One of the first things we did when we first visited New Hampshire was find a good place to go for a bike ride. My girlfriend and I found the Northern Rail Trail in Lebanon, NH. We rented a couple bikes from Omer and Bob's in Lebanon and planned to go for a nice ride on the trail. It turned out to be a very beautiful, easy pedalling kind of ride. Like most rail trail projects I've rode on, the Northern has mostly mild hills, though they can be long at times. One of the highlights of any ride on the Northern has to be the section where one side of the trail opens up to beautiful Mascoma Lake. But there are several other stretches that are pretty cool too. The trail is motsly covered in fine crushed limestone making for a quite smooth ride for much of it, though it does get a little rough in spots. One thing I really liked was there were several shops where you can get some water and a snack during the ride if you needed. There are plenty of spots to stop for a break should you need one.
I would recommend parking near the Witherell Recreation Center in Lebanon to start your journey. Then head toward Grafton (trail only goes toward Grafton from Lebanon) for a short ride or a century if you are feeling up to it. The beginning of the trail seems to be the best surface it has to offer. This smooth section also crosses the Mascoma river like seven times in the first few miles. You will want 32mm tires at a very minimum. When I last rode it I had 32mm and found myself wishing for something a little more substantial at about the 20-25mile mark. Depending on the time of year it can be pretty cool in the mornings and evenings around here. Definitely check the weather forecast and suit up accordingly.
Some parts of the trail can be a bit muddy even with no recent rainfall so keep an eye out for mudholes. Other things to look out for include deep holes, large stones sticking up occasionally and in some places old ties. So pay attention where you are going and you will be just fine. Some of the tunnels past Enfield can be pretty dark, I found my headlight to be very useful, especially with skinny tires in gravel.
Some places you may want to stop:
1. Along the side of Mascoma Lake are a couple rest stops with benches so you can sit and look out at the lake.
2. Enfield, NH - This charming small town has a gas station if you need water or a snack. There is also some 3-hour parking at the municipal park. The laundromat you ride by is an old freight warehouse from the railroads operating days. There is also 56 Main Street Bar and Grill. Haven't been able to get in there yet.
3. Enfield House of pizza and Dunkin Donuts is just past the Depot laundromat.
4. Grafton, NH - Grafton Country Store can be a life saver if you run out of water or run out of calories.
4. Danbury, NH - Danbury Country Store and Dick's General Store have food and water. There's also a little spot across from Dick's to sit trailside and refresh with your beverage of choice and if you're lucky meet some of the locals.
5. Franklin, NH - I didn't see much here, but I did find a convenience store that was right off the trail to grab some snacks and water.
Personally I haven't rode any further than Franklin on the trail. And according to Google maps, there is just a few more miles before the end of the trail. Hopefully before the cold sets in I can do the whole trail in one ride.
You will also see mile markers along the trail, large granite slabs with "B" or "WRJ" painted on them along with a number. At first I couldn't figure out just what the heck these things were referring to. Turns out when heading away from Lebanon you're heading to Boston, hence the "B" and the number is miles to Boston. When heading back toward Lebanon, the "WRJ" refers to mileage to White River Junction, VT. If you're planning a visit to the Hanover/Lebanon/White River Junction area be sure to hit the Northern Rail Trail up for a great ride. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.
I have been working on a nice map of the Northern Rail Trail since i couldn't find one that really fit my needs. Below is a preview of the map and after that is a direct link. If you print the map it will fit best on legal (8.5x14) paper. Otherwise if you download it to your phone it should also work well and allow you to zoom in to where you want to see. Hope you enjoy and if you have any suggestions please let me know.
Map 1 view, download, and print: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B37scRzMNpxjMGRlcUtxcXptMlk/view
Map 2 view, download, and print: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B37scRzMNpxjajh2Y1o5cnZncG8/view