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The Assabet River Rail Trail connects five old mill towns that owe their revitalization to present-day high-tech industries. A midpoint gap splits the 8.6-mile paved trail, though long-range plans call for a 12.5-mile trail from Acton; through Maynard, Stow, and Hudson; to Marlborough. It offers a forested escape for recreation and a route for Boston-bound bike commuters to reach the train station in South Acton.
Trail plans date to 1992, when local residents eyed the former railbed of the Marlborough Branch Railroad as a rail-trail project. The branch ran from a junction with the main line Fitchburg Railroad in Acton southward along the Assabet River beginning in 1849, extending to Marlborough by 1855. The Fitchburg Railroad subsequently merged with Boston and Maine Railroad. Passenger service ended in 1958; freight ended in the 1960s. All five towns along the route voted in support of the rail-trail in 1998, and the first section opened in 2005.
The newest section of paved trail starts opposite the tracks of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s (MBTA) South Acton Station; passengers can take bicycles on the Fitchburg line on Saturdays, Sundays, and off-peak hours during the week. Dedicated trail parking is available on Maple Street.
Starting in Acton, you’ll pass the only farm along the trail on the right, and then cross the Fort Pond Brook, which attracted mills here beginning in the early 1700s. The trail enters wetlands before arriving in Maynard and traveling through its busy downtown. You’ll cross the Assabet River here on a bridge installed in 2017 and get good views of renovated 19th-century mill buildings.
The paved rail-trail ends at White Pond Road at mile 3.2. For the next 1.9 miles the railroad corridor passes through the 2,230-acre Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge on Track Road, a public access dirt road that’s more suitable for mountain bikes. The next 2 miles of corridor, between Sudbury Road and the trailhead on MA 62/Wilkins Street in Hudson, is closed, as it crosses private land.
You’ll regain the older section of rail-trail at the MA 62 trailhead, roughly where a future section of the Mass Central Rail Trail will cross on its 23-mile route from Berlin to Waltham. You’ll get a good look at the Assabet River as you cross a small bridge alongside MA 62/Main Street, then you’ll see a restored 1921 Boston and Maine Railroad blue caboose before you enter Hudson’s commercial district. Hudson was once known as Shoe Town for all the shoe-making factories along the river. The best view of the river comes about 0.6 mile past the caboose as you cross a trestle 40 feet above the river.
Leaving Hudson, the trail again plunges into woods that offer a shady canopy as you begin a gentle climb to Marlborough. Passing beneath MA 85, you enter Marlborough and cross wetlands around Flagg Brook that serves as a wildlife corridor. You can see the Fort Meadow Reservoir from an overlook with benches. The path continues about another mile, reaching the trail high point at Hudson Street, before ending on Lincoln Street.
To reach the Acton trailhead from I-495, take Exit 28 to MA 111 W/Massachusetts Ave. Head 3.7 miles west on MA 111/Massachusetts Ave., and turn right onto Central St. Go 1.5 miles and bear right onto MA 27/Main St. Go 0.1 mile and turn right onto Maple St. Trailhead parking is 0.1 mile on the left.
To reach the Ice House Landing trailhead in Maynard from I-495, take Exit 27 to MA 117 W/Main St./Great Road. Head 5.2 miles east on MA 117, and go straight to join MA 62/MA 117/Great Road. Go another 2.2 miles and turn right onto Winter St., then go 0.2 mile and look for the Ice House Landing trailhead on the right.
To reach the Hudson trailhead parking from I-495, take Exit 26 toward Hudson on MA 62/Coolidge St. Go 2.0 miles east and take the second exit off the roundabout to follow MA 62/Main St. Go 1.6 miles and turn left onto MA 62/Wilkins St. Look for trailhead parking on the left in 0.3 mile.
To reach parking in Marlborough from I-495, take Exit 24A toward US 20 E/Lakeside Ave. Go 0.8 mile east and turn left onto US 20/W. Main St. Go 0.5 mile and turn left onto Winthrop St., then go 0.2 mile and turn right onto Lincoln St. Go 0.1 mile and turn left onto Mechanic St., then go 0.2 mile and turn right onto Hudson St. Look for parking in 0.1 mile on the left just past the trail. The trail ends 0.3 mile to the south.
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