Jones: Bike all over New England on rail trails

  • Tim Jones and his sweetheart “Em” with their tandem bike on the Island Line Trail in Vermont, which has views of Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks, and there’s almost always a breeze to keep you cool. TIM JONES / EasternSlopes.com

  • Jay Peak looms over much of the northern section of the Missisquoi Rail Trail in Vermont. This is one of the many multi-use recreational rail trails in New England that are perfect for bike riding. An out-and-back trip on the Missisquoi Trail is a 26-mile adventure that’s perfect for a long summer day. TIM JONES / EasternSlopes.com

  • The Northern Rail Trail runs all the way from Boscawen to Lebanon and may be the most underutilized recreational resource in all of New Hampshire. TIM JONES / EasternSlopes.com

  • The Shining Sea bike path on Cape Cod in Massachusetts makes for a wonderful summer morning ride. TIM JONES / EasternSlopes.com

For the Monitor
Published: 7/8/2019 8:46:38 PM

I’ve always loved riding my bikes on rail trails – the modern multi-use recreation paths following the abandoned railways that once crisscrossed New England. Riding rail trails is generally a quieter experience than road riding, and quite a bit less challenging than riding a mountain bike on woodland singletracks. Rail trails usually have little traffic except at road crossings, and they are much safer to ride than many other places. An added bonus for me: Rail trails are my sweetheart Em’s favorite places to ride on our tandem bike. Many of our best biking adventures have been along rail trails.

There are now rail trails in all 50 states. The best way to locate one near you is to go to the Rails to Trails Conservancy website – railstotrails.org. This is a national advocacy group that has been instrumental in creating these marvelous recreational resources.

Here’s a list, broken down by state, of a few of the many rail trails in New England. I’ve selected the ones I’ve ridden and enjoyed, but there are many more to be explored. Go to traillink.com for detailed descriptions of these and many other rail trails.

One note if you go exploring new rail trails. If the trail description says the surface is “ballast,” the fatter your bike tires, the more you’ll enjoy the ride.

New Hampshire

Northern Rail Trail is 50 beautiful miles that stretch from Lebanon almost to Boscawen. This is probably the most underutilized recreational resource in New Hampshire. It’s an easy two-day ride with an overnight at the Highland Lake Inn in Andover. Even if you live nearby, this is a wonderful getaway

Massachusetts

Ashuwillticook Rail Trail is my favorite ride in the Berkshires. There’s beautiful scenery and it’s the perfect length (12 miles) for an out-and-back morning ride.

Cape Cod Rail Trail The granddaddy of New England’s rail trails and still one of the best rides around. It can get crowded at times, so my recommendation is to go early in the morning, in the evening or in September, when the weather is perfect and the crowds are thinner.

Shining Sea Bike Path has cranberry bogs, quiet woodlands and a mile or more of ocean views. Spectacular.

Vermont

Island Line Trail is probably the most scenic bike trail I’ve ever ridden. The views of Lake Champlain with the Adirondacks beyond are breathtaking. This is a wonderful out-and-back ride (26 miles total) for a summer day. There’s almost always a breeze off the lake to keep you cool.

Missisquoi Rail Trail is the perfect two-day getaway. Start in St. Albans, Vt., (site of a Civil War battle) and ride to Richford, on the Canadian border, stay overnight at the Grey Gables Mansion and ride back the next day.

Maine

Eastern Trail is a different way to enjoy southern Maine with 22 of its 28 miles off road, and plans are in place to bypass one of the two road sections.

Connecticut

Airline Trail is 52 miles long with a 7.5mile gap in the middle. It traverses some of the most beautiful places in Connecticut.

Farmington Canal Heritage Trail is 48 miles and paved, this is an absolute gem. I have only ridden sections and the full trail is on my to-do list. If you’ve ridden the whole thing, please give me an update.

Farmington River Bike Trail is a rail trail that connects to the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail at both ends. If you start at either junction, you can link the two as a loop.

Cross New Hampshire Adventure Trail

One of my riding buddies recently complete a three-day ride on the new Cross New Hampshire Adventure Trail which runs from Woodsville to Bethel, Maine, and includes 40.4 miles of paved road, although only 10 of those miles are on a primary road and 30 of the miles are on quiet paved backroads). There’s also 11 miles of dirt roads, 15.5 miles of dirt rail trail (shared with ATVs), 15 miles of dirt rail trail (non-motorized transportation only) and 1.1 miles paved recreation path. Parts of the route include the Presidential Rail Trail.

My buddy rode his mountainbike and echoed the advice from the trail’s official website: “In general ... wider tires are better that narrower tires. Smoother tires are better than knobby. At the end of the day, you will be happy you had wider tires. At the end of the smooth dirt and pavement, you will be happy you had a smoother tire.”

I’m going to section-ride it this summer and will let you know how it goes. Or maybe we’ll see you there. Life isn’t a spectator sport. Get out and enjoy!

(Tim Jones is the Executive Editor of the online magazine EasternSlopes.com and writes about outdoor sports and travel. He can be contacted at timjones@easternslopes.com)




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