George Washington Management Area
Rhode Island’s Walkabout Trail
To get there: From CT or MA, take 395 to exit 97, and go East on Route 44 about 5 miles. Look for the signs for George Washington Campground on the left. From Providence, take Rte 44 West.
Things to bring: a towel for a post-ride swim, $4 fee, and some supple legs and arms.
Navigation tips: Get a map at the trailhead, it's quite good. The narrow "trails" on the map are actually dirt roads. Plan to spend most of your time on the 8 mile Walkabout loop.
Terrain: Very technical with lots of rock gardens. Great for advanced riders. Beginners should stick to the dirt roads. Intermediate riders will be frustrated.
Are you looking for a short but spank-the-snot-out-of-you technical ride? Boy, do we have the place for you! The Walkabout Trail in the Northwest corner of Rhode Island doesn't offer a lot of singletrack distance-wise — only about 10 miles worth — but don't be fooled! What it does have is enough to tire and entertain for a few hours. Never has riding under 5 mph wailed on my body so hard.
Let me warn you though… as my riding friend Matt pointed out, this ride could be the most fun, or the worst in your life, depending on what you like. Don't come here unless you like rock gardens. Or dirt roads. There's nothing in between! You may want to invest in full suspension first.
The main trailhead is in George Washington State Park (adjacent to Pulaski Memorial State Forest), and there is a fee ($4 for non-RI residents, $2 for residents), but it rewards you with a nice swimming area, outhouses, and maps. The map is quite good, and also explains the unusual origin of the trails.
In 1965, Australian soldiers from the Royal Autralian Navy were stuck in Rhode Island, waiting for their brand new missile destroyer. So how does one amuse 300 soldiers for six weeks? The Division of Forests of Rhode Island had a great idea: build an 8-mile walking trail through the park. So for 2 weeks at a time, soldiers went out into the New England "Outback" and cut trail from 8:30AM to 4:00 PM every day, followed by some swimming, rugby, horseshoes, softball, and steak-sampling on the barbie by the reservoir. Some enjoyed it so much, they requested to stay for several months. And in the end, the trail was named the "Walkabout trail," in honor of the Autralian aborigine tradition of "going walkabout" from time to time, wandering through the bush with his family and meager belongings.
Almost 35 years later we can still enjoy the Walkabout trail. But from our experience visiting the park, the trail is barely being used — we ran into a man and his toddler maybe a half mile from the campground, and that was it. This was on Saturday of Labor Day weekend, and the campsites were all filled, but no one on the trails. Maybe it's because it doesn't offer much in the way of views, but from our point of view from atop a bicycle, it's a secret gem.
The trail is marked by three blazes: orange, red, and blue. They indicate three "walks" of different lengths, 2, 6, and 8 miles long. After about a mile, the blue-blazed shortcut peels off (and rejoins the Walkabout trail near its end). A while later, the red dots peel off, leaving only orange blazes on the trees.
The easiest way to navigate would be to simply follow the orange blazes (longest route). I'd maybe suggest doing it clockwise, since we found some nice, smoother downhills in the clockwise direction. To eek out a few more miles of riding, I would get a little fancier and do a figure eight, cutting across and doing the red-blazed shortcut twice. That way you get a really fun downhill twice. You can also add some dirt road for variety.
We explored the other "trails" marked on the map and were disappointed to find they were all just flat and boring dirt roads — some of them with houses on them! Imagine how confused we were at first, not finding trails where the narrow lines where, but finding a bunch of roads that didn't seem to be on the map! It took a while to figure that out. We wanted to make sure we weren't missing out on some secrets, so we rode Inner Border Road out towards Peck Pond and up Border Road. At one intersection, I happened to run into my good friend, Archie, (who is also Penny Davidson's landlord), taking a stroll while his friends were napping at Peck Pond. Is that weird or what? Archie told us that Peck Pond is a beautiful, clean place to take a dip — maybe a good alternative parking spot.
Anyway, heading up on Border Road, we convinced ourselves that there wasn't too much else out there. We did ride a few braids of trails and dirt roads by the power lines that indicated there may be a little more, but nothing too special. We tooled around a little bit in the hot sun, then headed back. After reading a snowmobile map we had received from the ranger kiosk, we also suspect there may be a couple of snowmobile trails between the Richardson Trail and the Walkabout trail, but we didn't notice them as we were riding. We'll leave that to you to explore!
There's a neat mix of stuff on this ride. In addition to the rocky and rooty sections, there's some really fast narrow singletrack, cool hemlock groves, ponds, bog bridges, corduroy. In fact, you'll find what I would claim to be the world's longest corduroy bridge — it must have been about a quarter mile long! It's not in great shape, though, so kudos to anyone out there that can clean the entire length, I want to shake your hand. And of course, there are those huge rock gardens. In some cases they are so challenging you lose your rhythm, and you may even want to throw your bike in the bushes. But then you can get back on and get going again with a smile on your face. Luckily, there are no heinous hike-a-bike sections or too many really long or steep climbs (after all, this is Rhode Island!)
If you look on the map, the downhills are marked with arrows, and two arrows means steeper, but they really are very mild. Don't use the map for navigation, but it should give you a good idea what you're in for. We couldn't investigate one segment of the trail in the southwest because we were warned about a goshawk nesting in the area and we didn't want to be attacked. But we can only assume it's just as good stuff.
We judged the Walkabout Trail to be about 85% rideable. Regardless, the other 15% sent mehome totally bruised and scraped up. So check it out. And when you come back with the snot beat out of you, don't say we didn't warn you!
Venturing out of the area described abouve there is actually quite a bit more riding at the George Washington Management Area. Check the referenced map.
By Krisztina Holly