Dramatic seascapes, the cry of gulls, the sound of crashing waves, the salt air, all contribute to making Newport’s Cliff Walk a fabulous experience. The Cliff Walk runs along the eastern shoreline of Newport, behind many of town’s famous mansions. It is deservedly world-famous as a public access walk that combines the architecture of Newport’s gilded age with the natural beauty of the Newport shoreline. The walk was designated the 65th National Recreation Trail in 1975, the first in New England.
Historians believe the famous Cliff Walk started as a game trail for deer and was used as a trail by the Narragansett Indians. Newport began to develop as a summer getaway for the super-wealthy in the late 1800s. The wealthy began to build mansions along the shore to escape the heat of the cities in the summer because remember, there was no air conditioning back then. Around 1880 the estate owners began to improve the trail, running behind their mansions, and the Cliff Walk started to evolve into what it is today.
About two-thirds of the walk is easy but areas of the trail are over rough and rocky shoreline, with slippery areas. There are places, just a couple of feet from the path, where the drop-offs are more than 70 feet. Some of these dangers are partially hidden by bushes. Even for experienced hikers, the whole route takes almost three hours to complete. I would only walk it in good weather in the warmer months, as ice and snow cause additional hazards. Watch out for poison ivy, bring water, and wear good walking shoes.
I would suggest skipping the rugged and somewhat dangerous southern part of the walk, particularly if you have young children or are not too athletic. One option is to park at The Breakers and access the Cliff Walk from Ruggles Avenue, which is only a short walk to the south. Once on the trailhead north of The Breakers towards Narragansett Avenue, the beginning of Cliff Walk is at Memorial Boulevard. This route lets you avoid the rugged southern section and tour both The Breakers and the Cliff Walk.
Parking for Cliff Walk and Forty Steps is located at the end of Narragansett Avenue with a pay-by-plate parking meter. The pay station is located next to the restrooms. There are public access points at Bellevue Avenue, Ledge Road, Marine Avenue, Ruggles Avenue, Sheppard Avenue, Webster Street, and Narragansett Avenue.
The Cliff Walk remains one of the most popular attractions in Newport and is well worth a visit. If you’re looking for something really different and very special give the fabulous Cliff Walk a try. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed. There’s a lot of great information and an interactive map here.