Rhode Island Travel Planning: When to Go

Contrary to what Rhode Island locals might tell you, nothing within the state’s boundaries is actually “far away” from anything else. Rhode Island comprises only about 1,500 square miles (over 500 of which are in territorial waters), and one can easily drive from one end of the state to the other in about an hour. But despite the relative ease with which one might cross a state line, there is something about Rhode Island that makes it difficult to leave. In fact, this tendency of Rhode Islanders to stay put has become something of a joke over the years; local gift shops have taken to selling bumper stickers and T-shirts depicting an anchor chained to the phrase “I never leave Rhode Island.”

The anchor, of course, is part of the state’s official insignia, a symbol representing steadfastness and hope. And like so much of Rhode Island’s history, culture, people, and landscape, it also represents an inextricable link to the sea.

The ocean permeates everything in Rhode Island, from the sandy beaches and inland farms to city streets where seagulls can still be heard crying overhead and salty breezes blow in from the bay. In Rhode Island, the ocean creates jobs, supplies food, and provides recreation and respite from the daily grind. It’s where the state gets its official name (after all, an island can’t exist without the sea), and it’s where it gets its nickname as well—the Ocean State.

A sailboat in the water near Newport Bridge at twilight.
Newport Bridge at twilight. Photo © Marianne Campolongo/dreamstime.

Perhaps this is why Rhode Islanders live for summer, when rising temperatures and sunny skies make the coast that much more appealing. But as with all New England states, Rhode Island has appeal in every season. Autumn means brilliant bright-orange and red foliage, and apple picking and hayrides at family-run orchards. Spring is an excuse to seek out the diaphanous pink blooms of the cherry blossom trees at one of over two dozen state parks. Even in the coldest winter months, visitors can enjoy the ineffable beauty of the Atlantic from behind the windowpanes of cozy seaside B&Bs or simply find warmth in the diversity and vibrancy of Providence or Newport, two of the nation’s most historic cities.

And the best thing about Rhode Island? Everything is a day trip—which sort of makes it difficult to leave.

When to Go to Rhode Island

Rhode Island is a year-round destination, but if you’re planning to take advantage of the Ocean State’s vast access to the water, focus your visit around the warmest months, generally from mid-May through mid-October and especially from mid-June through Labor Day. Keep in mind, however, that in Newport, Block Island, and South County, you’ll be competing with throngs of other sea lovers for space and parking at the beach, in restaurants, and at hotels.

Daffodils on Block Island, RI.
Daffodils on Block Island, RI. Photo © Liz Lee.

Newport and parts of South County have made an effort to attract off-season visitors; museums have begun keeping longer winter hours, and many hotels offer special rates in the off-season. Block Island, however, has few hotel options and even fewer dining options in winter.

The best compromise might be visiting in the shoulder season—in May, before Memorial Day, when the days are often warm and sunny, or in September, after Labor Day, when the ocean is at its warmest.

Because the colleges in Providence infuse downtown and College Hill with energy when the schools are in session, some visitors prefer fall, spring, and even winter in the state capital, which can seem empty in summer when there aren’t as many students. While Providence can sometimes be uncomfortably hot and muggy in July and August, it’s only a 45-minute drive to most of the state’s beaches, making it a completely reasonable place to make your home base for a summer visit. Winters are not brutal, but the state does get socked by the occasional snow or ice storms, and the wind and frigidity can be uncomfortable from December through March.

The most bewitching and scenic seasons in Rhode Island are spring, when the entire state is abloom with greenery and flowers, and fall, when the foliage changes color, the woods lighting up with brilliant swamp maples.

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