Marblehead Rail-Trail

Massachusetts

Marblehead Rail-Trail Facts

States: Massachusetts
Counties: Essex
Length: 4.1 miles
Trail end points: Anderson St. at Highland Terr. (Marblehead) and Beach Bluff Ave. (Swampscott) and Canal St. (Salem)
Trail surfaces: Asphalt, Dirt, Gravel, Sand
Trail category: Rail-Trail
ID: 6015977
Trail activities: Bike, Mountain Biking, Walking, Cross Country Skiing

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Marblehead Rail-Trail Description

Shaped like a Y, this 4.1-mile rail-trail connects Marblehead, Salem and Swampscott. From the trail junction in quaint Marblehead, one branch meanders through conservation areas and past harbor overlooks to Salem, notorious for its 1692 witch trials. The second branch offers a longer route heading toward Swampscott through Marblehead's residential areas, offering a more local look at this seaside community. The intersection of Bessom Street and Roundhouse Road in central Marblehead marks the apex of the trail, and a good starting point.

Follow the sandy path on the west side of Bessom Street 0.25 mile to the trail junction beside a fenced utility yard. Time to choose: to the right lies Salem, while the left branch leads down the coast toward Swampscott. The branch toward Salem begins with a sandy surface and soon enters Hawthorn Pond Conservation Area, a 9.8-acre preserve with marshes, ponds, streams and four interconnected nature trails.

Take care as you emerge from the conservation area on West Shore Drive: traffic can be heavy. Up next is Wyman Woods Conservation area, a 33.5-acre mix of wetlands and mature forests that gives way to beautiful views of Salem Harbor. On warm days, trail users can hike down a sandy path to the water's edge for a refreshing dip or stop along the wooden railroad bridge for a particularly inspiring view of the harbor. Entering Salem, the trail crosses State Route 114; use caution at this major artery. Beyond, artistic gates modeled after antique high-wheel bicycles mark the path, and the surface switches to smooth asphalt.

You'll soon pass Salem State College then enter a commercial area. The trail ends at Canal Street. The alternative branch of the trail toward Swampscott also begins on a sand and gravel surface. Crossing Pleasant Street, you'll pass the public high school, where ball fields and playgrounds offer ample open space for a quick stretch or a relaxing break. Students use the route as a commuter corridor. From the high school, the asphalt trail continues along a raised corridor through residential areas, with plenty of paved access roads to Marblehead beaches. The trail ends at the Temple Emanu-El parking lot.

Parking and Trail Access

To reach the main trailhead, take State Route 128 to Exit 25 and head south on State Route 114 south to Marblehead. In town, SR 114 becomes Lafayette Street and then Pleasant Street. Follow Pleasant Street into town then turn left on Bessom Street. Just past the shopping center on the right, take your first right turn onto Roundhouse Road. The trailhead is across the street.

Marblehead Rail-Trail Reviews

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.

Accordion

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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