Cotton Valley Rail-Trail

New Hampshire

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Cotton Valley Rail-Trail Facts

States: New Hampshire
Counties: Carroll
Length: 12 miles
Trail end points: Meadow St. between Forest St. and High St. (Wakefield) and Railroad Ave. just north of Depot St. (Wolfeboro)
Trail surfaces: Gravel
Trail category: Rail-Trail
ID: 6016528
Trail activities: Bike, Horseback Riding, Snowmobiling, Walking, Cross Country Skiing

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Cotton Valley Rail-Trail Description

The Cotton Valley Rail Trail connects the small town of Wakefield, near the Maine border, and the quintessentially quaint New England vacation town of Wolfeboro. In 2017 the towns held a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the completion of a short segment between Cotton Valley Road in East Wolfeboro and Clark Road in Wakefield—-resulting in a continuous 12-mile route.

The trail is bookended by wonderful glimpses of its railroad history, making it a must-see for any railcar enthusiast. From the easternmost point in Wakefield, the trail begins at a small park surrounding the old-fashioned Old Boston and Maine Railroad Turntable, which was refurbished in the 1990s for the benefit of riders and park patrons. The trail makes no bones about its past as a railroad corridor, delightfully switchbacking along either side of the rails and even providing some well-paved opportunities for users to ride between the irons through the canopied northeastern woods. The eastern section includes some small hills that might prove difficult for some.

Continuing west, the Cotton Valley Rail Trail travels on a heavily wooded path leading toward Lake Wentworth. The western portion of the trail is very flat, making it ideal for horseback riding and cross-country skiing. In 3.1 miles, you will find a resting point where the trail intersects State Route 109, complete with a restroom, picnic benches, shelter, and the headquarters of the Cotton Valley Rail Trail Club. In 1.3 miles, you’ll come across the Albee Beach access point and a short, winding trail portion before finding gorgeous straightaways, including some narrow causeways over beautiful lake basins. The trail passes through the Linda Baldwin Preserve before finding the edge of the Back Bay, which is surrounded by parks, eateries, and charming shops that help make Wolfeboro a vacation destination.

Parking and Trail Access

To reach the easternmost trailhead at the Old Boston & Maine Railroad Turntable in Wakefield from the intersection of US 202 and SR 16 in Rochester, head north on NH 16 toward Ossipee/Conway. Go 18.6 miles. Turn right onto SR 109 S, and go 0.5 mile. A small parking lot and the trailhead will be on your left, just after you cross Forest St.

To reach the Cotton Valley Road/N. Wakefield Road endpoint, follow the directions above to SR 109, but turn left instead of right. Head west toward Wolfeboro on SR 109, and go 6.4 miles. Turn right onto Bryant Road, and go 1.2 miles. Turn right onto Cotton Valley Road, and go 1.3 miles. Turn left onto N. Wakefield Road, where two to three cars can park on a small gravel patch on the corner immediately to your right.

 

To reach the Cotton Valley Rail Trail Club trailhead, follow the directions above to SR 109. Turn left (west) onto SR 109, and go 8.7 miles. Parking at the Cotton Valley Rail Trail Club is situated on the right of SR 109/Governor John Wentworth Hwy., across from Fernald Crossing.

 

To reach the Albee Beach parking lot, follow the directions above to SR 109, and turn left. Go 9 miles, and turn left onto SR 109/SR28/Center St. Go 1.1 miles, then turn left onto Albee Beach Road. Follow it 0.3 mile, at which point the parking lot entrance branches off from Albee Beach Road.

 

To reach the northwesternmost endpoint in Wolfeboro from the intersection of US 202 and SR16 in Rochester, head north on US 202/SR 16, and in less than a mile, take Exit 15. Turn left (northwest) onto SR 11, and go 14.6 miles. At the traffic circle, take the second exit (straight) onto SR 28 N/S. Main St. In 2.5 miles turn right onto Glendon St. then make an immediate left onto Depot St. Public parking can be found immediately surrounding the Wolfeboro Chamber of Commerce, which resides in a retrofitted train depot.

Cotton Valley Rail-Trail Reviews

I rode this trail several years ago, when it only extended 3-4 miles east from Wolfeboro. However, this summer I rediscovered the trail, which is now 12 miles long extending all the way to Turntable Park in Sanbornville (completed summer of 2017). What a beautiful trail it is now. I have ridden the trail 7-8 times this summer and am really hooked on it! The natural beauty from causeway lake crossings to very bucolic meadows & wetlands on the western end are some of the best I've ridden in awhile!

As far as trailside features, you have the lakeside Town of Wolfeboro with many restaurants and a great bike shop (Nordic Skier) in town. When leaving Wolfeboro you pass by the restored train depot (restrooms, tourist info) close to town. This first 2 miles tends to be busy with walkers, cyclists, and people sailing remote controlled sailboats by the soccer fields (kind of neat).

The trail continues east crossing Route 28 (kind of busy, but slower traffic with a painted crosswalk so cars tend to stop for pedestrians and cyclists) but still use caution because it is hard for motorists to see around the foliage and buildings close to the road.

After Route 28, the trail continues on to two lake crossings on old railroad causeways, this is where cyclists must start to pay attention for the rest of the trail in regards to the trail width. Due to the narrowness of the RR causeway, and the fact the tracks have not been removed, cyclists must ride on a wonderful hard dirt surface , BUT as good as the surface is, the path is less than 5 feet wide between the two rails. It's great if it's just you on the trail and no-one else is around, but the trail tends to be busy near Wolfeboro. Oncoming cyclists must be very careful passing each other, I have seen many have dismounted to pass, and also you must call out a friendly warning when approaching other users on the trail.

The trail alternates from between the rails to being beside the rails, and a few times the trail will meander away from the rails altogether (especially near Albee Beach (restrooms, beach). This is where CAUTION must be exercised when crossing rails. Signs on the trail suggest dismounting when you must cross the steel rails. Even though there are wooden platforms built up at the crossings, riders must hit the rails as close to a 90 degree angle as they can (I seem to do fine at 45 degrees with 26" x 2.1" tires). The 7-8 times I rode this trail I came across minimum of 4 cyclists that went down, and they had the bruises and cuts to show for it!! (BTW, I counted, and I think 30 crossings of the steel rails is pretty accurate count for the whole trail)

About 3 miles from Wolfeboro, you will cross State Route 109, a bit quieter than Rt 28, but traffic tends to be a little faster.

Also at this crossing there's the restored Fernald Station (parking,porta-potty), which is also home to the "Putt-Putt cars" (Cotton Valley Rail Trail Club). The putt-putt cars on this trail is very unique, they are motorized 2-person railcars that run from Fernald Station 8 miles to the west and State Route 16. I only saw them in action on one of my rides, they always give a big wave and travel at about 10mph. This is why the rails are still in place on this rail trail, and we owe the 80 member club a big thank you for the maintenance of overgrowth they perform.

Beyond Fernald Station, the trail continues west for another 8 miles to very busy SR 16. The trail continues to alternate "between the rails" and "beside the rails" for this section. This is my favorite section, the 8 mile stretch is very quiet and features natural meadows and wetlands, and there are just minor road crossings with one section of 4 miles with no road crossings at all - it is very enjoyable!!

The last mile before reaching busy State Route 16 features some pretty good short up and down whoopee hills. At Route 16, there is a parking area, and the Miss Wakefield Diner is just south of the trail on Route 16 (no need to cross the highway).

If you do decide to cross 16, be aware traffic travels faster than it's 55mph posted limit, and tends to carry a lot of traffic. Crossing the highway gives you one more mile of trail to downtown Sanbornville and it's Turntable Park, featuring an old turntable used to turn locomotives around. There are also restaurants located in Sanbornville. I have crossed the highway a few times, but in all honestly, the last mile on the other side of Route 16 is not that attractive, even though the Town of Sanbornville is kind of nice, it may not be worth crossing the busy road.

(There is parking on Route 16 on the west side of the highway, so a good option is to park on 16 and ride to Wolfeboro!)

Overall, this is a great and beautiful ride, just watch the rail crossings!

Our family rode the trail from Wolfeboro to around mile marker 4, a while past the Cotton Valley Rail Trail Club on Rt. 109, in October 2018. There were a lot of great water views including a couple stretches with water on both sides, and winding parts through very pretty woods from about 1.5 miles just before Albee Beach onwards. The trail surface was very hard and not bumpy and presented no problem for hybrid-style bikes, basically as good as pavement (or even better than some paved trails I have been on that haven't been resurfaced recently). All of the crossings over the rails were clearly marked with signs instructing to walk your bikes and painted arrows indicating to do so at a right angle. After walking over many of them and them seeming very solid I began to slowly ride over them at 45 degree angles and never had a problem, and none of the several kids in my group did either. The parts of the trail in between the rails are narrow enough that you need to take extra care. If you are looking to go fast I wouldn't recommend this trail but if you are looking for a very scenic and leisurely ride I would highly recommend it. On the return ride I noticed that there were no signs for westbound bikers so this might explain some other peoples' complaints (although I still found the crossings vey obvious and good). I hope to return and ride the eastern portion of the trail another time.

I was delighted to read about the Cotton Valley Rail Trail from Wakefield to Wolfeboro. I picked up a copy of Rail-Trails, read up on the route and search Trail-link to read the reviews. I was aware of the switch over crossings on the trail and the dangers from what I read. Starting my ride in Wakefield at the Railroad Turntable I enjoyed a short ride to Route 16 and crossed over. I found the trail to be well maintained and walked over the first switch over crossing, I made a mental note that they might not be marked for hazards and continued riding. I was right! With the forest canopy and sun filtering through I came up on one with little notice and continue to cross and my back tire slipped out and I had crashed. Needless to say that ended my ride and caused an injury. I have ridden on many different surfaces and was shocked by what looked like an easy cross over. Please mark all switch over crossings as Hazards to avoid accidents. I am looking forward to riding this trail again after my recovery. If I had finished my ride I would have rated it a 5 Star, as I have heard it is a beautiful trail with a lot of great historical sites.

Accordion

Disappointed to read that there is still a hazard on this trail. This could be so easy to fix by putting cement in between the rails or putting mats on the crossings. I will not go on this trail until this is fixed as I took a bad spill due to the rails.

I drove about half an hour from Rochester to ride this trail on my new hybrid. The trail is compact gravel with beautiful scenery. I read some reviews on here and noticed some people mentioned the hazards crossing the rails, they weren't lying. About 4 miles in I tried to cross the rails almost fully parallel and my wheel slipped out underneath me. I skid into a burm and cut my knee. I chose self-care but could have used 2 or 3 sutures. After another 2 miles my girlfriend picked me up and after a trip to rite-aid for butterfly sutures we enjoyed the rest of the day in Wolfboro.

Along the way another rider gave me a large bandaid and showed me to the nearest road. I didn't get his name but thank you if you're reading this. I will hit the trail in a week or two again when my knee is healed, this time crossing the rails at a 90 degree angle.

The gap in the map can be closed. It is now possible to run, bike, walk, etc. from Turntable Park in Sanbornville to the Wolfeboro Depot. Just use caution when crossing Route 16 (White Mountain Highway) at the Miss Wakefield diner, Route 109 (Governor Wentworth Highway) at Fernald Station, and Route 28 in Wolfeboro.

The section from Clark Road out to Cotton Valley was completed during late summer and early fall of 2017. From Cotton Valley to about the Brookfield town line (the old W8/S4 mile marker post) is mostly between the rails (although there are a few sections beside the rails). From Cotton Valley, about the first mile is slightly downhill. From there it is fairly flat to Clark Road.

From the Brookfield line to Clark Road is mostly outside the rails.

Out near the W9/S3/B100 mile post there are a couple of picnic tables next to the trail.

In the late spring and early summer, the deer flies in the section from Cotton Valley to Clark Road can be very thick.

Get out and enjoy the completed trail!

The gap in the trail map can now be closed. The trail is open all the way to Rt 16 and beyond. We road from Wolfeboro to Rt 16 where the trail comes out near the Ms. Wakefield Diner. A beautiful ride from start to finish. There is some history to explore in the new section such as a family cemetery and a gorgeous stone wall that once was part of a dam and the remnants of the old barn behind it. Have fun riding and exploring the beauty of this trail.

great trail, workers were just about done with improvements near clark rd. couple of days and the whole trail is done. one correction to the trail
description should be made. the Wolfeboro end of the trail does not have horseback riding listed as an approved activity on the trail signs. not sure as to the east end.

I've been riding the Cotton Valley rail trail since it opened and I'm excited that the last phase of the trail is almost finished. I was told that it should be done by August. I'm gearing up for the ride from Wakefield into Wolfeboro! Thank you to all of the people who worked hard on this beautiful trail and making one of my dreams come true! Job well done!!

Earlier today I was at the Cotton Valley end of the trail and found that a new, 2 mile, section of the trail had been completed. The new section runs towards Wakefield, NH and ends shortly after the S4 mile marker stone.

It's pretty nice. Most of this section is between the rails.

We started in Wolfeboro, and about 4 miles north into the ride, encountered a bumpy section with tall grass between and beside tracks. There was one rider walking his bike. We couldn't see how far this walk would be, so we tried riding a little way, but even with mountain bikes it was not enjoyable, and maybe unsafe to ride. A little disappointing, but I have heard that they are working on the trail from either end, so maybe next time it will be ok. The rest of the trail was very flat and straight, some parts too much crush stone to get a grip on. Nice scenery
July 29, 2016

Absolutely beautiful both waterside and in the forest. Very high recommend for walkers and bikes.

Recently did my first bike ride on this trail and it was awesome just love the views of the water, mountain and woods and that it is not just a long straight trail that looks like it has no end but you go from riding between the railroad ties to a spur path through the woods or beside the old RR Bed. It can get a little tight if you meet another bike on the trial between the RR Ties but two bikes can pass you just need to know how to handle your bike and use caution. As far as going from the trail to up over RR ties and riding between there are signs that say stop and walk your bike over but with my mountain bike I have no problem. Love this trail and will be back again soon here is the link to my GoPro Video of the ride on the trail.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qJJ0MJS0qPI

This trail is totally awesome!! Nice trial all the way to the end. It's well kept only a few tree stumps here and there. The trail is rather narrow so you need to be careful when riding bikes lots of walkers/dogs and joggers. Pack a lunch/backpack because along the path there is Crescent Lake with picnic tables,public restrooms and grills for BBQ's a real treasure and just a perfect place to take a short break and enjoy the beautiful lake...I would recommend this trail to anyone who loves getting outdoors. After your ride you can walk around Wolfeboro a quaint little place with little shops...

I live in Wolfeboro, and have used the trail many times for walking, running and biking. It is a real asset to town, but it is not without problems.

Myself, friends and 2nd hand information indicates that many people biking this trail have been injured. The problem is where the trail crosses existing rail road tracks which can be slippery, but one can get their tire stuck in the ruts causing a fall. I have heard of at least one person getting airlifted out for medical treatment after falling on the trail.

Someone should consider redesigning the cross-overs, so this trail becomes the safe trail it has the potential to be. I'd hate to hear of someone else getting injured, but I frequently find more people getting injured on bikes on this trail multiple times a year

The trail is provides beautiful views of the lake and begins and ends in Wolfeboro, which is nice.
Because the rails are still in the ground and much of the trail in between the rails, the trail frequently crosses the rails. Riders have to be careful crossing over the rails to avoid flipping the bike.
When trail has two way traffic, one of the parties has to stop and stand to the side while the other party passes between the rails.
There is one busy intersection in Wolfeboro with heavy vehicle and bike traffic. My wife is currently wearing a walking boot for ankle fractured when her bike flipped. Fortunately, she was wearing her helmet.
Early mornings on a weekday when traffic is light would be best time for this trail

Pedaling between and alongside the actual rails was a completely new experience for us. This is the first trail we have come across were you actually ride between the rails, which can make for some interesting moments as two bikers pass, especially on the causeways. But, as we found, a smile and a little common courtesy go a long way.

The views along the causeways and the public beach are absolutely beautiful, and the wooded sections were so peaceful you could hear a pin drop. My wife and I spooked a blue heron into flight, and watching its' great span soar just above the waters surface, was extremely thrilling. The only complaint for us was that the groomed trail ended at Cotton Valley Road, so we pedaled back and spent some quite time at Albee beach.

This trail is a real gem, and like most things in New Hampshire, just waiting to be explored. Hopefully the section between Cotton Valley Road and Clark Road can be completed in the not so distant future, and if so, we'll be back.

Nice ride, not very crowded

The CVRT is a bit more than a mile longer now running from Rte. 16 in Sanbornville, NH to Clark Rd. in Brookfield, built Summer/Fall 2014. (There is still a gap between Clark Rd. and Cotton Valley Station, but there are plans to put the trail here as well.)

The section from Rte. 16 to Clark Rd. is a pleasant walk or ride, very quiet. It's the same crushed stone as in Wolfeboro, alongside or in between the rails.

Near Rte. 16 the trail moves off the railbed, and there are some short steep hills that may challenge some people who expect a nearly completely flat rail trail. In addition, a section next to the railbed not far from Clark Rd. is narrow with a drop off to the side, so use caution in that area.

Always use caution where the trail crosses the rails, as it can easily grab your bike tire. They recommend getting off and walking to make the transitions.

The crushed stone is still new and a little mushy, but it has improved since it was put down and should be just as good as the Wolfeboro section as it settles and sees use.

Simply put: This is a great trail with lake views, amenities at both ends, streams and ponds, turkeys and moose, history, and all kinds of trail users who are ALWAYS happy to be there. The rail fans and their speeders share the trail, and I think that adds something special to the CVRT that is different from other rail trails.

I have run this trail many times, and really enjoy it. The crushed stone surface is softer than pavement, but firm enough to get a good push off of it.

It can be a bit narrow when the trail is between the rails, particularly on the causeways over Lake Wentworth and Crescent Lake. Use a bit of caution.

One thing that hasn't been mentioned: In the summer of 2014, a new section of the trail was completed. From Route 16 in Wakefield out to Clark Road (about a 1 mile stretch) is now open, and links up to the previously opened .75 mile section in Sanbornville. Use caution crossing Route 16.

This was our first time here. Myself, my three kids and dog truly enjoyed this walk along the waters edge. Great for biking, walking, & running. The kids got to see a rail car go by which was exciting for them.

This was our first time riding with our four kids, ages 6-12. The views are so beautiful, both along the lake and in the forest. There was a nice place for a pit stop with a picnic table, and we passed many friendly runners, walkers and bike riders along our way. Parking was great. Did have to cross a few roads, one pretty fast. Lots of shade!

Thought this was a great beginner ride for all ages. It was the first trail for my wife and kids. No complaints other than bugs.

Parked at Fernald Depot and rode into Wolfeboro. Excellent ride for beginners! After returning to the car, we headed to the public beach that the trail runs by. Found two gems in one day!

I have biked this trail from Wolfeboro center to Albee Beach each summer with my daughter and friends. Wide, flat trail accommodates walkers, runners and bikers alike allowing for common courtesy. Beautiful views of Wentworth Lake and plenty of donated benches with touching memorials to loved ones to stop, rest and take in the view.

This trail is approximately 6.5 miles one-way from downtown Wolfeboro to the intersection of Cotton Valley Road and Cotton Mountain Road. There, the rails continue, but they are not filled with fine gravel as is the case with other parts of the trail - they have the original ties and rock, with (as of June 2011) a lot of vegetation growing up through the ties. I wouldn't suggest trying to bike that area, although a mountain bike might be able to make it.

Even on a warm and sunny Saturday morning in late June, there was plenty of parking in the Wolfeboro municipal lot which is a bit behind the old train depot. Along the route, the trail alternates between being hard-packed fine gravel running next to the old rails, and hard-packed fine gravel between the old rails. At each point where you need to switch, there is a wooden platform between and flush with the metal rails, making it pretty easy. (At one point I chose to switch over before the wooden area, hit the rail at the wrong angle and almost fell but I caught myself - use the wooden area.) The trail is scenic and goes over some bridges, along a filled-in area of a lake, and through the woods. At one point you go past a public beach on Lake Wentworth - the next time we ride this will bring a picnic lunch and stop at the beach on our way back. The only drawback I saw was that the trail between rails is pretty narrow and if you have another cyclist coming in the opposite direction, it's a tight squeeze. The trail seemed to be used but not heavily so, making our ride enjoyable with a secluded feel. We saw other cyclists here and there, and some walkers along areas closer to Wolfeboro.

This trail is a very picturesque ride. It is a 6.8 mile ride from the old Wolfboro train station to the intersection of Cotton valley rd. and Cotton Mtn. Rd.. Don't know why some of the trail is between the rails and some of the trail is next to them. Still, it is a great ride.

The section from Fernald Station to Cotton Valley is really a dream to ride now. Horse activity is gone and it is a real ride through a wild area with very little traffic. Elevation gain from Fernald to Cotton Valley is very gentle and the ride back is a dream. Bring your binocs because there are a couple of areas that are great for bird watching. Can't wait to see the rest of the trail get done all the way to Route 16.

Extensive work by the Cotton Valley Railroad Club on the 3 miles of new trail have now really made it a great ride. The trail goes by a beaver pond with great views and bird watching. The total elevation gain is about 110 feet from Fernald Station and it is a real easy ride on the return trip. Horse activity seems to have subsided. The trail also passes through some interesting tornado damage from 2008. The rails are left in place and in some places, where you ride between the rails, it is a little tight if bikers are coming the other way.

This additional, recently finished section of the trail is great except for the rough surface created by horses. It may be great for hiking but the vibration on bike riding is less than fun.

I rode this trail again over the weekend. I'm very impressed with the additional 3 miles that have been completed. It's an easy trail to follow. I definitely will be back!

TRAC as completed an additional 3.5 miles from the Rt 109 trailhead to the Cotton Valley Siding.

New section is open for use, but there is expected to be a grand opening ribbon cutting sometime this summer.



Ian MacMillan
Cotton Valley Rail Trail Club
Member- Board of Directors

"This trail is only accessible by bike for 4 miles on the Wolfeboro side. This is very scenic, beautiful, easy trail.
The Sanbornville end of the trail is only completed for 1 mile."

"Beautiful trail crossing 2 causeways and very scenic.
From Wolfeboro, first 3 1/2 miles finished in stone dust and gravel all of which is wheelchair accessible. The first 1/2 mile is Russell Chase Trail, the remainder recently named Cotton Valley Trail. Another 3+ miles expected to be built 2003-04"

"The mile from Wolfeboro to Wolfeboro Falls is excellent- smooth, hard, clear, an excellent path for any mode. From Wolfeboro Falls to Sanbornville (most of the trail length) it is an abandoned rail bed with rails in place. Our hybrid bikes (and their riders) were not up to the challenge. A very narrow, not well cleared path on one side of the rails is all that is available for biking.
This would be OK for hiking on the rails. Someone (snowmobile club?) keeps the brush at bay so it is passable for hiking."

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