3 Trail Runs Near Newport, Rhode Island

Trail running is having a moment right now. First-person video of airy ridgelines traversed at precipitous speeds are flooding the social media feeds of the outdoor-inclined. Grueling backcountry ultra races—in the image of the notorious Barkley Marathons—are popping up by the day. Classic backpacking routes, from the Pemi Loop to the Devil’s Path, are getting done in hours, not days. It certainly seems that everywhere you look, the wilds of the Northeast are teeming with ultra-fit, tiny-backpack-clad trail runners, dodging blowdown and hopping over rock and root as they bound headlong into some real type 2 fun.

While it’s not the type of peaceful community with nature that some of us seek, trail running is, at the very least, another great way to get outside. It’s a lot easier to squeeze a hike into a busy schedule if you’re running it and covering more ground faster affords the ambitious—and properly conditioned—outdoor enthusiast the freedom of a remote backcountry experience without the heavy pack.

Trail running is also excellent cardiovascular exercise and incredibly good training for harder, higher mountaineering objectives, where moving quickly over difficult and varied terrain is essential. That said, it is a strenuous activity that shouldn’t be taken lightly—road runners will need to account for the uneven, often difficult footing while hikers will need to acclimate to the additional aerobic strain. So, if you’re new to trail running you’d be wise not to start in the mountains but rather with a more manageable goal.

Seek the coast. More specifically, set a course for Newport, Rhode Island. Though the City by the Sea is better known for its surfing and sea kayaking, a modest selection of trails, gentle elevation changes, and breathtaking ocean views make Newport—and the surrounding area—a top-notch place to give trail running a try.

Credit: John Lepak
Credit: John Lepak

Sachuest Point, Middletown

Sachuest Point, on Aquidneck Island’s southeastern corner, is a true gem. A small peninsula jutting out into the sea, its 242 acres briefly divide the Sakonnet River from Rhode Island Sound, affording sweeping, sustained ocean views. The terrain is flat and easy, alternating between hard dirt and gravel path, all while the trail meanders through shrubland and native grasses before opening up to panoramic views of rocky coastline, beach, and sea.

The area is a federally-managed wildlife refuge replete with an incredibly diverse population of birds and smaller fauna, including the increasingly rare New England Cottontail rabbit. Obviously, this makes staying on marked trails—so as not to disturb these fragile habitats—of critical importance.

Linking up the Flint Point and Ocean View Loops, Sachuest Point’s two named trails, in a figure-eight will net you a 2.7-mile round trip. A cool down lap of one or both loops to enjoy the many, signed shoreline access points or observation areas is highly recommended.

Credit: John Lepak
Credit: John Lepak

Sakonnet Greenway, Portsmouth and Middletown

Open meadows packed with wildflowers, breezy coastal woods, and bucolic farmland, characterize the Sakonnet Greenway, as it weaves its way through the heart of Aquidneck Island, linking the towns of Portsmouth and Middletown in the process. End-to-end, the trail weighs in at 10 miles—the longest continuous trail of its kind on the island—though a few well-spaced parking areas afford opportunity for shorter loops, including the Portsmouth, Middletown South, and Middletown North Loops.

You’re not going to gain a ton of elevation, and the footing is generally good as the trail runs mostly over dirt or cut grass, but step lightly after rain—the trail is also open to horses, and the deeper hoofprints can roll an ankle if you’re not looking.

And while this is not a wilderness experience, the Sakonnet Greenway still has its moments with flora so thick—nurtured by the milder marine climate—you’ll feel its breathing with you. Give the 2.6-mile Middletown South Loop a try, beginning at the parking lot at Newport Vineyards and ending with a glass of something chilled.

Credit: John Lepak
Credit: John Lepak

Cliff Walk, Newport

While it’s not a trail run in the traditional sense—most of it is paved—Newport’s Cliff Walk is hands-down one of the best runs on the island. From the get-go at Memorial Boulevard, just uphill from Easton’s Beach, Cliff Walk delivers spectacular views of the Atlantic and it yields not once over it’s 3.5-mile course to Bailey’s Beach. On one side are the mansions of Newport, soaring monuments to the kind of American wealth that defined the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. On the other side, an even stronger force: the Atlantic Ocean and the dramatic cliffs that plunge directly into it.

In either direction, the views are stunning and the sea breeze is enough to make running Cliff Walk a joy even on the hottest of Summer days. Do yourself a favor and go early—this is a must-see destination in Newport and it fills up quickly. If you don’t want to be dodging and weaving your way through the crowds, don’t wait.

Parking and access points are aplenty on Cliff Walk so runs of varying distances are possible. If you’re up for it though, completing the 7 mile out-and-back route is the way to go.