Set foot just about anywhere in Rhode Island, and you’ll find a lovely place for a hike, much of it flat, lots of it boosting your heart rate, and others downright challenging. In the latter category has to be Fort Barton and Highland Woods in Tiverton, a gorgeous hilly holding managed by the Tiverton Open Space and Land Preservation Commission.
If you just confine your walk up the rather steep hill to Fort Barton’s observation tower, you’ve done well. It’s a short walk, albeit a thigh burner, but the view is worth it, from the hill itself or atop an observation deck affording stunning views of Narragansett Bay, Aquidneck Island, Roger Williams University and the majestic Mount Hope Bridge.
To keep going, trek into Highland Woods, a 99-acre area with four miles of well-marked trails (maps are usually available at the trailhead) that take hikers through the pristine Sin and Flesh Brook area. The walks are steep in spots, with some wooden and/or earthen steps at the beginning but mostly you’re left to scramble up and down rock-and-root strewn trails, many of them angled at a pretty good pitch. Some spots are marginally challenging, and some are just flat, with watery patches navigable by boardwalks that kids love to linger on and poke into the water with sticks.
Slow and easy is the best way to handle walking the woods here. By and large, longer walks are probably not for those who aren’t in somewhat decent condition. But don’t be deterred; walk only as far as you feel comfortable, then turn around and come back.
It is a beautiful walk in a forest dominated by oaks and the only New England native broadleaf evergreen tree, the American holly. Other tree species include sassafras, beech, black cherry and white pine, along with red maple, tupelo and yellow birch. The brook, which provides a wonderfully calming tinkling cadence, winds through vernal ponds, slabs of exposed bedrock and boulders, and a diverse range of plants such as sweet pepperbush and highbush blueberry shrubs, netted chain ferns and herbs like Solomon’s purse, woodland agrimony and white wood aster.
Fort Barton is a Revolutionary War redoubt, the site chosen for its protective ocean overlook, and has a network of original earthen fortifications. According to pamphlets you’ll find at the site, American history was made here in July 1777 when Lt. Col William Barton led 40 men in small boats on a daring mission, slipping through British ships in the dark and eventually capturing British Commanding General Richard Prescott.
Fort Barton is a place you don’t know is there unless you know it’s there. It’s barely noticeable as you drive by on Highland Road, so keep an eye out for Tiverton Town Hall – Fort Barton is across the street. But if you like challenging walks and outstanding views, it’s a great place to set foot in.