In the late 1800s wealthy New Yorkers began coming to Newport, Rhode Island to escape the suffocating summer heat in the city. They built the most extravagant "cottages" ever seen in America on the rocky bluffs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.
No matter how impressive the mansion or how rich the owner, however, no one's property could extend all the way to the shoreline. By virtue of "Fisherman's Rights" granted by the Colonial Charter of King Charles II and a provision in the Rhode Island Constitution, the public is always guaranteed the legal right to walk along a small sliver of cliff.
Not that the powerful residents on the other sides of the gates have always agreed with that right. In the past bushes were planted, walls erected and even bulls grazed to discourage use by the public. Other owners embraced the Cliff Walk and helped develop it from a mere footpath. Some tunnels were built and flagstones placed in muddy stretches. Eventually the federal government stepped in to help rebuild the path after erosion during hurricanes. In 1975, the Cliff Walk was named the first National Recreation Trail in New England.
Today the Cliff Walk rambles for about 3.5 miles, about two of which are paved and easy to hike. The first mile calls to mind a stroll in a city park with manicured grass and an abundance of flowers. Your dog will be walking on nail-grinding asphalt and concrete sidewalk. As you move along the path deteriorates into broken asphalt and dirt but the views improve as you reach the jawdropping relics of the Gilded Age - mansions constructed as summer cottages from about 1870 to 1915.
Continuing past the paved path, the Cliff Walk turns rustic with some walking on unprotected, open cliff faces and boulder hopping. It requires concentration but any level of canine hiker can negotiate the trip. If you continue to the end of the Cliff Walk you will drop to ocean's edge and Reject's Beach where your dog can get a swim. At the end of the Cliff Walk you have the option of returning by the same route along the black Atlantic rocks or exiting into the town and walking back on the sidewalks in front of the mansions whose backyards you have just walked through.
Adjacent to the northern end of the Cliff Walk is First Beach, open to dogs in the off-season. There is about 3/4 of a mile of sandy shoreline to hike with your dog here.
The Cliff Walk begins at Memorial Boulevard and ends at the southern end of Bellevue Avenue. In the off-season there may be parking near the northern terminus at First Beach. Dogs are welcome all along the Cliff Walk and Poop Bags are even provided at the start on Memorial Boulevard.
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