The Cliff Walk is a spectacular trek along Newport’s “shoreline” located between two of the city’s beaches. It is believed to have originated as an Indian footpath. The land above this path became a popular place for the crème de la crème of the Industrial Revolution to show off their wealth in the form of “summer cottages”, which are now referred to as the “Newport Mansions”. During the mid to late 1800s, there had been a question of who had access rights to this path that winded in between these great estates of Mansion Row and the Atlantic Ocean. In the end, however, “…a combination of long-term public use, the rights granted by the colonial charter, and a passage in the Rhode Island Constitution that grants the public “rights of fishery and the privileges of the shore to which they have heretofore been entitled,” has ensured the legal right of people to walk on the cliffs.” (www.seagrant.gso.uri.edu). One of the several plaques that hang along the Cliff Walk’s path credits a number of estate owners for their efforts between 1880 and 1920 to develop and maintain what was to become the Newport Cliff Walk. It is now designated a National Recreation Trail in a National Historic District.
The three and a half mile walk between Easton’s (First) Beach at the north end and Bailey’s (Reject’s) Beach at the south end offers a little something for almost everyone. For those who love to walk and hike through the outdoors, this trail is a moderate workout, end to end. While it begins at its north end with a flat paved path, the Cliff Walk is also composed of dirt paths (which sometimes become muddy puddles after rain), beach sand and rugged boulders, and footing is sometimes challenging. There is a mile and a half stretch where broken markers on the ground warn that the “path becomes rocky and uneven. If you are unsure of your capabilities, turn back.” There are rails and stone walls in some places, but in many others, only a few feet of brush lie between the path and a drop of sometimes as much as seventy feet to the rocks below. This description may sound daunting, but for those who exercise common sense, heed the “no rowdy behavior” warning, and know their own limits, there should be no problems. The experience is well worth the effort, and there is much to see.
To begin with, the ocean view is absolutely beautiful. During high tides, the waves crash into the cliffs, against the Forty Steps lookout, and onto the rocks and beach sand. During low tides, seagulls gather on the rocks that the high tides hide. Cultivated flowers grow along the fences that divide the path from the forty plus properties through which it passes; wild flowers grow in random spots and even between the rocks along the path itself. Rabbits can be seen delicately munching on the plush grass near some of the benches, and snails crawl across the path, their movements so slow they are almost imperceptible. The air smells faintly of salt water and seaweed. It’s a nature lover’s wonderland.
For those who are more appreciative for that which is man-made, the Newport Mansions of Mansion Row are awe-inspiring. Most of these “summer cottages” of the Gilded Age are impressive in their sheer size and architecture, and each has a story to tell. Some, like Ochre Court, Cave Cliff, and Vineland, are now the property of Savle Regina University (www.boston.com). Many others, however, such as The Breakers, Marble House, Chateau-Sur-Mer, Rosecliff, and The Elms, are maintained now by the Preservation Society, and are open for tours. The Astor’s Beechwood Mansion is a “living museum”; The Beechwood Theatre Company portrays members of the Astor family and their domestic staff. From the Cliff Walk, many of these mansions are seen from the back, yet they are still magnificent.
To movie lovers, as well as television fans of the late 1960s and early 1970s, two mansions in particular may be of interest. Rosecliff was featured in three movies: The Great Gatsby (1974), based on the classic by F. Scott Fitzgerald, starring Robert Redford and Sam Waterston; True Lies (1994), about a secret agent using his connections to learn the details of his wife’s affair, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jamie Lee Curfis; and Amistad (1997), the historical account of an 1839 mutiny aboard a slave ship as it traveled towards the Northeast Coast of America, starring Morgan Freeman and Anthony Hopkins. Then there’s Seaview Terrace, now referred to as Carey Mansion, the exterior of which served as the fictional “Old House” of Collinwood in the supernatural gothic soap opera, Dark Shadows from 1966 to 1971. Though the cast had never filmed within its walls, this mansion became incredibly popular and its posters can still be found online. Carey Mansion is one of the largest of the mansions in Newport, and is one of the last to still be privately owned, though the first two floors are rented out to Salve Regina University as dorm rooms (www.dupontcastle.com). Unlike Rosecliff, Carey Mansion is not open for public tours.
Overall, Newport’s Cliff Walk is a beautiful attraction that can be enjoyed on many levels. The full seven mile round trip may take two and a half hours or more to complete, depending on the physical condition of the walkers, and whether or not they are just walking. It is likely to take longer for sight seers, photographers, those not accustomed to walking in this particular environment, or those simply wanting to enjoy all that the Cliff Walk has to offer.
Things you should know before you go…
All of the following information has come from the Cliff Walk’s official website, www.cliffwalk.com, or from personal observation from my own recent trip.
The Cliff Walk is advertised as open all year, from sunrise to sunset. There are no gates to close and no one to keep visitors from using the Cliff Walk at night, but it should be noted that it can be dangerous in several areas in the absence of daylight to see where one is walking. The same is true during the winter months or during bad weather. There are also accounts of transients using some of the tunnels for shelter.
Wear comfortable shoes and clothing:
The path is about three and a half miles long, over pavement, dirt, sand, mud and rocks. Comfortable shoes with good traction are strongly recommended, as well as comfortable, non-restrictive clothing. If you are planning this to be a Sunday stroll in dress cloths and heels, stick to the north end where it is paved.
Admission and Parking:
While the Newport Cliff Walk itself is free to visit, you will most likely have to pay to park. Parking at Easton’s Beach is ten dollars. Metered parking along Memorial Boulevard, where the north part of the Cliff Walk begins, is two dollars per hour. Some may be lucky to get a parking spot on some of the streets that have access ways to the Cliff Walk, or at the end of Bellevue Avenue, where the Cliff Walk ends at Bailey’s Beach.
The Cliff Walk is wheelchair and stroller accessible from the north end only at Easton’s Beach. However, only a portion of the Cliff Walk is paved, and some of the pavement is only wide enough for one or two people at a time. No bikes, skates or skateboards are allowed.
Dogs are allowed on the path but must be on a leash at all times. Owners are to have control of their dogs at all times, and are expected to clean up after them. Cleanup bags and trash cans specifically for curbing are found at the beginning of the Cliff Walk, and in one or two places along the trail. It is important to remember that the entire path is not paved. There are some places where footing is challenging, such as on the rocks and boulders, and on narrow passages. Thought should be given to this before attempting these areas with a pet on a leash. The website also warns of poison ivy growing in abundance, s
o owners should take heed before allowing their pets to roll in the grass.
The official website states that there are no public restrooms along the path, so you might want to plan ahead and stop in town, or use the restrooms at the beach during the summer, before getting on the Cliff Walk itself. There were, however, a few porta johns spotted on one of the roads that has Cliff Walk access.
The official website also states that there is no place to get refreshments on the trail, so you might want to pack something to drink and a light snack, especially in the hot summer months. Astor’s Beechwood Mansion does have a small chalkboard sign next to the open gate connecting its property to the Cliff Walk, which states that refreshments are available in their gift shop. However, it should be noted that many of the mansions are open seasonally, and only for certain hours during the day, so this may not always be an option. No alcoholic beverages are allowed on the Cliff Walk.
There are a handful of garbage cans along the walk. There is also a can specifically for recyclable cans and bottles.
In case of Emergency:
Bring a cell phone. While there are some places, as in the tunnels, where some signals may be temporarily lost, most cell phones have service on the Cliff Walk. In case of emergency, dial 911 and reference the stenciled numbers on the path, which are spaced a little less than a tenth of a mile apart. Also, it should be noted that the streets that have access on and off of the Cliff Walk are Narragansett Avenue, Webster Street, Sheppard Avenue, Ruggles Avenue, Marine Avenue, and Ledge Road; most of these are closer to the north end than the south end.
Other things you should bring:
Camera: The natural beauty of the Atlantic Ocean, as well as the awe-inspiring architecture makes for some incredible shots Sunscreen: The sun is on the east side of the walk or overhead during the morning and early afternoon, when the sun’s rays are the strongest, and there is little shade for protection. Even hazy days can result in a bad sunburn.
Bilzor, Phil. “Seaview Terrace Castle.” Dupont Castle. N.p., n.d. Web. .
Newport, RI’s Cliff Walk combines ocean views, mansions, and a rocky shore line into a 3.5 mile walk. N.p., n.d. Web.
Mandel, Peter. “Newport’s Cliff Walk improved. – ExploreNewEngland.com.” Boston.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Aug. 2006. Web.
“Daytripper’s Guide: Newport.” Rhode Island Sea Grant College Program. N.p., n.d. Web.