FOSTER, R.I. — Just look at New Hampshire, so smug about its 4,000 footers.
The Granite State has a billboard on Route 95 heading north, into Providence, showing a scene of two people standing on a cliff somewhere in the wilderness, with the invitation: “Take A Trip That Tops Them All.”
Well, maybe some of us are afraid of heights. Maybe we don’t have all day to traipse up and down a mountain. Maybe we’d rather not meet a bear. Maybe, as a popular bumper sticker says, some of us never leave Rhode Island.
We can still earn the bragging rights of hiking the highest peaks of, well, right here. Despite appearances, Rhode Island is not the flattest state in the nation. (Looking at you, Florida, Delaware, Louisiana, and Mississippi.)
New Hampshire’s 4,000-footers, meet Rhode Island’s 400-plus-footers. Won’t take too long to top them all.
In fact, there are only seven so-called summits above 400 feet in Rhode Island, according to the state Department of Environmental Management. And, despite local legend, the Central Landfill in Johnston is not one of them. (It’s only 250 feet high, and, no, you can’t climb it.)
While the highest points in Rhode Island don’t have vistas, and you probably won’t even know when you’ve reached the summit, they offer their own rewards.
Exploring nature is always a good thing. Maybe these little peaks will whet your appetite to climb the bigger ones. To make it even easier, the routes to these four of the tallest start near the top. As always, wear plenty of bug spray and orange clothing during hunting season.
And if you’re craving vistas, Rhode Island has about 400 miles of shoreline with views galore. Eat your heart out, New Hampshire.
Jerimoth Hill, Elevation 812
You could hike the highest peak in Rhode Island while walking backwards in flipflops. The highway that takes you to the trailhead climbs nearly all of the elevation, and then it’s only 330 steps along a well-marked path through a pine forest to the “summit.”
Be grateful that you can get there at all. For many years, Rhode Island’s highest point was distinctive for being the most inaccessible of any state, said Stony Burk, Highpointers Club state liaison and board member of the Highpointers Foundation.
Jerimoth Hill is beloved by peak baggers and dark-sky aficionados; the summit had been donated to Brown University in 1953 to be used for astronomy.
But until 2014, the only way to reach the top was by cutting across private property, and a former abutter was notorious for fending off would-be climbers. “I knew people who were chased off property with a bedpost,” Burk said. “He was known to slash tires, key vehicles.”
The Highpointers Club worked out agreements by 1999 to allow open access days for hikers on certain national holidays. About a hundred people a day would show up, wanting to stand on the large rock in the clearing that served as the summit, Burk said.
“The whole experience was fun, interesting, and weird,” he added.
It wasn’t perfect, and Lincoln Chafee, who was a U.S. senator at the time, got involved when he heard about two Alaskan hikers who were held at gunpoint by the angry abutter and threatened with arrest, Burk said.
That began conversations between Chafee and the Highpointers, Brown University, and other officials to come up with solutions that respected the property owners and hikers. The state bought the abutting property in 2008, and by 2014, when Chafee was governor, the state DEM acquired the entire 5.5 acre property from Brown, with an agreement that the university could continue using part of the property for astronomical study.
Finally, the summit and those dark skies are open to all.
Follow Route 101 west nearly to the Connecticut line and look for the Jerimoth Hill road sign on the right. There’s a small pull-off, and the trail is on the eastbound side.
There are many signs to guide you on the wide path, which passes a survey marker and ends at a large rock topped with a cairn. Nearby are the dilapidated buildings previously used by Brown University astronomy students and faculty, and a concrete pad where they set up their telescopes.
The Highpointers Club has a log book inside an ammo box. All of the log books are collected and will eventually end up in a Highpointers museum, Burk said. While there are entries from people all over the world who have come to bag Rhode Island’s highest peak, some simply wonder, “Is this it?”
Yes, it is. Sign the log, and pose for your selfie: You’re at the top of Rhode Island.
Benson Mountain, elevation 744, and Buck Hill, elevation 664
Buck Hill Management Area, Burrillville, R.I.
You can find solitude along the woods roads and trails of Buck Hill, in the northwest corner of the state. Some will take hikers to the tri-state marker, a granite obelisk deep in the woods, where you can straddle the boundaries of Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Connecticut.
If your goal is getting to the top of somewhere high, then you’ll enter the park at its southwest point, off Buck Hill Road, about 2.2 miles west from Wallum Lake Road and shortly after Cod Farm Brook Road. From the parking lot, you’ll hike past a gate and along an old woods road.
This will connect you to Benson Mountain Trail, which splits when it reaches a dam at Buck Hill Pond, fed by Leeson Brook. Follow the left fork up as it takes you along the ridge of Benson Mountain. (Noise carries from the races at the Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park in Connecticut only a few miles away, so plan your visit accordingly.)
You won’t notice that you’ve reached any kind of summit of either Benson Mountain or Buck Hill. This is just a long woods road through oak, maple, and birch, with some trails leading off into wild fields, surrounding forests busy with wildlife.
You can take your first trail off to the right, Starr Road, and follow it across the brook, then right down a rocky marked trail that winds down along the pond. At the end, take the other fork of Benson Mountain Trail through mountain laurel. This will eventually lead you to the blue markings of the North-South Trail, the 77-mile trail that runs from the top to the bottom of Rhode Island.
Turning north here will take to you a trail register for hikers to sign and a marker in memory of “Tiger Mike” Pleiss, a retired Fall River police lieutenant, who hiked the entire Appalachian trail in 2015. Go a little further north, and an unmarked trail veers off to the right to Wallum Lake. Follow it down to the water’s edge and dip your aching feet, before retracing your steps back to your car.
You’ll visit the North-South Trail on the next peak.
Escoheag Hill, elevation 551
Arcadia Wildlife Management Area, West Greenwich, R.I.
This was once the home to the Pine Top Ski Area, overlooking the valley where the Falls River runs, on the edge of the 14,000 acre Arcadia Management Area. You can start at the top in an unmarked parking area on west on Escoheag Hill Road, just past Falls River Road. Walk through the gate into a meadow, and birdsong erupts around you.
Follow the woods road as it meanders through meadows, forest stands, and remnants of the old ski area. The path will open up onto somewhat of a view of the valley, and overgrown ski trails veer off to the sides. All paths lead down to the bottom, where the blue marked North-South Trail crosses. Head to the right for a treat.
The trail parallels the brook, which after good spring rains will draw you with sounds of the falls. There are game trails that lead to Upper Deep Hole. Visit quietly for a while, and you’ll see the wildlife drawn to the small pond. Continue on until Falls River Road intersects, then turn left to stop by Stepstone Falls, and enjoy the waterfalls.
From here, you continue exploring more in Arcadia. This is Rhode Island’s largest management area, with webs of trails throughout that are popular with hikers, mountain bikers, hunters and horseback riders.
You can either retrace your steps or follow Falls River Road to the end, on Escoheag Hill Road, then go right to the parking area. Either way, with or without a view from the top, it makes for a lovely day trip.