Rail Trails of New Hampshire – The Winnepesaukee and Northern Rail Trails

Winnipesaukee River in Tilton

Rail Trails have become popular recreational sites in many communities across the country. Railroads that have fallen into disuse and been abandoned have been converted into recreational trails. In some spots, the rails are still in place with a trail next to it. In others, the rails and ties have been ripped up and the trail graded. These trails have the advantage of generally being accessible to all kinds of activity and to people in wheelchairs or scooters as well.

In some ways I find this very sad. In the West, Chinese immigrants were largely responsible for railroad construction. In the East, it was Irish immigrants. Both were driven hard and often abused to the point that many workers died giving us a series of railroads that criss-crossed the country and changed how we lived. Now those railroads are being ripped up.

On the other hand, at least instead of just becoming abandoned and overgrown, at least communities are turning these trails into something for the community. In some cases, they also have a bit of a history lesson.

A bit of history on the Northern Rail Trail

The first rail trail I ventured to this morning was the Winnepesaukee Rail Trail or Winnepesaukee River Trail. This trail runs alongside tracks still in place, generally between those tracks and the WInnepesaukee River. The total length is about 5 miles between Tilton and Franklin.

Although rated as “wheelchair accessible,” I found it to be a little rough for someone in a wheelchair or scooter, even a scooter with the larger “all terrain” wheels. The section I was on was mostly crushed gravel and dirt and was quite uneven. I found three geocaches in this section of the trail, going under Interstate 93 and beyond from Tilton.

The Northern Rail Trail is quite different and much nicer. The tracks here have been ripped up and the tracks area graded, leaving behind a smooth, wide path stretching more than 57 miles from Boscawen to Lebanon. I walked 3 miles in each direction from the eastern and of the trail near Webster Lake. As you can see in the pictures above, it was flat and pretty smooth. In the winter it’s used by snowmobilers, cross-country skiers, and snowshoers. Once the snow is gone, it’s opened up for walking, running, bicycles, and horseback riding. The picture on the upper right shows a private access trail from a stable to the rail trail and there were plenty of hoof-prints on the trail today.

I encountered few people on the trail at this time. It was wide enough for us to distance from each other as we passed. Many people were walking their dogs along the trail. If I were better on my bicycle, I would definitely think about riding here. It’s so flat and smooth that it makes it easy for any skill level to ride on the trail. It’s also conducive for people in wheelchairs as well as motorized scooters.

White River Junction 48 miles

I was here for geocaching, of course. There are quite a number of geocaches along the trail. Some are “challenge caches” where you have to accomplish a specific task before you can find the geocache. Most of them are straight-forward caches hanging in trees along the trail. What’s nice here is that since the rail trail is elevated, the geocaches are close to the trail rather than having to search further away from the trail. I found a total of 19 caches today on the trail.

Another history lesson on the trail

If your community has a rail trail or a recreational trail, it’s a great way to get out and get some exercise. If your community has some abandoned railroad tracks, why not look into what it takes to turn it into a community recreational trail? The longer ones, especially, are a draw for tourists, especially us crazy geocachers.

13 replies »

  1. Such a beautiful place to explore on foot! It’s been a very long time since we’ve been out in the woods due to the coronavirus! Can’t wait to be reconnected with the nature. Thanks for sharing and have a lovely Easter weekend 😀 Aiva

    • We are lucky to be able to get out in the woods still. I do appreciate it because I would go crazy not being able to get outside. I try to choose areas that aren’t popular right now. If it were just locals, there wouldn’t be an issue, but many people are driving up from other states to be in our beautiful outdoors.

  2. These sorts of trails are what I miss about living in upstate New York.

    The parks are closed around here. I’ve done things like started walking around the housing tract in a mask. I was up early enough I just stood in the driveway in the dark. This morning I saw a raccoon trying to dive into a storm drain. I’ve seen raccoons before.

      • I tell myself that when this is over I will go walking in the (now closed) park every day and go to the gym every day. I can tell you how likely that I, but you can tell how high the cabin fever is running when I’m looking forward to going to the gym. 🙂

  3. I have been on a few trail and they are not only good for walks, but the longer ones are nice for bicycling. There is a great one that goes from Tallahassee to St Marks in Florida. Thanks for the post.

  4. We are fortunate to live close to several really good ones. Recently we’ve done the GAP, Panhandle, and Ghost Town Trail. All very scenic with lots of great stops along the way.

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