5 National Parks In Rhode Island

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Rhode Island is the smallest US state, yet, despite its size, there are still four amazing national parks (and one heritage corridor) in Rhode Island for you to discover. The ‘Ocean State’ or ‘Little Rhody’ as it has cutely been nicknamed, is sandwiched between Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Rhode Island was one of the original 13 colonies and therefore plays a significant part in the retelling of American history today. Rhode Island is 3,144 km2 and only 48 miles from north to south and 37 miles (59.5 km) from east to west. This U.S. state is so small it could fit into Texas around 221 times. Despite its size, the state has 400 miles (643 km) of coastline because there are four major islands. It might be small, but there are many things to do, from historical sites to beaches, dining and hiking. 

Rhode Island is a state brimming with things to see, from top historical sites and parks to fascinating trails and national memorials. To see Rhode Island’s national parks, take a road trip around the state to explore the different sites. Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park is excellent for learning about the Industrial Revolution and seeing some character Rhode Island towns and villages.

Explore yet more history at the Roger Williams National Memorial, where this Providence park commemorates one of the founders of the 13 colonies, Roger Williams. The Touro Synagogue National Historic Site provides insight into the Jewish faith and an architecturally beautiful colonial-era building. Finally, the Washington-Rochambeau National Historic Trail allows you to connect with nature whilst also viewing Rhode Island’s fascinating historical sites, parks and monuments.

Here are the best national parks in Rhode Island. Whether you are searching for places of historical interest or religious buildings, Rhode Island offers visitors something unique.

National Parks In Rhode Island

National Historical Park

rhode island national parks
Looking for national parks in Rhode Island? Check out these sites.

1- Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park

This national historical park is in both Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

You will find this national historical park in northern Rhode Island, around a 10-minute drive north of Providence.

It is an excellent Rhode Island national park if you want to be outside and explore nature.

The park is around 400,000 acres (161,874 ha) in size, that’s a lot of space to explore.

The American Industrial Revolution is believed to have started in the Blackstone River Valley.

English American industrialist Samuel Slater began running a mill in Pawtucket, Rhode Island.

Slater established the first mill in the Blackstone River area in 1790, believed to be one of the first factories in America.

Just three years later, he was also responsible for building Slater Mill, the country’s first factory producing cotton yarn using water-powered machines.

Slater started this trend of establishing mills and by the mid-19th century, there were more than 100 mills in Rhode Island alone.

Slater’s initial mill takeover sparked an industrial revolution that would soon spread to the rest of New England and across America.

The Industrial Revolution powered the building of new homes and schools and resulted in a wave of new immigrants.

Because this national historical park is spread over two states, there’s a Blackstone Passport Book that you can pick up at the visitor centres to see and stamp all of the locations within the Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park.

The Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park is one you can explore yourself. Whether you want to hike, paddle, cycle or jump from site to site, you can explore various fun things.

The Blackstone River Bikeway stretches 48 miles (77 km) from India Point Park in Providence, Rhode Island, right across to Worcester, Massachusetts.

Another great way of exploring the Blackstone River Valley is to check out some of the area’s cities, like Pawtucket, Smithfield, and Woonsocket.

Here you can discover the main towns and the villages within them and see if you can piece together the different elements of the industrial revolution.

It is also a great recommendation to take a walking tour of Slatersville, the first village dedicated to the mill industry.

It soon became an example by which other Blackstone Valley villages followed.

While in Slatersville, you can also check out the North Smithfield Public Library.

The Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park is at 65 Roosevelt Avenue, Pawtucket, RI 02860.

2- John H. Chaffee Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor

The National Heritage Corridor commemorates the early American Industrial Revolution.

The corridor includes mill towns across 24 cities and towns near the Blackstone River Valley from Worcester County, Massachusetts to Providence County, Rhode Island.

The Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park was formed from a small portion of the National Heritage Corridor. Both the John H.

Chaffee Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor and Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park co-exist.

The national corridor was designated as an Act of Congress in 1986 to preserve the Blackstone Valley for future generations.

Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor is home to around one million people who reside in the area’s cities, towns and villages.

Within the heritage corridor, there are a couple of notable places to visit if you are in the area.

There’s the Blackstone Valley Visitor Center in Pawtucket, where you can find out about the area, including what to see and do.

The visitor centre also offers a 20-minute film that looks at the area’s mill history and the industry’s impact on the Blackstone Valley.

There are also exhibits, a gallery and a gift shop.

You can also visit the Museum of Work and Culture inside the heritage corridor.

This museum in Woonsocket documents the city’s textile manufacturing history and how it impacted the economy, the people and the wider area.

The Blackstone Valley Visitor Center is at 175 Main Street, Pawtucket, RI 02860. The Museum of Work and Culture can be found at 42 South Main Street, Woonsocket, RI 02895.

National Memorial

3- Roger Williams National Memorial

Roger Williams National Memorial rhode island national parks
One of the Rhode Island National Parks sites to visit is the Roger Williams National Memorial.

The Roger Williams National Memorial is in Providence, Rhode Island and was set up in honour of the founder of the state as one of the 13 colonies.

During the 1600s, the British began establishing colonies in America.

By the 1700’s Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey, Virginia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and South Carolina had become the nation’s first 13 colonies.

Roger Williams was an English-born theologian and Puritan Minister who founded what was then known as the Providence Plantations, which later became Rhode Island.

Williams also inspired aspects of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.

Roger Williams’ ideas of religious freedom inspired Thomas Jefferson and James Madison to include similar language in the Constitution.

At the Roger Williams National Memorial, starting at the visitor centre is a good idea.

Here you can watch a park film about Williams’ life and the surrounding area dedicated to his life and work.

Display cases inside the centre show samples of Williams’ writings and other artifacts.

The national memorial is an urban park filled with trees, grassy areas, places to picnic and benches to relax on.

The park’s site is on the common lot where Williams established the original settlement of Providence in 1636.

The Roger Williams National Memorial is at 282 North Main Street, Providence, RI 02903.

Also read:

National Historic Site

4- Touro Synagogue National Historic Site

national parks rhode island Touro Synagogue
Touro Synagogue is another Rhode Island national parks site to visit.

Touro Synagogue is the oldest synagogue in America and one of the most important Jewish buildings in the country.

Built between 1759 and 1763 in Newport, Rhode Island, this is the only synagogue in America that dates back to the colonial era.

Touro Synagogue was designed by Peter Harrison, a British architect who resided in Rhode Island and is considered the crowning jewel of his architectural collection.

The building’s interior comprises 12 columns that support a wraparound balcony.

These 12 columns represented the twelve tribes of ancient Israel. Each of these columns was also carved from a single tree.

The building was built facing east towards Jerusalem. The Torah (the Hebrew Bible) sits on the synagogue’s east wall.

The building was constructed under the instruction of Isaac Touro, a Dutch American rabbi.

The first congregation believed to have used this synagogue was made up of Sephardic Jews, who many think came from the West Indies.

It was first declared a national historic site in 1946 and a National Park Service-affiliated area.

In 1966 the synagogue was also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Today the Touro Synagogue is an active Orthodox synagogue.

Each year around 30,000 people visit the synagogue to hear about its history and marvel at its beautiful interior.

Take a guided tour of the Touro Synagogue, which lasts around 30 minutes and offers insight into the history and founding of the Synagogue from colonial times to the present day.

Be sure to also stop by the Loeb Visitors Center adjacent to the Synagogue.

Inside are exhibits about the building’s history and role in the ideals of Freedom of Religion that is practised across America today.

The Touro Synagogue National Historic Site is at 85 Touro Street, Newport, RI 02840.

National Historic Trail

5- Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route National Historic Trail

national parks in rhode island state house
Old State House.

The Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route is a national historic trail that covers 680 miles across 10 states.

Hopping on and off this trail allows you to experience the same route the American and French soldiers used during the American Revolution.

The Continental Army commanded by George Washington, and Jean-Baptiste de Rochambeau’s Expédition Particulière started out on their march from Newport, Rhode Island to Yorktown, Virginia.

It would take the 4,000 French and 3,000 American soldiers 14 weeks to march this route from Rhode Island to Virginia.

In 1781 the French troops started marching from Rhode Island and joined Washington’s American soldiers along the Hudson River a month later.

In August 1781, the joint army began marching through New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland, all the time evading the British troops.

The troops reached Williamsburg, Virginia in September 1781.

After just a couple of weeks, the French won the Battle of Chesapeake, which resulted in British forces being unable to evacuate.

The Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route is now a designated National Historic Trail.

Along the trail, there are interpretive signs, materials, and exhibits displaying the role of the French in the success of Washington’s forces and the hardships faced in the American Revolution.

The Washington-Rochambeau National Historic Trail connects cities, state and national parks, other historic and scenic trails and historic sites from New Hampshire to Virginia.

Some of the historic sites and museums scattered along the Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route within Rhode Island include:

  • Butt Hills Fort
  • White Horse Tavern
  • William Vernon House (Rochambeau Headquarters)
  • Trinity Church (Tomb of Admiral de Ternay)
  • Rochambeau Plaza
  • Old State House

So, whether you walk parts of the trail or head to the many historic sites along the Washington-Rochambeau National Historic Trail, Rhode Island is an excellent place to explore the history of the American Revolution.

This state might be small, but ‘Little Rhody’ is a great destination to understand more about the United States’ history.

Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park and National Heritage Corridor are fantastic places to visit to be at one with nature whilst also learning about Rhode Island’s industrial history.

History buffs will find themselves right at home in Rhode Island with the addition of the Roger Williams National Memorial as well as the Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route National Historic Trail.

Even the Touro Synagogue National Historic Site offers a glimpse into the nation’s religious history.

Whether you plan to visit just one site or turn your Rhode Island vacation into a road trip, you will surely enjoy this small but historical U.S. state.

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harriet comley
Harriet Comley is a travel enthusiast, freelance travel writer and a lover of safaris. Since 2017 she has been travelling the globe living in the UK, Canada, Vietnam, China and now Zambia, where she is completing her PhD in Sustainable Tourism. For 3 1/2 years she taught English in Vietnam and China. Now she has turned her attention to writing, having contributed to a number of travel blogs and websites always focusing on what she loves most…exploring!