Rhode Island is a small state with a population of just 1.6 million people. It is ranked as the 12th smallest state in the country. However, despite its size, Rhode Island has plenty to offer anyone looking for scenic drives and beautiful places to visit.
It’s easy to see why Rhode Island has been named one of the most beautiful states in America. The state has more than 1,000 miles of coastline, which means you can always find a picturesque spot on the beach or by the water.
Whether you have a few hours to spare or are planning the perfect Rhode Island road trip, there are scenic drives to suit every traveler. Read on to discover our favorite scenic drives in Rhode Island for visitors or lifelong residents interested in rediscovering what’s been there all along.
6 Scenic Drives in Rhode Island
Rhode Island Scenic Drives: Route 1A – Wickford to Narragansett
- Distance: 9.8 miles
- Time needed: 20 minutes/1 day
Historic Wickford Village is the perfect place to start your journey down Boston Neck Road, or Route 1A, along the Rhode Island coast. This scenic drive can take as little as 20 minutes or a full day if you want to stop and see all the sights. There are many things to do and see along the way, and there’s truly something for everyone to enjoy.
We suggest stopping for lunch at one of Wickford’s many delicious restaurants before you begin your drive. Wickford on the Water, Tavern by the Sea, and Shayna’s Place are all excellent options for great food and even better conversation.
After lunch, take a stroll through Wickford’s historic district to see the village’s many unique shops and art galleries.
From there, you’ll encounter several stops along the picturesque countryside, including the John H. Chaffee Rome Point Preserve. Finally, take a detour to explore the sandy shores of Plum Point Beach and see if you can spot the historic Plum Beach Lighthouse.
The area also boasts many lavish and majestic seaside homes and is a popular tourist destination during the summer months.
You’ll end your drive in one of the most beautiful places in Rhode Island, Narragansett. This historic town is lovely to visit during the summer and a popular weekend getaway for tourists. Be sure to visit The Towers, a symbol of luck and resilience throughout Narragansett’s history.
Or you can take a picnic lunch to one of the shady parks along Scarborough Beach or hike along Black Point Trail. (Pro Tip: If you’re traveling with young children, be sure to visit Roger Wheeler State Beach, which has much gentler waters, showers, and a concession stand)
When to go: This scenic Rhode Island drive is best enjoyed during late spring, summer, and fall.
Rhode Island Scenic Drives: Shannock Road – Richmond to Charlestown
- Distance: 2 miles
- Time needed: 10 minutes/2-3 hours
If you have an afternoon free to enjoy the Rhode Island scenery, take a drive along Shannock Road. This short tour from Route 2 to Route 112 takes you from Charlestown through Shannock Village. The route is less than 2 miles long, a perfect length if you have an hour or two to spare.
Shannock Village itself seems perfectly preserved, a snapshot in time of a bygone era. Shannock is a well-preserved example of an 1850s textile mill village and is also on the National Register of Historic Places. The area is surrounded by tranquil hills, beautiful homes, and farmland.
If you have time, stop along Route 2 and hike to the Great Swamp Monument near South Kingstown. The stone obelisk, which sits about a mile and a half off the road, pays tribute to a long-forgotten battle between the Narragansett Indians and Colonists in the late 17th century.
When to go: You can drive to Shannock Village year-round, although the trail leading to the monument may be closed during winter.
Rhode Island Scenic Drives: Conanicut Island – East Shore Road and North Maine Road
- Distance: 8 miles
- Time needed: 10 minutes/1 day
Take a day (or two) to explore Conanicut Island, home to Jamestown, the gem of Newport County. Jamestown’s rich history as one of America’s first settlements draws visitors from all over the world, and there is much to see and do. So pack a sun hat, some walking shoes, and your camera – you’re in for an unforgettable experience!
Conanicut Island itself is part of Narragansett Bay, located between Kingstown and Newport. The narrow strip of land provides breathtaking views of the mainland, bay, and bridges in the distance.
Travel to the island’s southern tip to explore Beaver Tail State Park. There, you can see the most famous lighthouse in Rhode Island. You can also explore the exhibits and local architecture of the Beavertail Lighthouse Museum, a living history museum facility.
There are many other exciting sights to see in Jamestown and the island as a whole. For example, you can explore the New England Watson Farm to see a historic working farm in action, including heritage breeds and regularly scheduled community events.
If you’re visiting during the summer, take a cool dip in the waters at Mackerel Cove Beach and grab a delicious bite to eat at the Village Hearth Bakery & Cafe. There’s so much to see and do on Conanicut Island that a day will go by in the blink of an eye.
(Pro Tip: Don’t leave without driving across the Claiborne Pell Bridge, also known as the Newport Bridge. It’s one of the most majestic bridges in the area!)
When to go: You can travel to Conanicut Island year-round, although we suggest calling ahead to ensure restaurants and other tourist spots will be open during the off-season.
Rhode Island Scenic Drives: Ministerial Road – South Kingstown
- Distance: 6 miles
- Time needed: 12 minutes/Half-hour
Ministerial Road, or Route 110, is one of the hidden gems of Rhode Island and one that should undoubtedly be on your list to explore. This stretch of road between Route 1 at Perry and Route 138 in South Kingstown only takes about 15 minutes to drive straight through, although you may want to stop and admire the scenery along the way.
Ministerial Road is one of the most scenic fall drives in Rhode Island, with dense patches of mountain laurel and rhododendron lining the road along the route. Another unique aspect of this scenic byway is the tree canopy, which makes travelers feel as if they’re traveling through a leafy tunnel into a secret world.
Rolling hills, bubbling brooks, and wetlands surround Ministerial Road, and you’ll also encounter Larkin Pond along the way. However, the main attraction will always be the winding road itself, as several full leaf tunnels create a sense of suspense and mystery around every turn.
When to go: Travelers will enjoy this drive the most during late spring, summer, and fall.
Rhode Island Scenic Drives: Ocean Drive – Newport
- Distance: 10 miles
- Time needed: 20 minutes/1 day
Experience one of the most beautiful places in Rhode Island when you travel along Ocean Drive in Newport. You can easily spend a day exploring all Newport offers before driving this breathtaking stretch of rocky coastline, Gilded Age mansions, and lush, open parks.
You can start your journey along Ocean Drive from several different points. From downtown, begin at the intersection of Thames Street and Wellington Avenue. Or, if you’re on Bellevue Avenue, take the corner of Ocean Avenue and Coggeshall Avenue.
(Pro Tip: The best time to take Ocean Drive is at sunrise when you have the road all to yourself!)
There are many exciting places to explore along your journey, such as King Park, Fort Adams State Park, the Eisenhower House, and Gooseberry Beach. King Park has walking paths and a playground perfect for families traveling with young children.
Take a guided tour through Fort Adams to learn more about its rich history. Then, enjoy enchanting views of Newport Beach and Narragansett Bay from the steps of the Eisenhower House, and dip your toes in the calm waters of Gooseberry Beach.
When to go: Ocean Drive is most enjoyable during summer and early fall.
Rhode Island Scenic Drives: Paradise Avenue and Connected Roads – Middletown
- Distance: 8.3 miles
- Time needed: 15 minutes/1-2 hours
If you want a truly unique way to explore the Rhode Island scenery, take this scenic highway of interconnected roads along Paradise Avenue, Berkeley Avenue, Wyatt Road, Mitchell’s Lane, Wapping Road, Peckham Avenue, Indian Avenue, and Hanging Rock Road.
This picturesque network of roads takes you through tree-lined streets where houses of all architectural styles combine to form a one-of-a-kind experience. Greek Revival, Colonial, Victorian, and 18-century structures are present along the route. The journey also takes you through various landscapes, from pastoral farmlands to budding neighborhoods with historic residences along the way.
The Paradise Avenue scenic drive isn’t without its natural wonders as well. The route offers breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean and Sachuest Bay, as well as Paradise Rock and Hanging Rock. Hanging Rock is part of the 325-acre Norman Bird Sanctuary, an excellent place to hike and explore the wonders of Mother Nature.
If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, take a short 100-yard walk to Purgatory Chasm and watch surfers in the waters of Second Beach from the top of nearby cliffs.
When to go: You can enjoy the sights of Paradise Avenue and associated roads all year round.
More Road Trips in New England & the North East
If you’ve enjoyed this guide to Rhode Island scenic drives, you may also enjoy:
- 5 Historic Scenic Drives in Massachusetts
- 5 Gorgeous Vermont Scenic Drives
- 6 Travel-Worthy Scenic Drives in New Hampshire
- 7 Incredible Maine Scenic Drives
- 5 Unforgettable Connecticut scenic drives
Check out our complete collection of scenic drives in the USA and around the world; there’s no better compliment to a family road trip!
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