Running north from the Yale University campus in New Haven through the heart of Connecticut, the multi-use Farmington Canal Heritage Trail, when completed will stretch uninterrupted more than 80 miles from New Haven to Northampton, Massachusetts. As of summer 2011, 72% is completed in CT and 47% is completed in MA. Only a few small pieces need to be completed in New Haven, and there is a 4.7-mile gap in Cheshire.
The largest remaining gap includes northern Southington, all of Plainville and southern Farmington: 9.1 miles. You can now ride from Farmington to Westfield, MA on 27 continuous miles of paved off-road trail. The 6.3-mile segment consisting of all of Southwick, MA was completed in 2010. Southampton, Westfield and Southwick are left to go to connect with the miles of trails father north.
The trail follows the corridor of the defunct Farmington Canal, New England's onetime longest canal. Completed in 1835, the waterway stretched 87 miles from New Haven to Northampton, boasting 28 locks and three aqueducts. Traces of the canal remain throughout the Farmington Valley. Most notable is Lock 12, a trailside museum in Cheshire that centers on the restored lock.
Anchoring the trail's southern terminus is Yale's Malone Engineering Building, designed by prominent architect Caesar Pelli. A landscaped setting and reproduced streetlamps lend atmosphere to this asphalt urban path. There is no designated trail parking, but on-street or garage parking is available.
The Hamden to Cheshire section is completed and extends 15.1 miles, ending at Cornwall Avenue. Woods soon line the asphalt path, and you'll cross bridge after bridge over a meandering stream. To learn about the corridor's canal and railroad roots, pause to read trailside historical markers and watch for the old brick depot and adjacent freight house just past the second parking area. Approaching Cheshire, you'll reach the aforementioned Lock 12 and keeper's house, now a historical park. Here you'll find trailhead parking, picnic tables, toilets and drinking fountain.
As of 2010 the Southington section meets the Cheshire section and continues north 4 miles, with parking at both Center Street and Mill Street. The trail ends at the 25-mile mark near the confluence of Hart and Curtiss Streets. From an inviting trailhead parking area on West Main Street in downtown Southington, this asphalt trail bridges the Quinnipiac River and passes through the heart of a restored mill section starting at Center Street. From here, turn right on Center Street to check out the downtown eateries, or continue north to the trail's end. The 9.1-mile gap can then be traversed on the heavily used RT 10 and then left on the Meadow Road Trail in Farmington, or on a combination of safer side roads.
The 28-mile central section of the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail is a rewarding bike ride. It shares its Red Oak Hill Road and New Britain Avenue trailhead with the 8.5-mile Farmington River Trail. Just up New Britain Avenue at Copper Mine Road is a big new parking lot with a brand new pavilion serving both trailheads. Within the first mile, pause to admire the view from a high bridge over the Farmington River. At mile 3 the Thompson Road trailhead provides restrooms. At 5.8 miles in Avon there is parking at Arch Road. The trail meanders to the end of Security Drive where it joins surface streets, beneath RT 44, past the Avon Police Dept. and Town Offices before rejoining the corridor at Sperry Park where there is parking, information and restrooms.
Approaching Simsbury, there is parking at Latimer Lane and then at the commuter lot across from Sand Hill Road. The trail then passes restored brownstone buildings on the campus of aerospace and defense conglomerate Ensign-Bickford (now Dyno-Nobel), which started in 1836 as a manufacturer of William Bickford's safety fuses for mining. The trail in Simsbury turns right at Drake Hill Road then left at Iron Horse Boulevard, where there is a huge parking lot, information and restrooms.
The trail continues north, paralleling the boulevard and passing Drake Hill Road Park. On a crisp fall day with the colors of changing leaves, this stretch is a treat to travel. From here, the trail continues to parking at RT 315 in Tariffville, and RTs 189, 20 and Copper Hill Road in East Granby (facilities are 0.1 mile West down Copper Hill Road) to the state line, where it becomes the Southwick Rail Trail, continuing another 6.3 miles to the Westfield border passing the beautiful Lake Congamond.
To reach the southern trailhead on the Yale campus, take Interstate 91 to Exit 3/Trumbull Street. Drive straight on Trumbull for three blocks to Hillhouse Avenue and look for on-street or garage parking. On weekends and after 4:30 p.m. on weekdays, Yale's parking lots are open to the public for free.
To reach the Cheshire trailhead, take Interstate 691 to Exit 3 and head south on State Route 10/Highland Avenue through town. Turn right on Cornwall Avenue and proceed to the trailhead and adjacent parking. To drive to the southern access point, leave Route 15 (Wilbur Cross Parkway) at Exit 60 and drive north on Route 10 (Dixwell Avenue) for 0.25 mile. Take the first entrance to the mall on your right and proceed to the large parking lot on the south side of the mall, which is adjacent to the trail.
To reach the West Main Street trailhead, take Interstate 691 to Exit 3 and head north on State Route 10/South Main Street to West Main. Turn left on West Main and proceed to the trailhead parking area.
To reach the southern trailhead in Farmington, take Interstate 84 to Exit 37 to go west on Route 6. Then continue to next intersection and make a left by following the Route 10 signs. Then take a right turn unto Meadow Road. Meadow Road will bend to the left but go straight unto Red Oak Hill Road for approximately 1/4 mile to the driveway for Tunxis Meade Park. (The first asphalt trail to the right of Meadow Road isn't the rail-trail, but a wonderful spur to the center of historic Farmington, whose museums and colonial architecture are worth a side trip.)
To reach the State Route 315 trailhead, take I-84 to Exit 37 (from the south) or 39 (from the north). Once in Farmington, head north on Route 10 through Avon and Simsbury. The Route 315 trailhead parking area lies 2 miles beyond the Iron Horse Boulevard trailhead.