Special acknowledgement: Tom Sexton, RTC’s Northeast Regional Director
NOTE: Rails-to-Trails Conservancy urges all individuals seeking trail experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic to practice social distancing at all times and follow the guidelines by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and state and local governments. For more information and resources on how to #RecreateResponsibly outside, go to railstotrails.org/COVID-19.
Vying with Maine for the most-forested state, New Hampshire is an outdoor lover’s dream, with more than 80% of the state covered by trees. Providing important access to this natural wonderland, visitors will find a plethora of trails in every corner the state—including more than 500 miles of open rail-trail—enjoyed by a diverse mix of travelers, including cyclists, hikers, equestrians and snowmobilers. For one of the smallest states, New Hampshire is home to a whopping four expansive regional trail projects: the Granite State Rail Trail, the Cross New Hampshire Adventure Trail, the six-state New England Rail-Trail Network and the East Coast Greenway stretching from Maine to Florida. So there is truly something for everyone, from short family-friendly local excursions to longer statewide—or even multistate—adventures.
Along the 18-mile Presidential Range Rail Trail, on the northern end of the state, the snow-topped mountains named after famed American presidents are the stars of the show. Among the rugged peaks, Mt. Washington, New England’s highest summit, stands out at 6,288 feet. A gurgling Moose River follows the trail for much of the way, and the ponds and wetlands of the Pondicherry Wildlife Refuge on the trail’s west end add to the picturesque setting. Visitors might even spot moose here in the spring or fall. The pathway, part of the 83-mile Cross New Hampshire Adventure Trail, has a predominantly gravel surface best-suited for mountain bikers, hikers and equestrians.
Seamlessly connected, the Derry Rail Trail, Windham Rail Trail and Salem Bike-Ped Corridor form the longest stretch of paved pathway in New Hampshire. The combined route, spanning just over 9 miles, begins on its north end in Derry, winds through Windham and ends in Salem in the southeastern corner of the state. Along the way, travelers will traverse scenic landscapes of woodland and wetland; explore historical attractions, such the restored 1849 Windham Depot and a Boston and Maine Railroad caboose; and have easy access to plentiful cultural and commercial amenities in each of the downtowns. The trail trio is also part of the expansive Granite State Rail-Trail, which is knitting together 125 miles of trail across the state.
Counties: Grafton, Merrimack
Coursing across New Hampshire, the nearly 60-mile Northern Rail Trail offers a front-row seat to photo-worthy backdrops of rivers, lakes and marshlands in the Merrimack Valley Region. Winding through woodlands and rock cuts on a journey between Lebanon and Boscawen, the state’s longest rail-trail offers tangible connections to the corridor’s past with a restored depot, caboose and other historical attractions, like the 1882 Keniston Covered Bridge. The pathway is also playing a key role in enhancing connectivity across the state and beyond as part of the Granite State Rail Trail and the developing New England Rail-Trail Network, the latter of which will eventually connect trails in six states.
Dating back to the mid-1700s, Peterborough, which anchors the Common Pathway, is a small town with lots of historic charm. For much of the 5.5-mile route, travelers will follow the lushly wooded Contoocook River, which helped propel the community to prosperity as a mill town. Popping out of the trees, a portion of the trail will be on road through the heart of the community with easy access to shops and restaurants, and unique attractions such as the Peterborough Town Library, which was established in 1833 and is the oldest tax-supported public library in the United States.
True to its name, the Lake Winnisquam Scenic Trail—nestled among the Belknap Mountains of central New Hampshire—offers a nearly 2-mile paved route with beautiful vistas of the state’s fourth largest lake. From its northern tip, the 2.7-mile WOW Trail is just steps away and continues a paved northward course through downtown Laconia, partially sharing its corridor with the Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroad. Although more urban in flavor than its connecting trail, the pathway offers no shortage of views of the three adjacent bodies of water for which it is named: Lake Winnipesaukee, Opechee Bay and Lake Winnisquam. Other highlights of the route include public art, two beaches and the former Laconia B&M Railroad Station, which houses shops and restaurants.
Spanning more than 30 miles, the Cheshire Rail Trail cuts a diagonal across the southwestern corner of New Hampshire. The largely gravel-surfaced pathway journeys from the Massachusetts border north through the college town of Keene and onward to Walpole’s southern outskirts, not far from the Vermont boundary. The north end of the trail offers some steep inclines and is best suited for mountain bikes and those who would like a get-away-from-it-all adventure surrounded by deep woods and natural rock walls. South of Keene, the trail smooths out and becomes less challenging as it makes its way to Fitzwilliam, where an old depot stands as a testament to the corridor’s railroad past. History buffs will also want to stop in Troy to visit an 1847 train depot that has been refurbished into a museum.
In the quaint southern New Hampshire town of Londonderry, a 4.5-mile rail-trail offers a slice of tranquility with a paved jaunt through verdant forests and wildlife-rich wetlands and along scenic ponds. Two more phases of the Londonderry Rail Trail are planned for construction within the next few years, which will grow the trail’s mileage to 6 and connect it to trails in Manchester and Derry. As the trail expands, it’s helping to strengthen the Granite State Rail Trail, which is knitting together rail-trails across the state from the Massachusetts border to Vermont.
Counties: Hillsborough, Rockingham
While it begins in Manchester, New Hampshire’s largest city, the 28-mile Rockingham Recreational Rail Trail quickly whisks explorers into hardwood and coniferous forest, past the shores of beautiful Lake Massabesic. Mid-trail, in Raymond, a restored 1893 train depot and historical locomotive, caboose and boxcar are reminders of the corridor’s past as part of the Boston and Maine Railroad. In Epping, trail goers can connect to the Fremont Branch of the Rockingham Recreational Rail Trail, for a rustic 18-mile journey toward Windham.
Tucked into the White Mountain National Forest of northern New Hampshire, the Franconia Notch Recreation Path runs the length of Franconia Notch State Park. Enveloped by trees, the paved pathway winds nearly 9 miles through a mountain pass between the Kinsman and Franconia Ranges, with some exhilarating climbs and drops in elevation. Along the way, travelers will hit many of the park’s most popular attractions, including the Old Man of the Mountain Historic Site, Echo Lake (where visitors can swim, canoe or kayak), the jaw-dropping Flume Gorge and the Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway, a cable-car system that carries riders up to the 4,080-foot summit.
Together, the Piscataquog Trail and Goffstown Rail Trail provide a seamless 7.6-mile route from Manchester’s riverfront northwest to Goffstown on the Piscataquog River Reservoir. Highlights of the paved Piscataquog Trail include access to Piscataquog River Park (a popular spot for hiking, fishing and other outdoor activities), a large bronze bull statue and two unique pedestrian bridges—one over the Merrimack River and the other over the Piscataquog River. The connecting Goffstown Rail Trail offers a diverse experience with a mix of trail surfaces and eclectic views, from forested corridor and lakeside jaunts to residential neighborhoods and commercial areas.
Want to experience one of these or some of the other great trail destinations in New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont? You’ll find maps, helpful details and beautiful photos of 60 multiuse trails across the region in our Rail-Trails: Northern England Guidebook, available here.PURCHASE GUIDEBOOK