You wouldn’t dream of touring the Louvre in a Lexus, the Prado in a Porsche, or the Vatican in a Volvo. Yet that’s how thousands of people view the New England fall foliage... strapped in a car, hurtling down the highway, craning their necks to get an occasional glimpse of rainbow colored trees.
There’s a better way. Believe it or not, it’s possible to explore New Hampshire’s autumn splendor at a calm and peaceful pace while leaving the crowds behind. And you’ll save the environment, save money, and get some exercise to boot.
New Hampshire is home to over fifty fabulous rail-trails. Each of these trails would be great for a relaxing view of the fall foliage. Five of them in particular are great for a full day tour of New Hampshire’s splendor.
The Ashuelot and Cheshire Rail-Trails begin in Keene, New Hampshire. Both of them are over 20 miles long and, as their names imply, are built over the remains of old railroad lines. The Ammonoosuc Rail Trail is based out of Littleton, New Hampshire and is 19 miles long. After a great day exploring the Ammonusuc trail, riders have only to cross a quaint covered bridge to enjoy delicious baked goods and historical ambience at Miller’s Bakery. And the Rockingham Recreational Trail begins in Manchester and runs to Newfields which is located on Great Bay. Manchester is New Hampshire’s largest city and may be the easiest to reach by air.
However, my favorite rail trail in New Hampshire, and probably the most family friendly, is the Northern Rail-Trail. At 23 miles in length, “the Northern” starts in Lebanon and is a pleasant jaunt to Danbury. While many rail-trails follow rivers along their course, the Northern gives riders a chance to get up close and personal with the Mascoma River as the trail crosses the river seven times within the first four miles.
The trail starts at the Witherell Recreation Center in Lebanon and is obviously a family favorite. Tagalongs, tandems, trailers, and training wheels (the four Ts) dominate the first couple miles of the trail as children and their parents enjoy this beautiful stretch of the trail that takes full advantage of old railroad bridges to cross the river about every half mile or so. Gradually the trail population begins to thin out and soon the biking broods give way to desolation boulevard.
- Bring a well-tuned bike with trail tires. High pressure (road) tires aren't suggested.
- Also bring water, snacks, a rain jacket w/hood, and your camera. A cell phone will also come in handy, but many places along the way are without cell service.
- You will find a few stores/restaurants along the way, as long as you are on the trail during normal business hours.
-Bring your camera since this trail is quite scenic and crosses many beautiful bridges.
I wish I would have had access to Everytrail Guides when I biked the Northern Rail Trail. This trailhead was rather difficult to find. It is located near the Lebanon College campus at the intersection of Taylor and Spencer Street. There are businesses fairly near the trailhead for purchasing snacks and drinks.
Although the Northern Rail Trail intersects numerous major roads, most of the crossings are below grade. This keeps the trail safe and stress-free. You will be grateful for the ingenious trail underpasses that allow you to enjoy the scenery without worrying about crossing major highways.
Mascoma Lake is home to the Dartmouth College sailing team. But more importantly, the Northern Rail Trail runs right by the "quiet side" of the lake. Summer homes and campgrounds dot the lake, mostly on the other side of the lake. If you are interested in spending the night nearby, you might want to check into the Mascoma Lake campground.
The trail follows near Main Street in Enfield, NH at this point. Some of the businesses were closed when I went through so I can't verify the availability of food, beverages or lodging near the trail, but I was told that if you ride just a little ways up Main Street, there are some options available.
With a grassy picnic area on one side of the trail and a store on the other, this makes a great stopping spot. If you need to grab some snacks or drinks, this is the place. Even if you brought all your water and food with you, it's still a good resting spot.
Not to be confused with McElligot's Pool, Tewksbury Pond does not run out to the sea. However, Ashley Anne Zeoli of Enfield, NH did catch an 18" Brook Trout out of here in 2005. This Pond is enjoyed by not only fisherman, but canoeists, kayakers, and of course users of the Northern Rail Trail.
The Grafton Country Store makes a nice stopping spot along the trail. It is within sight of the path and just across hwy. 4. The food may not be gourmet fare, but their "bulkies" (sandwiches) definitely fill the void. They also have a decent selection of beverages including good old bottled water. Grab an extra one for the trail.
You may want to eat your snack/meal on the porch in front of the store. The view is mediocre, but the rest, relaxation, and nourishment is priceless.
When I rode the trail, it ended here. However, there are plans to continue this trail all the way to Concord.
As it is, this is an incredible rail trail. I expect that it will be one of the very best once it is completed.
Pictures in this guide taken by:
trailsnet, Northern Rail Trail, mileage chart for trail, near Lebanon, NH, trail underpass, Northern Rail Trail in New Hampshire, Mascoma Lake, ... for some donuts and coffee., Canaan, New Hampshire