Follow This Abandoned Railroad Track For An Out Of The Box Hiking ExperienceJul 29, 2021 05:10PM ● By Virginia Dean
Who would think that an old, abandoned railroad track would transform into some wonderful trails for bicycling, walking, or skiing? Those in New Hampshire’s North Country know that these gems reward all those who explore them. The 18-mile Presidential Range Rail Trail, for example, runs along the path of a rail line that the Boston and Maine Railroad once used to haul paper.
Located in the White Mountains and beginning at the Pondicherry Wildlife Refuge, some parts of the scenic trail are wooded while others offer wide-open views. Surfaces are made of crushed stone, grass, and gravel. Unlike many New Hampshire hikes, the trail is flat and thus popular among cross-country skiers, snowmobilers, and dogsledders in the winter. In addition to walking, mountain biking, horseback riding, and ATV traversing are prevalent in the summer.
Passing over the Moose and Israel rivers, hikers will notice the well-maintained bridges, all the while keeping an eye out for black bears, wild turkeys, beavers, otters, and moose that are prevalent in the area. The mountain peaks provide the area with its name – each peak is named after a different president – and its reputation for having some of the worst weather in the country. The areas surrounding the peaks, however, offer pleasant weather in the summer.
Following the trail, the terrain is gentle, sloping slightly upward. Nearby is a hiking trail that leads 1.6 miles to Cherry Pond. Some 1.5 miles into the trail, there is a pond just before several small brooks, beginning with Stanley Slide Brook. The trail crosses SR 115A in 0.6 miles, then 0.1 miles after that is Mill Brook, and 0.2 after that is Red Brook.
The trail then passes through a sprawling residential area where the terrain is slightly rough and grassy in places. The western half of the trail is less traveled and a bit rougher in spots.
In 6.6 miles, the Castle trailhead appears after crossing SR 115A. Continuing east, the trail crosses a historic pony truss bridge over Snyder Brook, 3 miles after the Castle trailhead. The route passes by a parking lot in Randolph near the Appalachia trailhead and slopes down toward Gorham. This part of the trail smooths out and slopes gently downward with stunning views of the mountain range. Several bridges cross over the Moose River here, the first 2.3 miles after Snyder Brook.
After the last Moose River crossing, the trail approaches Gorham for the remaining 1.7 miles, intersecting other trails that are primarily for snowmobile use. The eastern endpoint of the trail is located in Gorham. Home of the Gorham Historical Society and Railroad Museum and Moose Brook State Park – an excellent place for camping, picnicking, and fishing. The Appalachian Trail is located a few miles farther east, cutting a north-south path beside the Rattle River and over US 2.
The Presidential Rail Trail is also part of the Cross New Hampshire Adventure Trail, spanning 83 miles between Woodsville, NH, and Bethel, ME.
Like many rail-trails around the country, the scenic Presidential Rail Trail is experiencing a dramatic increase in users. Its Facebook group, FriendsofthePresidentialRailTrail, has more than doubled its membership in the last four years, and in late June 2021, numbered more than 750 individuals.