About this Itinerary
The Air Line State Park Trail (ALSPT) provides a tranquil ride through bucolic woods and small town parks, over two viaducts and several streams, and past old mill buildings and charming waterfalls. The route follows the corridor of the former Air Line Railroad, which was built in the 1870s to connect New York and Boston along the shortest route possible (hence the name which is meant to denote a ‘line’ in the ‘air’ between these two points). The rail line was known for its fast express trains, including the White Train (also known as the Ghost Train) which had white coaches with gold trim and an interior that featured mahogany, velvet rugs and silk curtains. This train drew so much excitement when it passed by that people came out from the surrounding towns just to watch it. Eventually the rail corridor was abandoned in favor of other routes that had infrastructure that could better support faster and heavier rail cars.
Today the ALSPT runs for about 54 miles, in three separate sections, from East Hampton to the northeastern corner of Connecticut at the border of Massachusetts. The trail travels through mostly rural area, with few crowds, and its surface is compacted gravel and stone dust. For this itinerary, we will break the ride up into three days. On day one, bike about 20 miles each way from Lebanon to East Hampton; on day two, bike about 25 miles each way from Willimantic to Putnam. On day three, begin in Thompson and ride to the Massachusetts border for the final 6.5 miles each way, although we include an option to extend the ride into Massachusetts for those who want more challenge.
Our base for this itinerary is Coventry, Connecticut, the birthplace of Captain Nathan Hale. A solider for the Continental Army during the American Revolution, Hale is best known for his final words before being executed by the British, “I only regret that I have but one life to give to my country.”Today, South Coventry Village is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and includes noteworthy buildings, including Bidwell Tavern, a bar/restaurant established in 1822 and Coventry Country Store, originally built in 1787 and considered to be one of the oldest general stores in the country.
Worth exploring is the Nathan Hale Homestead. Built in 1776 this was the home of the patriotic Hale family. Six of the eight sons of Richard Hale served in the patriot army, the most famous being Nathan, who was captured and hanged as a spy at 21. Today, the homestead is a pristine example of a Georgian-style home. Visitors can tour the home and grounds on a guided tour from May-October. The grounds are also the host site for the Coventry Farmer’s Market. Held every Sunday from June - October, the market features organic produce and foods from local farms, works from area artisans and live music. Considered to be one of the top markets in the area, be sure to stop by if you are in town while it is being held.
If you’ve had your fill of historical New England, not to too far from Coventry you can experience the antithesis of Colonial Times at the Mohegan Sun or Foxwoods Resort & Casino. In addition to gambling, both resorts feature fine-dining restaurants, shopping, spas, golf courses and variety of a shows and live performances.
In Coventry, stay at the historical Daniel Rust House. Built in 1731, the property is set on two acres of beautifully landscaped grounds featuring perennial gardens and an apple orchard. There are three rooms in the main house each with a private bath, as well as a separate cottage with a fully equipped kitchen. Common spaces are full of antiques and designed to be welcoming to all guests, keeping up the tradition of previous owners, the Rose family, who ran this as a tavern from 1800 to 1832.
Bike rentals in this area are not easy to find. The closest shop is Central Wheel in Farmington, located about 30 miles away. While far to go for a bike rental, this shop offers high quality rentals and offers mountain bikes, which we would recommend for this route. (Hybrids can be ridden as well, but a mountain bike might be a more comfortable ride and would be especially useful if it rains.)
After a hearty breakfast at the Daniel Rust House, fill up your water bottles and drive 8.5 miles to the trail in Lebanon. Head southeast on CT-31 S/Main Street. Veer right on CT-32 S after about 4.5 miles and take a right onto Cider Mill Road and left onto Flanders River Road. After about 1.5 miles, run onto Cards Mill Road, left onto Baker Hill Road and follow that to Kinglsey Road. The ALSPT will intersect with Kingsley Road. There is no parking lot here, but cars are allowed to park on the side of the road (just be sure to pull off entirely).
Beginning the trail from the Kingsley Road intersection, the route continues north for about a quarter mile and ends at the Willimantic River. Explore this small section and see the dramatic drop off at the river (under no circumstance attempt to cross the river on the remains of the bridge that is here). Turn around and head south towards East Hampton. Even on a nice weekend, in the more remote sections of the trail you will find few crowds. Around the town centers there will be more traffic, but overall the ALSPT is a very peaceful ride, with few distractions other than the wildlife. You will also not have a lot of opportunities to purchase food or refill water bottles until further along, so start off with everything that you need.
In Hebron, you will come to a fork in the trail. Keep right to stay on the ALSPT, the other route is a spur that travels about 3.5 miles to the town of Colchester. If you opt to do this, note that conditions on this trail are rougher than on the ALSPT, and depending on recent weather conditions, you may need a mountain bike. In this area to your right is Raymond Brook Marsh, one of the largest inland wetland complexes in eastern Connecticut. Keep your eyes open for heron, deer, beaver and turtles as you pass by this stunning landscape.
Further along, you’ll come to Salmon River State Forest. With more than 6,000 acres, the forest offers miles of hiking trails as well as opportunities for fishing and kayaking. Within the confines of the park, find one of only three remaining covered bridges in Connecticut. To visit, head south at the intersection of Bull Hill Road and travel for 1.25 miles to the Comstock Bridge. Linking East Hampton and Colchester, this covered bridge was built in1791 and rebuilt in 1860. Today, the bridge is open to pedestrian traffic.
As you continue along, you’ll cross the Lyman Viaduct, rising 137 feet over Dickson’s Creek. Built in 1873 as a bridge, it was filled in with gravel between 1912 and 1913 to create the present day viaduct to better accommodate the weight of freight trains. Shortly before you reach downtown East Hampton, cross the Rapallo Viaduct. Also built in 1873 and originally a bridge that spanned the Flat Brook, this too was filled in in 1913. Riding over this viaduct offers stunning views of the marsh to the north and, along with the Lyman Viaduct, is a highlight of this leg of the trail.
The trail ends in East Hampton on Main Street. Immediately next to the trail find Main Street Pizza. Offering pizza, subs and cold drinks, this is a quick and easy place to refuel. Heading left on Main Street, just a few doors down, is Po’s Rice & Spice which serves Asian fusion dishes such as lemon grass chicken, pad thai, and broccoli and tofu, amongst many options. If neither of these choices is appealing, take a right on Main Street and follow this for about a mile to get to a shopping complex with a large grocery store and several fast food restaurants. If you opt to do this, be cautious as this section of road can see a lot of traffic. After a hearty lunch, refill your water bottles and return to the ALSPT.
After a long day of biking, grab a waterfront seat and a glass of wine at the Lake View Restaurant in Coventry to watch the sun set. Enjoy live music on Friday and Saturday evenings while lingering over a dinner of such specialties as Mediterranean shrimp, veal marsala and Lake View Jambalaya.
Today, travel eight miles to the trailhead in Willimantic. Follow CT-31 S/Main Street for 4.4 miles, turn right onto CT-32 S and follow for another three miles. Continue on Main Street, turn left on Jackson Street and look for the parking lot and trailhead on your right. The first couple of miles of the trail in this direction aren't particularly scenic; however, soon you will leave the town behind and find yourself surrounded by a beautiful forested area for much of the remaining route.
The trail ends in Putnam on the banks of the Quinebaug River. (If starting at this end, the parking lot is just down the road at Simonzi Park.) There are no places to grab lunch here but just over a half a mile away you will find several surprisingly great options. Take a left on Kennedy Drive and the first right on Canal Street. Follow this road and take the first right on to Monohansett Street, which curves and turns in to Main Street. Along here you will find several restaurants. The first two you come to will be: Jessica Tuesdays, offering gourmet sandwiches, salads and delectable desserts; and The Crossings Restaurant & Brew Pub, featuring craft beers, fresh Angus beef burgers and salads. But several additional restaurants are further along Main Street, so spend some time wandering around and you are sure to find a lunch spot that serves exactly what you are looking for. As you will see, Putnam is a lively little New England town with an exciting assortment of restaurants, cafes, art galleries, boutiques and much more. Enjoy a delicious lunch before heading back to Willimantic.
For dinner tonight, consider the Willimantic Brewing Company, which offers an extensive list of fresh brewed beers and everything from steaks to burgers and wood-fired pizza on their menu. Located in downtown Willimantic, in an imposing granite and limestone building dating from 1909 that formerly served as a U.S. Post Office, this is an ideal place to enjoy after completing your ride as it’s right on Main Street only about two blocks from the trailhead.
Today, drive about 30 miles to the trailhead in Thompson, near the Massachusetts border. To reach it, head southeast on Main Street and turn left on Ripley Hill Road, then take another left on Lewis Hill Road. Turn right onto US-44 E and follow this for about 14 miles before turning left onto CT-244 E. Follow this road for about six miles and merge onto CT-97 S. Turn left onto CT-169 N and after about 2.5 miles, turn right onto CT-171 E and a left onto W. Thompson Road. After crossing Acme Pond, look for the parking lot on your left along the banks of the pond. The trailhead is located slightly further up W. Thompson Road.
This small section of trail is very rural and provides a quiet ride with few other trail users. If the 13 mile roundtrip on the itinerary for today isn’t enough, once you reach the Massachusetts border, continue riding and stay on the 21-mile Southern New England Trunkline Trail, which extends to Franklin, Massachusetts. Riders on hybrid bikes should consider trail conditions before continuing; the Trunkline Trail is gravel and crushed stone but is not in as good condition as the ALSPT, so a mountain bike is ideal. Efforts are ongoing to improve the trail, however, so use your judgment and be cautious if riding a hybrid.
At the end of the trail, and all along the route, there are no options for trailside businesses from which to grab food or a drink, so plan accordingly. At the trailhead parking lot, you will have passed by Riverside Pizza. This shop serves a wide variety of items including pizza, subs, wings and cold drinks at this convenient location.
While you’re in the area, you may want to take a side excursion by car to Sturbridge, Massachusetts, to visit historical Sturbridge Village. This living history museum depicts life in an early 19th-century rural village and features costumed historians, antique buildings, water-powered mills and a working farm. Spend time strolling the grounds and watching various demonstrations such as the shoemaker at work, musket firing and gristmill operations. Take a Quinebaug River boat ride, participate in seasonal farm work and make a candle. A popular local site, the village offers a unique hands-on experience that appeals to visitors of all ages.
For a truly memorable meal, at the end of your day’s journey, dine at the historical Altnaveigh Inn and Restaurant in nearby Storrs. Built around 1734, this beautiful colonial property now houses one of the finest restaurants in the area. Enjoy such delicious dishes as stuffed artichoke hearts with goat cheese, plum glazed salmon filet, and breast of Long Island duckling with apples and walnuts. Relax in the charming candlelit dining room and wander the lush grounds after a sumptuous meal.