Cyclists and pedestrians everywhere have retired railroad infrastructure to thank for some of the most scenic and safe multi-use paths across America.
Rail Trails are mixed use paths developed from retired rail road beds. Some are gravel, and some are paved, but the best part about any rail trail is that you’re able to enjoy your bike ride separate from cars. This means less looking over your shoulder and more paying attention to the scenery around you.
Luckily, around Brooklyn Boulders in Somerville, MA you have access to multiple rail trails. Here are 2 of our favorite rail trails, both within a few miles from the gym.
The Minuteman Bike Path
Length: 10 Miles from Cambridge to Bedford with options to extend ride.
The Minuteman Bike Path begins near Alewife Station in Cambridge and extends 10 miles northwest through Arlington, Lexington and all the way to Bedford. If you’re headed north from Somerville, you’ll pass by Spy Pond during your first few miles, a scenic pond with abundant boating and bird watching depending on the time of year you visit. As you continue north, you’ll pass through Arlington’s Great Meadows, a great place to hop off your bike for a hike through wetlands and meadows.
Further north, you’ll slide by the Lexington Center where you can choose from local delis, coffee shops and bakeries to fuel your adventures into the surrounding areas. When you make it all the way to Bedford, you will pass by a retired train car that serves as a relic from the trail’s past.
At this point, you can continue a few miles north towards Billerica along the Narrow Gauge Rail Trail. You can also head west from Bedford to Concord along a gravel extension known as the Minuteman Bikeway Extension or The Reformatory Branch Trail. Taking this extension is a great way to get to historic Walden Pond, a popular kettle pond carved out by glaciers, famous for being Henry David Thoreau’s stomping grounds during his retreat into nature. Along the way you’ll pass by the Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge. There’s a 3 story tower there that will allow you to peer over grassy wetlands that are full of wildlife.
Just a few miles from the end of The Reformatory Branch in Concord, you can jump onto the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail which extends another 12 miles north towards Lowell. If you combine the Minuteman, Reformatory Branch and the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail from Cambridge, you can put together a 50-60 mile out and back bike ride that keeps you separate from the noisy auto traffic around Boston. These trails are truly meant for cyclists and pedestrians and they’ll make you feel like a valued member of the local transit infrastructure.
Northern Strand Community Trail
Length: 7.5 Miles from Malden to Lynn with future plans for expansion.
Utilizing this rail trail will allow you to bike through salty marshes nearly all the way to the ocean. It begins in Malden, just over The Mystic River from Somerville and continues out to Lynn, MA. While the ride itself isn’t quite as scenic as the Minuteman path, the destination is well worth the ride. From the end of the path in Lynn, you can ride along the shore south to Nahant Island. There, you’ll experience some breathtaking views of the ocean. You can also head north through Swampscott to Marblehead to experience some classic New England architecture along with wide open views of the Atlantic.
The trail is paved in parts, and gravel in others, so a gravel bike or mountain bike might be your best bet. A road bike could get a bit bumpy. But after all, what Boston cyclist isn’t used to some pot holes and adversity?
The construction and advocacy around the rail trail was spearheaded by a non-profit called BiketotheSea.org. As of early 2021, The Northern Strand Trail is still being finished up, but is near completion and is ready to ride. You may just have to deal with some detours along the way for now. The trail has plans to extend from Malden to Assembly Square and onto Boston and to join the East Coast Greenway, a project that seeks to create a mixed used path extending all the way from Florida to Maine.
More rail trails are popping up everywhere…
Wherever you live in the US, rail trails are likely being built in your area. Massachusetts alone has over 400 miles of rail trails to choose from with more under construction. This is partially thanks to an organization called RailstoTrails.org that advocates and helps plan and fund trail construction at a national level. They’re grand project is to connect a series of trail projects to create a 3,700 mile, east to west route called the Great American Rail-Trail. While national organizations like The Rails To Trails Conservancy play a massive role in this transformation, local community organizations like BikeToTheSea.Org are making massive strides on a more grassroots level. You can search for Rail Trails near you with the TrailLink tool created by RailsToTrails.org.