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The Massachusetts Central Railroad was destroyed by a hurricane in 1938, but the 104-mile corridor is being reborn as a cross-state rail-trail. Currently, nearly 40 miles from Boston to Northampton have been converted to trails, often by dedicated local groups that are piecing together this important part of the Bay State’s history. Here, we outline the open segments of the Mass Central Rail Trail from east to west.
Somerville Community Path, Alewife Linear Park, and Fitchburg Cutoff Path
The easternmost section of the Mass Central Rail Trail offers a seamless paved route connecting the Somerville Community Path, the Alewife Linear Park, and the Fitchburg Cutoff Path in Boston’s northwestern suburbs. This unique rail-trail follows an old railway corridor above ground while commuter trains run in a subway tunnel below. The Boston & Lowell Railroad built this spur in the 1870s, and it was later acquired by the Boston and Maine Railroad. The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) purchased the line in 1973 and began using it for commuter trains in the 1980s.
The route begins at MBTA’s planned Green Line station on Lowell Street in Somerville. Heading northwest from there, you’ll approach the hip Davis Square area after 0.8 mile. Many buildings date to the late 1800s in this district, which is a destination for shopping, dining, and nightlife. Given its proximity to Tufts and Harvard Universities, it has a strong arts and culture vibe. If you’re traveling by bicycle, you’ll have to dismount (or take alternative on-street routes) as you approach Seven Hills Park and Davis Square, as cycling is prohibited on the path in this congested area.
In a mile, you’ll reach Alewife Station. This section gets a lot of use as it connects with the popular Minuteman Bikeway near the station. The trail continues as a tree-lined pathway to its end at Brighton Street on the eastern border of Belmont.
Wachusett Greenways Section (Sterling to Barre)
About 50 miles west of Boston, this section of the Mass Central Rail Trail includes a handful of completed—but disconnected—trail segments in a smattering of charming communities between Sterling and Barre. A nonprofit volunteer group called Wachusett Greenways is spearheading the effort to knit these pieces together.
Begin your journey in Sterling at the shared parking lot of the Cider Mill Shops. The scenic, crushed-stone pathway heads south through wetlands and oak-pine forest. After 1.3 miles, you’ll cross a small bridge and ride along a berm between two bodies of water, West Waushacum Pond on one side and The Quag on the other. This popular fishing spot is noted for its abundance of both smallmouth and largemouth bass. In 0.3 mile, the trail ends at Gates Road; on the opposite side of the road, a parking lot is available.
A short gap of 3.5 miles lies between trail’s end and the next section of trail, locally known as the Holden Connector, which begins to the southeast in West Boylston. A note of caution: This section often deviates from the original rail corridor with uphill sections and terrain that could pose a bit of challenge for those not on mountain bikes. From the parking area on Thomas Street, the route follows the wooded banks of the Quinapoxet River for 2.7 miles to River Street, opening up when the trail passes under I-190. Along the way, benches provide tranquil spots to rest.
When you reach the trailhead parking lot on River Street, the route pivots and heads northwest. The trail here is more challenging with steep turns and loose gravel and dirt, best suited for hiking or sturdy all-terrain bicycles. In 0.9 mile you’ll cross Manning Street and continue uphill through the dense canopy; this portion of the trail borders private land, so please be courteous. Your adventure ends in 1.1 miles at Wachusett Street in Holden, where another trail parking lot is available. Cross Wachusett Street and you can continue riding on-road along Mill Street for 0.9 mile south to view Lovellville Falls and the remains of a mill on the Asnebumskit Brook. Though not marked as a bike route, it’s a quiet, wooded street.
The trail picks up again in Rutland, about 5 miles to the west. The unpaved trail parallels East County Road for 1.2 miles with a parking lot on its northern end on Wachusett Street. An on-road route will connect you to the next section of trail. From the parking lot, ride on Wachusett southwest 1.3 miles and turn right onto Glenwood Road; in 0.6 mile, you’ll be at the next trailhead. From the Glenwood Road parking lot, you’ll have a pleasant journey heading southwest through forested conservation areas with wetlands and ponds, offering many opportunities for viewing local wildlife. About 2.5 miles into the trip, you’ll find yourself surrounded by the spectacular rocky cliffs that the railway cut through, offering a nice bit of natural air-conditioning on a hot summer day. Nearing the end of this section of trail, you’ll cross busy MA 122/Worcester Road; traffic moves at high speeds here, so use caution and listen for the rumble strips as a warning for oncoming vehicles. The trail soon parallels the Ware River before coming to an end at a spacious parking area next to MA 122 near Barre.
This 3-mile section of trail runs through open fields and deep woods in the heart of Massachusetts. The trail crosses the Ware River on two bridges restored by local trail managers and volunteers, including a lattice-truss trestle, similar in design but smaller in scale to the Norwottuck Branch’s span over the Connecticut River.
The pathway surface is largely packed dirt, suitable for people on foot, mountain bike, or horseback. In the winter, cross-country skiers and snowmobilers can be seen enjoying the trail. It runs between Maple Street in Wheelwright to Creamery Road in Hardwick. The best parking location for this section of trail is near the eastern endpoint at the site of a former train station in New Braintree, between Hardwick Road and West Road.
Norwottuck Branch (Belchertown to Northampton)
The Norwottuck Branch of the Mass Central Rail Trail (formerly known as the Norwottuck Rail Trail) stretches 10 miles from Belchertown to Northampton, connecting Hadley and Amherst in between. Trees border most of the pathway, providing a shaded journey through the summer heat and beautiful foliage in the fall. The trail has secluded spots to enjoy wildlife, as well as more well-used areas near Amherst College and the University of Massachusetts and into the city of Northampton, where the trail crosses the Connecticut River on a spectacular trestle.
Beginning your journey at the easternmost endpoint at the Warren Wright Road trailhead, you’ll travel through wetlands bordering the Lawrence Swamp Conservation Area. Views of streams and water lily–laden waterways can be seen through the forested corridor along the trail. Several hiking paths through this protected area, including the famed Robert Frost Trail, branch from the rail-trail and allow a closer look at the wildlife and wetlands. Before leaving the Lawrence Swamp area, you’ll pass through Lawrence Station, with several picnic benches, a portable restroom, parking, and an information kiosk.
The paved pathway continues under a leafy canopy. You’ll come upon the Fort River access point, which leads to the Emily Dickinson Trail (hiking only). Parking is available here just to the south of the trail at Mill Lane. About 4 miles in, the pathway arches into Amherst, rolling by the sports fields of Amherst College. As you head south, the trail intersects with the Art Swift Bike Connector, which leads northward to the University of Massachusetts campus.
The route continues west to Hadley through a mixture of farmlands and busier spots, like the commercial areas around Hampshire Mall and Mountain Farms Mall. Just off the trail around the Hadley Depot trailhead is an art gallery and an eclectic bar/restaurant with vintage arcade games, complete with a trailside Pac Man themed bike rack.
As you head into Northampton, you’ll cross over a lattice-truss bridge, an impressive steel structure with beautiful views of the Connecticut River. A park with docks and river access lies at the western end of the bridge.
At Woodmont Road, this section of the Mass Central Rail Trail connects to its Francis P. Ryan Bikeway section by way of a tunnel under an active rail line. At this intersection, the trail also connects with the Manhan Rail Trail, which heads south through downtown Northampton.
Francis P. Ryan Bikeway
The paved pathway continues northwest toward Look Park, running through residential and commercial areas in Northampton and the village of Florence. Along the way, tree canopy shades much of the trail, making for a pleasant walk or ride even in hot weather. A trailside bike repair station, just after crossing Straw Avenue, provides free air and basic tools for bicyclists. Upon arriving at Look Park, a 150-acre privately operated, nonprofit park, consider taking a break to ride the miniature train around a 1-mile track, visit the zoo, or rent a paddleboat at the lake. The trail skirts the perimeter of the park to the east.
Heading past Look Park, the trail enters the woods, continuing through heavy forest alongside the rushing water of Mill River. After a while, the path changes from an asphalt surface to packed cinder—and back to asphalt and then again to cinder farther along; both surfaces are suitable for all types of bikes. Along the trail, the river is not always within view, but the sound of laughter can be heard on hot days, where numerous unofficial swimming holes attract those wanting to splash in the cool water. The trail ends at South Main Street, a rural road not recommended for bicycling, adjacent to a bridge over Mill River in the village of Leeds.
As the Mass Central Rail Trail spans much of Massachusetts, there are numerous parking options. Below are a few key parking waypoints; please check out our trail map for more options.
Cambridge: By MBTA subway, take the Red Line to the Alewife Station. Bicycles are permitted on subways on weekends and during off-peak hours on weekdays. A bike-share station is located at the Alewife Station.
To reach parking (fee charged) at the Alewife Station from I-95, take Exit 29A to MA 2 toward Boston. Go 5.9 miles and take the Alewife Station exit. The Alewife Station Access Road becomes Steel Place. Go 0.4 mile and turn left into the parking garage.
Sterling: To reach the northern endpoint from I-90, take Exit 6 for MA 12 toward Sterling/-Clinton. Head south on MA 12/Leominster Road (signs for Sterling/Clinton), and go 1.7 miles. Continue straight onto MA 12 S/MA 62 W for 0.2 mile. Turn left onto Waushacum Ave. The entrance to trail parking will be on the right in 0.2 mile; look for an old red shed just off the road.
Holden: To reach the parking area at the Wachusett Reservoir on Thomas St. from I-190, take Exit 5 for MA 140 toward West Boylston. Head south on MA 140. In 0.9 mile, keep right to stay on Thomas St. The parking lot will be on your right.
Rutland: To reach the Wachusett St. trailhead from I-190, take Exit 5 to MA 140 toward West Boylston. Head south on MA 140 about 1 mile, and turn right onto Laurel St. Continue 3.3 miles (Laurel St. becomes Manning St.). Turn left onto MA 31. In 0.25 mile, turn right onto Quinapoxet St. In 2 miles, turn right onto Main St./MA 122A. In 3 miles, turn right onto Glenwood Road. In 1.2 miles, the parking area will be on your right.
Hardwick: To reach the parking area at the eastern end of the trail from I-90, take Exit 8 for MA 32, then turn left onto MA 32/Thorndike St. In 8.4 miles, turn right at Main St./MA 9 in Ware to continue on MA 32. In 1.7 miles, turn left onto Gilbertville Road to continue on MA 32 (just past a recycling facility on your left). In 3.4 miles, you’ll turn right in Gilbertville to stay on MA 32. In another 3.7 miles, turn right onto Hardwick Road. Just past West Road, in 0.3 mile, turn right. The parking area will be a mowed grassy area on your right.
Norwottuck Branch: To reach the Warren Wright Road trailhead in Belchertown from I-91 N, take Exit 19 and turn right onto MA 9/Bridge St., eastbound over the Connecticut River. After crossing the river, turn right onto Bay Road. Continue 1.8 miles and turn left to stay on Bay Road. After 3 miles, take the second exit on the traffic circle just past Atkins Farms Country Market onto MA 116, then almost immediately take the first exit at the next traffic circle to continue on Bay Road. In 2.5 miles, veer left onto Hulst Road. In just under a mile, turn left onto Warren Wright Road. In 0.8 mile, the trailhead parking area will be on your left, just before the train tracks.
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