Fort Hill Recreational Rail Trail

New Hampshire

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Fort Hill Recreational Rail Trail Facts

States: New Hampshire
Counties: Cheshire
Length: 7 miles
Trail end points: Northfield Rd across from the southern end of the Ashuelot Recreational Rail Trail at Dole Junction and Old railroad bridge over the Connecticut River at the NH-VT state line at Brattleboro Rd
Trail surfaces: Ballast, Cinder, Dirt, Gravel, Sand
Trail category: Rail-Trail
ID: 6016504
Trail activities: Bike, Fishing, Horseback Riding, Mountain Biking, Snowmobiling, Walking, Cross Country Skiing

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Fort Hill Recreational Rail Trail Description

Built in the 1910s by the Boston and Maine Railroad (B&M) as part of the Connecticut River Division Main Line, the route introduced daily service to the B&M Fort Hill Branch in the early 1920s to meet growing competition from motor trucks that had begun courting small shippers from Boston to the Canadian border. This resulted in the line being known as a peddler route (now pedaler!). The competition eventually became too much, and by 1983, the route ceased service. Thankfully, this line—like many others in the area—has been converted to trails and we can still walk, bike, and ski in the shadows of the former B&M cars.

The Fort Hill Recreational Rail Trail begins at a spacious dirt parking lot at Dole Junction in Hinsdale, which also serves the southern end of the 21.5-mile Ashuelot Recreational Rail Trail. As you begin your journey north, the dirt and grass trail starts out fairly wide, though in summer, lush vegetation may creep in to grab the streams of sunlight along the rail.

In 1.3 miles, you will come to a wooden bridge over the Ashuelot River, complete with its original stone abutments. On your right, you will notice a concrete pillar marked wrjct 69, which once notified train crews that they had 69 miles until White River Junction, Vermont.

At 2.8 miles, you will come to a second large parking area off Prospect Street in Hinsdale. From there, it’s a short ride into town, with convenient off-street paths most of the way. This parking lot marks the departure from the mainland for a bit, as you head out onto a sweeping causeway into a setback of the main channel of the Connecticut River. This spot is popular for fishing and finally allows some wide-open views of New England’s longest river, including the former Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station, which was decommissioned in 2014 and sits across the river in Vernon, Vermont. At the other end of the causeway is yet another convenient parking lot off State Route 119 that is a popular access point for ice fishing, as well as north and southbound trail access.

In 0.8 mile, just before crossing a small bridge over Ash Swamp Brook, you will come to an access path on your right to the last (northernmost) parking area for the trail. The next 2.7 miles are set back from the river a bit, as the trail runs behind several businesses and residential yards. In summer, there will be enough beautiful green vegetation to give you some peace and quiet as you finish the northern end of the trail, where you will be rewarded. Built in 1912, the old truss bridge that once took B&M trains across the Connecticut River now sits silently and majestically. While the decking is decaying, preventing guaranteed passage, the crimson steel structure stands as an impressive relic of old railroad engineering and offers an opportunity to one day carry trail users into Brattleboro, Vermont, and beyond.

If you’d like to extend your journey into Vermont, the West River Trail is a 3.5-mile ride north from the northernmost endpoint.

Parking and Trail Access

To reach the southern endpoint from I-91, take Exit 2 for VT 9/Western Ave. Turn left (east) onto Western Ave./VT 9, and follow it 1.1 miles (it becomes High St.). Turn right onto Main St., and go 0.2 mile. Turn left onto Bridge St. to enter New Hampshire. Continue onto NH 119 E/Brattleboro Road 6.7 miles. Turn right onto NH 63 S/Northfield Road, and go 2.2 miles. Parking will be on the right.

There is no parking or access at the northern endpoint. The last dedicated parking lot is at Hinsdale Town Park. To reach the park from I-91, follow the directions above to NH 119 E/-Brattleboro Road, and go 4 miles. Look for a small parking area on your right. Note that this parking area is small. Another lot is available 0.8 mile farther southeast along NH 119/-Brattleboro Road, directly adjacent to the trail and the Connecticut River Reservoir.

Fort Hill Recreational Rail Trail Reviews

This trail seems little-used. Rode a gravel bike starting at the parking lot at the south end. Several trees down in the trail and some puddles and running water (to be fair, it had rained the night before). The trail surface varies and while it’s manageable, this isn’t a trail for someone looking for a leisurely rail trail cruise. Nice views of the Connecticut River.

After parking at the Dole Junction (spacious) parking lot off Rte. 63, I delved into the trail. It's basically a cow path, with a few smoother sections along the way.No maintenance that I can see. Nice views of the Connecticut River lead to the abandoned bridge, which looked a bit too treacherous to these 61-year-old eyes to cross. A kayaker exchanged pleasantries with me as he floated by, the only words I spoke to anyone the whole time (I did say hello to two turkeys and a skunk). Turned around and bumped my way back. Saw almost no one, with the exception of a few fisherman trolling the CT. Across the road is the trailhead for the Ashelot Rail Trail. Good workout but not exciting.

I was very excited to have stumbled upon the Abandoned B&M Fort Hill Bridge, which is part of the Fort Hill Branch Rail-Trail. However, I was saddened to see that the condition of the trail and the bridge itself is utter chaos and ruin. Upon finding this page, I wanted to add a review as a note of precaution to those wanting to explore or get a closer look at the bridge itself, at least with enough note upfront, so people don't wander out and realize it half way across, that they shouldn't be on it in the first place, as there aren't any posted warnings cautioning otherwise to new guests or visitors.

I hadn't seen any posting or review on the bridge or condition of the bridge in any research other than this page and wanted to update that passing or attempts to cross the bridge is unstable and very risky. I had thought, like many others who research rail trails, that the bridge was maintained and passable - but it has been left in true abandon, where the wood is weathered, rotted, and with many large gaps, and even trees growing from them. After my visit I would strongly advise to proceed with caution, or not at all.

Accordion

This is a bit of a bushwhacking trail but well worth it. Forget the road bike here. Stick to it until you get to the abandoned bridge at the river even though it almost seems like the trail disappears, it picks back up again. We parked at the Wal-Mart on Rte. 119 back toward the NH/VT line on the river and biked Rte 119 East to 63 South and then picked up the trail. From the abandoned bridge it is a quick scramble up the hill to your right back to Rte 119 where you head right (East) back to the Wal-Mart for a 18-20 mile loop.

This trail is a great ride along the river and through the woods and makes for a wonderful 18 miles round trip from Dole Junction to the derelict iron bridge that used to cross the Connecticut river between Hinsdale, NH and Brattleboro, VT where you turn around and head back to Dole. Surface variety from hard packed dirt with stones to sand to grass and gravel make for an ever changing but gentle off-road challenge. Dirt road side trips to the old dam and small hydro station where you can get pretty close to the new nuke and large cooling towers of Vermont Yankee next door or down the little peninsula where the fisherman wander near the giant towers that carry the power lines across the Connecticut river. All that is near the center of the trail where there is auto access to a half mile long causeway near the eastern side of the river on Rt 119 in Hinsdale and plenty of activity from dog walking to river gawking. There is also a boat ramp nearby and plenty of boaters and fisherman use this access to the river. However, both ends of the trail are pretty much deserted, passing quietly behind old farms and houses on Rt 63 and modern stores on Rt 119. Since the railroad is sunken in elevation compared to the roads in these areas, you can ride along the river in relative privacy, enjoying the flora and fauna of the banks along with the ever changing river views on one side of you with the closeness of the woods and it's plethora of wild life on the other. Keep an eye out for the old stone bridges crossing the streams on their way to the river. They are Genuine, Hand Made in the USA Antiques which function as well today as they did 100 years ago. A useful legacy from the hard working people who built them. Remarkable!

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