Air Line State Park Trail winds for 53 miles from the northeast corner of Connecticut, where the state borders Massachusetts, down to East Hampton in the heart of the state. Over the state border, you can make a contiguous connection to the Southern New England Trunk Line Trail, a scenic 22-mile adventure that heads east to Franklin.
The gravel pathway is nearly seamless with only two short gaps: one in Putnam and the other in Willimantic. A 3.4-mile spur off the main route links the trail to Colchester. Though a tad rougher, the spur offers an enjoyable ride through hemlock woods.
The rail-trail showcases the engineering behind the Air Line Railroad, laid down through this hilly region in 1873 as a direct route between Boston and New York. As its name implies, the tracks ran flat and straight, like ‘a line in the air.’ The Air Line employed the finest trains of the day, featuring the Pullman Palace Car, marketed as the White Train for its luxurious white-and-gold decor.
About three miles from the southern end of the trail, you'll cross the Rapallo and Lyman viaducts. Built in the 1870s, each spans more than 1,000 feet, the latter soaring more than 150 feet above the valley floor. In 1913, crews reinforced the viaducts with rock and sediment to support heavier trains. Visible from trailside benches, the top corner of each span pokes out through the fill.
Just a half-mile from East Hampton, you’ll also find a few small waterfalls, created when railroad crews blasted Bishops Cut through solid rock.
The trail, between its junction with the Hop Brook State Park Trail just north of Willimantic and its junction with the Putnam River Trail at Putnam, is part of a massive trail network known as the East Coast Greenway, which will connect communities along the Eastern seaboard from Maine to Florida.
On the north end of the trail: Parking is available at the Goodwin State Forest Conservation Center on Potter Road off Route 6 in Hampton.
On the south end of the trail, there’s a trailhead in East Hampton trailhead; to reach it, take State Route 2 to Exit 13 and follow State Route 66 south for 4 miles. Turn left on State Route 196/Lakeview Street and drive 0.5 mile, then turn left on Flanders Road and drive a quarter mile. Turn right on Smith Street; the trailhead is on the left.
Another trailhead is available at the junction of state routes 207 and 85 in Colchester. Take Route 2 to Exit 18, follow State Route 16 for 0.5 mile, then turn left on Route 85. The parking lot is 4 miles down on the left.