At least once a year, I take this walk, which is one of the best in Rhode Island, even the US. It provides sweeping views from the clifftop paths that served as a front yard of the summer homes of America’s wealthiest families during the Gilded Age and the early 20th century. It is the only National Recreational Trail within a National Historic District in the United States, which is pretty cool- I love nature mixed with history. Newport is one of my favorite US cities, and this walk is a must-do on any visit to our state. I hope these Cliff Walk photos will inspire your visit, and the information will make it a great one for you.
Table of Contents
The Cliff Walk is a 3.5-mile long walk that officially begins near Easton’s Beach in Newport, Rhode Island. When the upper crust of Newport’s vacationers moved north to Bailey’s Beach, this became the place in Newport for the middle and working classes to spend their summer beach time. People still flock here every summer to enjoy the beach, 1950s carousel, Save the Bay Aquarium, surfing, boogie boarding, Del’s lemonade, its playground, and summer concerts. It is a beach that I often visit, but there can be a lot of seaweed that can be annoying, especially in late summer.
Handicap and Stroller Accessibility
The first half of the walk is publicized as being handicap and stroller accessible. Although it is mostly paved, it is not flat, and you may come across a few steps that need to be dealt with. If that is too much for you to handle, I suggest starting your meandering from Forty steps and heading toward the Breakers. If you are bringing little kids, I recommend a carrier, such as this piggyback carrier, my friend uses with his little ones. The second half of the walk is very unstructured and less busy, with a different beauty and roughness, but requires quite a bit of scrambling over rocks, so wear a pair of decent shoes. The first few times I went on this walk, I thought it was finished where the pavement ends after the Breakers, but it is worth the continued journey if you can continue.
The Chanler at Cliff Walk
My last visit to the Cliff Walk was as part of a walking group with The East Greenwich Cowesett New Neighbors Club. We started our day with lunch at The Chanler, which was built in 1870 as a summer home for John Winthrop Chanler and Margaret Astor Ward (yes, of those Astors, America’s first multimillionaire). It is always an expensive meal with good food, but the interior of the building and the views it affords are hard to beat and a perfect way to prepare for a long walk. Even the bathrooms are pretty spectacular and worth a peek, and it is convenient to valet park your car here. I also spent some time after lunch relaxing on their spectacular lawn overlooking First Beach. I can only imagine how exquisite it would be to stay in this boutique hotel.
Forty Steps was built as a way for David Priestly Hall’s children to access the beach in the 1830s, then later as a gathering and celebrating place for hired workers. I think I can hear the Irish jigs still playing in the wind. It now provides spectacular unobstructed views of the coastline.
Getting Here and Public Restrooms
You can access the Cliff Walk by a trolley that leaves from Newport’s Visitor Center, or you can drive. Most visitors park on Memorial Boulevard (by Easton’s Beach) or Narragansett Avenue (by Forty Steps). There are public restrooms in both areas. By the public restroom facilities at Narragansett Avenue is a machine to pay for parking.
From The Overlook, you can see Aquidneck Island and southern Massachusetts’ coast, including the Sakonett Lighthouse and sometimes even Martha’s Vineyard!
Salve Regina University
The next few mansions that you will come across are now part of Salve Regina, a Catholic University. The first, Ochre Court was named after the yellow rocks found in this area of the coastline. It was designed by Richard Morris Hunt in the French Chateau Revival Style and is said to have one of Newport’s most extravagant interiors. Peabody and Stearns designed Vinland Estate in the Richardsonian Romanesque Style (like Trinity Church in Boston). It is now a classroom- a pretty amazing one, I am sure!
A great way to spend the rest of your day in Newport is to tour the interior of at least one mansion. If you only have time for one, I recommend this one. This Italian Renaissance-style mansion was built in 1895 by Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt as a summer residence. It’s 70 rooms include servant quarters, and its audio-tour is an excellent way to learn about the area’s history. The lavishly decorated house is a National Historic Landmark.
This is where I had always assumed that the Cliff Walk ended, but there is still another half left to explore!
The Chinese Tea House
The Marble House was built in 1888 for William and Alva Vanderbilt. All you see from the Cliff Walk are its walls, but you can pay to tour the inside. What you can see from the path is its Chinese Tea House, which was built for Alva Vanderbilt Belmont in 1912 and was used to host teas to raise money through social functions such as “Votes for Women” and can currently be rented out for events.
This building has been a home, was used to house US soldiers in WWII and condominiums.
The Cliff Walk ends at Reject’s Beach adjacent to the exclusive Bailey’s Beach Club. You can walk back like I did (after playing two hours of tennis that morning, apparently I was feeling motivated). Or you can take a short cut that will let you see the fronts of the mansions by walking north along Bellevue. The last option is the jump on the trolley, which will take you back to the Visitor Center.
Check out www.cliffwalk.com for more information or maps. Much of my historical information came from there and also this cool app…
I downloaded the free VisitNewport mobile app. Along the path, you will see QVC codes. You can scan them to learn about the historical marker you are near or download the app ahead of time, so you aren’t using up your data. This way, you won’t get lost, and you will be sure of the name and history of what you are seeing.
How Long Will This Take?
If you start at the beginning of First Beach, this is a 4 1/2 mile walk. I play at least 6 hours of tennis a week, so consider myself in great shape, walked very fast the whole time and it took me three hours round trip today. In the past, I have meandered and spent a couple of hours just in the first section of the path. There are many opportunities to leave the trail and return by Bellevue, so you can plan how long you spend, depending on your needs, but I would recommend half a day for a pleasant, relaxed experience.
Best Time of Year to Visit
I prefer Newport in the fall and spring, as the summer crowds have yet to arrive. But Newport in the summer is a wonderful destination, so if you visit, then try the morning hours to beat the crowds. Summer also brings the lovely, bright pink of beach roses, but also the risk of poison ivy, so be sure to stick to the paths.
Read more about how best to spend your time in Newport.
Rhode Island has so much to offer, and you can visit my Guide to 48 Hours in Rhode Island or my list of Rhode Island posts to read about more great things to do in this fabulous state! Don’t forget to subscribe to get my weekly newsletter about new posts, like my upcoming post about my fulfillment of a bucket list item when I play tennis on the grass this Friday at Newport’s Tennis Hall of Fame. What is your favorite US hike?