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Given its covered bridges, historical aura and abundant wildlife, the Ashuelot Rail-Trail (a.k.a. Ashuelot River Trail) has plenty to offer. The 21.2-mile route follows the corridor of the Ashuelot Railroad, which operated from 1851 to 1983, fostering the development of textile mills, wooden box factories and leather tanneries in the region. Watch for the original granite mile markers, which pop up periodically along the trail.
From the trailhead on Emerald Street near Keene State College, you'll head south, tracing the Ashuelot River. Five miles of trail from Route 101 in Keene to Pine Street in West Swanzey has been improved with a stone dust surface. South of Pine Street the trail surface is packed cinder, ballast and dirt that takes a pounding under heavy rains, which give rise to sandy, muddy and even flooded trail sections. Surface improvements for the remainder of the trail in Swanzey are planned for the summer and fall of 2014.
Approaching West Swanzey, the trail passes near Sawyer's Crossing covered bridge, where you'll find a small parking area and a trail map. You'll soon reach a railroad trestle, marking your arrival in moose territory. Watch for moose tracks on the trail—similar to those of deer but twice the size—and if you do spot a moose, do not under any circumstances approach it, as they can be aggressive animals.
Next up is the historical town of Winchester, whose early settlers were repeatedly attacked and killed or taken captive by Indians. Following its burning in 1747, the town was rebuilt around its agricultural roots. Over the years, several small industries were established in Winchester. Graves & Company, one of America's first manufacturers of musical instruments, opened its doors here in the 1830s. The coming of the railroad brought still more industries and jobs to the region.
You can't miss Ashuelot's distinctive covered bridge, built in 1864 to bring wood across the Ashuelot River to fuel the burners of the railroad's steam engines. Considered one of New England's most sophisticated covered bridges, the span is 169 feet long, with intricate latticework and flanking sidewalks. A sign at each end of the bridge warns of a $5 fine for anyone riding or driving faster than a walk.
Don't overlook the Sheraton House Museum on the other side of the trail. The trail continues south, past old mills and rusting boxcars on sidings, to a high ridge with picturesque river views. Along the way you'll pass a railroad depot that's been restored and converted into a residence, complete with train cars on a siding. Near Hinsdale, the trail parallels State Route 63 through farmland. You'll emerge at a trailhead that links up with the Fort Hill Branch Rail-Trail.
To reach the Keene trailhead from Ashuelot River Park, turn left on West Street, right on School Street, then right again on Emerald Street. Parking is available in the shopping center lot directly across from the trailhead.
To reach the Hinsdale trailhead, follow State Route 63 for 2.1 miles south out of Hinsdale. The trailhead is on the right.
My husband and I recently completed this entire rail trail from route 63 in Hinsdale all the way to Keene. We did this in 5-mile increments and we both enjoyed every mile. My husband is an advanced mountain bike rider and I'm more of a beginner.
Almost the whole trail is old railroad bed of packed ballast with shorter gravel and sandy sections. This is NOT a road bike trail and those of us that have mt bikes like it exactly the way it is!!!
The first 5-mile section from route 63 in Hinsdale to the old Ashuelot depot and covered bridge on Gunn Mountain Rd off of route 119 was spectacular. There is only one small spot where a bridge most have been that is a short, steep down and then quick up the other side which requires any technical skill. I just choose to walk my bike down and then back up. This section of the trail goes by some fascinating old, abandoned mills with some spooky looking old tracks.
The second 5-mile section from the Ashelot covered bridge to Old Westport Rd in Winchester is only slightly more technical.
The third 5-mile section from Old Westport Rd to Railroad Rd in West Swanzey was a beautiful ride.
The forth 5-mile section from West Swanzey to Keene while beautiful was, for us, pretty boring. This section of the trail is hard pan dirt and, when dry, would easily accommodate road bikes.
All in all a fantastic biking resource which we are delighted to have discovered. We'll be back often!
First it was hard to find the trail head next looking for parking and then when we finally started riding on it we didn't even get a mile before there was major construction and blockage going on the Keene trailhead... big disappointment
We biked this trail a couple of years ago and it is gradually being improved. Can go about 5 - 6 miles south and NW. They have put in a bridge over Rt 9/10/12 so that reduces the risk of crossing a very busy road. Crossing 101 going south still is hazardous. Pretty good ride both directions although horses had been on it for a short distance and didn't help the surface. Getting better!
It's scenic easy riding until the intersection of Eaton Rd, Pine St, Railroad St. Then it turns into up-to-the-axles mud and wet lands. I bailed and took South Grove St down to the intersection of Homestead Ave and got back on the trail. From there it was single track mixed with mud holes. And nonstop deer flies. A good variety for different riding preferences.
My 13 YO and I headed out to do Keene to Ashuelot Covered Bridge. Should have read the reviews here first. ABSOLUTELY correct that starting in Swanzey it's just a cleared way, NOT a bike path for anyone riding anything less than some extremely hard core off road bike that can take mud up to the hubs and a heavy duty mudmucking rider. I'm not talking about someone who doesn't want to do puddles here. It was asking you to ride through a wetland. Really disappointing. We thought possibly the place under the bridge was an anomaly. No. It's spot after spot of swamp. By the time we backtracked, and got our bearings on the road we were out of time to head all the way to Winchester. This would be a fabulous ride if whoever fairy godmother's the funding for trails like this came through with money to upgrade the trail to the condition it is right outside of Keene. My suggestion would be to get off the trail at Sawyer's Crossing rd. Make a right off the trail at Sawyer's Crossing and follow it out to Rt. 10. Take Rt 10 south (nice wide shoulder makes traffic not such a big deal)Then possibly get back on at Coombs Bridge rd. I didn't ride south from Coombs Bridge but it looked more improved again at that point.
As in the previous review five miles south from Keene was regraded hard pack 8 feet wide a joy to ride on! Great scenery and some nice bridges. And then at West Swanzey the trail became single track, over grown weeds, deep mud ruts, deep mud holes and passable only for the technical mountain bike riders. We can only look forward to the day when the rest of this trail becomes usable for everyone.
The good, the bad, and the ugly: Like much of New England in the few months that aren't winter, this makes for some pretty tough sledding in spots. My 14 year old son and I rode from downtown Keene all the way to the trailhead in Hinsdale on our mountain bikes. I wouldn't recommend parts of this on anything less rugged. About 5 miles south of Keene was shin-deep in mud holes off and on for 1/2 mile. Since we've had a lot of rain this summer (2013) there were several spots that were loose gravel, and a handful of sand traps that were waiting to snatch your front tire out from under you if you're not paying attention.
That being said, it was a fantastic ride! Gorgeous August weather, riding through miles and miles of cool, shady tunnels of trees, a few patches that were grown over with tall grass and flowers like some wild single track, and wending to and fro, back and forth over the river on rusty iron bridges with scenery straight from Yankee magazine. And of course, all of the deep, earthy smells you don't get from a car, for better or worse - you decide.
My favorite part is the east-west leg from Hinsdale to Winchester then back, high above the Asheulot river, flying down well-packed trail, deep and dark in the trees, with a few rocks to hop here and there, very few encounters with pedestrians or vehicle crossings, and a gentle grade that makes for a good cruising speed when you're heading west around the old Hinsdale station.
Just because the whole trail isn't necessarily suited for a leisurely Sunday stroll (nor strollers), there are plenty of miles of pleasant riding to be enjoyed.
The trail has been much improved with hardpack surface from Keene into West Swanzey. Tentative plans to improve the rest of the trail south. A great site for xc skiing beginning at the Sawyer's Crossing Bridge either direction (generally maintained by snowmobile groups).
Used more by snowmobilers(who maintain it) than by bicyclists or anyone else for that matter, this trail is truly a recreational jewel in SW NH. I have riden this trail many, many times and I live in one of the towns that it passes through. It follows the Ashuelot river and crosses it several times using the old railroad bridges which are still in decent shape. If you start at Dole Junction in Hinsdale, there's a dirt parking lot on the west side of Rt 63 north of the MA state line. You can ride the rail trail along the Connecticut river to Brattleboro, VT on the west side of Rt 63 or cross the road and travel north all the way to Keene more than 20 miles away. At the start of the ride, there are nice distance views to the west. Once the trail turns east, it follows the Ashuelot river with it's class III and IV rapids. It climbs steadily with the river all the way to Ashuelot(Winchester) where it turns north again to follow the river through Winchester and Swanzey on the way to Keene. In Keene, the end of the trail runs right by the KSU campus on it's way to The Center at Keene where the old railroad maintenance facility roundhouse has been cleverly disguised as modern shops with a semi circular, brick courtyard. Here it joins the Cheshire County Rail Trail, another great scenic trail more than 30 miles long which runs from the roundhouse, SE through Keene, Troy and Fitzwilliam on it's way towards Winchendon, MA or NW through Keene to Westmoreland. In fact, they are right now building a bridge over RT 9/12 in Keene where at times, it is almost impossible to cross the multiple lanes of traffic. All of the rail trails in Cheshire County are wonderful experiences, not to be missed. Try the trail from Jaffrey NH to Winchendon, MA. Yes, they can be challenging and yes they are long and have no facilities but they are without a doubt, some of the most beautiful, scenic trails I have ever ridden. Scenic vistas, remote grottos, wild streams and rivers, old farms and abundant wildlife with lack of people are just some of the pleasant surprises that await the competent off-road rider looking for an easy trail ride. If you want to spice it up a bit, there are dozens of side trails and old roads to keep you busy exploring for as long as you want. I have ridden many paved trails and they are fun and easy but can become boring for lack of challenge. If you can ride 20 miles of Cheshire County or New Hampshire rail trails, you can ride 40 miles of pavement on Cape Cod. I believe that one of the best things that the state of NH ever did was to purchase the old B&M right of ways and tear out the tracks to make recreational trails. If you've ever ridden any rail trails, you have to marvel at all the work that went into the railroads. Especially considering that they did not have modern power equipment when they built those 80 ft high causeways that cross the valleys or those big block, granite bridges over the old roads and streams. All along these trails you will discover relics and other evidence of the antique machinery that once transported most commerce in this country. I am impressed and very grateful for this lost legacy which has become a very valuable resource for the few people who use it.
Rode the trail on May 29, 2010. I started from Keene and headed south. The first 4 miles are not bad. After that, it became very rough. I have a hybrid bike, so it is designed for onroad and a fair amount of off roading. Even with a mountain bike, it would have been tough in many spots. This has a lot of sand throughout the trail, making it very difficult. There had been very little rain for weeks, yet many spots were muddy. At a few points, it was hard to tell if I was on the trail or not. One spot was through a field for over 1/2 mile. No trail markers, no dirt path. The only indication was the owner of the land had run a tractor over the grass leaving a mowed path through the taller grass. Another thing was the amount of tree fall debris through the trail. Many times, had to get off the bike and lift it through the woods to get around the fallen trees. I made it to Hinsdale, and within a mile after the restored train station, there was a tree fall with at least a dozen good size trees blocking the trail. There was no way to get around it, forcing me to turn around with less than a mile to the end.
I was surprised by the lack of scenery. Granted, there were a couple of pretty spots, but much of the ride is either following power lines or through people's backyards. Not very scenic. There were many different forms of wildlife, which was nice. Deer, beaver, turtles, hawks and more.
Overall, there are much nicer trails to try. I would suggest trying them first. This one was long, hard and boring. I bike trails consistantly and this one is probably the least enjoyable of them all.
I started from the Hinsdale side this afternoon and rode half the trail. Aside from a couple of trees that had fallen at the outset, the trail was in great shape. Completely dry with many leaves to crunch through. The surface (hard dirt with some rocks, a bit of sand) combined with the flat grade was ideal for a novice mountain biker like me. Riding behind the abandoned buildings was a little creepy if you are alone and female (there was literally no one else on the trail the entire afternoon), so you may want to keep that in mind if you are riding on a weekday. The scenery was spectacular, as the leaves have just started to change. The one thing that would have been helpful would have been mile markers, even every couple of miles for orientation. Other than that, the experience was perfect, and I'm excited to start from the other end and make my way south!
I'd like to mention that people trail ride their horses on this trail. Please be careful when you approach a horse and rider, a horse cannot see you if you approach from behind. Horses are not like dogs, they can spook and throw their rider which could result in serious injury or death. If you do come up behind a horse please say something in a calm gentle voice so you don't scare the horse and wait for the rider to respond. Most riders are courteous and will either move to one side and wave to you or tell you it's ok to go. If you approach a horse from the front they could also spook because you might be going to fast towards them. In that case it's best to stop and wait for the horse and rider to pass. When you go by a horse and rider please give them plenty of room, a horse can deliver quite a painful kick (they can also kick out to the side). I've ridden on these trails with my horse long before it was opened to the general public and never seen a soul. But after it was opened to the public I've met up with many people who are just clueless about horses. I've had joggers and mountain bikers either come up behind me scaring my horse. I had one jogger that was so close I could've touched her head, if I didn't keep all 4 hooves on the ground by keeping my horse moving forward she would've had one planted in her chest. I've even met up with rude mountain bikers who kept on riding by me when I've asked them to stop because my horse is ready to buck or bolt. I had one that said to me "I pay taxes I have the right to ride here" and she kept going while my horse was trying to rear up.
So please be careful so we all can enjoy the trails together.
We rode the trail for about ten miles from Hinsdale toward Keene on 8/25/08 -- a beautiful sunny day with temps in the 70's. Had read previous reviews about sandy conditions after about the ten-mile point so turned around at Monadnock Speedway and returned. Very scenic trail mostly through wooded areas. We rode Trek hybrids, with comfy seats and fairly wide tires due to the roots and rocks. Definitely not suitable for road bikes, as other reviewers have mentioned. Enjoyed the trail very much despite some bumpy parts and short sections that were sandy, but overall, trail is in fine shape, considering the surface is not *improved*. Had some difficulty finding the trailhead, but with some directions from the local firemen washing vehicles at the fire station, were able to find it. Recommended trail with beautiful new Hampshire scenery!
"This trail is home base for me. I think it's silly to hear people complain about short segments of a trail. Sometimes some sandy parts are sandier than others. If you bicycle through the rain, it will be muddier. But the trail is very good throughout, and if you don't like dirt or bicycling when it gets ""tough"" for a minute, then either don't go bicycling, or keep your opinion to yourself. Every day is a different day outside in NH and this is an excellent trail to use. As a mountain cyclist, I appreciate challenge. There's always a challenge cycling or hiking, and a true outdoors person doesn't complain about the outdoors."
This trail follows the Connecticut river and provides some really spectacular scenery. It is particularly beautiful this time of year. This trail is not really suitable for a road bike because of the rocks, but it is easily ridden with a mountain bike. We started at the southern most point (a parking area) on the trail and road 6 miles north. The first two miles are loose ballast but because of leaves, the ride wasn't too bad. Watch out for the first bridge since the spaces between the boards could catch even a mountain bike tire. The next two miles are shared with cars who are using a local lake (no real traffic). The road is potholed, but is a fairly easy ride. Beyond that is packed fine gravel. We went as far as the Citgo station (about 6 miles from our start point). Beyond this, it appeared that the trail was less travelled and there was a fair amount of overgrowth. It was nearing sunset, so we turned back at this point. One last comment - beware of hunters who share the trail in the fall. They seem to like sunset in particular.
"Date: Sept 16, 2006
Starting point (mile 0): parking lot off Rt 63 near S end of trail
Bike: Hybird 700 x 38 tires with tread for mixed dirt and pavement
The good news is the southern end of this trail has great views of Ashuelot River and by NH unimproved trail standards the trail surface condition is OK but not for narrow tires (don't think about using a road bike ... my son's mountain bike would have a better choice.)
At the 10 mile mark all this changes ... soft sand and then much worse, soft dirt. I had to walk the bike for about 1 mile.
From about 11 mile mark to 16 mile mark you need to watch for soft dirt and in place may need to walk your bike. This section mostly follows power lines and is not very interesting.
At the 16 mile mark first you encounter very soft dirt and the water ... a real marsh. Don't think about riding thru it. Walk you bike and get wet feet.
From this point to Keene the trail has been improved but it is not very pretty.
1) Go to the fairly nearby Sugar River bike path or
2) Take a round trip on the 10 most southern miles of the trail. Because I had to be in Keene and the soft sand / dirt cut my speed to 8 MPH I did not have time to explore the towns along the way. I wished I had had time to do so.
The middle part of this trail is not a good bike path ... too much loose dirt and sand."
We road a short segment including the Ashuelot crossing south of Westport. Rideable in parts; deep sand elsewhere. NH trails are not to be recommended for bikers.
"Left Winchester at 11am on a cool day that warmed up later.
The first 1/3 up to the Monadnock Speedway is sandy and slow going. The trail crosses Rt.10 and other roads quite frequently and after the speedway got better. It is a scenic trail and in what seems to be the NH tradition of not being well graded but trimmed of grass and brush with nice bridges. There was on very wet section under an overpass in west swanzey that you can use the road to go around. The covered bridges you pass near are worth the extra side trips. Take the time to find out where they are in relation to the trail. We had lunch in Keene about 2pm and returned the same way, but cut the last sandy mile off by jumping on a road that paralleled the trail."
"8-2-05 started at Dole Jct. Trail head was 2.2 miles south of Hinsdale on rt.63 and from south is shorter to find from Northfield and head north on rt.63. parking on rt.63 on west side of rd. Head north on east side of rt.63 for Ashuelot. First mile some weeds and wet, but rained the night before. at Hinsdale found nice restored station. biked to Winchester and had lunch. On return route we took right down hill into Hinsdale and after asking directions, found a different return rt. I think it is the Conn. river RR and starts at boat ramp on conn. river and gets you right back to your vehicle. Trail varied from nicely packed dirt to very rough, but steady climbs and great views. Don't miss the covered bridge. "
"The section of this trail between Hinsdale and Winchester is very pleasant; the trail is like a constantly curving and tunnelling through the woods. Two or three miles immediately south of Keene are also pleasant. However, there are about five or six miles just north of Winchester that are just long, straight stretches of recently bulldozed dirt, with some stretches of thick sand, that run under a power line. These are not pleasant and I recommend avoiding them, especially on hot days. Hopefully, the trail will not be bulldozed or graded with large earthmoving equipment again."
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