Exploring Rhode Island: Prudence Island

One of Rhode Island’s strangest little places, Prudence Island—which is about six miles long by a mile wide—lies just a few miles southwest of Bristol in the middle of Narragansett Bay. Technically it’s within the town limits of Portsmouth, just to the east. It was entirely wooded until the Revolutionary War, when the British used it as a source of lumber. Despite being the third-largest island in Rhode Island after Aquidneck and Conanicut, the island now has fewer than 100 year-round residents, including just a few summer homes and a small convenience store to pass for civilization.

Of course, that makes it a nature-lover’s dream, with the densest white-tailed deer herd in New England, as well as wading birds such as great blue herons. It’s an ideal spot for beachcombing, hikes, and taking advantage of nature lectures and strolls, which are sponsored by the Audubon Society of Rhode Island (401/949-5454).

The shoreline at the Prudence Island Ferry dock
The shoreline at the Prudence Island Ferry dock. Photo © mcdonojj/123rf.

Near the boat docks at the southern end of the island and a four-mile bike ride or hike from the ferry landing, the Narragansett Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (S. Reserve Dr., 401/683-6780, 11am-3pm Fri.-Mon., and by appointment), encompasses many acres of salt marsh, tidal flats and pools, forest, and even a historic farm site. Birding is a favorite activity at the reserve, where you’ll also find a butterfly garden and several nature trails. A mile’s walk from the boat docks is the 25-foot-high Prudence Island Light, which stands sentinel on the island’s east side. The lighthouse itself is not open for tours, but the grounds are open from sunrise to sundown.

While this is a great place for exploring, keep in mind that deer ticks are a major problem on the island—take necessary precautions when exploring, especially in wooded areas. No bridges connect the island to the mainland or Aquidneck. Transportation is by the Prudence Island Ferry (147 Thames St., Bristol, 401/683-0430, $2.85 adults, $1 children under 12) which runs several boats from Bristol sunrise-sunset daily. You can also dock your own vessel at the southern tip of Prudence Island. Unfortunately, camping is not permitted.

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