AIRLINE STATE PARK TRAIL NORTH;
-BIKE IT OR HIKE IT-
Last Updated: June
Length: Willimantic to Putnam; 25.6 miles (4 miles undeveloped).
Thompson Section; 7.2 miles (2.3 miles undeveloped).
to Pomfret; Easy. Flat, stone-dust and crushed
gravel rail trail with a short paved section in Willimantic and a gravel section
Thompson Section; Easy to moderate. Stone-dust section. Hard packed gravel section.
To start from Willimantic (West
Take Route 66 (Main St) through Willimantic to Bridge St. Cross the RR tracks
and take an immediate right onto a gravel road that parallels the tracks. On
your left you will come to a parking lot and map board. Another parking lot is
located further east off Main St at the junction of Jackson
& Union Streets.
To start from Pomfret Town Offices (Center);
From the junction of Routes 44 & 97 head east on Route 44 for 0.4 miles to
the Pomfret Town Offices on your left.
To start from the Pomfret Station (Center):
From the junction of Routes 44 & 101 in Pomfret head east on Route 44 to the
junction of Routes 44 & 169. Turn left on Routes 44/169 and take your first
left on Railroad St. Follow to the old Pomfret RR Station.
To start from the Riverside Drive parking lot in Thompson (East End): From I-395 take exit 47 to Route 44 west. Travel 0.5 miles and turn right on Route 12 north. Travel 1.3 miles to the Riverside Drive parking lot on your right.
To Start from the Sand Dam parking area in Thompson (East End); From I-395 take exit 53 to Wilsonville Rd and head east to Route 193. Travel south (right) to the first road on your left (Porter Plain Rd) and follow to Sand Dam Rd. Head right where you'll immediately find the Sand Dam parking area on your right.
This section of the Airline State Park Trail runs northeast from Willimantic to Putnam. In Putnam, it will connect to the Putnam River Trail . A gap exists between Putnam and Thompson where, the trail has mostly been developed to the MA line, where it continues as the SNETT (Southern New England Trunkline Trail). In Willimantic 2 trails converge. Heading south across the Willimantic River the Airline State Park Trail South travels southwest towards Portland, while the Hop River State Park Trail heads northwest to Manchester. Part of the EAST COAST GREENWAY .
The Airline State Park Trail follows the rail bed of the former Air Line Railroad which was built to connect Boston and New York City in the shortest distance possible - as if by a "line" drawn through the "air" via the city of New Haven. The railroad climbed from Middletown to East Hampton, and then went over the Lyman Viaduct, a spectacular 1,100 foot long iron trestle over a deep and wide gorge. The railroad then continued on through North Westchester and Amston in the southern part of Hebron. The line passed along the boundary of Lebanon and Columbia before dropping steadily down the Ten Mile River valley to Willimantic. The final portion of this section was completed in 1873. The Air Line is remembered for its fast express trains. There was a succession of these beginning with the New England Limited in 1884. This was succeeded in1891 by the White Train, popularly known as the Ghost Train. It was made up of gleaming white coaches trimmed with gold. The parlor cars' interiors were finished in mahogany and furnished with velvet rugs, silk curtains and upholstered plush chairs. The train's schedule was so well advertised that people came from miles around to wait at stations or crossing to see it go by. The fast express was replaced in 1895 by the Air Line Limited. The decline of the Air Line Route came about when passengers and shippers began to prefer the Shore Line Route. Today, the portion of the Air Line from New Haven to Portland is still in use by a shortline railroad, the Providence & Worcester Railroad. For more information visit; AIRLINE TRAIL , CT RAIL TRAIL EXPLORER & THE AIR LINE .
While you are in Willimantic, be sure to check out the "Frog Bridge", the Jackson St Bridge that crosses over the Willimantic River. It has large spools of thread for columns with large frogs on top of them. The spools represent the thread that the nearby American Thread Company used to make and the frogs represent the BATTLE OF THE FROGS . Also, be sure to check out the old mill buildings that have been restored, along with the Garden on the Bridge (a restored bridge over the Willimantic River that is now designed for pedestrians, the Windham Textile and History Museum and the nearby park overlooking the river. These are all accessed from the trailhead by going to the Frog Bridge and then turning left down Main St.
Willimantic to Putnam Section:
Starting from the old RR Trestle Bridge
over the Willimantic River; This is the junction for the
River State Park Trail,
Airline State Park Trail South and
Airline State Park Trail North.
Heading Northwest is the start of the paved Hop
River State Park Trail
along the Willimantic River to
Note; Heading South is the start of the stone-dust Airline State Park Trail South .
Northeast the paved Airline
State Park Trail North deviates from the rail bed meandering through
a flood plain below the CT
EASTERN RAILROAD MUSEUM and
traveling alongside the Willimantic
River. You come to the entrance for the museum and continue right traveling
alongside the gravel road and RR tracks. Nice split rail fencing. Just past a
canoe/kayak put-in you値l come to the Bridge
Street Parking Lot at 0.9 miles. Map board located here. You値l then need
to continue on-road along the gravel road out to Bridge St. Cross over Bridge St
in front of the RR tracks (Use Caution; No cross-walk)
and you値l come to the WILLIMANTIC WHITEWATER
SITE at 1.1 miles. Head left
across the tracks and take your first right along Riverside Drive (low traffic).
Continue on-road (This is the backside to Main St Willimantic) until you reach
Main St. Head right to the Frog Bridge, then left over Main St via a Cross-light
and right over Jackson St via a cross-light. Head left along Jackson Street crossing
Union Street and you値l return to the paved trail on your right after 1.7 miles.
From the Jackson & Union Streets
parking lot in Willimantic; The paved Airline
State Park Trail North heads northeast along the old rail bed. After crossing over Milk St, you pass through a
residential area until you come to Ash St after 2.4 miles. USE
CAUTION; Cross-walk but fast traffic. Just shy of 2.7 miles you cross
high above the Natchaug River on a reconstructed railroad trestle.
The trail is now more secluded and lined with Pine trees. The trail turns
right off the rail bed and out to Route 66 where you値l come to a cross-light.
You then head up a small hill alongside the off-ramp to Route 6. After
descending the trail on the other side you come to the end of the paved trail at
4.1 miles. This section is stone-dust as it follows the old rail bed. There is a large swamp to your right as you pass a gate and travel along
the straight rail trail on a berm. Pine trees provide plenty of shade and
tranquility through this stretch. There will be many wetlands off your left side
as this is part of the Joshua Trust's Windham Atlantic White Cedar Bog.
You next have to cross over Route 203 at 5.5 miles. Again, USE
CAUTION as there is no cross-light. Pass by a map board. You follow along
another berm until you cross an old railroad bridge over Boulevard Rd. Here the
trail travels through a small rock cut, then winds through woods and ledge.
You'll cross into Chaplin along this section. Pass by an old RR Mileage Marker
on your right at 7.4 miles. You can barely make out the N & B
representing the miles to and from Boston & New York. It's
hard to make out the miles. Cross Chewink Rd at 7.8 miles. USE
CAUTION as there is no crosswalk. To your left is a small parking area
with a map board. Travel along more berms and through a long rock cut before a
high berm takes you past a marsh along your left. After 9.7 miles you'll cross S
Brook Rd where you enter Hampton.
Note; The next section just past Station Rd has a base layer is down, but still waiting for stone-dust as of July 2020. Makes for a bumpy ride.
You cross S Brook Rd and Parker Rd at an angle and enter a rock cut. Notice the old bridge abutments where Parker Rd used to cross over the trail. Travel underneath Route 6 and Potter Rd cross at 10.7 miles where you enter the JAMES GOODWIN SF . There are informational signs along this section and you'll pass by a map board on your left at 11.6 miles. To your right through the trees lies Pine Acres Lake. Cross Estabrooks Rd at 12.1 miles and travel along a high berm with a scenic swamp below left. You'll soon leave the State Forest behind as you enter a long rock cut followed by a causeway through Fuller Brook Marsh. Cross Station Rd at 13.4 miles. After 13.9 miles the trail reverts to stone-dust. This section follows a wooded corridor. Travel along a high berm before crossing Old Griffin Rd. Travel along a causeway through a scenic marsh, followed by a rock cut before crossing Kenyon Rd at 14.9 miles. After crossing Lewis Rd you'll enter Pomfret and cross over Route 97, followed by Brooklyn Rd at 17.4 miles. Here the trail consists of a crushed gravel surface. Pass by some wetlands followed by a short rock cut before crossing another causeway through a marsh. Travel underneath Route 44 at 19.3 miles where the trail becomes stone-dust. A spur trail on your right leads up to the Pomfret Town Offices parking lot. Cross Covell Rd at 19.9 miles. Travel along a high berm over Mashamoquet Brook before crossing Babbitt Rd where the trail turns to gravel. A bit bumpy. Travel along a medium berm over Sap Tree Run. Just after crossing over a culvert and before a gate across the trail look left to spot an old RR semaphore (railway signal of some type. Siding?). Past the gate you'll come to the Pomfret Station parking lot after 21.5 miles. This was the site of the old Pomfret RR Station and now contains a picnic pavilion with a Map Board and information about the old train station. *A bridge takes you across Route 169.
*Note; The next section is currently under construction as of July 2021. Seven road crossings are being improved along this next section including bridges over Route 169 and Needles Eye Rd. Culverts under Holmes Rd, Modock Rd and River Rd. Wrights Crossing Rd, and Town Farm Rd will have at-grade crossing improvements. New stone-dust will follow.
A high berm takes you over Wappoquia
Brook, followed by a bridge across Needles Eye Rd at 22.3 miles. Cross Wrights Crossing
Rd before a tunnel takes you underneath Holmes Rd at 23.3 miles. Cross a dirt road passing by an old RR Semaphore
before heading through a deep cut. Another tunnel under Modock Rd where you enter Putnam at 23.8 miles.
This is as far as I've traveled. Another
tunnel under River Rd before you cross Town
Farm Rd at 24.7 miles. The last section ends above Quinebaug Ave and the Quinebaug
River after 25.6 miles. The pedestrian bridge below is built where the old Airline
RR trestle used to cross the river before being wiped out by the Flood of
55. You can still see the stone abutments and the pedestrian bridge utilizes
the old center pier. The pedestrian bridge is the start of the Putnam
River Trail .
Starting from the Riverside Drive parking lot; Map board located here. Head past the gate along the wide stone-dust rail trail. You travel through a wooded corridor paralleling Route 12. Look left to spot Acme Pond and right for a marsh off of Quinnatisset Brook as you follow a high berm. Head down to cross Route 193 at 0.7 miles (Caution no crosswalk:
Note; UConn engineering students planning to present their design for a Route 193 bridge crossing May 2019).
Pass through a small rock cut and across an old RR bridge over the on/off ramps for I-395 at 1.3 miles before crossing another bridge over a small brook. Trail briefly parallels the highway. Pass by an old brownstone abutment before traveling underneath Route 200 at 2.2 miles. Lots of stone walls along this deep wooded section. Travel over an old "Cattle Culvert" at 2.5 miles (Built by the RR to allow farmers/cattle access across the RR). Pass by marshes and over/along Sunset Hill Brook. Cross Sunset Hill Rd after 3 miles. Come to a Map Board at 3.7 miles where you cross Lowell Davis Rd.
From here north to Sand Dam Rd is the last major piece that needs to be developed as of August 2020. Travel underneath I-395 at 4 miles. Travel past a large marsh (Janson Brook) and through a tunnel underneath Route 193 where you'll start to encounter trap rock. Cross another "Cattle Culvert" at 4.7 miles. Travel past more marshes before encountering more trap rock out to Sand Dam Rd at 6 miles.
Starting from the Sand Dam Road parking area; Travel past the yellow gate down to the stone-dust rail trail. Cross a wide causeway between the Five mile River. Come to a map board and the East Thompson Road parking area where you'll cross the road (Caution no crosswalk) past a yellow gate at 0.7 miles. At 0.9 miles you travel underneath an old wooden bridge (thought to have transported cattle over the RR).
Note; Also nearby is the Hermit Cave. See; HERMIT CAVE for more information.
Continuing along the rail trail a high berm takes you across Rocky Brook. Just before the MA border you'll pass by the Tri-State Marker Trail on your right.
Note; A 0.3 mile rocky hiking trail take you to a granite marker where CT/MA/RI all meet. Just off the rail trail you'll find a separate granite marker where CT & MA meet. See; TRI-STATE MARKER MAP .
Come to a brown gate at 1.3 miles where the trail crosses into MA along the Southern New England Trunkline Trail. The SNETT has a less developed base of gravel, some soft sand and cinder. Mt Bike recommended.
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BIKE IT OR HIKE IT