Providence, RI: North-South Trail, Arcadia Management Area

Hike through quiet forest and old farmland on the remotest section of Rhode Island’s end-to-end North-South Trail. BY RYAN WICHELNS
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Hike through quiet forest and old farmland on the remotest section of Rhode Island’s end-to-end North-South Trail. BY RYAN WICHELNS

A narrow flume of water slides across the trail, echoing off the hills. It’s the only noise I hear apart from the shuffling of my boots—and that doesn’t happen often in the country’s second-most densely populated state. Just this afternoon I was stuck in I-95 traffic outside Providence, and now, only a few hours later, I’m hiking through quiet forest and old farmland on the remotest section of Rhode Island’s end-to-end North-South Trail. The best part about being a hiker in the smallest state? You’re never more than an hour from the trailhead.

Trip stats
Distance: 13.3 miles
Time: 2 days

Turn-by-turn
From the Hazard Road parking area

(1) Head southeast on the North-South Trail, following blue blazes, to a fork at mile 2.3.
(2) Veer right and follow the footpath northwest .2 mile to the log shelter.
(3) Return to the main path and continue 11.2 miles southeast along the Wood River to Buttonwood Road. (The trail merges with old logging roads periodically.)

Campsite
Stepstone Falls (mile 2.5)

The park’s only permitted backcountry campsite is a short walk from the trailhead—which makes it ideal for late-starters and basecampers (you could spend an entire day exploring the web of trails surrounding the Wood River). There’s room for a few tents in a handful of wooded sites (first-come, first-serve) surrounding an open-sided wooden shelter (communal). Watch for white-tailed deer, fox, and grouse around the primitive site. Free permit required.

Rocky past
Thousands of miles of stone walls snaked through this region in the mid-1800s—when it was some of the still-tiny country’s best farmland, despite its shallow, rocky soil. After the Civil War, agriculture moved west and the woods took control again. See the dilapidated stone foundations and remnants of the walls and mills on this hike.

Stay longer
The blue blazes continue from either end of Arcadia to form the 77-mile North-South Trail, linking the Massachusetts border to the north with the Atlantic Ocean in Charlestown to the south by trails, logging paths, and roads. To the north: dense forests and sleepy towns. To the south: farmland and beaches. This 13.3-mile section is smack in the middle—meaning fewer roads.

Stepstone Falls
Pass this three-tiered, 10-footer at mile 1.5. Find the best view of the year-round flow on the east side of Wood River atop a van-size pile of rectangular quarried stones. Bonus: Brown trout swim in these waters.

DO IT Shuttle car 41.522361, -71.676470; 10 miles south of West Greenwich on Buttonwoods Rd. Trailhead 41.617483, -71.780794; 12 miles northwest of the shuttle car off Molasses Hill Rd. Season Year-round, but September and October are best for solitude, weather, and foliage. (Note: Hunting season is September through February, so wear blaze orange.) Permit Free; call ahead to reserve one at (401) 539-2356. Custom mapbit.do/NorthSouthTrlContactbit.do/ArcadiaRITrip databackpacker.com/NorthSouthTrl

Trail Facts

  • State: RI
  • City: Providence, RI
  • Distance: 13.3
  • Contact: bit.do/ArcadiaRI
  • Land Type: Other