The Ashuelot Rail Trail, tucked into the hills and valleys of the Monadnock region of southwestern New Hampshire is the perfect rail to trail for an historical cycling adventure. It follows the abandoned railbed of the Boston & Maine Railroad which operated from 1851 to 1983 and traces the beautiful Ashuelot River, rolling through farmland and forests, past historic homes, mills and covered bridges. The uneven, unimproved trail surface makes a mountain bike essential for this ride and more challenging for the novice rider. Used by equestrians, hikers and mountain bikers, this multi-use off-road trail becomes a popular snowmobile and cross country ski route in the winter.
The southern terminus of the Ashuelot Rail Trail begins at Dole Junction, Hinsdale just south of Pisgah State Park, a popular New Hampshire mountain biking destination. It''s a good place to begin your mountain bike ride. From here the Ashuelot Rail Trail travels for 23 miles along the southern river bank from Hinsdale through Ashuelot Village, then crosses the river and continues through downtown Winchester where it turns north toward Westport Village, Swanzey, ending at the northern trailhead in Keene.
The first section of the Ashuelot Rail-Trail runs along NH Route 63 and is bordered by farm fields. The terrain along this stretch can be wet and rough. Use caution. Located a short distance from the start is the Hinsdale Station (see Historical Notes below). For the next few miles the trail runs along a ridge providing bicyclists with scenic views of the Ashuelot River below. At Ashuelot Village the trail passes the 169 foot long Ashuelot Covered Bridge. There are walkways on both sides of the bridge. Take a stroll across for a view of The Sheridan House Museum, an historic eighteenth century building and the run down Ashuelot Rail Station.
After about 3 more miles, the trail crosses a small road leading to Winchester, one of Cheshire County's oldest towns. Stop here for a snack if you haven't brought a picnic lunch to eat on the trail. From Winchester, the trail heads north through the town of Swanzey, "Covered Bridge Capital of New Hampshire" and the seat of Cheshire County. The historic Coombs Covered Bridge spans the river in Winchester just south of the Swanzey town line. A second historic covered bridge, the Slate Bridge, was destroyed by fire nearby in the Swanzey village of Westport and was rebuilt in 2001. Two other covered bridges: Cresson and Thompson also span the Ashuelot in Swanzey.
The trail continues north, finally taking you into Keene, a former railroad hub which serves as the hub for three major recreational trails (including the Asheulot) today. In Keene, the Ashuelot Rail Trail is part of the Roundhouse-T, a 0.64-mile long, 8-10 feet wide, paved bicycle and pedestrian path that also links the central core of Keene to the Downtown Cheshire Branch Trail and the Keene Industrial Heritage Trail.
Whether you are a railroad afficionado or not, take note of the Hinsdale Station, an accurate, restoration of a Boston & Maine Railroad depot and now a private residence. A Green Mountain Railroad boxcar and an old New Haven Railroad caboose on the property add to the ambience.
Built in 1864, it is one of New Hampshire's most elaborate bridges and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The original purpose of the bridge was to transport wood across the river for use by the Ashuelot Railroad to fuel the steam engine burners.
The area boasts 6 of the remaining 54 bridges in New Hampshire, including the Ashuelot. The other 5, most on the National Historic Register, are worth a side trip. They are the Coombs Bridge, West Swanzey (Thompson) Bridge, Sawyer Crossing (Cresson) Bridge, Slate Bridge and Charleton Bridge.
Located at 91 Back Ashuelot Road, the Sheridan House was built in 1870 and restored by the Winchester Historical Society. It features a double chimney structure, a broad center stairway and hall that encompasses three floors, and ornamented gables.
A popular 4 mile stretch of the Ashuelot River from Gilsum Gorge to Shaws Corner offers Class II whitewater kayaking, rafting, and paddling.
For more information:
Keene Bicycle Path and Pedestrian maps: Pathways For Keene
For other long distance multi-use rail trails in this region see New Hampshire Rail Trails
NH Bureau of Trails
Phone: (603) 271-3254
Pathways For Keene