For outdoorsy types in Lebanon, getting into nature is as convenient as stepping onto the Northern Rail Trail, with access right downtown to the longest rail-to-trail route in New Hampshire and one of the longest in New England. Once the railway for the Boston and Maine Northern Line, the trail is now a 55-mile recreational path that extends from Lebanon to Boscawen, New Hampshire, and it was named one of the best 100 trails in the United States by the Washington, D.C.-based Rails to Trails Conservancy.
The trail is broken into two sections: the Merrimack County section, which runs about 32 miles from its southernmost point in Boscawen up to Danbury, and the Grafton County section, a 23-mile, nearly flat trail that’s most popular among Lebanon residents. Made of cinder and crushed stone and running through the quaint New Hampshire towns of Lebanon, Enfield, Canaan, Orange, and Grafton, the trail is open to foot traffic, bikes, skiers, horses, and snowmobiles.
“This is one of the most scenic trails of its kind in New England,” says Dick Mackay, chair of the Friends of the Northern Rail Trail in Grafton County. “There has been tremendous community use from the day the trail became walk-able and bike-able because it is so scenic.”
Starting in Lebanon, the trail meanders alongside the Mascoma River, with seven river crossings in the first four miles. It then winds its way through the forested landscape and around the shoreline of Mascoma Lake, where benches offer a scenic spot for a break. In Canaan, the trail opens up and travels next to Mirror Lake, with gorgeous views of Cardigan Mountain. The trail hits its highest point at 968 feet between Canaan and Grafton.
Historic markers along the trail denote historic sites like old mills and the location of a train wreck in Canaan in the early 1900s. In addition, U.S. Senator and famous orator Daniel Webster gave the opening-day address for the railroad just feet from where the trailhead sits today in Lebanon.
The Friends of the Northern Rail Trail, Grafton County, are responsible for maintaining the trails and their signage. Stenciled, granite mile markers sit all along the path, making it very easy for users to keep track of their mileage and when they should turn around. In addition, there are plans in the near future to extend the trail to connect Lebanon to West Lebanon, with the ultimate hope of connecting the trail all the way to White River Junction.