About this Itinerary
The Nashua River Rail Trail (NRRT) travels nearly 12 miles through the towns of Ayer, Groton, Pepperell and Dunstable in Massachusetts before crossing the border and ending just shy of downtown Nashua, New Hampshire. The trail offers a tranquil setting with a varied landscape and many scenic overlooks. Those who are fortunate enough to ride the NRRT during the peak of fall foliage will experience the magic of autumn in New England from the perfect vantage point. Even luckier are those who can find time to bike mid-week when you will be rewarded with a nearly empty trail.
Fly to Boston or Manchester and drive to the small town of Hollis, NH. Located only 6 miles outside of Nashua, but world’s away, is the Timber Post Bed & Breakfast. Set amid rolling farmland in this quaint New England town, the historical property was built in 1774 and features all the characteristics you would expect from a home of this era. From hand-hewn pegged timbers, wide plank flooring and a massive center chimney, the Timber Post exudes Colonial-era charm and provides an ideal base from which to explore the beautiful surrounding New England countryside and the NRRT. The original owner, Aaron Hardy, marched on Concord to fight the British in 1775, and details of his home reflect his revolutionary spirit. Wide, center-cut boards, which by law were to be sent back to England for the King’s use, are featured throughout the home, indicating a direct statement about his politics.
The Timber Post B&B is located less than 4 miles from the northern terminus of the NRRT. Our itinerary takes you south on the trail from the most northern trailhead just outside of Nashua. If you decide to bike to the trailhead from your hotel, take a left on Broad Street, turn right on Wright Road and follow this along until the intersection with Depot Road Take a left and follow Depot Road to the intersection with Old Runnels Bridge Road Take a left and follow this road to Gibson Road and look for the trailhead on your right about 0.5 mile down. Note: Old Runnels Bridge Road follows NH-111 for a section but that it veers off to the right 0.3 mile after turning from Depot Road This is a fairly rural route, and other than the short stretch on Broad, the traffic should be minimal. Ample parking is available at the trailhead should you decide to drive.
Bike rentals are hard to come by in this area; however, Goodales Bike Shop in Nashua, has an impressive selection of road, hybrid and mountain bikes. They also rent carriers for your car if you need one. From the bike shop, it is a 5-mile bike ride to reach the trailhead. Recent development has eliminated the once seamless connection between the NRRT and the 1.3-mile Nashua Heritage Rail Trail, which ends in the downtown area, but the city of Nashua has attempted to make amends by providing a map that includes details on how to accomplish this on city streets. Click here to download that map.
The Nashua River Rail Trail follows the corridor that was once the site of the Hollis branch of the Boston and Maine Corporation railroad. Opened in 1948, the rail line linked Worcester, MA, and Nashua, NH, eventually connecting to rail lines that continued on to Portland, Maine. The last train that operated the section that is now the NRRT ran in 1982.
After leaving the trailhead in Nashua, you will soon cross the state border into Massachusetts. Along the route you will spot concrete signal bases, all that remains of the railroad that once traveled this corridor. From the border to the town of Groton, MA, a 5-foot-wide gravel equestrian path runs alongside the trail, so be alert for horseback riders in this section.
In Dunstable, which lies immediately over the border, the trail runs alongside the nearly 400-acre Dunstable Rural Land Trust Wildlife Preserve. Here you will find hiking trails through old-growth forest, as well as active beaver ponds and open meadows. To explore some of the preserve’s walking paths, look for the parking area on your left as you enter Massachusetts, where you’ll find a trailhead.
In Pepperell, take a slight diversion right on Groton St. when you enter town to see the Pepperell Covered Bridge. Spanning the Nashua River, this is one of only three covered bridges on a public road in the state. Unfortunately, time took a toll on the original bridge, and while this is faithful replica of the 1740 structure, the present day bridge was built in 2010.
As the NRRT approaches Groton, the trail winds through a portion of the J. Harry Rich State Forest. This area offers several broad, level trails for easy walking, many adjacent to the Nashua River. Access points to hiking trails are available via Nod Hill Road (turn right on Sand Hill Road, which becomes Nod Hill).
In Groton, visit the Blackbird Cafe for a salad, wrap or one of their creatively prepared hot or cold sandwiches. Also featuring an all-day breakfast, this family-run establishment partners with local farms, bakeries and dairies to offer the freshest ingredients available. Be sure to peruse the walls to see their rotating display of local artwork. To reach the cafe, turn right on Main St. when you enter Groton and find it on your left grouped with several other businesses in a small complex.
About 2 miles before the end of the trail in Ayer is Groton School Pond. Stop here to see beavers, which have built their lodge on the pond, as well as other native wildlife. The trail ends in downtown Ayer at the commuter rail station, where restrooms are available. Across the street and to the right down Main St. is The Cottage, a casual restaurant featuring hot and cold sandwiches, pizza and burgers. For a quicker stop, a new addition to downtown is Union Coffee Roaster. Stop here for a cup of coffee and biscotti before returning north. Back in Nashua, reward yourself with a treat from Jake’s Old Fashioned Ice Cream. Located in the downtown area, this popular shop serves premium ice cream in a variety of flavors. Try a cone of Royal Hawaiian (coconut, macadamia nuts and pineapple) or Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookie D’oh, among the dozens of choices.
Extend your stay and explore what the area has to offer. About 30 miles away (only 17 miles from the NRRT terminus in Ayer) lies Concord, MA. For history buffs, Concord is a must. Everyone, however, will find something of interest in this quintessential New England town, where the “shot heard around the world” was fired—setting off the American Revolutionary War. Begin at the Visitor Center for a fascinating multi-media presentation, “The Road to Revolution,” which reintroduces you to all the significant events surrounding the war. Afterward, visit some of the locally significant sites, including the Old North Bridge, where “the shot” was fired, walk part of the Battle Road and see Paul Revere’s Capture Site. Also visit nearby Walden Pond; The Orchard House (where Louisa May Alcott wrote “Little Women”), The Old Manse (the center of Concord’s political, literary and social revolutions, with notable figures such as Nathaniel Hawthorne & Ralph Waldo Emerson being frequent guests) and Sleepy Hollow Cemetery.
Frank Lloyd Wright may not come to mind when thinking of New Hampshire, yet in nearby Manchester sits an impressive example of his iconic architectural style. The Zimmerman House is the only Wright house open to the public in New England, and, like his masterpiece Fallingwater, the architect designed the house, the interior, all of the furniture, the gardens and even the mailbox. The home was donated by the Zimmerman family to the Currier Museum of Art in 1988. You must call ahead to make a reservation to join either a public or private tour. Also visit the Currier Museum, which has an internationally renowned collection featuring works by Picasso, Monet, O’Keefe and Wyeth.
Another charming New England town to explore is the other Concord in New Hampshire. Capital of the Granite State, Concord also has a number of historically important sites and buildings that further immerse you in the history of the region. Start at the New Hampshire State House, the oldest state house still in use by a legislature. The visitor center here can provide a plethora of information about points of interest in the area and is also the departure point for tours of the building. Visit the Pierce Manse, home to New Hampshire native and the 14th President of the United States, Franklin Pierce, to learn what life was like in the mid-19th century. Also stop by the New Hampshire Historical Society, whose small museum depicts various facets of New Hampshire history through an interesting collection of artifacts and documents.
No trip is complete without a bevy of eats to choose from. Surf, consistently voted one of the top seafood restaurants in New Hampshire, has locations in Nashua and Portsmouth. Chef Michael Timothy is devoted to presenting an innovative and creatively prepared menu focused on fresh seafood. All seafood is bought every day directly from the pier in Portsmouth and handpicked for only the choicest fish and shellfish.
Across the street from Surf in downtown Nashua is MT’s Local Kitchen & Wine Bar. A scaled-down version of Surf chef Michael Timothy’s original restaurant venture, MT’s offers high quality dining in a slightly more casual setting. Try one of the popular wood fired pizzas, or a crowd favorite: farm meatloaf. The extensive wine selection offers both local and international varietals.
Located in a restored barn on the grounds of a working farm, Gibbet Hill Grill in Groton, MA, is a true farm-to-table experience. The farm is home to about 50 head of Black Angus cattle, in addition to growing a majority of the produce and other ingredients used in the restaurant. Guests are invited to arrive early to wander the grounds and take in the stunning views of the surrounding area, including Mt. Wachusett, Mt. Watatic and Mt. Monadnock.