NH’s family-friendly bike and rail trails

Recreation paths and rail trails throughout the Granite State make family bike rides easy and safe

Editor’s note: We kindly remind all readers that you should always double check trails and paths before you head out; some social distancing rules may apply and some trails may even be closed or modified in summer 2020.

Kate Brindley Photography Www.katebrindleyphotography.com

Willa and Iris Brindley take a stroll down the Derry Rail Trail.
Kate Brindley Photography

(Updated: June 19, 2020)

Taking a bike ride together is a fun way to promote getting fit as a family. Looking for a safe place to finally take the training wheels off your cycling plans? Pedal the day away at one of these 11 kid-friendly (and bicycle-friendly) trails and recreation paths.

Rockingham Rail Trail

Stretching more than 25 miles from Page Street in Manchester to the old rail depot building in Newfields, the wide packed gravel and dirt trail has multiple access points to make it easier to explore this Merrimack Valley to the Seacoast route in smaller sections. Popular stops (with parking areas) include Massabesic Lake and Candia. For a map and more information, go to www.nhstateparks.org and search for “Rockingham Rail Trail.”

Mine Falls Park

With its scenic terrain winding along the Nashua River as it passes through fields and forests, Nashua’s Mine Falls Park may be one of the most popular —and prettiest — spots in the Merrimack Valley for riding bikes. Easy access to the trail system can be found at Lincoln Park at the end of Coliseum Avenue (there’s also plenty of parking). For more information and a map, go to www.nashuanh.gov.

Great Glen Trails

In the summertime, the smooth, flat rolling carriage roads that criss-cross Great Glen Trails in Gorham become a pedaling paradise for all ages. The ski-turned-bike resort makes taking to its carriage trail system easy by providing bike and helmet rentals on-site. Go to greatglentrails.com for more information.

Franconia Notch State Park Recreational Trail

One of New Hampshire’s crown jewels for outdoor recreation, the Franconia Notch State Park Recreational Trail is nine miles of jaw-dropping pedaling as it takes you past the state park’s most spectacular sites, including Echo Lake (where many cyclists stop to take a dip), the Old Man of the Mountain site, the Basin (another swimming hole), and the Flume Gorge. The trail is perfect for beginners and can be accessed from multiple parking lots, making it easier to customize the length of your trek. For a map, go to www.nhstateparks.org and search for “recreational rail trails.”

Goffstown Rail Trail

For another rail trail cycling option in the Manchester area, look no further than the Goffstown Rail Trail, a 5.5-mile stretch of packed dirt and gravel that follows the former Boston & Maine railroad tracks from the Piscataquog River near the Main Street bridge in Goffstown village, through Grasmere and the county complex, to the Manchester city line near the Sarette Recreational Complex in Pinardville. One of the easiest points of access for the trail is at Goffstown Parks and Recreation Center. There’s plenty of parking available, too. For more information, go to www.goffstownrailtrail.org.

 Odiorne State Park

Most families know Odiorne State Park in Rye as the home of the Seacoast Science Center. What’s not well known is that the state park also offers some of the best bike trails on the Seacoast. A paved recreational path is available, plus an extensive network of gravel and partially paved trails that wind through the trees and along the salt marsh for a total of about three miles. Pack a lunch and enjoy a post-ride picnic in the park’s day use area along the shore. For more information, go to www.nhstateparks.org.

Northern Rail Trail

Spanning Grafton and Merrimack counties, the Northern Rail Trail clocks in as the longest rail trail in New Hampshire at more than 60 miles. The surface of cinder ballast and stone dust is well-suited for easy mountain biking. One particularly lovely stretch is from the trail’s access point in downtown Lebanon following the Mascoma River, crossing it seven times in just the first few miles. For more information and a map, go to www.fnrt.org.

Silk Farm Road Bike Path

At a paved 1.3 miles in length, the Silk Farm Road Bike Path in Concord is an ideal place for a young cyclist’s first real bike ride. Parking and access to the trail can be found just past the entrance to the McLane/Silk Farm Audubon Center on Silk Farm Road. The path crosses a footbridge before reaching its end at a gate. Another unpaved trail system leaves from this same gate, but be aware that parts of this other trail system are prohibited to bike riders without permission. For a map, go to concordnh.gov.

Kate Brindley Photography Www.katebrindleyphotography.com

The Derry Rail Trail, shown here, connects to the Salem and Windham rail trails.
Kate Brindley Photography

Derry-Windham-Salem Rail Trails

Pedal for 11 paved miles through the scenic towns and countryside of southern New Hampshire on three connected rail trails: Derry Rail Trail (www.derryrailtrail.org), Windham Rail Trail (www.windhamrailtrail.org) and the Salem Bike-Ped Corridor (www.fsbpc.org). Access points and parking can be found at multiple stops along the way. On the Derry portion of your trip, look for trailside public art.

Lincoln Woods/Wilderness Trail

The Lincoln Woods Trail cuts through the Pemigewasset Wilderness as it follows the path of one of the last logging railroads operating in the White Mountains. (The Lincoln Railroad supported logging in the region until the 1940s.) The broad, nearly flat trail of packed dirt and gravel starts at the Lincoln Woods parking area on the Kancamagus Highway and follows the Pemigewasset River for approximately three miles. Leave enough time to explore riverbanks, stop for a picnic — and rest your legs — before the trip back. For more information, go to www.fs.usda.gov.

Highland Mountain Bike Park

Ready to add some adrenaline to your family’s next bike ride? Highland Mountain Bike Park in Northfield boasts an extensive downhill and cross-country mountain bike trail network, with over 15 miles of trails from beginner to expert levels. Ride the lift with your bikes to the summit of Highland, then get ready for a 600-foot drop down the mountain. Or you can stick to the Central Park terrain area where beginners of all ages can work on skill development. www.highlandmountain.com

But we’re not done! Here’s a few more rail trails to explore in New Hampshire:

Presidential Recreational Rail Trail

In the northern outreaches of the White Mountains, this off the beaten path gem of a rail trail starts at Airport Road in Whitefield and travels 18 miles to Gorham. Along the way, cyclists can stop to go bird watching at Cherry Pond and take in views of the Presidential Range as the trail passes by Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge and Israel and Moose rivers. For more information and a map, go to www.friendsofthepresidentialrailtrail.org.

Cheshire Recreation Rail Trail

This packed dirt and gravel rail trail in western New Hampshire travels through Fitzwilliam, Troy, Keene, Westmoreland, and North Walpole, passing through steep-walled rock ravines and forests, across fields and over an old stone arch bridge high over the Ashuelot River. The trail is 42 miles in total length with multiple access points. For more information and a fun video about the trail, go to www.nhstateparks.org and search for “Cheshire Recreational Rail Trail.”

Monadnock Recreation Rail Trail

Already hiked Mount Monadnock? Bring your bikes the next time you’re in the region and explore the seven-mile trail Monadnock Recreation Rail Trail. It begins in quaint downtown Jaffrey and heads south to a terminus at the NH/MA border. The trail takes you past beautiful ponds and wetlands. Please note: the trail intersects with Route 202, so use caution and prepare to stop before crossing. For a map and more information, go to www.nhstateparks.org and search for “Monadnock Recreation Rail Trail.”

Nashua River Rail Trail

Up for an interstate adventure? The Nashua River Rail Trail is a 12.5-mile paved rail trail with its terminus in Nashua on Gilson Road. Leaving from Nashua, the trail jumps the state border and passes through the rural towns of Dunstable, Groton, Pepperell and Ayer as it closely follows the Nashua river. The trail provides ample shade to keep you cool on your summer pedaling trek. For more information and a map, go to www.nashuanh.gov.

Greenville Recreational Rail Trail

For a short and sweet bike ride, try the Greenville Recreational Rail Trail. Starting on the east side of Route 31 in Greenville, the paved trail ends just over two miles east in Mason. For a small trail, there’s still a big payoff. All along the route, take in beautiful views of sparkling blue ponds fed by the Souhegan River. For a map and more information, go to www.nhstateparks.org and search for “Greenville Recreational Rail Trail.”

This article was originally published in spring 2016 by Jacqueline Tourville.

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