Think of Rhode Island and the huge mansions of Newport, the bustle of Providence, and long liners sailing out of Narragansett Bay are probably the images that come to mind of the smallest of the 50 United States. At only 1,045 square miles, Rhode Island is about equal in size to the urban sprawl of Los Angeles or the metropolitan Houston area. Despite being surrounded by the east coast metropolis, the western border of Rhode Island from Block Island Sound to the Massachusetts border is surprisingly rural and offers great outdoor adventure.
Interstate 95 hugs the Atlantic Coastline eastward from New York City suddenly turns north at the Rhode Island border toward Providence slicing off the southwestern corner of the state. In the southwestern corner of this region lies one of Rhode Island's largest state parks, Burlingame.
Burlingame State Park, Management Area, Campground, and Wildlife Refuge in Charlestown, Rhode Island have a combined total of 3,100 acres. The park originally opened in 1934 and has a long and colorful history. It was within the borders of Burlingame that the first Civilian Conversation Corps camp in the state of Rhode Island was erected. During World War II military units were stationed here serving on beach patrol along Rhode Island's coast, and at one point also served as a prisoner of war camp.
The park is located geographically close to the terminal moraine of the Wisconsin Glacier so the terrain is mainly rocky and broken hills. Glacial erratics litter the forests of hemlock, spruce, and black oak throughout the park and evidence of it's farming past can be found in old stonewalls deep in the forested regions.
The draw to Burlingame State Park is 1,000 acre Watchaug Pond of which over half sits in the boundaries of the park. Recent studies have revealed that despite farming to the north and acid rain, Watchaug Pond is in excellent health and the water is exceptionally clean and clear. The calm waters of Watchaug Pond are ideal for canoeing and kayaking as well as fresh water fishing. Twenty canoes are available for rent through the park on a first come first serve basis for $30 a day. The park also has a freshwater swimming beach with a sandy bottom that is a popular attraction during the warm and humid summer months. But the real draw along the banks of the Watchaug is bird watching.
The New England coast is rich with a variety of bird species. Waterfowl, songbirds, and a wide variety of raptors call Burlingame home. An additional 250 species of migratory birds consider Burlingame and the waters of Watchaug Pond a peaceful rest stop or even take up winter residence. A short list of raptors that can be seen at Burlingame include the red tailed hawk, the broad-winged hawk, Cooper's hawk, great horned owl, and in the winter time, bald eagles have recently been spotted. Songbirds include the Baltimore oriole, the common yellowthroat, Canada warbler, chickadee, and the chipping sparrow. In the spring and fall migrating ducks and geese can be seen by the thousands in the waters of the Watchaug mingling with wood ducks the call the pond home year round.
Birds aren't the only creatures you will see at Burlingame State Park, the park is also home to a surprising number of mammals. The eastern cottontail rabbit, on the brink of being endangered, muskrat, mink, red fox, river otters, raccoons, and weasels are a handful of species that live in the sheltered boundaries of the park. In the late morning eastern box turtles can be found on logs and rocks around Watchaug Pond sunning themselves, their distinctive heads with bright yellow lines stretched out into the warming rays.
Burlingame State Park is also home to the largest campground run by the state of Rhode Island. A total of 755 campsites are available in the park. None of the closely packed sites have hookups but a dump station is available. Although the camping facilities within Rhode Island strongly favor recreational vehicles, a section of the campground has been set aside for car camping and showers are available. The park is serviced by an excellent store that can provide you with almost all of your needs while visiting. A playground and a recreation room with video games and pool tables will help both younger and older children keep themselves entertained.
Burlingame State Park is crisscrossed with a network of hiking trails including the longest through hike trail in Rhode Island, the 72-mile North South Trail. Cutting across Burlingame, the North South Trail starts at Blue Shutters Beach in Charlestown, Rhode Island and then heads northward skirting the Connecticut border until it reaches Massachusetts in Burrillville. Skirting the western side of Burlingame State Park the North South Trail exits Burlingame State Park on its northern edge and enters the Indian Cedar Swamp.
Burlingame State Park also serves as a wonderful jumping off point to a number of other smaller state parks that dot the Rhode Island Coast, several of which are only a ten minute drive away. The closest of these is East Beach State Park.
Find out about the beaches of Southwestern Rhode Island's State Parks...