About this Itinerary
The Hop River State Park Trail is a 19-mile passage through the scenic countryside of eastern Connecticut. Developed partially along the corridor of the former 1840s Hartford, Providence and Fishkill rail line, this west-east route travels between the Vernon–Manchester town line and the western edge of Willimantic. Though not far from Hartford, the state’s capital, the Hop River Trail manages to keep the sights and sounds of suburbia to a minimum, winding in and out of residential areas, woodlands, fields and open space preserves. The trail passes by Valley Falls Park and Hop River and Bolton Notch state parks and connects to the Vernon Rails-to-Trails, a spur trail traveling north to the historic center of Rockville.
The trail surface is primarily crushed stone and is suitable for hybrid and mountain bikes. Forest canopy and narrow rock cuts help keep much of this trail cool during hot and humid summer months. Come prepared with enough water and food for the entire ride. The Hop River Trail is operated by the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, whose website provides useful information on the condition of the trail surface and the old railroad bridges along the route.
If traveling to the region by air, you will likely land at Bradley International Airport (BDL), north of Hartford and roughly 20 miles from the Manchester–Vernon area. Hartford is an interesting, historical city with many attractions and options for dining and lodging. There are, however, overnight accommodations closer to the western trail terminus, including Vernon’s Holiday Inn Express and Manchester’s The Mansion Inn B&B and Residence Inn.
Unless you stay at the Mansion Inn B&B and partake of their delicious breakfast fare (often including jellies made with their grapes), consider stopping at Chez Ben Diner in Manchester for a hearty Canadian-style breakfast. Staying on the international theme, another option for breakfast treats (espresso with Italian cannoli, for instance) is La Via Gusto Deli and Market, where you can also pick up a sandwich to go for the ride. Calories consumed and geared-up for your round-trip, 38-mile ride, head to the trailhead and parking area on Colonial Road.
Once on the trail, you quickly enter a wooded corridor and travel northeast toward Vernon; expect an occasional road crossing. Just before the intersection with Washington Avenue in Vernon, a footbridge takes you over the Tankerhoosen River. Shortly thereafter, you pass trail access and parking at Church St. (mile 2.5), and the Rockville Spur Trail branches off at Phoenix Street and Warren Avenue. The Hop River Trail climbs gradually past impressive rock outcrops, cuts through neighborhoods for a short stretch to Tunnel Road and begins to curve south and jog back into the forest. There are numerous historical markers along the western segment of the trail. Near the intersection with Tunnel Road, look for Connecticut’s longest keystone arch tunnel, built in 1849 as the first rail tracks were laid from Manchester to Bolton Notch.
For 1.5 remote miles, the trail abuts the Belding Wildlife Area and passes through Valley Falls Park, a popular place for hiking, swimming, picnicking and fishing. You are riding through the beautiful Tankerhoosen Valley whose early European settlers were farmers and mill workers. The Tankerhoosen and other rivers in this watershed were used to power mills by the early 1800s, and the region led the textile industry into the 20th century. With the eventual decline of the mills, farming and agriculture took over as the valley’s primary industry, though much of this agricultural heritage is lost today. The Tankerhoosen watershed is home to a large variety of plants, trees, animals and fish, however, and a delightful place to experience the ecological diversity of the region.
The trail continues southeast through this forested section toward Boltonand passes through Bolton Notch State Park, known for its interesting rock types and geological formations. There is a parking and access point (mile 6.5) just before the Hop travels under Rt. 6 and crosses Notch Rd. Between this road crossing and the next at Steele Crossing Rd. (parking is also available here), you venture into the Hop River State Park, thread a narrow cut rock and descend 2 miles through thick woods. US 6 comes into view on your left but not so close as to break the mood. Trail access and parking in Andover is near the trail’s intersection with Burnap Brook Rd. (mile 11). Keep watch for small waterfalls like the one near Burnap Brook Rd., and enjoy the covered bridge over Rt. 316.
Leaving Andover, you eventually pass beneath US 6 through a 100-foot lighted tunnel. Another mile brings you to Parker Bridge Rd. For the last 4 miles, the Hop River Trail follows its namesake, the Hop River, a tributary of the Willimantic River. The trail crosses over the waterway, passes through woodlands and edges up to fields and old rock walls. In Columbia, parking is available just north of the trail at Hop River Rd. There are several road crossings before going under the US 6 bypass to the trail terminus at Kings Rd. Beyond Kings Rd. is a broken bridge that should not be used. It is possible that the Hop River Trail will connect to the Air Line State Park Trail in Willimantic at some point in the future. It will also be part of the East Coast Greenway's path from Maine to Florida. Enjoy the gentle downhill grade on the return trip back to Manchester.
After a long day on the Hop River Trail, you may appreciate other attractions Hartford has to offer, including many top-notch restaurants and entertainment venues. For one-stop-shopping with a restaurant, bar and music venue in the same place, check-out Arch Street Tavern or Infinity Music Hall & Bistro. City Steam Brewery offers hand-crafted brews, pub fare and comedy shows. Hartford is among the oldest cities in the United States and, as such, home to the nation’s oldest continuously operating art museum: Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art. You’ll also find Bushnell Park, the oldest publicly funded park, and you shouldn’t miss the Mark Twain House & Museum, a chance to see where author Samuel Clemens lived and wrote for a spell during the late 1800s. Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, also lived in Hartford, and you can visit her Nook Farm neighborhood at the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center (Stowe-Twain combined tours/ticket are available as well