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The Reformatory Branch Trail connects the historical towns of Bedford and Concord along a nearly 4-mile dirt path through wildlife refuges that ends where soldiers witnessed “the shot heard round the world” in 1775.
The trail follows a rail line built between Bedford and Concord in 1873 by the Boston & Lowell Railroad, later acquired by the Boston and Maine Railroad. Locals dubbed it the Reformatory Branch after it extended to Reformatory Station, next to a state prison, in 1879. Bedford and Concord bought the line in 1962.
Bedford Depot Park is a good place for services and connections to the Minuteman Bikeway and the Narrow-Gauge Rail-Trail. The Bedford Freight House features railroad exhibits and photos and tours of a vintage railcar. The Reformatory Branch Trail starts at a gravel parking lot and a trailhead 0.3 mile west from the park on Railroad Avenue.
Traversing the trail by foot or mountain bike is recommended because of rough conditions. Soon after getting under way you’ll reach the 19-acre Elm Brook Conservation Area and then the 20-acre Mary Putnam Webber Wildlife Preserve. Both wetlands serve as wildlife corridors for animals in the area. The trail emerges into a small gravel parking lot about 1.7 miles from the trailhead. Use caution crossing busy Concord Road/MA 62 here.
You’ll enter the 3,850-acre Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge after crossing the road. Birders flock to this freshwater wetland along the Concord and Sudbury Rivers as it’s visited by 220 species of birds annually. It also shelters white-tailed deer, muskrats, red fox, raccoons, cottontail rabbits, weasels, amphibians, and several nonpoisonous snake species. Bicycles are not permitted on trails within the refuge, but you can lock your bike to one of several trailside benches and explore by foot.
Look for a Trail of the Colonial Militia stone marker about 0.9 mile past the refuge. A side path leads to Author’s Ridge at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, where you’ll find the burial sites of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Louisa May Alcott, among others.
Another 0.1 mile down the path you’ll cross Monument Street in Concord. A side trip to the right leads 0.2 mile to the North Bridge, site of the “shot heard round the world,” the Minute Man Statue, and a visitor center. Bicycles are allowed throughout the Minute Man National Historical Park, although cyclists must dismount on the North Bridge and in many crowded locations.
The trail ends on Lowell Road. Take the crosswalk to Keyes Road, where parking and restrooms are provided at city offices during normal business hours. A trail west of these offices leads to the old trestle site across the Sudbury River and a boat launch.
Bedford is planning a future makeover for the eastern half of the former railroad corridor. The Minuteman Bikeway will be extended about 0.3 mile from Bedford Depot Park along Railroad Avenue to the Reformatory Branch Trailhead. From there, the existing dirt trail will be paved to a 12-foot-wide bikeway for 1.9 miles to the Concord city limits. The new and improved trail will be called Minuteman Bikeway Extension, but the segment in Concord will remain as it is today.
To reach the trailhead on Railroad Ave. in Bedford from I-95, take Exit 31B onto MA 4 N/MA 225 W toward Bedford. Go 1.8 miles and turn left onto Loomis St. Go 0.4 mile and cross South Road (parking is also available at Bedford Depot Park on the left at this intersection) onto Railroad Ave. Go another 0.3 mile and look for a gravel parking lot on the left.
To reach parking for the western trailhead in Concord from I-95, take Exit 29B onto MA 2 W toward Fitchburg. The exit ramp merges onto MA 2W /Cambridge Turnpike. Go 3.1 miles and take Exit 50 to remain on Cambridge Turnpike/MA 2A E toward Lexington and Concord. Go 1.5 miles and merge onto Lexington Road. In 0.3 mile, bear right to go around Monument Square, then turn left onto Monument St. Take the immediate right turn onto Lowell Road, go 0.2 mile, and turn left onto Keyes Road. The entrance to parking at the city offices is on the right.
I stumbled upon this path after riding around minuteman national park (also great for cx, just be careful of the crowds). The trail is well maintained and pretty. I have ridden end to end and i like that it hooks up with the Minuteman bike path. The path has a few bumps along the way, with one rolling stretch right after crossing 62 heading east. They're kind of fun to ride over though. The only downside to this trail is that it has sever manholes that jut out in the middle of it. This won't bother the average runner/hiker/walker but if you're on a bike you need to be careful. Some seem to come out of nowhere and can easily knock you off your bike if you hit them head on. I recommend checking it out, but be mindful of pedestrians!
This is a beautiful ride with a few caveats. First, I would not encourage absolute beginners to try this trail. Despite some of the reviews, this trail is mostly dirt with occasional sandy spots; the gravel from when the trail was a single gauge railway is mostly gone. You should have a cross-terrain or mountain bike for best results. The conditions will deteriorate after a rain which will produce a muddy ride, so check the forecast before you leave.
Progress along the trail is not clearly marked and if it's your first time, you would benefit from looking over a trail guide or simply use Google Maps set to the bicycle icon. Take note of the significant landmarks mentioned in the trail description accompanying this article.
Since much of the trail used to be a narrow gauge railroad, you need to prepare to move over to the right when approaching oncoming bike/hiker traffic.
However, once you accept the fact that conditions are not as smooth as the Minuteman trail (that being more of a bike "parkway"), you will be rewarded with significantly less nuisance (i.e., strollers, tricycles, skateboarders, and the clueless). What's more, the scenery and wildlife is outstanding; you will have access to among the best spots in the world to enjoy nature, The Great Meadows Wildlife Refuge. The ride is a relatively short hop from The Bedford Depot, about 4 miles and at the trail's end, you can enjoy breakfast, lunch, or coffee at the eponymous "The Trail's End Cafe". You are also only a short ride from Concord Center and its myriad historic sites and interesting shops.
I’ve ridden the Minuteman trail, but didn’t know much about either the Bedford Narrow Gauge Trail, or the Reformatory Branch Trail which is close by, so reading the other reviews, I loaded up my cyclocross bike and decided to try both of them out. I parked at Depot Park in Bedford, which is a lovely little park at the site of the station and freight house, both restored from 1877, in the center of Bedford. This is also where the Minuteman Bikeway and the other two trails all come together and are accessible. There is plenty of parking, even for a Sunday, but don’t park in the VFW spaces, which I almost did until I read the clearly displayed signs!
Ride your bike to the west on Railroad Ave. to get to the trailhead, (along side the Bikeway Source bike shop in the big red building as of this date) for about ¼ mile. Where RR Ave makes a big sweeping turn to the right, is where the well marked trailhead is to the left. Except for some short deviations, the trail follows the old rail bed route, and the surface is gravel with occasional dirt stretches. Even with the deviations, I had no trouble at all following the route; it was very obvious to me, anyway. It’s mostly wooded, passing several conservation areas including, and notably, the Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge (no bikes, though) and Minuteman National Historic Park. At the Monument St. crossing, close to the end of the trail in Concord, I most highly recommend deviating from the trail by turning north on Monument St and going the ¼ mile to see the Old North Bridge historical site, where the second (after Lexington Green) of the two earliest skirmishes took place that inflamed the American Revolutionary War.
I rode this on a dry day. If there had been recent rain, several areas on this trail would be wet and mucky. In fact, consider postponing the ride on this trail until conditions are dry, or be prepared to deal with longer sections of glop and muck. In dry conditions, it’s quite enjoyable and fine. Ride a mountain bike or a fat tired cyclocross or hybrid bike, not a road bike – there are a couple of very short technical sections though, but for families and older kids it is quite appropriate. Mind the street crossings.
See my comments also about the Bedford Narrow Gauge Trail under that listing
I embarked on the trail out of Concord and turned back after a mile or so. Perhaps if I had a mountain bike I could have endured the rugged turrain a while longer.
There were no signs off of Lowell Rd, or the Visitors Center in Concord, so found my way by trial and error.
Just getting back into biking again, and have to say, I was really dissapointed with this trail. Will try others.
I utilize the Reformatory Branch Trail on my way from Somerville to Walden Pond in Concord, and it's one of my favorite parts of the ride. The trail is unpaved and frequently very bumpy due to roots, rocks, manhole covers, and other obstacles, but it is FUN! I ride a hybrid/cruiser bike, and as it is my only bike, I can't compare how this ride might be on a road bike.
I especially enjoy the section on the west side where the trail forms small rolling hills, and if you bike fast enough it feels like you're riding a roller coaster.
This trail is certainly not for everyone or every bike, but I think it's a joy to ride. Contributing to the five star review I'm giving this trail is the trail maintenance. Last time I rode it, there was a large downed tree, with the branchy part covering the path. It was easy enough to walk around (but not over), but I had to get off my bike. A few hours later, when I was riding back home, the tree was already cleaned up!
I was In the area for Mothers day and did this trail. It is not a long trail but with a little T.L.C this could be a hole lot better. There is a great canopy and has a lot of great tweets and turns, it has a single track feel to it. There are a couple of very wet spots but the over all trail is dry. I would only do this on a Mt Bike or a Cross Bike. This is not a family friendly trail. It runs next to the Great Meadows Wildlife Refuge and has some great views.
While it is a beautiful trail, it is often muddy. After periods of heavy rain, the trail can be almost impassible to many types of bikes. Mountain bikes or hybrids with wide, knobby tires are best.
As listed, this is an unpaved trail, so it's more suited for mountain/hybrid bikes. I've biked from Boston to Concord a few times in every season. Although the Minuteman Bikeway is great, it is a bit dull and oftentimes crowded. The Reformatory Branch Trail is such a delightful change of pace! In its 4.5 miles, the trail ranges from extremely narrow to wide and the scenery and trail condition keeps changing. There's never a dull moment on this trail! It's also very very quiet. I never encountered more than 10 people on the whole way even on weekends. It can be a little tricky after rains though. Some portions of the trail have very soft dirt and can be very muddy. I had to get off and walk my bike twice during my trip last weekend. So if you are a relatively experienced biker and like something interesting, you should definitely check out this trail.
Started out on Concord ctr. end at parking lot. There are no signs at all from keyes rd or the immediate area. We went up monument st and still did not see a sign for trail. I will start at other end next time.
This trail turned out to be much more than I expected. I had plans to Hike Wapack trail, slept through the morning so had to cancel my plans. I was wondering where to go hiking, could not find many places as the Sun sets early these days. I wanted to try this trail for quite some time. I was in no mood to bike. Left the Bike with car and decided to walk the trail. I was a little doubtfull about the trail to startwith as it looked like the trail was unmaintained. I was totally wrong. Walking on this trail is like walking in the woods.
There are houses on one side and trees on the other. It was quite,lot of trees on either side,chirping of the birds, rough path,secluded trail -- was wonderful. There are about 3 wild life conservation areas along this trail. When I was walking back I took a detour into two of the wild life conservation areas. It was worth. There are few more trails amidst the woods.These trails look like they are really into the deep forest like areas and they are marked. Could hear many birds chirping and flying around.I could not walk all the trails but took about a couple of them.My desire to hike in the woods was satisfied as this trail did give me the feeling.
Left Bedford west from Loomis St at the start of the Minuteman.
The start is about 200 yards to the west of the station and not marked. Heads off into the wood at what looks like parking area with porta pottie just before school. Nice single track with about 3 short sections of mud. The first road crossing was confusing and I did not see the path down the the next section. Look just to the right of and behind the gardrail. I did not follow to the end because of high water in the concord river by the North bridge. Thanks to two local riders for leading me thru Concord over to the Battle Trail to return.
"The surface of this trail is really quite smooth except for a few isolated spots with some roots and rocks. It's excellent for hiking, jogging and mountain biking. A side trail leads directly to the Great Meadows parking area and the observation tower. Another side trail leads to the famous cemetery with ""Author's Ridge"" (Thoreau, Hemingway). Also, you can park near the Concord commuter rail station, follow the trail east until it becomes the bikeway, then all the way to Cambridge. From there it's a quick ""T"" ride to Porter Square where you can pick up the commuter rail back to Concord. That's 15 miles total trip, point-to-point."
"If you’ve reached the Minuteman Bikeway’s Bedford trailhead after starting at a point due east and think that’s as far west as the old railroad right-of way will take you, well you’re simply mistaken. You may head west on Railroad Avenue in Bedford, rejoin the right-of-way within a few city blocks, and continue on through to Concord.
With the exception of short paved segment in western Bedford used as an access road to a municipal utility station, the Reformatory Branch Trail is a hard packed dirt surface with many exposed roots, rocks, and old railroad ties in place. Trail width along most of the route is what I would classify as single track; if you’re the type that picks up poison ivy easily, this trail isn’t for you. However, a portion of the trail does cut through a US Government Wildlife Conservation Area and the surface there is much wider. There are a few pretty busy street crossing along the way, none with crosswalks or safety signs.
For the most part views along the trail are limited to heavily wooded areas and the backs of a few homes. The Bedford trailhead is adjacent to an athletic field and the trail terminates in Concord near a gas station/convenience store. Markers posted on trees at several points along the route identify this route a being a piece of the “Bay Circuit Trail” network.
If you have a mountain bike with suspension or a comfortable pair of hiking shoes, this trail should be included on your list of “things to do.”"
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