New Hampshire's largest city, Manchester, boasts relatively quick access to one of the state's longest rail-trails: the 26.5-mile Rockingham Recreational Trail (a.k.a. Portsmouth Branch). The rustic trail is rich in railroad structures left over from a time when the extensive Boston & Maine Railroad network flourished with the growth of New England mill towns. The Rockingham Recreational Trail follows the Portsmouth Branch. Hurt by the mid-20th-century decline in local manufacturing, the railroad faltered, and in 1988, the New Hampshire Department of Transportation purchased the Portsmouth Branch for conversion into a rail-trail.
The western trailhead is at Tarrytown Road in Manchester and much of the trail stretches through hardwood and conifer forests. In many places, standing water and bogs on both sides of the rail bed provide a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Bring insect repellent if you're on the trail between late spring and fall. If you're here when the snow flies, call out thanks to a passing snowmobiler: as with most trails in New Hampshire, the maintenance of this trail is taken on by local snowmobile clubs.
About 6.5 miles east of Tarrytown Road you'll encounter a narrow culvert beneath a road, with limited overhead clearance; consider dismounting and walking your bike. In East Candia, a historical marker denotes the site of the demolished railroad depot. From this point, the trail again plunges into secluded woodland.
The rail bed rises above the forest floor at points, while other stretches thread through high-walled cuts blasted through New Hampshire's famous granite during the railroad's construction. In Raymond, the local historical society has restored the train station. You can't miss the locomotive, caboose, boxcar and work car on a siding between the trail and the station. Just beyond town, you'll cross an impressive railroad bridge and return to the wooded setting that typifies most of the route. The Newfields railroad depot marks the trail's eastern end.
Parking and Trail Access
To reach the Massabesic Lake trailhead from Manchester, take State Route 101 north and east, then take Bypass 28 south. After passing through a rotary, look for the Massabesic Lake boat launch on the left. The trailhead is at the boat launch.
To reach the trailhead in Newfields from the junction of state routes 108 and 85, head north on 108, cross the active rail line and take the first left on Ash Swamp Road. Go to the end of the road and park at the old depot (do not park near the active rail line).