Two Feet, Two Bucks*: Exploring scenic RI via bus

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Most of the bad things people say about RIPTA are true except when they say RIPTA is poorly managed or dangerous. For the money it spends, RI actually excels at putting clean, reliable buses on the road. Traffic congestion, rather than mismanagement, is why they don’t run as punctually as they could. The other big problem is a route system essentially unmodified since the streetcar days. Still, most people, if they think about it at all, can’t think of one thing RIPTA does right. Well, here’s a thing: RI boasts the most awesome bus line in New England – maybe anywhere.

What if you wanted to design a giant Historic Seaside New England Theme Park? Don’t bother, we already have one: The charming East Bay towns on Narragansett Bay! They even come complete with a people mover that whisks visitors from from one attraction to the next, cleverly disguised as a humble local bus, the #60.

The #60 connects Newport and Providence, two of the best little cities anywhere to visit or live in, if you like to walk. Between them, a 25-mile region of salt water, peninsulas and islands is packed with beautiful harbors, beaches, parks, historic sites, charming towns and villages, quality dining, shopping, museums, galleries, gardens, mansions, breweries, wineries, farms plus hidden gem hikes to spectacular scenery, solitude, and primeval surroundings. Who knew? Practically all of it is accessible by public transit, a world best explored in detail on foot. And better than a theme park because everything is genuine.

If you can master a bus tracker app, plus a bit of timing strategy, you can use the #60 as a half-hourly hop-on, hop-off tour bus without having to wait long at the stops. So what if it’s not a monorail? It keeps on schedule better than you think. Sure, a car lets you make your own schedule but you always have to walk back to where you parked. Freedom is getting off, following your face, and getting back on at a different stop for serendipity’s sake. Most of all, no one should ever have to deny themselves a nice buzz just because they will need to drive.

A trip on the #60 takes 70 minutes end to end, only about 20 minutes longer when compared to driving. The commute time difference between bus riding and driving is even shorter if you consider time spent parking. Plus, riding is more interesting than being alone in a car. Basic etiquette is to quietly mind your own business, but usually you notice the regulars who seem to know each other and the driver. Friendly chat among passengers is common and you are within bounds to attempt, decline, or ignore it. If you’re new to the route, you can ask the driver to notify you of your stop. Most riders thank the driver as they depart. You witness constant inconsiderate and dangerous behavior from behind the wheel of a car, but not inside a #60 bus.

Journeying on foot puts you in a special state of mind. Why not indulge that spirit from the moment you leave your front door until the moment you walk back in? Car rides break the spell. A bus ride is just a bit of help and a chance to rest on your footloose journey.

This begins a series of detailed excursion guides for those curious about things to do and see all along the #60 route through the East Bay towns of RI. Some destinations may be combined to fill a day’s outing, while others will occupy a full day. If you are unfamiliar with using buses, I hope one of these suggested bus travels motivates you to try a different kind of out-of-town mini vacation real soon.

First up is an easy hike to Barrington Beach

Map by Andy Nosal, former owner of The Map Center in Pawtucket.

When someone’s dating profile mentions “Long walks on the beach,” they could be picturing Barrington Beach. Nothing much is there except a smooth sandy two mile crescent on Narragansett Bay, perfect for meditative strolling and viewing parks, islands, bridges, a lighthouse, various boats — and sometimes, quahoggers. From the bus stop to the beach is a relaxing one and a quarter mile hike through woods and by ponds. After briefly passing some strip malls and a supermarket, you will see no shops or eateries, so pack a drink and snacks. Trails are wide and flat with just a few uneven and muddy sections. You can take a two-and-a-half to four-and-a-half mile hike, depending on how much beach walking you decide to do — an excellent morning or afternoon’s getaway.

From bus #60 northbound (PVD bound) get off at Barrington Shopping Center, cross County Road at the light and turn left a short way to Bosworth Street. The southbound (Newport bound) stop is directly before Bosworth. Walk right, west on Bosworth Street to a dead end and continue straight on a broad path into the woods. About a third of a mile from the bus stop, you’ll pass the backyard of the Bayside YMCA. Next, the trail bends left, you’ll come to a crossing, and then a few side trails to your right. These all lead short distances across a dirt road to Brickyard Pond, worth a closer look!

To time your return, note how long it took you to walk from the bus to this pondside area and take a good look at the path you arrived on. On your way back you will want to make sure you found it. Then you may explore the pond’s shore or linger on a bench in this nice spot until departing on the final leg of your hike. The idea is to know when your bus will stop and how long it took to walk here so you can leave with five minutes to spare.

To head for the beach, turn your back to the pond, follow any path across the dirt road, and turn right on a well worn path that roughly parallels the dirt road. Avoid the first prominent trail on the left. Then keep left at two more junctions. Soon you’ll emerge onto Nayatt Road, almost directly across from Bluff Road, a quiet two-block street that ends at the beach, stretching away in both directions. The town swimming area with a seasonal restroom is to your left. Make a mental note of the stone wall at the foot of Bluff Road, so you can find it and return the way you came.

* The cost of a single RIPTA bus fare is $2. The cost for unlimited rides all day is $6 when you pay with a Wave smart card or the Wave app. To download, look for RIPTA Wave in the App Store and on Google Play.