Northern Rail Trail; Be At One With Nature

The Northern Rail Trail

The Northern Rail Trail runs from Grafton County’s Lebanon to Canaan, New Hampshire and continues on into Merrimack County. The Northern Rail Trail offers a great way to get out and enjoy the Upper Valley. You will find plenty of things to do along the way including plenty of seasonal leaf peeping, bird watching, lake and river views, historic buildings and bridges, breathtaking rock formations and much more.

The Northern Rail Trail is the railroad bed of the old Boston and Maine Railroad Northern Line. It is not in service and the trail is now used for walking, hiking, running, biking, horseback riding, dog sled training, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, bird watching, leaf peeping and a whole lot more.

Northern Rail Trail: Grafton County, NH

The Northern Rail Trail is well known in the Upper Valley and community members love getting out on the trail to enjoy nature. There are several access points and parking areas for the Rail Trail including the trail head along Riverside Drive, Taylor Street (park behind City Hall) and on Ice House Road – which is off Rt. 4 as you head towards Enfeild, NH. Aside from these major access points, there are several other access points in each town along the Rail Trail such as the parking area near the General Store in Grafton.

The below information is from the Northern Rail Trail Alliance Brochure which can be downloaded here.

Highlights from Lebanon onward:

  • Scenic Mill Road and kayak course at twin bridges.Norther Rail Trail Grafton County New Hampshire
  • Dam at East Lebanon, a bustling sawmill village 1780-1840. First views of Mascoma Lake.
  • Ice House Rd., site of B&M RR Mascoma Depot and sidings. Parking with access from Route 4.
  • Views down Mascoma lake to Shaker Bridge
  • “The Cut”. Initials carved in stone date from widening in 1890s. Spectacular ice formations in winter.
  • Enfield town center.
  • Baltic Mill and dam. Woolen mill from the 1890s-1970s.
  • Blackwater Road – two crossings. Mascoma River canoe access, Mascoma Valley Regional High School
  • Indian River high bridge.
  • Canaan town center. Depot and freight house.
  • Mirror Lake, views of Cardigan Mountain.
  • Trail tunnel passes under Route 4
  • Riddle Hill Rd. to Ruggles Mine, mica and minerals.
  • Grafton town center
  • Merrimack Co. line, Danbury and onward
  • Danbury to West Franklin

Northern Railroad:

There were three rail corridors which were laid out from Concord,heading west and north heading towards the Connecticut River. Of the three rail corridors, the Northern survived the longest. Marking the Northern Rail’s completion in 1847, Daniel Webster gave the keynote address in Lebanon, just down the street from where the Rail Trail begins.

Not unlike many other early railroads, the Northern also expreienced financial difficulty though out its early life. Acquired by the Boston & Maine in 1887, the line ran successfully for about forty years, largely due to its terminus at the regional rail hub in White River Jct., Vermont. With the Depression, the Northern Branch joined hundreds of other American railroads in a long decline toward oblivion.

The Northern Rail officially ended passenger service in 1965. There were however freight operations which ran along the Norther Rail up until the 1970s before B&M stopped maintaining the line and abandoned the railway. There were 66 miles of the Northern Rail that were acquired by the state of NH for five million dollars, in 1996. This was converted to a recreational trail and is what we now know as the Northern Rail Trail

Snowmobiles on the Northern Rail Trail

Local snowmobile clubs had decked the rail bridges and removed obstacles along the entire length of the Northern Rail Trail in order to allow for unobstructed winter recreational use. Yes, snowmobiling is allowed on the rail trail, however there are no other motorized vehicles allow, any time of year.

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