FOSTER. R.I. — “Only five minutes until we reach the summit!” That’s not something you’ll typically hear while you’re still standing in the parking lot, staring at the entrance to a trail. This is especially true when you’re talking about reaching a state’s highest point. But Jerimoth Hill isn’t a typical destination. Where else in America can you reach a state’s pinnacle in less time than it takes to make a grilled cheese sandwich?
At 812 feet above sea level, Jerimoth Hill is the fifth-lowest state high point in the United States. In other words, 45 states have natural spots with higher elevations (Mississippi, Florida, Louisiana, and Delaware are the exceptions). Rhode Island isn’t known as a climbing destination, but that doesn’t stop thousands of visitors each year from scaling the hill. There is an odd sense of accomplishment one feels after completing the brief journey. Sure, trails that loop around ponds are longer than Jerimoth Hill’s, but those don’t reach the highest point in Rhode Island.
The hill is perfect for beginners looking to dabble in the world of high-pointing. There is no need for local guides, dehydrated tuna, oxygen masks, or carabiners. The trail is wide and smooth (there is, however, a foreboding sign posted at the trailhead warning of coyotes). The journey from the road to the summit is so short, in fact, that there is initial doubt that the hike is over when first reaching the rock sculpture that marks the peak. That ambiguity goes away upon the discovery of the heavy duty metal box containing a logbook. Inside are hundreds of signatures from people who braved the brief stroll. There are also numerous signed rocks that’ve been added to the sculpture at the summit.
There is a community of climbers known as “high pointers” who seek to summit the highest point in each state, and despite Jerimoth Hill’s puny nature, they once regarded it as one of the hardest summits to scale. That’s because for many years, the hill and access to its trail were on private property. The site was donated to Brown University in 1955, and the school welcomed visitors, but a property owner who controlled the access from Route 101 was far less accommodating. The state was able to purchase the access in 2011, and acquired the entire property from Brown in 2014 (although the university still occasionally uses it for astronomical programs).
“I think people in Rhode Island are sort of proud when they go,” says Lisa Primiano, chief of the Division of Planning and Development for the Department of Environmental Management. “A lot of people are appreciative that they can get to it and it’s now owned by the state, so we get a lot of positive feedback.”
Jerimoth Hill’s status as Rhode Island’s highest point has also been disputed over the years, with some claiming Gloucester’s Durfee Hill was taller. A survey in 1886 gave the title to Durfee, but in 1942, the designation was awarded to Jerimoth, and it retains the (flyweight) title to this day.
The area surrounding the hill, near the Connecticut border, is loaded with scenic drives, farms, nurseries, and antique shops. Climbing the hill may not be a daylong activity, but Foster offers plenty to do. Right near Jerimoth Hill, the Killingly Pond Management Area has trails snaking through forests and wetlands, and a very diverse assortment of wildlife.
Jon Mael can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.