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First a canal, then a railroad, and now a trail define the history of the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail. Completed segments span Connecticut south to north, from New Haven to the Massachusetts border, for nearly 50 miles. A multiyear work in progress with only a couple of gaps remaining, the trail will total 57 miles when finished. Across the state border, the trail connects with Southwick Rail Trail, part of a developing trail system that will one day span 25 miles to Northampton, creating a key interstate route.
The paved pathway follows the Farmington Canal, once the longest in New England. Built between 1824 and 1835 to get farm products to market on boats towed by horses and mules, it became obsolete in the railroad age. The New Haven and Northampton Company replaced the canal with a railroad between New Haven and Plainville by 1847. Mergers and acquisitions created the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad, which operated until 1969 when it was consolidated into Penn Central. As the rail corridor became disused in the 1980s, a citizens group pushed for the rail-trail project. The first section opened in 1993.
Today, the trail runs through the population centers around New Haven in the south to the more rural communities, forests, and farms in the north. From Simsbury south to New Haven, the trail is part of the East Coast Greenway, a developing trail network that will span the Atlantic Seaboard. It also meets both ends of the 16.5-mile Farmington River Trail, which is shaped like a C between Simsbury and Farmington.
Southern Section: New Haven to Southington
Yale University anchors the trail’s southern terminus, with easiest access off Hillhouse Avenue. (Plans are under way to extend the trail another 2 miles to Long Wharf Nature Preserve in New Haven Harbor.) Heading north, the path travels through a narrow park. As you enter Hamden in 2.5 miles, you’ll pass through nearly 3 miles of green space surrounding Lake Whitney, which provides a reserve source of drinking water to the area.
Entering the Mount Carmel neighborhood, on the right you’ll pass Sleeping Giant State Park, which rises to a rocky outcrop and summit observation tower. With a little imagination, the mountain appears as a reclining giant from head to toe.
You can learn more about the historical canal at the Lock 12 Historical Park in Cheshire. You’ll get another history lesson at the circa 1890 Southington Train Depot and Museum just past Meriden-Waterbury Turnpike/CT 322 in Southington.
Northern Section: Plainville to the Connecticut–Massachusetts State Line
The longest gap on the trail is between Lazy Lane in Southington and Northwest Drive in Plainville. The railroad corridor is still in use through this area, but an off-road trail option is being studied. Trail parking is available on either side of this gap at Mill Street in Southington and Northwest Drive in Plainville.
Arriving at Red Oak Hill Road in Farmington, you can go straight to stay on the canal trail or left to the trailhead of the Farmington River Trail. Both end up in Simsbury, though the river trail is 16.5 miles compared to 11 miles on the canal trail. Bump-outs on the 400-foot former railroad bridge across the Farmington River allow trail users a better view of the river.
Not far up the trail you’ll enter hardwood forests around Avon. The route takes a 1.8-mile detour on sidewalks and paths around the town center. Follow the bike route signs to the trailhead in Sperry Park. The trail rolls through suburban neighborhoods and past light industrial parks for 4.2 miles to Simsbury, where you’ll hit the connection to the Farmington River Trail at Drake Hill Road and Hopmeadow Street. A half mile ahead on the left you’ll see the Simsbury Railroad Depot, built in 1875; it’s a restaurant now.
The trail heads north from the depot 10.3 miles through farms and forests to the state line. Along the way, you’ll pass pockets of residential and commercial development.
To reach the trailhead on the Yale University campus: From I-91, take Exit 3 and merge onto Trumbull St. Go 0.3 mile and turn left onto Hillhouse Ave. The trailhead is on the right. Look for on-street or garage parking; campus parking is free on weekends and after 4:30 p.m. on weekdays.
To reach the trailhead on Mill St. in Southington: From I-84 N, take Exit 30 and turn left onto Atwater St. toward Southington. Go 400 feet and turn right onto Marion Ave., and then go another 400 feet and turn left onto West St. In 1.1 miles turn right onto Mill St., and then go 0.9 mile to parking on the left. From I-84 S, take Exit 30 and turn left onto Marion Ave. Go 0.2 mile and turn left onto West St. Go 1.1 miles and turn onto Mill St., and then go 0.9 mile to parking on the left.
To reach the trail near Northwest Dr. in Plainville: From I-84 E, take Exit 37 and turn left onto Fienemann Road toward Farmington. Go 0.5 mile and turn left onto US 6/Colt Hwy. Go 2.5 miles and turn left onto CT 552/Scott Swamp Road, and then go 0.2 mile and turn right onto CT 10/Main St. In 0.9 mile turn right onto Northwest Dr. Go 0.8 mile and look for parking on the right. From I-84 W, take Exit 39 and merge onto US 6 W. In 3.2 miles turn left onto CT 552/Scott Swamp Road, and follow the directions above from there.
To reach the trail near Red Oak Hill Road in Farmington: From I-84 E, take Exit 37 and turn left onto Fienemann Road toward Farmington. Go 0.5 mile and turn left onto US 6/Colt Hwy. Go 1.3 miles and turn right onto Reservoir Road, and then go 0.4 mile and turn left onto Diamond Glen Road/Hatter Lane. Go 0.6 mile and turn left onto CT 10/Main St., and in one block turn right onto Meadow Road, which becomes Red Oak Hill Road. Go 1.3 miles and turn right onto Tunxis Mead Road and look for parking at the athletic fields. To reach the trail, return to Red Oak Hill Road, turn right, and follow the sidewalk 0.3 mile to the trailhead. From I-84 W, take Exit 38 and merge onto US 6. In 2.1 miles turn right onto Reservoir Road and follow the directions above from there.
To reach the northern trailhead: From I-91, take Exit 40 onto CT 20/Bradley Inter-national Airport Connector. Go 6.2 miles on CT 20, and turn right onto Newgate Road. Go 1.8 miles and turn left onto Copper Hill Road, and then go 0.2 mile and turn right onto Griffin Road/Copper Hill Road. Go 1.9 miles and turn left onto Phelps Road. Travel 0.7 mile and look for parking on the left.
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