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The Marblehead Rail-Trail appears on maps as a Y resting on its side, connecting Marblehead and Salem in the north and the city limits of Swampscott in the west. The 4-mile trail knits together a coastal area that’s steeped in Colonial history, from The Spirit of ’76 painting hanging in a Marblehead museum to the infamous Salem witch trials of the 1690s. The trail is also part of the East Coast Greenway, a developing 3,000-mile trail system stretching from Maine to Florida.
The rail-trail follows a short spur of the historical Eastern Railroad, which launched service from Boston to Salem in 1838 and eventually served the coastline from Boston to Portland, Maine. The Marblehead spur opened in 1839 to connect that fishing village to Salem on the main line, followed by another branch linking Marblehead to the Swampscott depot. The rival Boston & Maine Railroad bought the Eastern Railroad in 1890 and operated the Marblehead branch until 1959. In the 1970s the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) acquired the main line, where it runs commuter trains.
The junction at the old station site in downtown Marblehead is a central starting point with plenty of parking. It’s only a few blocks from the town’s historical waterfront, where fishing and whaling ships docked alongside privateers during the American Revolution. Reflecting the spirit of those times, the distinctive Abbot Hall museum on Washington Street displays The Spirit of ’76, a painting depicting a fife and drum corps marching across a battlefield.
Follow the sandy path across from Round House Road for 0.25 mile to a utility yard, and take the right fork toward Salem. The sandy trail enters the 10-acre Hawthorn Pond Conservation Area, where you’ll find marshes, ponds, and nature trails. Crossing West Shore Drive, you enter the 34-acre Wyman Woods Conservation Area to find more wetlands and hardwood forests alongside Salem Harbor. Trail users can hike down a sandy footpath to the water’s edge or view the scenic harbor from a bridge.
Use caution crossing busy MA 114/Lafayette Street to a smooth asphalt section of the trail labeled Salem Bike Path. This 0.6-mile segment ends at Canal Street after passing Salem State University. Another 0.6-mile section between Canal and Roslyn Streets is scheduled for construction in 2018 to connect with an existing short segment that ends at Mill Street. The MBTA Salem Station, Salem Old Town Hall, the harbor, and museums related to the witch trials are all close by.
Taking the left fork at the Marblehead utility yard, you’ll head toward Swampscott, nearly 2 miles away. The sand and gravel trail crosses Pleasant Street and runs beside playing fields at Marblehead High School. Students from nearby homes use the trail as a commuter route. About 0.5 mile past the Temple Emanu-El parking lot, the trail passes a side path to the 9-acre Ware Pond Conservation Area, where you can visit the pond and wildlife refuge on nature trails.
The trail becomes a narrow path before it ends on Seaview Avenue at the Swampscott town limits. Residents voted in 2017 to design a 2-mile extension along the old railroad right-of-way to the MBTA Swampscott Station, where the 1868 Eastern Railroad station is located.
To reach the Marblehead trailhead from MA 128/Yankee Division Hwy., take Exit 26 for Lowell St. Head east on Lowell St., which becomes Main St. in Peabody, then Boston St. Go 2.5 miles and turn right onto MA 107/Essex St. and then in 0.1 mile turn left onto Jackson St. Go 0.4 mile and turn right onto Jefferson Ave., and then go 1.2 miles and turn left onto MA 1A/Loring Ave. Go 0.5 mile and turn right onto MA 114/Lafayette St. Go 1.3 miles and turn left onto W. Shore Dr., and then go 0.8 mile and turn right onto Village St. Go 0.4 mile and turn left onto Highland Ter., which curves right to become Bessom St. Look for parking on either side of Round House Road.
I ride a recumbent trike. At the beginning of the Salem bike path there are three sets of post to block vehicular traffic I guess, but the posts are not wide enough for recumbent trikes. I had to lift my trike sideways and angle it so I could get it past the barriers. I ended up going back route 114 so I wouldn't have to pass the post on the way home. I will not ride my trike there again.
I just came off walking the Cotton Valley Trail (Wolfeboro, NH), which I found to be my favorite trail to date, so kindly keep in mind that my review of this trail is probably a little skewed. Marblehead Trail is not a bad little adventure. Best part of this trail is definitely the trail itself; really nice upkeep of the gravel and dirt, very even terrain. For my personal tastes in trail adventures however, I found this trail lacking the rustic, woodland/nature feel of many of the other Rails To Trails. Along this 4+ mile path, you must cross a number of busy streets. While these crosses all have clear cross walks, the crosses could potentially be dangerous with small children on bikes. Most of the trail is traversing behind neighborhoods and by a large power plant, so I never felt like I was really escaping into the woods like I do with other trails. Overall, it was an ok hike. For people who live locally and want to get a few steps in or want a spot for their kids to ride their bikes away from traffic, I can see this trail being enjoyable. But for those who would have to travel a distance to walk this or like me, prefer more walks deeper in the woods, look elsewhere for a better experience.
The need to cross multiple busy roads, as well as some eyesore landscape brings my review of this path down a notch. Decent path for those looking for a quick walk or bike. For those looking to get "lost" in the woods on a long walk, I definitely recommend other R to T paths.
We wanted to ride this trail from Swampscott up to Marblehead, but couldn't find the end of the trail in the neighborhood where we expected to find it. So we started from the Salem end, which is well marked and has a handy parking lot.
The initial section through the Salem State campus is paved and in good shape. After crossing Rte. 114 it is packed dirt/gravel, and the biggest concern became the narrow gap between the bollards guarding the two wooden bridges in the conservation area. There are some raised manholes to be aware of, and closer to the Marblehead end a couple of fair sized stones sticking up 3-6 inches, so it's important to pay attention to the trail. There's one short stretch of fresh gravel near the Marblehead end that hasn't yet been compressed.
It was slightly muddy after a week of rain, but all in all was in pretty good shape. We hope to return soon to check out the Swampscott end.
Getting off a inbound MBCR train from Gloucester a last Sunday morning[May 4], I proceeded from Salem station along Lafayette Street to connect with the Salem-Marblehead walking trail/bike path at Forest River inlet crossing, following the old former rail bed to its terminal in downtown Marblehead. It was such a really attractive excursion, with the former rail bed passing through a wooded swamp along the way and several footpath side trails tempting exploration, that I decided to take up the bike path's alternative route for my return to MBCR Rockport line train access, supposing that the former rail bed that led from Marblehead southward to its connection with the Newburyport/Rockport MBCR line just north of Swampscott station was likewise viable for its entire length. Upon reaching the Marblehead/Swampscott town line, however, I found out that this "rail trail" effectively ends in abrupt suddeness, leaving the would-be walker facing a disconcerting tangle of overgrown thicket and rank underbrush,completely obliterating the embankment confines and any further advance. Inquiring with a local resident who happened to be passing along this Bellevue Avenue crossing, I was told that the old rail embankment was completely impassable from this point on -- that Swampscott had not been interested in rehabilitating its own section of the abandoned Marblehead branch line-- and in fact residents abutting the embankment in places had actually further impeded passage with physical obstruction of their own to completely block the way. It was necessary to leave the walkway at this point and follow heavily transited Atlantic Street the rest of the distance on to downtown Swampscott....
I'm calling attention to this defect of a otherwise very appealing walkway for prospective users unfamiliar with the reality that the trail in its present state must be considered incomplete for those expecting to follow it for its full distance and should be forewarned. John Prybot, 5/10/2014
Just moved to the area and finally had the opportunity to try out this trail. Having been avid trail riders back in PA we were hoping for a good experience and we certainly got one. The trail was very nice, got a bit confusing at the second crossroad (you have to stay straight down a paved street and pick up the trail again after the parking lot) but other than that it was great. We took the trail all the way to Salem State University. There were many people using the path for recreation, fitness as well as to get from place to place. The trail will be nice to use if I need to run a quick errand on the bike and do not want to ride on the road. Kids can also use it in a few years to get to and from the high school. Definitely recommend it if in the area.
June 2012: just walked this great trail. Parked in Marblehead at the beginning of the trail and strolled a short distance on packed gravel to the fork as described. There are a few paths to the right that can be taken: we only walked a short distance up two of them for some picture taking. One has a wooden foot path. Very nice. Diverged right, into Salem. A very nice walk...a cool day today, plenty of shade, and some wonderful views of Salem harbor at the end of the gravel path. Then across the street to the Salem Bike Path, along Salem State College. Stopped at the wonderful Salem Diner for lunch and then headed back to Marblehead. At the fork, we walked just a short distance into Marblehead. Very nice and then chose to walk a side street down to Rt 129 and back to the car. We'll definitely do this one again. Every person we encountered was friendly, "good morning/afternoon" from all, lots of dog walkers (all but one leashed). Very easy and most pleasant trail.
The split is not marked, but simply follow the chain link fence at the power substation and it will lead you to the other arm.
The trail gets less defined as you travel on it from Salem to Swampscott. I could tell when it turns around after the forks at the midway point in Marblehead but there are no mile markers or a sign to confirm the other end. When it gets tight so that it's only good for walking it's time to turn around.
Nice trail though; no standing water; pretty flat. If you get off the trail at any point you will probably find a beach or shop. I'm from Connecticut but I love coming to this area.
As a recent transplant to Marblehead, I'd note that the trail has been moderately 'updated' with an all-weather crusher refines type surface (gray hard-packed gravel) and is generally in good shape. The street crossings, even at busier roads - are no problem, as most drivers stop and yield to the trail users, even if cycling. The folks in Swampscott, MA are pushing to extend the trail along the same RR right-of-way and bring the trail all the way down to 'Walker Street'. See their website at http://spirit01907.org/ for more information. The Swampscott continuation would put the trail very close to the Swampscott MBTA Commuter Rail stop.
My 2 1/2 year old boy is learning how to ride his bike on these great trails, and all the parks and open spaces - as well as natural areas - are a nice break from the two-wheeled lessons. It'd be great to see more of the trail / right of way developed!
Started at Seaview Drive and headed east. You are in back yards much of the time and cross streets a lot. Not paved except for about a Mile at the end of the spur to Salem. Nice views and a lot to see in Marblehead. I missed the turn to the spur just before the bridge. The spur is more remote and goes thru some conservation areas before ending at the Salem College and Rt.1A
"This is a woodsy ride on a ""rustic"" bike path - with soft gravel, lots of stones and in places quite narrow. Would be a gem if it were paved. "
"The Marblehead rail-trail has a surface of packed fine gravel. It is suitable for hybrid and mountain bikes, but not pure road bikes. In some places the surface does get a bit rough, especially at the junction near downtown Marblehead, where local DPW trucks may use the trail.
The trail is typical railroad grade, so it is easy for a child to bicycle. The surface is more benign than asphalt, so I chose this trail to teach my children how to ride their bikes without training wheels. I flipped up one training wheel, and ran along next to them (easy to do if you are in shape for it..) so I could catch them if they started to fall. A few hours of work over several weekends, and they were on their own. It was a nice, safe place to do this.
Trail traffic is typically bicycles, runners, and dog-walkers. Most of the trail in Marblehead is densely wooded; the branch to Swampscott is more open, and in some places follows a street."
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