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Manchester, New Hampshire, United States

Rockingham Recreational Trail

From Massabesic Lake to Great Bay, this trail offers pretty ponds, beautiful bridges and a shady ride in the NH forests.

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Difficulty: Moderate
Length: 26 miles / 42 km
Duration: Full day
Family Friendly • Dog Friendly
Overview: Due to its proximity to Manchester and the Manchester airport, this trail is one of most accessible of the wonderful New Hampshire Rail Trails. If you are flying to New Hampshire, you may very well fly into Manchester.
This trail is popular year-round with biking, hiking, and running in the summer and snowmobiling in the winter. And speaking of winter on the trail, the Rockingham Rec. is one of the most dog-friendly trail there is... year round. You see, in the winter, in addition to hosting nordic skiers and snowmobilers, it also is home to mushers, also known as dog sledders.
And the trail is cool in more ways than one. Even in the summer, a combination of shade-filled forests and sea breezes help to make it one of the cooler trails around. And in the fall, the colorful foliage can't be beat.
With something to see and do the entire length of the trail, you and your family will probably visit this trail again and again.
Combined with some of the other fantastic rail-trails in New Hampshire, this may become your favorite trail destination.

Tips: -Suggested supplies to take on this trip include:
water, snacks, rain gear, insect repellent, this guide on your smart phone, and a camera.
- Dress in layers as the temperature can change quickly throughout the day depending on shade, sun, time of year, and proximity to water.
- Stop in Raymond to eat, explore the historical depot, and to restock your water.
- If you're going all the way from one end to the other, give yourself plenty of time to get back. Depending on trail conditions, it might take you longer than you think. You may think that 52 miles (round trip) is a piece of cake, but with a slightly bumpy trail, a few stops, and the ever-present possibility of unexpected delays, don't overextend yourself. It's better to be safe than sorry.

Points of Interest


Massabesic Lake

Often rail trails gradually get more scenic as you wander away from the more densely populated trailheads. Not the Rockingham Recreational Trail.
Right from the start, it follows the shores of Massabesic Lake, just outside Manchester, New Hampshire. It's not unusual to see sailboats tagging along with trail users like floating angels guarding your journey toward the ocean.
But before you begin that journey, you must take care of some logistics.
1. To find the trail, jump on Hwy. 101 heading NE out of Manchester. Then, not far out of town, you'll find Hwy. 28. Take that road going south. Shortly after passing through a roundabout, you'll come to the Massabesic Lake boat launch. The best parking lot is actually at the recreation fields across Hwy 28 from the lake. However, most of the parking around here is from dusk to dawn, so make sure you don't arrive too early and don't get off the trail too late.
If you park in the recreation/softball fields parking lot, the trail starts right across the street and hugs the northern shore of the lake for awhile. Most of the trail, including this first part, is very shady. The good news is that, in addition to providing shade, the dense tree cover protects trail-users from light rain showers. The bad news is that even for quite awhile after a rainstorm, water continues to drip off the trees, and the drops tend to be large and cold, so come prepared w/ some type of head cover such as a hood or a shower cap to put over your helmet.

a road of many names

You are now intersecting the "road of many names." It is called, Manchester Road, Candia Road, and Hwy. 121. Whatever you call it, the developers of the Rockingham Recreational Trail have been kind enough to provide underpasses at most of the major road/trail intersections so that your journey is safe and relaxing.

Onway Lake

Not only is this a beautiful spot on the trail, but it is also a potential base for your trail adventure. There is a family resort here called (oddly enough) Onway Lake Family Resort. It includes log cabin and treehouse rentals.
If you happen upon this place in early October, you may never want to leave.

Raymond, New Hampshire

The trail passes near numerous eating establishments such as Teddy's Lounge and Donna's Long Branch Restaurant; it also runs right by the Raymond Historical Society which is located in the old railroad depot. This serves as a museum, a trail information center, and a meeting place for locals.
It's hours are limited and vary by day and season so check out their website before your trip, if you're interested in visiting.
By the way, if you make it to the area during one of the Historical Society pancake breakfasts, you're in for a real treat.

Epping, New Hampshire

Although eateries aren't as close to the trail in Epping, the Holy Grail Restaurant is just slightly north on Main Street.

man-made thunder

If you here loud rumbling on this part of the trail, it's probably not your stomach or thunderheads. More than likely it's some heavy-duty muscle cars on either the Star Speedway or the New England Dragway. Both of these auto racing venues are located just off the trail.

Newfields swamps

When you are at this point on the trail, you are closest to the town of Newfields. This area can be especially buggy in late spring, early summer, and early fall so a little bug repellant goes a long ways. This is also a good place to spot deer and fox.

east end of trail

From here, you are not far from where the river meets the sea at Great Bay. If you want to stay at this end of the trail, the Great Bay Camping area is not far from the trailhead.
Since you are between the towns of Newmarket and Newfields, there are not many establishments for restocking your food and drinks near the trail, so you may want to plan on doing that in Raymond or Epping.

water crossing

As with most of the New Hampshire rail trails, you'll cross many ponds, bogs, and other waterways. Although they are pretty and plentiful, they can also harbor nature's little flying critters, so come prepared with insect repellent.
The trail itself has a dirt and sand base, so it can become a bit slippery and sticky after rainstorms, but the water crossings are nicely elevated, so these crossings are not problems except possibly in the spring and after major rainstorms.

trail of beautiful bridges

So the trail starts out beautifully at the lake and just keeps providing stunning views. Since trail users are often in the beautiful but somewhat stifling forest, some of the finer scenic spots are at bridge crossings. Not only do they allow you to see out onto lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams, but the bridges themselves are often quite breathtaking.
Pictures in this guide taken by: trailsnet, Rockingham Recreational Trail, bridge on trail, low clearance - You may want to walk your bike through some of these underpasses/culverts., trailside stream, Onway Lake, New Hampshire, Raymond Depot, Rockingham Recreational Trail, New Hampshire, Raymond Historical Society, snow grooming sign, not much of a worry during the summer, east end of trail near Newfields, NH
We joined the trail in Newfields with our Dog. Beautiful trail, plenty of activity, but not too much. People walking their dogs, people running - beautiful trail.. great walk... Until we got the Newfields swamp portion of the trail. I was not prepared for the GIGANTIC Northern Water Snakes! I hate snakes!! and I initially freaked out when I saw the first one, but I was determined to continue our walk . and then I saw our second - third... then a pile of sticks with at least two that I could see. These were HUGE snakes!! I turned around after the pile of snakes.. I mean sticks... and left. I may be back on a bike, because it was a beautiful trail, but not walking through the swamp area - never again.
Visited on Jun 28, 2013

by Amyswalter on Jul 29, 2013
Will do... now just need some snow!

by maineguide on Dec 09, 2010
Although I have only had the chance to bike the NH trails, they look like they'd be great for cross-country skiing. If you end up doing that, I'd love to hear how it went. Look out for snowmobilers.

by trailsnet on Dec 04, 2010
Thanks. Just bought NH Rail Trails book. Will have to try it once spring rolls around... or maybe with xc skis.

by maineguide on Dec 04, 2010
Thanks Barry. Now I've completed five guides for New Hampshire. They've got a great system of shared trails.

by trailsnet on Nov 15, 2010
Awesome guide Kevin.

by theoutdoorholic on Nov 15, 2010

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