LOWELL NATIONAL HISTORICAL PARK; CANALWALK:
MERRIMACK RIVER TRAIL; LOWELL SECTIONS:
-BIKE IT OR HIKE IT-
Last Updated: June 1, 2012
Length: Lowell NHP; Canalwalk; 1.9 miles
Merrimack River Trail: [Lowell Riverwalk; 1.2 miles-Northern Canalwalk; 1.6 miles-Southwest Shore; 0.6 miles]; Combined Loop; 5.3 miles
Merrimack River Trail: Vandenberg Esplanade; 1 mile
Merrimack River Trail: Northeast Shore; 1.7 miles
Difficulty: Easy. Mostly flat, paved, stone, brick & boardwalk trails.
From I-495 take exit 35C to the Lowell Connector. Take exit 5B to Thorndike St and continue along Dutton St. Turn right into the Lowell NHP Visitor Center parking lot across from Broadway St.
Lowell National Historical Park encompasses the historical buildings, canals and history of Lowell during the rise of the Industrial Revolution. A great way to take in all this history is via the Canalwalk, a marked path that traverses Lowell alongside its many intersecting canals. I utilize this route along with several alternative trails to encompass more of the city and canals. I've included connections to the Lowell Riverwalk (also known as the Yankee Division Walkway), the Northern Canalwalk and sections of the regional Merrimack River Trail (which also includes the Riverwalk). I've created a loop route which includes all these trails plus the Canalwalk with options to divert to two more sections of the Merrimack River Trail along the opposite side of the river. Starting from the Lowell NHP Visitor Center parking lot you'll have the opportunity to bike them all. For more information check out; LOWELL NATIONAL HISTORICAL PARK .
LOWELL NHP; CANALWALK:
Starting from the Lowell NHP Visitor Center parking lot; The Canalwalk crosses the entrance to the parking lot.
Note; The Visitor Center may be accessed from the northern end of the parking lot. Restrooms are available. Blue Canalwalk signs are located along the trail to help guide you through the city.
Start your tour by traveling left (southwest) along the paved path from the entrance off Dutton St. The trail travels alongside the Merrimack Canal and brings you to an overlook of the Swamp Locks, where the Merrimac & Pawtucket Canals meet. Informational signboards are located all along the route. Take a right across the canal and travel next to the Trolley tracks.
Note; A Trolley Tour through the Park is available. See; TOURS .
The Trail then crosses an old rail bridge where the Pawtucket, Western, Merrimack & Hamilton Canals all meet and turns east alongside the Hamilton Canal. The trail ends at 0.4 miles where you continue on-road (or sidewalks) along Jackson St past the converted mill buildings and out to Central St. Cross over Central St and head left on-road (side-walk available) until you reach the Pawtucket Canal at 0.7 miles. Turn right to rejoin the trail as it travels east down a ramp and alongside the Lower Locks. This brings you to a promenade overlooking the Concord River. Head left across a covered bridge to another promenade next to Middlesex Community College. A map board is located here. Across the river is the parking lot and trailhead for the Concord River Greenway.
Note; To access the Concord River Greenway continue straight alongside the river to E Merrimack St and travel right over the river. Turn right down Davidson St, then right into the Davidson Street parking lot.
Continuing along the Canalwalk, from the signboard head left between the college and Lower Locks. This will bring you to a picnic area overlooking the locks and a bridge over the canal.
Note; You may shorten your trip by crossing this bridge and traveling west along the inner portion of the Canalwalk alongside the Pawtucket Canal, however, if biking you will encounter several sets of stairs.
Head right (Do not cross this bridge) alongside the Trolley tracks and Pawtucket/Eastern Canal? past the Middlesex Community College to Merrimack St (Kearney Square). Cross the street and bear left across the canal via the RR bridge. Head right between the canal on your right and the Jack Kerouac Commemorative Park to your left. Across the canal are the Massachusetts Mills. The canal & trail turns left bringing you to Bridge St. Here you'll need to detour left through the park, then right to a cross-light across Bridge St. Turn right and travel back to the canal, turning left after you cross the Trolley tracks. Continue alongside the Eastern Canal and Trolley tracks. After 1.3 miles you'll come to the entrance for the Boott Cotton Mills Museum. Even if you don't visit the museum, be sure to cross the canal and check out the courtyard between the mills.
Note; From here you can access the Merrimack River Trail; Lowell Riverwalk by heading right over the canal through the Boott Cotton Mill. To extend your ride follow this detour and you'll eventually loop back to the Canalwalk just a 0.1 mile from here, so you won't miss much of the Canalwalk. See; Merrimack River Trail; Lowell Riverwalk below.
Continuing along the Eastern Canal you pass by Boarding House Park on your left and then the Working People Exhibit. At the next corner the Eastern Canal meets the Merrimack Canal and an overflow canal drains them into the Merrimack River. The Trolley Line bears right over the canal, but you stay to the left and follow the trail out to French St at 1.4 miles.
Note; To access the Northern Canal you detour right over the Merrimack Canal along Father Morrisette Blvd. This is also where the Merrimack River Trail; Lowell Riverwalk loops back into the Canalwalk.
Utilize the cross-walk over French St where continue alongside the canal through Lucy Larcom Park. Lowell High School is across the canal. Take a right when you hit Merrimack St and cross over the canal. This brings you to the 1848 Moody Street Feeder Gatehouse on your right. Use the cross-light over Merrimack St, turn left over the Trolley tracks and right to rejoin the boardwalk trail. The canal is covered here and showcases an old Boston & Maine engine and passenger car. You cross back over the canal and come alongside the National Streetcar Museum. When you reach Market St, turn left for the cross-light and this will bring you to Market Mills.
Note; Turn left to reach the front entrance to the NPS Visitor Center.
Turn right back to the canal, then left along the canal to complete your 1.9 mile loop from the Lowell NHP Visitor Center parking lot.
MERRIMACK RIVER TRAIL; LOWELL RIVERWALK:
Starting from the Boott Cotton Mills Museum; Cross over the Eastern Canal to the mill's courtyard and continue straight through the open arch to a ramp that brings you down to the paved trail along the Merrimack River. Head left between the mill and the river. You pass by an outlet for the Merrimack & Eastern Canals. Next you head up a wooden ramp to a promenade overlooking the river. A park with picnic tables separates you from the Tsongas Center & Arena. You pass by the site of the old Merrimack Mill where you'll find three wooden covered water tunnels? Cross over the discharge for the Western Canal at a 1/2 mile before passing by a grassy expanse between the Lawrence Mills. The trail then passes by a large brick smokestack before heading between the river and mill and traveling underneath the iron Ouelette Bridge. This brings you to an intersection at 3/4 miles.
Note; You may access the Merrimack River Trail; Northeast Shore by turning left up to Aiken St. Turn left again and follow the pedestrian path across the Ouelette Bridge to the VFW Highway. Turn right and cross Aiken St to reach an access path down to the trail after a 1/4 mile. See; Merrimack River Trail; Northeast Shore below.
Continuing right the trail travels around the backside of LeLacheur Stadium and past UMass Lowell; North Campus. This brings you up to a 09-11 Memorial overlooking the discharge canal for a hydroelectric plant and Pawtucket Falls. The trail heads out to Pawtucket St where you'll find a brick cross-walk. Turn right after crossing the road, then left down a paved path to reach the Northern Canal after 1.2 miles.
NORTHERN CANALWALK-WEST END:
Note; You have two options from here: Head left to loop back to the Canalwalk along the Northern Canal or head right to extend your ride and access more sections of the Merrimack River Trail.
Heading west (right) along the Northern Canal; A boardwalk takes you underneath the Pawtucket St bridge where you cross over a Power Canal that feeds the Hydroelectric Plant to your right.
Note; The causeway section of the Northern Canal is open from May 15-October 15.
Next travel along a causeway that runs between the canal and the Merrimack River. Note how dry the riverbed is here as most of the water is diverted for the canals upstream. Shocks would be nice for this next short section (less then 0.1 miles) where the trail surface consists of granite blocks before returning to cement. Another short granite block section jars your senses before you enter a narrow island trail at 0.3 miles that consists of stone-dust. This brings you to a ramp that leads up to Mammoth Rd/School St bridge. A cross-light to your left will take you across the road to the Pawtucket Gatehouse after 1.7 miles. A white gate leads down to an overlook of the Pawtucket Dam, as well as, a walkway around a lock and the gatehouse. To your left is the 1847 Gatekeepers House.
Note; You may access the Merrimack River Trail: Vandenberg Esplanade along the north side of the river by following the pedestrian path across the river to Route 113. Turn left and follow the narrow sidewalk along Route 113 south and you'll come to the Vandenberg Esplanade after 0.7 miles. See; Merrimack River Trail: Vandenberg Esplanade below.
MERRIMACK RIVER TRAIL; SOUTH SHORE:
From the Pawtucket Gatehouse; Travel southeast along the pedestrian path back to the south side of the river and Pawtucket St. Turn right along the paved path & sidewalk and travel down Pawtucket St crossing the mouth of the Pawtucket Canal. Across the street is Francis Gate Park. Just past a small marina will be two granite posts and the paved Merrimack River Trail; South Shore at mile 2. Picnic tables located here. The trail travels alongside the river passing by the Pawtucket Street parking lot. The trail then briefly utilizes the sidewalk along Pawtucket St before returning along the rivers edge. You reach the current end of the trail after 2.6 miles. Follow the paved trail as it loops back along the road. Take your second right out to Pawtucket St to a cross-walk over Pawtucket St. Travel on-road up Broadway St (sidewalk available) passing by the Umass Campus. When you reach the Pawtucket Canal at 3.2 miles don't cross it. Instead turn left along a stone-dust path and travel through Francis Gate Park. This brings you to the 1852 Lock & Guardhouse. Very scenic. Porto-potty located here. After checking out the lock continue through the well shaded park along the paved trail and canal. Exit the park at Pawtucket St at 3.5 miles and head right on-road (sidewalk available) back along Pawtucket St. Continue past the School Street bridge, bear left at the intersection with Salem St and you'll come to the University Ave bridge. You'll need to cross the road here before you reach Father Morrisette Blvd because a pedestrian path across the Northern Canal via the Pawtucket Street bridge is located on the left side. After crossing the canal you'll need to cross back over the road and follow the paved path down to the Northern Canal at 4.2 miles.
NORTHERN CANALWALK-EAST END:
Heading east (left) along the Northern Canal; The paved trail travels along the canal passing by the large brick Wannalancit Mill (formerly the Suffolk Mills) which also house the Suffolk Mill Turbine Exhibit. Next comes the Tremont Gatehouse & Powerhouse at 4.6 miles. This is where the Northern Canal enters the Western Canal. Cross over the canal and you'll come to the Suffolk Mill Trolley Stop. Turn left and follow the paved path north along the Western Canal to Hall St. You'll need to turn left and cross the canal to pick up the trail as it continues north alongside the canal to Perkins St. Again, turn right and cross back over the canal along a pedestrian bridge. This will bring you to the side of the Tsongas Center/Arena (west entrance).
Note; Left takes you down to a park overlooking the Merrimack River and access to the Merrimack River Trail; Lowell Riverwalk.
Turn right following the paved path out to Hall St and cross. Turn left then right along the paved path that travels along a parking lot. This will return you to Father Morrisette Blvd. Turn left along the sidewalk traveling between the Trolley tracks and the Blvd passing by the entrance for the Tsongas Arena. You cross over the Merrimack Canal and return to Canalwalk after a 5.3 mile loop. Head left to return to the Boott Cotton Mills Museum, otherwise, turn right to continue along the Lowell NHP; Canalwalk and return to the Lowell NHP Visitor Center parking lot.
MERRIMACK RIVER TRAIL; NORTHEAST SHORE:
Starting from the Ouelette Bridge; Currently there are no dedicated parking areas to access this trail from the north side of the river, so you can either park on the south side of the river and cross over the Ouelette Bridge or access this trail from the Merrimack River Trail; Lowell Riverwalk (south side of river) and also cross the river to access this trail. See; Merrimack River Trail; Lowell Riverwalk above.
Heading right (Northwest); The paved trail travels alongside the river with unobstructed views. If you look past the bend in the river you'll see the Power Canal flowing from the Hydroelectric Plant and Pawtucket Falls to the right of that. The trail ends after 0.3 miles just before a river crossing.
Heading left (Southeast); The open paved trail travels alongside the river with mostly unobstructed views. Good views of the Lawrence Mills, Tsongas Arena and Boott Cotton Mills across the river where the Lowell Riverwalk runs. Travel underneath the Bridge Street bridge where you'll find an access path up to the bridge. Travel underneath the Hunts Falls Bridge (Route 38) where the trail is more isolated. The trail then veers left up to the VFW Highway (Route 110) where it currently ends after 0.7 miles.
MERRIMACK RIVER TRAIL; VANDENBERG ESPLANADE:
Starting from the Northern Entrance along Route 113; The paved trail begins off the Route 113 sidewalk next to a parking lot reserved for Park employees.
Note; Heading north along the Route 113 sidewalk will bring you to the Mammoth Rd/School St bridge, which you use to access the Merrimack River Trail; South Shore & Riverwalk trails. See above.
Follow the paved trail left to where it travels south (right) alongside the Merrimack River. You'll pass by an open-air stage followed by a boat launch before passing by the Northern Route 113 parking lot. Continue alongside the river and you'll pass by the Lowell Umass Boathouse after 0.7 miles. Pass by the Southern Route 113 parking lot, travel underneath the Rourke Bridge and back out to Route 113 after 1.4 miles. The trail currently ends here.
CLICK HERE FOR LOWELL NHP CANALWALK MAP
CLICK HERE FOR ROUTE MAP
CLICK HERE FOR MERRIMACK RIVER TRAIL MAP
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BIKE IT OR HIKE IT