Rhode Island Foliage Drive | Where the Farmland Meets the Sea
RHODE ISLAND FOLIAGE DRIVE Distance: about 40 miles one way Sandwiched between the famed travel destinations of Newport and Cape Cod is a slice of picture-perfect country life reserved for New Englanders in the know. Head southeast from Boston past the working ports of New Bedford and Fall River and you’ll reach a sylvan stretch […]
Hay bales and a stunning view along Warren’s Point Road (off Route 77), just a couple of miles south of the center of Little Compton.
Photo Credit : Kate Kelley
RHODE ISLAND FOLIAGE DRIVE
Distance: about 40 miles one way
Sandwiched between the famed travel destinations of Newport and Cape Cod is a slice of picture-perfect country life reserved for New Englanders in the know. Head southeast from Boston past the working ports of New Bedford and Fall River and you’ll reach a sylvan stretch of Massachusetts and Rhode Island where farmland rolls to the ocean and long inlets are bordered by historic towns settled as far back as 1616. This backcountry drive is under 40 miles, but you’ll want to give yourself a day to explore.
From New Bedford, head south on Rockdale Avenue to the former whaling port of Padanaram, a picturesque village in South Dartmouth, Massachusetts. Specialty shops for summer cottage owners and casual seafood restaurants have replaced the shipbuilders that once lined the harbor of the Apponagansett River. Turn right on Bridge Street and the harbor appears, filled with sailboats that ply Buzzards Bay. Beach Plum Bakery Café is where locals dine outdoors on sourdough Belgian waffles or banana–nut muffins, washed down with latte.
Drive west along Gulf Road toward Russells Mills Road and you’ll soon arrive at a favorite stop, Salt Marsh Pottery, where Betsy Powel shapes clay into vividly colored tiles, plates, and bowls—many of the hues taken from the wildflowers on her property, a circa-1913 schoolhouse. Don’t be surprised to find babies pressing their tiny hands and feet into the clay for a memento parents will always cherish.
Heading west toward Westport, the landscape becomes more rural—tall silos, cornfields, old stone walls. The Westport Rivers vineyard and winery occupies 380 rolling acres, once a dairy and potato farm before shifting to wine in 1982. Paddlers can detour to the northern tip of the Westport River to rent kayaks from Osprey Sea Kayak Adventures. Energize with frozen lemonade, ice cream, and penny candy across the street at Head Town Landing Country Store, or head down to Partners Village Store & Kitchen in the village center for delicious sandwiches and salads that you can eat on an outdoor patio while peering at hummingbirds.
At the Massachusetts/Rhode Island border you enter the small village of Adamsville, known for Gray’s Grist Mill, still grinding corn for johnnycake meal with granite stones more than 300 years old. Try those johnnycakes at The Commons Lunch farther west, in nearby Little Compton. But first, get a feel for the history of this quintessential Ocean State town by walking across the street to the village green, the white-steepled Union Congregational Church, and the Old Commons Burying Ground. If you peer closely, you’ll notice that the first settlers are buried here, with dates of death registered as far back as the late 17th century.
The final stretch of road is a beauty, heading north along Route 77, with views of rolled hay leading to the shores of the wide Sakonnet River. You’ll find freshly picked veggies and sunflowers at Walker’s Roadside Stand, while next door, Wilma’s at Walker’s is the place to go for savory delights such as chicken pot pies and quiches.
Last stop is Tiverton Four Corners, a rural village that dates from the 17th century, now home to artisans like jeweler Tiffany Peay, who uses brightly colored gems to create bracelets and necklaces with contemporary flair. All good drives should end with an ice-cream cone, and it’s hard to top the creamy black raspberry found at legendary Gray’s. Grab your cone at the stand and walk across the street to the 18th-century Meeting House and its velvety green grounds for one last relaxing dose of yesteryear.
SEE MORE:Rhode Island Foliage Drive | Photographs
RHODE ISLAND FOLIAGE DRIVE | FEATURED SPOTS
Beach Plum Bakery Café. 6 Bridge St., South Dartmouth, MA. 508-994-1162; beachplumcafe.comSalt Marsh Pottery. 1167 Russells Mills Road, South Dartmouth, MA. 800-857-5028; saltmarsh.comWestport Rivers. 417 Hixbridge Road, Westport, MA. 508-636-3423; westportrivers.comOsprey Sea Kayak Adventures. 489 Old County Road, Westport, MA. 508-636-0300; ospreyseakayak.comHead Town Landing Country Store. 488 Old County Road, Westport, MA. 508-636-6191; headtownlandingcountrystore.comPartners Village Store & Kitchen. 865 Main Road, Westport, MA. 508-636-2572; partnersvillagestore.comGray’s Grist Mill. 638 Adamsville Road, Westport, MA/Adamsville, RI. 508-636-6075; graysgristmill.comThe Commons Lunch. 48 Commons Road, Little Compton, RI. 401-635-4388
Union Congregational Church. 4 Commons Road, Little Compton, RI. 401-635-8472; ucclcri.orgOld Commons Burying Ground. Jct.Commons Road & Meetinghouse Lane, Little Compton, RI.
Walker’s Roadside Stand. 261 West Main Road (Route 77), Little Compton, RI. 401-635-4719; facebook.com/walkersstandWilma’s at Walker’s. 261 West Main Road (Route 77), Little Compton, RI. 401-635-8424; facebook.com/pages/Wilmas-At-Walkers/115978685089814Tiffany Peay. 3851 Main Road (Route 77), Tiverton Four Corners, RI. 401-816-0878; tiffanypeay.comGray’s Ice Cream. 16 East Road (Route 179), Tiverton Four Corners, RI. 401-624-4500; www.graysicecream.comTiverton Four Corners Meeting House. 3850 Main Road (Route 77), Tiverton Four Corners, RI. 401-624-6200; themeetinghouse.infoEditor’s Note: This post was updated September 16, 2016.