The Forty Steps staircase entrance to Newport's Cliff Walk

photo by: m01229/Flickr/CC 2.0

January 5, 2016

Life on the Edge: Explore Newport, Rhode Island’s Cliff Walk

  • By: Katharine Keane

Newport, Rhode Island, has historically been known as the playground of some the nation’s wealthiest families. With the construction of dozens of summer “cottages” by such families as the Astors and Vanderbilts in the early 20th century, Newport’s Bellevue Avenue has since become a top tourist destination and National Historic District.

Running 3.5 miles along Newport’s eastern shore just below these Gilded Age homes—many of which now function as opulent house museums—sits one of Rhode Island’s most visited tourist destinations: the Cliff Walk.

Designated as a National Recreational Trail in 1975, the Cliff Walk welcomes more than 750,000 visitors annually and provides the perfect opportunity to work off the classic, but highly caloric, New England clam chowder and lobster rolls featured in many of the city’s waterfront restaurants.

Cliff Walk in Newport, Rhode Island

photo by: Library of Congress, LC-D4-11395

The Cliff Walk in 1890.

Two women walk along Newport's Cliff Walk in 1880

photo by: Library of Congress, LC-D4-11394

The Cliff Walk in 1880.

Your Historic Walk

The trail begins at Memorial Boulevard adjacent to Eaton’s Beach (also known as First Beach), where there is available parking. For a more abbreviated walk featuring some of the best mansion views, park at The Forty Steps on Narragansett Avenue and begin by passing the campus of Salve Regina University.

From the Cliff Walk you will be able to see the Vanderbilt family’s 1895 National Historic Landmark mansion, the Breakers. When Cornelius Vanderbilt II had this summer home built, it was Newport’s largest and most opulent mansion and remained in the family until 1948 when his daughter Countess Gladys Vanderbilt Széchenyi donated it to the Preservation Society of Newport County.

Next on the walk is Rosecliff, built by Theresa Fair Oelrichs in 1902 and modeled after Le Petit Trianon of Versailles. In 1971, its new owners Mr. and Mrs. J. Edgar Monroe also donated it to the Preservation Society of Newport County including an endowment for its protection and continued upkeep. Rosecliff was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.

Past Sheep Point sits another Vanderbilt estate, the Beaux-Arts Marble House, which is best known for its Chinese Tea House, modeled after twelfth-century Song Dynasty temples, which sits overlooking the water.

This walk culminates with views of Belcourt Castle and Rough Point. Built in the second half of the 19th century, Belcourt underwent a comprehensive restoration in 2013 after being sold to a private owner. Originally constructed for Frederick W. Vanderbilt in the late 1800s, Rough Point was eventually purchased by the Duke family and later inhabited by Doris Duke who bequeathed the estate to the Newport Restoration Foundation upon her death in 1993. You can read more about Doris Duke’s investment in Newport in the Winter 2016 issue of Preservation magazine.

Katharine Keane headshot

Katharine Keane is a former editorial assistant at Preservation Magazine. She enjoys getting lost in new cities, reading the plaques at museums, and discovering the next great restaurant.

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