Last April, we had a memorable camping experience at Fort McAllister State Park in Georgia. So much so that we vowed we would camp in a state park again on our next US road trip, and that’s what we did on our way through New England, stopping for a few days at Burlingame State Park in Rhode Island.
Unfortunately for us, the weather was not as good as during our trip to Georgia, but despite the heavy rain we still enjoyed exploring another state park. And for a first experience of camping and hiking in Rhode Island, it didn’t turn out so badly!
Here is an overview of our stay at Burlingame State Park.
A bit of history
Burlingame State Park protects more than 3,000 acres of land around Watchaug Pond near Charlestown in the southwest of the state. As the state park is located very close to the coast, it is an important migratory stopover for birds. In fact, the Audubon Society was the first to protect land near Watchaug Pond, when it created the Kimball Wildlife Sanctuary in 1927.
The state followed by also acquiring land around the lake in 1930. The park was named in honor of a longtime chairman of the Rhode Island State Parks Commission, Edwin A. Burlingame. The campground opened in 1934.
As the park is centered around Watchaug Pond (a kettle lake formed when glaciers retreated during the Ice Age), it is popular for its water activities (there are a few beaches and boat ramps). But with the weather being a bit gloomy when we were there, we took advantage of our stay to explore the trails and the forest of the park.
Vin Gormley Trail
The Vin Gormley Trail is the main trail in Burlingame State Park. This trail of about 13 kilometres (8 miles) goes around Watchaug Pond, and passes through the park’s quiet forest and its wetlands.
The trail is named after John Vincent Gormley, a volunteer who for a long time developed and maintained the trail. Often alone, he cut down diseased trees, blazed the trail and built several of the boardwalks that span the small streams and the bogs. In 1991, the state of Rhode Island officially renamed the trail after him.
Since the trail is quite long and a small portion of it is along the road (outside of the state park), I didn’t follow it all the way. But the parts that I hiked were very pretty and well-marked, and gave the impression of being light years away from civilization.
Kimball Wildlife Refuge
As I wrote above, the Audubon Society started protecting a small territory of 29 acres south of Watchaug Pond in 1927. In 2015, the lands of the small wildlife sanctuary were sold to the state of Rhode Island, which incorporated them into Burlingame State Park.
There are still a few trails there, which are connected to the Vin Gormley Trail. From the campground, we were able to follow a loop of about 6 kilometres (3.5 miles) which allowed us to explore the pretty mixed forest. I was even surprised that the trail had a few small climbs and descents. I guess Rhode Island is not as flat as I was expecting it to be!
Burlingame State Campground is very, very big. It has more than 700 rustic camping sites! In fact, before getting there, I was a little worried that the state park would be so crowded that it wouldn’t allow me to enjoy the peace and quiet of nature…
Finally, perhaps because we were there during the week and the weather was gloomy, the campground was far from full. And I think that because it is so big, it has enough space to make it feel not crowded at all. We were therefore able to enjoy some quiet time under the tall pine trees of our camping site.
The sites have no service (no electricity or water), but the campground has shower facilities, a playground, canoe rental services, a naturalist centre, a general store and… an arcade!
So it ended up being another successful camping experience in a state park! And the sun even showed up on our last morning at Burlingame State Park, making us a bit sad that we needed to leave, but excited about the rest of our road trip in Rhode Island!