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Sugar River Trail, N.H. © Rails-to-Trails ConservancyInside a covered bridge © Ryan O'Brian
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Trail of the Month: September 2010
New Hampshire's Sugar River Trail

The first hints of chimney smoke, morning frosts and blushing leaves are soon to hit New England. And with these seasonal cues, legions of leaf hunters will canvass the Northeast in their quest for the perfect autumn hotspot. If you plan to be among them—yet prefer to be ankle-deep in foliage rather than awash in tourists—you can outmaneuver and elude some of the cars and crowds by searching out a rail-trail. One such escape is the 9.8-mile Sugar River Trail in western New Hampshire, just shy of the Vermont border.

Connecting Newport to the eastern fringe of Claremont, the Sugar River Trail offers a vintage autumn experience in New England. By late September and early October, the trail's maple and birch trees will be afire with color. Streams abound, you'll pass fly-fishermen scouting for rainbow trout along the river (which you cross at multiple places), and you might catch a glimpse of critters from raccoons and wild turkeys to an occasional moose or fox.

Also, of the seven covered railway bridges remaining in the United States, two of them are right along this one rail-trail.

These aren't your standard covered bridges, either. Unlike the more familiar covered bridges over roadways, covered railway bridges have much higher vertical clearance (about 21 feet) and are much narrower. Both of these bridges, as well, were built more than a century ago on the original Claremont-Concord Railroad line.

If you're heading west from Newport, the first one you'll reach, at Mile 6, is the 123-foot Wright's Bridge, built in 1906. A mile later, you'll re-cross the Sugar River on the 216-foot Pier Bridge, built in 1907.

The bridges are "gems" you find along the way, says Jennifer Codispoti, program specialist with the New Hampshire Bureau of Trails, which manages the Sugar River Trail. To preserve the railroad relics, she says the state is working this fall to fire-proof and structurally repair both bridges (closed from August 30 to September 3, the bridges will then be open to trail users during construction).

In addition to the trail's signature New England attractions, visitors should note in planning a trip that the Sugar River Trail is somewhat unconventional in its user profile. New Hampshire permits certain motorized uses on its rail-trails, and the Sugar River Trail, in particular, is open year-round to ATVs. As a result, the trail's natural surface can be sandy and rough and not ideal for casual cycling; it can feel a bit like pedaling on a beach in places. Mountain bikes are therefore better suited for this ride.

What you should not fear, though, is much discourtesy among various user groups.

When Rails to Trails magazine first featured the Sugar River Trail in the Fall 2005 issue, the tagline with the story was "Everyone's Trail." ATV and snowmobile clubs help groom and maintain the trail, and there are rules of etiquette for passing and yielding to various users. You're likely to see equestrians and hikers hoofing up and down the path during the summer, spring and fall. When snow hits the ground, you'll come across snowshoers, cross-country skiers, snowmobilers and even dog-sledders. Yet despite this hodgepodge of users, visitors often note how easily folks tend to get along.

Of course, sharing the corridor with motorized vehicles does not appeal to every rail-trail visitor, particularly those seeking total seclusion and quiet. Yet even when this corridor is busiest, you'll be treated to a fall landscape bursting with activity and riverside views. From crisp air and covered bridges to fantastic foliage, the Sugar River Trail truly offers a feast for fall eyes.

In fact, about the only autumn detail missing along this trail is a hot cider stand. Luckily, you can always warm up afterwards at a local café or coffee shop, like The Java Cup or Hullabaloo Coffee Co. in Claremont. And after you've soaked up the scenery, you can either brag about your rail-trail getaway or keep the secret for yourself—and for next year's trip!

TrailLink.com, powered by Rails-to-Trails ConservancyFor more trail information, maps, photos and user reviews, or to post your own comments, please visit TrailLink.com.

This month's Trail of the Month is generously sponsored by:

 

Related Links

New Hampshire Parks & Recreation

New Hampshire Bureau of Trails

New Hampshire Department of Resources of Economic Development

 

Trail Facts

Name: Sugar River Trail

Trail Website: www.newportrec.com/locations-sugar-river-trail.htm

Length: 9.8 miles

Counties: Sullivan

Start Point/ End Point: Newport to Claremont

Surface type: Sand, cinder, ballast

Uses: Hiking, running, mountain biking, horseback riding, cross-country skiing, ATV and snowmobile; the trail is not wheelchair accessible.

Difficulty: Moderate

Access and Parking: You can log into the Sugar River Trail profile for free at TrailLink.com to explore an interactive GIS map of the trail, as well as parking and trailhead directions, reviews, images and loads of other info to help plan your trip.

Nearby Attractions: A couple miles southeast of Newport is Mount Sunapee State Park. It's popular for skiing in the winter, and you'll find ample beach space for summer fun in the sand and on the the water, including a boat launch and campground. The park entrance fee is $4 for adults and $2 for children.

If riding a rail-trail seems too pedestrian and low to the ground to appreciate the full grandeur of fall colors, you can venture about six miles south of Claremont to Morningside Flight Park in Charleston, N.H. They specialize in hang gliding and paragliding, and for all ages and experience levels, whether you want to try your first take-off or head across the state. If you're up to the challenge, you'll get some sky-high views of the countryside. You can also camp, hike and swim with your family right on site.

Eight miles west of Claremont in Vermont, you can tour the Eureka Schoolhouse, the oldest one-room schoolhouse, as well as one of the few surviving 18th century public buildings, in the state. Construction started in 1785 and was completed in 1790. Carefully renovated in 1968, the schoolhouse today is owned and operated by the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation.

Wright's Bridge © Ryan O'Brian

Sugar River along a covered bridge © Vadney

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