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Top Park: Colt State Park

Get quahogs or get hitched in Bristol park

Colt State ParkRoute 114, Bristol (click for map)Open sunrise to sunset, year-round

If your ideal park features interstate traffic, high-capacity power lines and views of massive gas tanks, Providence's India Point Park is a perfect match. For everyone else, Colt State Park in Bristol is the top retreat from Little Rhody's bustling metropolis.

The park's 464 meticulously maintained acres include sports fields, pine groves, picnic areas and trails. Vast lawns are blank canvases for recreationists - kite fliers, Frisbee players, artists, readers and sunbathers all happily share the space.

The Ocean State's namesake splashes up against much of Colt's perimeter, giving the park its unique character. Salty breezes and rhythmic waves set city dwellers' senses at ease. Warwick, four miles across Narragansett Bay, manages to look downright scenic.

Sea birds and anglers fishing from the park's shore add live entertainment to the picturesque scenery. Locals also dig for shellfish in the appetizingly named Mill Gut salt marsh in the park's north end. Bring along your clam rake and experience the authentic Rhody thrill of harvesting quahogs.

Downtown Bristol, a mile south of the park's entrance, offers reliable food options if you doubt your survival skills. Your food will taste best after some exercise, so pack it away while you explore the quaint, 328-year-old town and its giant park on bike or foot. Colt's main paved path winds along the shore, through groves and past gardens in its four-mile loop. It also connects to the 14.5-mile East Bay Bike path.

Abundant tables and endless grass attract picnic traditionalists, while more progressive picnickers can find prime seating on seaside granite boulders. Got romantic objectives? Cap off the day with dinner for two on the pier at sunset.

If the date goes well, you can reserve three hours at the open-air "Chapel-by-the-Sea" for just $15. Reservations and a modest fee are required for events at other large sites with fireplaces or a gazebo, but admission and everything else at the park is free.

Unless you are in fact arriving at your own wedding, you don't need a car to visit Colt State Park. (Even so, I once saw a wedding party do a lap around the park on bikes.) Load your set of wheels on the front of RIPTA's no. 60 bus at Kennedy Plaza, take a power nap during the ride and hop off in Bristol. The 16-mile trip takes about 15 minutes longer by bus than by car, but it's free for anyone with a Brown ID. The park is still only 40 minutes by bus from Providence - but it's a world apart.


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