HOP RIVER STATE PARK TRAIL
“Riding the rails” on Connecticut’s historic train routes takes on a whole new meaning when seeking outdoor adventure. The state has a rich history of railroad building since the mid-1800s with one of its longest lines running from Hartford to Willimantic.
Now, it’s a 20-mile trail that calls to hikers and bicyclists alike.
The Hop River State Park Trail runs through six towns: Andover, Bolton, Columbia, Coventry, Manchester, and Vernon. I wanted to cover a good amount on ground so, I decided to head to the Vernon trailhead located on Church St. with my bike in tow.
About a dozen cars were already in the lot as I pulled in, with another handful of people milling about either wrapping up or beginning their visit here.
The snapshot of this modern-day outdoor retreat mirrors the once-thriving transportation route that ran through here. So, it’s hard to imagine that for a time it was left abandoned and broken after the railway’s demise.
Now, its well-tended path gives visitors a sense of escape. It certainly did for me as I began my ride to Bolton. The trail appears relatively flat, but in reality it has a slight uphill grade to it. All it meant is that I had to work harder to get to where I was going.
The path here is smack in the middle of suburbia. It crosses a residential street and is just a stone’s throw away from neighboring homes.
Within moments, I had the opportunity to veer ‘off track’ on an alternate trail known as the Rockville Spur. For those curious enough, this 4-mile bike path leads across the Tankerhoosen River and into the historic center of Rockville.
I chose to stay on my original course past the quiet, neighborhood streets that parallel this leg of the journey. But, the buzz of town life soon washes away. Heavier swathes of forest begin replacing the backyards of nearby homes. The land also gives way with steep drop-offs appearing periodically on either side of the trail.
As I settled into the ride, I noticed small ‘pockets’ of the land’s history revealing itself in the present-day. The trail is lined with dozens of deteriorating telephone poles that date back to the region’s railroad glory days. On the edge of the path itself, random pieces of iron from the rail itself still poke through the ground. And, if you look to the outer edges of the trail, you’ll notice the remnants of wooden beams from the tracks buried in the underbrush.
Despite the stillness of the surrounding forest, my ride was anything but isolating. The trail was bustling with people walking their dogs, biking, or taking a leisurely stroll.
The mix turned out to be ideal. I didn’t feel like the peacefulness of my ride was disrupted – especially with so much wilderness around me. Much of the well-shaded path swings by pockets of preserved open space. And the strong, sweet smell of Sassafras permeates the air here making it feel like you are truly in the middle of nowhere.
There are plenty of opportunities to explore the woods beyond. The Shenipsit and Mohegan Trails are two of the major paths that stem off from here, and there are a handful of small ones to check out as well.
But, my main focus was on yet another preserved space – that of Bolton Notch State Park. Here, another trailhead leads visitors onto the trail’s most eastern points, which promises even more remote riding.
I made it as far as Bolton Notch Tunnel before turning back. And, despite retracing my steps, I found the ride still provided me with a fresh perspective - one I appreciated now that my trek back was made easier by the slight ‘downhill’ course the trail took.
When I started out on this particular adventure, I wasn’t sure what to expect. But, looking back, I truly found I relished the ride – that proved both workout and retreat all rolled into one.
Trail Directions: Take I-84 east to Exit 65. Follow signs to Rt. 30 north. Turn right at the traffic light on Dobson Rd.
Cross Beneath I-84. Dobson Rd. becomes Washington St. In a mile, turn left onto Church St.
Trailhead parking is on the left.
Trail Difficulty: Easy
Trail Distance: 9 miles (RT)