounded by quiet and nature. I always liked clamming here – and finding fiddler crabs. If you’re lucky you might find a horseshoe crab or see a bright-orange-beaked oystercatcher protecting a nest. 

Kayaking and paddleboarding provide two methods of exploration within the Great Salt Pond, and are just as leisurely and relaxed as much of the island’s atmosphere. Pond and Beyond Kayak Tours, owned and operated by islander Corrie Heinz, offers guided tours of the Salt Pond, including special tours, such as full moon and sunset paddles. 

No previous experience is necessary, and with tours for every skill level it’s an ideal family activity while on the island. Corrie has had nothing but incredible feedback, with guests calling it “the highlight of vacation,” and “you cannot go wrong with Pond and Beyond.” It’s Corrie’s extensive knowledge of Block Island and its wildlife paired with her ability to fully engage every student that customers wax on about. Tours and lessons are by reservation only, and all information can be found on facebook.com/ PondandBeyondKayakBlockIsland or on tripadvisor.com

Paddleboarding 

Just steps away and sharing the same parking lot as Pond and Beyond is Block Island Ocean Adventures, offering paddleboard tours and lessons, surfing instruction, and guided spearfishing excursions. B.I. Ocean Adventures is owned and operated by year-round resident Jeffrey Smith, a certified member of the National Surf Schools & Instructors Association. Regardless of your skill level, stand-up paddleboard tours bring you throughout the Great Salt Pond, allowing you to take in the natural beauty of Block Island’s marine life. I like paddleboarding myself; it’s great exercise and on calm days you can just sit on your board and relax. It’s fun to paddle under the bridge and in and out of the inlets by the police station. 

When the waves are good, surf lessons are also offered by Smith, who has been surfing on the island for more than three decades. For families with children over 10, spearfishing excursions offer the perfect opportunity to explore Block Island maritime life from an underwater perspective. 

For an ocean paddleboarding experience, Diamondblue Surf Shop, in the heart of town, offers surfing and stand-up paddleboarding lessons for all ages, along the beach near the Surf hotel. Schedule lessons a day in advance, and they’ll have boards ready for you on the beach. Any additional information can be found at diamondbluebi.com. 

Whether you choose to paddleboard or kayak (or both!) you’ll find the alternative ways of viewing the island invigorating and exciting. But if you have little ones who want to see the wildlife without the exercise, the Block Island Maritime Institute (BIMI), conveniently right between Pond and Beyond and Block Island Ocean Adventures, has touch tanks full of fish, sea stars, urchins, crabs, and more.

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