The Airline Rail Trail, located in eastern Connecticut, follows the old rail bed of the New York & New England Air Line Railroad, so named because it followed a straight line route, as if drawn through the air, between New York and Boston. Stretching for more than 50 miles, it is divided into three sections, South, North and Thompson. (see Historical Notes below)
Airline Trail North Section
The Airline Rails-To-Trails (North), located within the Quinebaug-Shetucket Rivers National Heritage Corridor, is not as developed as the Airline Rail Trail (South) and is therefore, more of an adventure and well-suited for mountain biking. It spans 27 miles from Town Farm Road in Putnam, in the northeast corner of the state, and passes through Pomfret, Hampton and Chaplin before reaching Route 66 in Windham. Windham is the birthplace of Velcro and an historic colonial New England town first settled in 1686.
In various states of development, the rail trail surface is mainly ballast and gravel with some trap rock sections. The part of the rail-trail stretching from Goodwin State Forest Conservation Center to Route 44 in Pomfret is smooth, scenic and suitable for most bicyclists, hikers, and equestrians. From Pomfret to Putnam, the trail is much rougher and is best suited for adventurous mountain bikers.
Traveling through the scenic northeast part of Connecticut, it passes over streams and through forest and farmland. There are no missing or unsafe bridges to detract from your ride. The two bridge crossings in this section travel over stone arch bridges or concrete culverts, one over Boulevard Road in Windham and the other across the Quinebaug River in Putnam. You will encounter some sections of trail edged by significant drop offs that provide panoramic views of the Connecticut hills and valleys.
One of the highlights of the Airline Rail Trail (North) are views of the "Windham Atlantic White Cedar Bog", located along Route 6 in Windam. It is owned by Joshua's Tract Conservation and Historic Trust, one of the oldest local conservation and historic trusts in the State of Connecticut. Atlantic White Cedar bogs are considered endangered and important wildlife habitats.
The route also affords scenic views of the Goodwin State Forest and Conservation Center as well as the Hampton Reservoir. Watch for beaver activity in nearby ponds and surrounding wetlands.
Route 66, Windham to Windham/Chaplin town line:
This is the most developed stretch of the Airline State Park Trail (North). The entire section of trail in Windham has a smooth stone-dust surface.
Windham/Chaplin town line to Wrights Crossing Road, Pomfret:
Currently, best suited for the more adventurous mountain biker. Surface in various states with many rough and overgrown stretches. In the near future, expect to see trail improvements such as signage and stone dust surfacing.
Wrights Crossing Road, Pomfret up to Town Farm Road, Putnam:
Totally undeveloped and overgrown. Not for the faint of heart. It is necessary to climb steep embankments, where they obstruct road crossings.
Note: The rail bed is privately owned North of Town Farm Road. The Connecticut DEC is working towards purchasing it, which would allow access to Kennedy Drive in Putnam, where there is already an existing footbridge that travels over the Quinebaug River providing a connection to the Putnam River Trail.
The Thompson section of the Airline Trail runs from Thompson to the Massachusetts state line where it connects with New England Trunk Trail. This 14 mile section is undeveloped and is suitable for mountain biking. No motor vehicles are permitted on the trail.
For more Connecticut Rail Trails : You may also be interested in mountain biking the Airline Rail Trail South
The town of Windham, where the northern section of the Airline State Park Rail Trail begins, was incorporated in 1692. Many mills sprang up around the Willimantic River and played a very important role in the history of the town. From the mid-1800's to the early 1900's, Willimantic (a section of Windham), was known worldwide as one of the finest manufacturers of silk and cotton thread outside of England and was aptly named "Thread City". It was also a bustling railroad hub, serving several railroad and trolley lines. Many of the historic buildings, hotels and Victorian Era mansions in Windham were built during this time.
The Main Street Historic District & Center (Windham) is listed on the National Register of Historic places. Listed below are some historical points of interest you can opt to visit before or after your ride.
Connecticut Eastern Railroad Museum
Located: 55 Bridge Street, Willimantic, Connecticut.
Windham Textile and History Museum
The museum preserves two buildings (circa 1877) of a mill complex formerly owned by the Willimantic Linen Company, which later became the American Thread Company. Velcro was invented at the American Thread. One building has three floors, exhibiting a company store, a mill worker's house, the manager's mansion, and the Dunham Hall Library.
Located: 57 Union and Main Streets (corner of Main and Union Streets in downtown Willimantic)
Willimantic's Frog Bridge
The four-lane bridge, which opened in 2000, is officially known as the Thread City Crossing. It connects Routes 66 and 32 across the Willimantic River and a rail line. This whimsical but impressive bridge's four 11-foot frogs atop giant spools of thread are reminders of the city's history.
Jillson House Museum
This home was built in 1825 for a mill owner. The structure is made from stone taken locally from the banks of the Willimantic river. In 1976, after restoration, it was bought by the Windham Historical Society. Exhibits include artifacts, antique furniture, and local memorabilia.
Located: 627 Main Street, Willimantic
Connecticut Audubon — Bafflin Sanctuary
Location: 220 Day Road (off Route 169), Pomfret Center, CT
For more information:
Department Of Environmental Protection
Phone: (860) 928-6121