New England has a lot to offer outdoor enthusiasts, and bike trails are near the top of the list. From quiet country roads to old railroad beds, the region is ripe for those wanting to get out of the car and explore the land by bike. To provide with you some of the best rides in New England, we’ve teamed up with the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that since 1986 has worked to create a nationwide network of public trails from former rail lines and connecting corridors.
Maine: Jay to Farmington Trail
With the original ballast of gravel and sand still in place, the 14-mile Jay to Farmington Trail possesses a ruggedness that befits the trail’s rural surroundings. Located in the beautiful western hills of Maine, the trail offers scenic views of rolling hills, dense mixed forest and open farmland to its diverse group of trail users. Through cooperation and collective effort, motorized and non-motorized options for snowmobile and ATV riders, cross-country skiers, equestrians, hikers, and mountain bikers all exist successfully on this corridor.
New Hampshire: Ashuelot Rail-Trail
Nestled in the hills and valleys of southwestern New Hampshire, the Ashuelot Rail-Trail stretches for 23 miles as it runs along the scenic Ashuelot River and through picturesque New Hampshire farmland. This is a true multi-use trail as both motorized and non-motorized users such as snowmobilers, cross-country skiers, equestrians, hikers, and mountain bikers take to the unimproved trail surface.
The trail’s southern endpoint is near the rural town of Hinsdale, just south of Pisgah State Park. From Hinsdale, the trail heads east through the small town of Winchester before turning north and heading toward the city of Keene. At the southern end, the trail runs along Route 63 for a mile or so as it passes farms on either side of its right-of-way. Trail users need to use caution, as the terrain can be soggy and rough on this section.
One mile from the start of the trail is the Hinsdale Station, a far-reaching and accurate private restoration of a Boston & Maine Railroad station in New England. A Green Mountain Railroad boxcar and an old New Haven Railroad caboose on the property lend more railroad history to this section of the trail. The location of the Hinsdale Station is somewhat unique as it overlooks the valley below. Most railroad stations aren’t situated with spectacular views like this one.
For the next few miles, the trail runs along a ridge and provides some panoramic views of the Ashuelot River. Near the four-mile mark, the trail passes the Ashuelot Covered Bridge, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Here also are the Sheridan House, a historic building restored by the Winchester Historical Society, and the run-down Ashuelot station. At mile seven, the trail crosses a small road where directions to Winchester offer the opportunity to explore this charming town and stop for a bite to eat.
From Winchester, the trail heads north through the town of Swanzey and on toward Keene. In Keene, the Ashuelot Rail-Trail will be part of the Roundhouse-T, a 0.64-mile, paved bicycle and pedestrian path that will link the central core of Keene to the Downtown Cheshire Branch Trail and the Keene Industrial Heritage Trail. Once completed, the Roundhouse-T will provide an alternative transportation connection for bicyclists and pedestrians in both an east-west and a north-south direction through the city.
Massachusetts: Minuteman Bikeway
Located a few miles northwest of Boston, the Minuteman Bikeway — celebrated as America’s 500th rail-trail when it opened in 1992 — continues to be one of the country’s most popular rail-trails. The aesthetically pleasing route traces past ponds, lakes, parks, and wildflower meadows as it connects the inner suburbs of Boston between Cambridge in the east and Bedford in the west. In addition to the recreation and alternative transportation opportunities provided by the paved 11 miles of the Minuteman Bikeway, the trail also provides walkers, bicyclists, inline skaters, and wheelchair users a chance to pass through the historic area where the American Revolution began in April 1775.
In Cambridge, where the trail connects to the Alewife “T” Station, the bikeway plays an integral role in helping to reduce automobile traffic. With the direct transit connection, the trail provides an easy way for bicyclists and pedestrians to travel to subway and bus lines. Farther west, the trail connects to a wide range of shops and restaurants in downtown Arlington, helping to create a vibrant pedestrian-oriented environment. After briefly joining Massachusetts Avenue, the bikeway passes by several of Arlington’s parks, culminating with the Arlington Reservoir and its summer swimming area, which converts to a winter skating pond.
Shortly after passing the Arlington Reservoir, the Minuteman Bikeway borders Great Meadows, which at 183 acres is one of the largest publicly owned open spaces in the area. Because Great Meadows has limited access from area roads, the bikeway functions as the best way to get to this beautiful park and its acres of wildflowers and wetlands. Great Meadows also offers miles of off-road hiking trails for trail users interested in stepping off the pavement of the Minuteman Bikeway.
Vermont: Missisquoi Valley Rail-Trail
The Missisquoi Valley Rail-Trail (MVRT) provides trail users — many of whom take to the crushed-limestone trail on snowmobiles, cross-country skis, or snowshoes in the winter — with direct access to the heart of northern Vermont’s dairy country. As the MVRT winds its way northeast from St. Albans to Richford, just south of the Quebec border, trail users enjoy picturesque views of Franklin County’s farms, forests, fields, and wetlands. The trail’s original railroad right-of-way, the Central Vermont Railway’s Richford Branch, never exceeds a grade of 3 percent, making it the perfect venue to spend a relaxing time enjoying the postcard images the trail offers.
In addition to the many scenic vistas found along the trail, the MVRT also provides trail users with numerous opportunities to experience some of the quaint villages and towns of northwestern Vermont. St. Albans, at the trail’s western end, offers restaurants, bicycle rentals, and a historical museum. Housed in a renovated 1863 brick schoolhouse, the St. Albans Historical Museum features railroad memorabilia, antique maps, and photographs of the area. About 11 miles farther east, after taking in some gorgeous views of the nearby mountains, trail users come upon the Abbey Restaurant, which offers home-cooked meals. The Abbey also provides trailside benches and a bike rack for trail users. A few miles later, the charming village of Enosburg Falls comes into view, often surprising trail users with its vibrant downtown. The final 10 miles of the MVRT take trail users past a snack bar in East Berkshire before leading to the MVRT’s eastern end in Richford near the Jay Peak Ski Resort, which offers summertime road and mountain biking opportunities.
Bicyclists looking for a more extensive trip than simply riding the MVRT can hook up with a 1,187-mile network of bicycle routes known as Lake Champlain Bikeways, including a 350-mile loop around Lake Champlain that can be accessed in St. Albans. The route takes bicyclists both on and off road around beautiful Lake Champlain.
Connecticut: Air Line State Park Trail
Eastern Connecticut’s Air Line State Park Trail follows the right-of-way of the former Air Line Railroad, which was built to connect Boston and New York City in the latter half of the 19th century. The corridor was known as the Air Line because it traced the most direct route possible — as if by a line drawn through the air — and for 86 years, from 1873 to 1959, the Air Line provided a high-speed passenger rail connection between these prominent Northeast cities.
In 1975, the Air Line rail corridor was deeded to the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and in 1996 the DEP proposed rehabilitating the rail bed as a linear state park. Today, the long abandoned rail right-of-way is being developed as a multi-use rail-trail in two segments: the Air Line South and the Air Line North State Park Trails. With the reuse of this corridor for hikers, bikers, cross-country skiers, equestrians, and the disabled, residents and visitors to the area can now experience the panoramic views of the surrounding Connecticut hills and valleys directly from the old rail bed.
In the north, the Air Line Trail spans 27 miles from Putnam, in the northeast corner of the state, and passes through Pomfret, Hampton, and Chaplin before reaching Windham, a quaint New England town first settled in 1686. The southern section of the Air Line runs from Windham to the southwest, passing through Lebanon, Hebron, and Colchester before ending in East Hampton. When completed, the Air Line Trail will be one of eight trail segments in Connecticut that will be part of the East Coast Greenway, a 2,500-mile trail network being developed to link cities, suburbs, and towns from the Canadian border to Key West, Florida.
The trail’s most dramatic features are its two viaducts, including the Lyman Viaduct, a spectacular 1,100-foot iron trestle that passes over a deep and wide gorge. There are also new bridges that cross over the Blackledge and Jeremy Rivers, offering hikers and bikers the opportunity to gaze at the expansive views of the rugged, natural scene playing out far below the trail. Trail users can also experience natural scenery in a variety of other locations as the trail passes through or nearby Goodwin State Forest, Beaver Brook State Park, the Hampton reservoir, the Salmon River State Forest, and Grayville Falls Park.
Rhode Island: Blackstone River Bikeway and East Bay Bicycle Path
The East Bay Bicycle Path, which runs south from India Point Park in Providence to Independence Park in Bristol, is Rhode Island’s oldest and longest rail-trail at 14.5 miles. Completed in 1992, the path hugs the shore of Narragansett Bay and other waterways, offering up stunning water views.
Then-governor Edward DiPrete gave a green light for the East Bay Bicycle Path in 1983, and four years later the Rhode Island Department of Transportation began converting the long abandoned Providence & Worcester Railroad right-of-way, laying four miles of trail from East Providence to Barrington. The path’s four phases were completed by 1992 at a cost of $5 million. Since then, the path has become increasingly popular both with local residents and tourists from other states.
Unlike the East Bay Bicycle Path, the Blackstone River Bikeway is a work in progress, with eight project segments totaling approximately 18 miles of both multi-use trail and on-road signed bike routes between Providence and Woonsocket (near the Massachusetts border). Once in Massachusetts, the Blackstone River Bikeway will connect with a project to bring the trail to Worcester. At its southern end, the bikeway will eventually link with the East Bay Bicycle Path, making a continuous 31.9-mile route for alternative transportation.
The bikeway lies in a 400,000-acre swath of land known as the John H. Chafee Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor between Providence, R.I., and Worcester, Mass. The corridor is named for the late John H. Chafee, Rhode Island’s progressive Republican U.S. senator who was instrumental in pushing through two bicycle-friendly transportation bills in the 1990s. Carved out by the Blackstone River, the valley boasts industrial history and natural beauty in equal parts. The river and canal that run alongside it were once home to so many textile mills that the river flowed different colors, depending on what was being dyed from day to day. Today, a new organization led by Sue Barker called the Corridor Coalition is busy advocating for the restoration of the Blackstone River and its environs.