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By Mary Lhowe
Have you noticed all the cars on the highway bristling like irate porcupines with bicycles of every possible size? Yes, it is the season for families to get out to bicycle, and Massachusetts has many welcoming bike trails for this healthful outdoor activity. Lots of bike trails are on former railroad beds, meaning nearly flat routes – a big relief for the less-athletic bikers among us.
Developers of public bike paths really want us all to feel the joy of the experience, so their websites are usually packed with helpful information like maps and locations of parking. Pump those tires and check out these options:
Minuteman Bikeway – Commuter trail through towns passes parks, play areas, restrooms
The Minuteman Bikeway has its start and finish in Cambridge and Bedford, while passing through Arlington and Lexington, near sites where the American Revolution began in April 1775. Built on a former railroad bed, the trail is heavily used by local people to move about the town and train stations, including the Alewife T station. The path is 12 feet wide and there are many stops for refreshments and restrooms at Depot Park in Bedford, the Lexington Visitor’s Center, and at Alewife Station. An excellent trail map shows fun stops along the way, including kids’ play areas at Spy Pond Park, several meadows and parks, and the Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge on the Concord River. Trail access is in Bedford at the intersection of South Road and Loomis Street (exit 31B from I-95); in Lexington Center and in Arlington Center, and at the Alewife T-Station. Total length is 10 miles.
Ashuwillticook Rail Trail — River views in the shadow of Mount Greylock
Up, up, up in the beautiful, mountainous northwestern corner of Massachusetts is the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail, passing through the river valley between Mount Greylock and the Hoosac Mountains. The trail, which is a flat, easy ride, runs parallel to Route 8 through Cheshire, Lanesborough and Adams. Cheshire Reservoir and the Hoosic River and their wetlands offer a rolling vista of marshes and wildlife along the ride. Parking lots and restrooms are available along the way. Directions: From the south, take the Mass Pike to exit 2, then Route 20 west to Route 7 north, Route 9 east to Route 8 north. Look for signs for Ashuwillticook parking on Route 8. From the north, take Route 2 to Route 8 south and look for signs for Ashuwillticook parking along Route 8. Trail map. Total length is 11 miles. A fabulous secondary trip – maybe not by bike – is up to the summit of magnificent Mount Greylock.
Norwottuck Rail Trail – Crosses the Connecticut River and passes through western MA towns
This rail trail in the south-central part of Massachusetts – the Pioneer Valley — crosses the legendary Connecticut River and rambles through Northampton, Hadley, and Amherst, passing Amherst College. The path is level so people of all abilities can keep up with the group. There is free parking for bike trail users at both ends of the trail: at Elwell State Park on Damon Road in Northampton and Station Road in South Amherst. Public restrooms are available at the parking area at Elwell Recreation Area. The bike path also passes through Connecticut River Greenway State Park, adjacent to Elwell State Park on Damon Road in Northampton. At the western end of the Norwottuck trail, bicyclists can jump onto the Northampton Bikeway and the Manhan Rail Trail to Easthampton. Trail Map. Total length is 11 miles.
Cape Cod Rail Trail – Flat trail with water views and lots of free parking at trailheads
This trail on an old train tracks ambles through six Cape Cod towns, winding among the Cape’s famous kettle ponds and passing through beautiful Nickerson State Park (where there is parking for bike trail users. The trail’s route through Dennis, Harwich, Brewster, Orleans, Eastham and Wellfleet is all paved, nearly flat and it has clearly marked road crossing, easing worries about young stragglers. Beaches are near, and it’s easy to hop off the trail for water views. Food and water are available and restrooms can be found at Nickerson State Park and facilities of the Cape Cod National Seashore. Bike rentals may be found at several locations. Trail Map. Total length is 22 miles.
Parking at Nickerson State Park costs $5 for Massachusetts residents and $20 for non-residents. Free parking for trail users is available at trailhead at Route 134 in South Dennis; Headwaters Drive in Harwich; Route 137 in Brewster; Orleans Center; Salt Pond Visitors Center in Eastham (1/2 mile from the Locust Road intersection with the trail; Cape Cod National Seashore at Marconi area; trailhead at LeCount Hollow Road in South Wellfleet.
Blackstone River Greenway in Massachusetts – Meanders along river where earliest mills operated
This bike path passes through parts of Massachusetts and Rhode Island – known as the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution in American because Samuel Slater used plans stolen from England to build the first water-driven textile mill in America, in the town of Pawtucket, RI. Massachusetts has a three-mile segment from South Worcester to Millbury, and a three-mile trail in Blackstone River and Canal Heritage State Park in Uxbridge. Trail Map for the Park. The longest off-road segment is between Woonsocket and Pawtucket, RI.
Parking and trail access points:
In Worcester: Parking at the Blackstone Heritage Corridor Visitor Center off McKeon Road. Map
Blackstone River and Canal Heritage State Park in Uxbridge: Parking is at the River Bend Farm Visitor Center, 287 Oak Street, Uxbridge. Map
Woonsocket, RI: Rivers Edge parking area on Davison Avenue in Woonsocket. Map
Lonsdale, RI: Parking area and trail access point near the Pratt Dam in Lonsdale on RI Route 123/Front Street. Map