This is a revisit to a park, Blackstone River and Canal Heritage State Park, Beth and I hiked to (with my mother sitting in the van waiting) back in February of 2010. We said back then we’d visit again, and it’s taken us 10 years, but we went back with friends and were correct in 2010. This is a beautiful park. Enjoy the post below, written ten years ago, but supplemented with photos from our trip this past weekend.
When two state parks turn into one!
We headed out this morning with the idea of going both to this park and Roger Williams down near Providence, RI. Lillian wanted a drive so she joined us for the drive south, and a beautiful day it was but very blustery. It brought to mind Winnie the Pooh and his balloons! And even with the sun it was COLD! We took the scenic route based on notes from the website, but in our book it didn’t qualify as scenic. The mill villages aren’t readily apparent until you’re almost to the park and we would have preferred more time at the park itself. But there is an amazing mill building complex just as you turn out of the center of town, that has been turned into housing and it is definitely worth checking out. We’re wishing we’d taken pictures when we were there! Beautiful buildings and beautiful modern use while maintaining the historic look and feel.
Great trail system for a park!
We found the River Bend Farm Visitors Center easily. Nice and warm, clean restrooms, great maps, and a sign noting that this park is one of the Top Ten canoeing sites in New England. Seems kind of strange given all the places to canoe in the area, but with nice long canals and pools, easy put-ins, lots of picnic tables and bbq grills, we can imagine this is an awesome place to laze away a summer day. Lillian did not want to walk around in the wind and cold so she stayed in the car as we headed out across the bridge. We immediately saw the attraction of this park. Lots of nice flat, wide, open walking trails that run along the canal, and huge open fields
Note: When we visited in 2020, with COVID-19 restrictions, we didn’t see any signs about canoeing, or canoes available to rent, but there were also no signs saying you couldn’t do that. If you’re a canoer or kayaker and want to take advantage of this beautiful location, I’d say go for it.
Healthy Heart Trails, the reason we chose the park in the first place
There is also a clearly marked Healthy Heart Trail at this park (note: as of 2020 this path isn’t as clearly marked!), and access to stamps for children keeping their Park Passports updated (In 2020, educational programs are not available.). The map provided is very easy to read and the people working in the visitor center were very helpful to point out nearby attractions that link to the trails including Blackstone Gorge, Millville Lock, the Stone Arch Bridge and various wildlife viewing areas. (Note: during current visiting restrictions, the visitor center and restrooms are not available) Some historic buildings are managed by non-profit groups in the area and there is a fee, but for most of this park all areas are fee free! We had hoped to drive over to the Gorge but time ran short so we wandered the immediate park and highly recommend it as a place to go when you’ve got a full day! The day we were there the towpath trails were busy with people walking their dogs or taking photos, and I even saw one brave person fishing through the ice. Not sure what he was catching in that fast flowing water, but he seemed prepared to spend the day.
There’s more than hiking at this park
The park features include maple sugaring and we saw the lines hooked up. Sugaring begins in March and the visitor’s center had flyers for some events related to that. There are also numerous places to put in canoes and kayaks, and along many parts of the canal it appears the current is slow enough for a leisurely paddle without actually going anywhere. Hunting is also allowed. We saw signs as we walked along the edge of one field, so wearing brightly colored clothing might be a good idea during hunting season. In addition, mountain biking, and cross-country skiing, is clearly available, although even in February there wasn’t enough snow on the ground to accomplish any real skiing or snowshoeing. It also appears that the park may have canoes for rent. We saw a number stacked up behind the visitor’s center, but they may be part of the interpretive programs the park runs so call before you go if you plan on trying to rent. (Note: in 2020 there were no canoes for rent however the visitor center was not open, so they may have been stored away)The Blackstone River Watershed Association holds a kayak/canoe race in the Spring and also various events through the warmer months educating about the ecology of the river, and promoting enjoyment of this area.
The history behind Blackstone River and Canal Heritage State Park
The canals located here were originally developed to connect Worcester and Providence. Water from the Blackstone River powered the first successful textile mill, the Slater Mill in Pawtucket, RI. It was this mill and the related canals that spurred the movement in our country from farm to factory, so this is the birthplace of the other mills we’ve visited in Lawrence, and in the coming weeks, Lowell. The towpaths that are now hiking paths, were used by donkeys or horses to pull the boats through these sections of the canal. Note: In 2020, if you walk all the way to the far end of the trail (opposite the Goat Hill Lock) you’ll see what’s left of an old woolen mill. It has been majorly renovated and is being leased out for various purposes
Don’t kayak? You can get a boat tour!
If you’d like to see the Blackstone River by boat, and you don’t have your own to paddle, there are a number of options including the Blackstone Valley Explorer, a 49-passenger riverboat. It appears that on the last Sunday of the month in May, June, July and August they give FREE river boat rides. The boat leaves from two different locations depending on the time of year, and both are located in Rhode Island. There are also a number of canoe clubs and rentals in the area including the Blackstone Valley Paddle Club, and the Wampanoag Paddlers, so if you’re looking for water fun you’ve found it here!
A short visit and we’ve learned there’s more in our backyard than we thought!
More and more we’re realizing the amazing amount of history that’s just around the corner from home! We plan on returning to this park when the weather is nicer, with a picnic and Tucker, and maybe a bike or a kayak in tow so we can really spend a traditional summer day in the country. When we started these blog trips we had the right idea by leaving in the early morning, but with winter and the iffy weather we’ve delayed our trips til mid-day and we’re losing out! So with the longer days and hopefully warmer weather we’ll be getting back on track and spending full days exploring!
Skip the scenic route!
I do have to say that while we saw this park as the essential “day in the country” kind of destination, on the way to this park we did not have the feeling we were going to “the country”. As noted, we read the website and it recommended a scenic route to see mill villages along the way. Don’t bother using that longer route. You’ll drive through a lot of condominium construction, prefab housing, and very few places where you could stop for lunch or a quick coffee. So plan accordingly. On our trip we ended up driving back to Waltham for lunch at Bertucci’s! The parks close at 4 or 4:30 so we didn’t have time to drive further south to see the gorge or head to Providence but this is an area you could definitely head to for a weekend getaway and have plenty to see and do! We recommend it and will keep it on our list of local places we enjo!
As of 2020 we deemed this a park we want to return to in the Fall. The leaves along the canal will be beautiful! Definitely a great spot for family, friends, and even dogs (on leash) any time of the year.
In memory of – Our inspiration and our travelling companions. As with my previous revisited posts from those hikes back in 2010, this one is dedicated to Ed (Beth’s father) and Lillian (my mother) who were both dealing with major health issues at that time, and were the reason we started the hiking blog back then. Tucker was also a frequent companion on these hikes, but on this particular one, he stayed at home, while Lillian sat in the parking lot and waited for us. Here’s to Ed and Lillian. We’re continuing to do what you always told us to do, get out into the world and explore, enjoy, and share with others!