Without Further Ado…The North South Trail
I would say it was this exact time last year. Surfing Facebook on a crappy weather weekend with daydreams of spring tip-toeing through my brain. I came across a post on Trails and Walks RI about a hike called the North South Trail. I was an avid user of this blog site but had just discovered the FB page and it just lit me up. The trail runs along the western side of Rhode Island and takes you 78 miles from top to bottom (or the other way around). Looking at all the photos, I could. not. wait. to get out.
Then I did what I do best (or worst, depending on your point of view), I researched, bookmarked sites and maps, basically analyzed the shit out of it. The best reference of all is a small trail guide book by Cliff Vanover. It can be hard to get your hands on a copy because it’s been out of print but if the demand is there, maybe the Great Swamp Press will make a batch. We got our copy from the Scout Shop but a friend of mine was looking for a copy recently and he said they sold out. He was able to borrow a copy from the library (I LOVE the library). I highly recommend tracking down a copy of the book because it’s very precise in noting the mileage. If you are planning multiple hikes, I found the guide to be indispensable. If you plan to hike the whole 78 on a long weekend, the book has very detailed info on camping options, etc.
The first big decision: What end to start at??? It seems that most people ( to include Cliff and his guide book) start at the southern end. I will attest to having an independent streak but I can’t understand why anyone would choose to end in the middle of the woods when the goal could be to finish at a gorgeous beach! The beach is my happy place so the decision was a no-brainer for me. We began our pilgrimage in mid-March figuring we’d reach the beach in lovely spring weather.
The next biggest part of planning is figuring out how long you want to hike and where you’re going to park your cars. My method was to study the trail maps, figure out mileage and then go to Google maps and look for places to park. We often drove out and did recon in areas we were unfamiliar with. A 12 to 15 mile thru hike will take about 6 hours when you include the driving time it takes to get there, leave a car at the end and then go pick up the start car after. Plus, with a group of people, you want to make sure everyone knows where they’re going.
I broke up the trail into 6 hikes and we did the first one without having the guide book. We started at the northern end and even though we had a Appalachian Mountain Club map, we did not have a map to get us from the road where we parked to the actual start of the trail at the RI border ( in the middle of the woods among several intersecting trails). This led to some unwanted extra mileage on an already long hike (see screenshot/eye roll). I have since found this map of Douglas State Forest that would have been very helpful! Our finish for this trip was route 44. On many of the other reference material, you’ll see this section broken into 2 hikes. Making it one leg is about 15.5 miles of rocky up & down and I think, the most challenging of all the legs we did. The best part, well, besides laying on a boulder in the sun overlooking Bowdish Reservoir? A Saint Paddy’s Day toast at the wild & crazy Cady’s Tavern!
Leg #2 was 13.25 miles from route 44 to route 6 and took us 3.45 hours to hike. Another characteristic of the N/S Trail is that it follows a lot of roads. This is a big downer for a lot of people but on the plus side the roads are very scenic and I had never been on most of them. The best part of this section happens along the CT border at Killingly Pond where you actually go into Connecticut and hike around the pond before re-entering RI. This time we parked and ate at Shady Acres, the trail literally comes out in their lot. Convenient parking but not nearly as exciting as Cady’s 😉
Great signage everywhere. By far, the best marked trail I have ever hiked.
On April 24th we set out for hike #3, 12.61 miles of which about 11 miles are on paved roads. A couple of them are very busy like Moosup Valley Rd and Plainfield Pike.
easily amused during long hikes!
Thankfully the last couple of miles finish in Nicholas Farm. The minute you step back into the pine forest and walk on the cushy pine needle covered path, your soul takes a deep breath and sighs.
This leg finished up along the Coventry Greenway (rail trail) in Greene and we were able to park on the side of the trail where it intersected Lewis Farm Rd (it seems that all rural roads in RI have the word “hill” or “farm” in them!). We are almost to the halfway point and this is a good place to take a break and let you digest. Part 2 will follow soon and I promise that the sequel will not let you down!