What better way to experience our area’s exquisite fall foliage than to bicycle on a rail trail? So what is a rail trail? it’s a linear slice of heaven. Rail trails are delightfully car-free recreational trails created along old railway beds.
Often surfaced with fine crushed gravel or sometimes pavement, rail trails are usually easy riding for most types of bicycles. Due to the gradual grades used in railroad building, they’re never too steep, and they’re always car-free.
Here are six of SABR’s favorite rail trails, some close to the Seacoast, others a bit of a drive but well worth it. Remember trail riding etiquette: bicycle riders always yield to pedestrians; keep right, pass left and use your bell (or your voice) when passing someone. Ride safe and have fun!
Rockingham Rail Trail A Seacoast biking standby, this trail can take you all the way to Manchester (28 miles one way). Park at the old train depot on Ash Swamp Road in Newfields or at parking spots at several road crossing along the trail. You will ride on gravel or packed dirt passing by ponds, bedrock cliffs and open fields. Remember that horseback riders have the right of way. There are many eateries in Newmarket after your ride.
Seabrook Newburyport rail trail connector. This coastal rail trail is paved from Seabrook south to Newburyport and it’s perfect for beginners, family rides and anyone who wants to avoid busy roads. You get a taste of different landscapes: the woods, the marshes, the river, then through downtown Newburyport if you choose.
Park in Seabrook off of Rte. 286 in the lot behind Coastal Hydraulics (you can’t miss the blue water tower). From there, it is 5.25 miles (one way) to the Newburyport train station (or a little less to RiverWalk Brewing Company and Haley’s Ice Cream shop for the bike riders who like yummy breaks). You will briefly be on the road in Salisbury, just follow the signage. And you will need to get off your bike to walk over the bridge on the Merrimack River. For map of the trails, visit https://coastaltrails.org/whats-new/ and the map here: https://coastaltrails.files.wordpress.com/2021/05/ctc_bigmap_11x17_v5_2021_outlines.pdf
Cotton Valley Rail Trail – This 12 mile gravel trail connects Wolfboro to Wakefield. This family friendly multi-use trail meanders along two lakes, over trestles, scenic wetlands, beaches, back woods and fields. There are 7 areas to park along the trail. The trail has some hills near Route 16. Caution is recommended when using platforms to transition on and off the rails. There are many eateries and ice-cream shops in Wolfboro. For more information, visit www.cottonvalleyrailtrail.org
Northern Rail Trail Spanning 57 miles from Lebanon to Boscawen, this is New Hampshire’s longest rail trail. The scenery includes woods, rivers and lakes with a cinder or crushed stone surface. You can hop on the trail at any of the 19 parking areas along the trail. For more information visit www.northernrailtrail.org.
Presidential Rail Trail. This trail (18 miles one way) offers spectacular scenery of the northern presidential mountains. It wanders through forests, open fields, rivers, ponds and marshes. Don’t miss the short side trail to stunning views from Pondicherry Pond. Look for birds, bears, moose, turkeys and wild flowers The trail follows Route 2 out of Gorham NH with numerous parking spots along the way. On your way home, check of the White Mountain Café & Bookstore in Gorham. For more information, visit www.friendsofthepresidentialrailtrail.org
Franconia Notch Rail Trail This paved multi-use trail runs 8.7 miles along the Franconia Notch State Park with optional stops at Echo Lake, The Basin, and the Flume Gorge. It offers spectacular views of the peaks and forest and includes an elevation gain of 340 feet to the foot of Cannon Mountain, then drops 750 feet to the Mt. Pemigewasset trailhead (going south). Food and bike shuttles are available at the Cannon Mountain Tramway.
SABR (Seacoast Area Bike Riders) works to create and promote a vibrant bicycling culture and bike infrastructure in the Greater Seacoast Region of New Hampshire and Maine. Visit www.seacoastbikes.org and https://www.facebook.com/seacoastbikes