Peanut & Jay McLaren Rail Trails, NH-MA

• 3-star trails
• 1.4 miles & 2.0 miles each way
• Easy difficulty | Easy elevation
• Newton NH & Merrimac MA | NH Seacoast, NE Mass
• Driving Directions: Marked on map

Mile Marker on the former Merrimac Branch Railroad

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Separated by a state border the towns of Newton, NH and Merrimac MA were once railroad neighbors, then rail trail neighbors. Unfortunately a property dispute separated them again, but there's still great rail trail to be explored along the former Merrimac Branch Railroad.

Providing rail service from 1873 until 1971, the 4 mile Merrimac Branch provided both passenger and freight service along its route. The branch found lucrative income from the JB Judkins Company of Merrimac who handcrafted carriage bodies for the early auto industry, including for the Lincon Motor Company. Wrapped in brown protective layers and strapped to railcars, this shrouded and strangely-shaped cargo resembled giant peanuts as they rolled through neighborhoods, thus giving the name to the Newton section of what is now a pleasant rail trail.

On our map we've highlighted a two mile road biking route which can connect the two trails if you want to ride as much of the route as possible. The Marshview and Innis hiking trails are also close to the rail trail and marked on the map, but they were waterlogged when we visited the area.

Hardpack, Rough, Road, Live Rail, No Access, Parking Expand Map

Combined Trails & Road 3★
6.1 mi each way, Easy, Gain 250ft (or 290ft S-N)
Trailspotting Map: AllTrails
Trailspotting Map: GPX Download
Trailspotting Map: Google Earth KMZ

Peanut Rail Trail 3★
1.4 mi ea way, Easy, Gain 40ft (or 20ft S-N)
Trailspotting Map: AllTrails

The formalized section of the Peanut Trail is a well-trodden almost flat hardpack trail frequented mostly by dog walkers and occasional locals out for a stroll. The trail passes through woodland and swamp with little in the way of views, and a couple of short trails shown on the trailhead map that veer off into the woods for those who want to explore further.

Beyond the formal trail and across South Main Street to the East is a further section of trail that can be explored. This short section isn't marked on the trailhead map, but it is still public land owned by the town. This section is less well maintained, and you're likely to have to step over fallen trees along the route which ends at a fence line and 'no trespassing' signs.

The town of Newton appears to be a little shy of their rail trail, as the main trailhead located on South Main Street is set-back and not signposted. Use our map to locate it and allow for very short drive along a dirt road to reach it. This dirt road and trailhead is the former location of Newton's railroad station, though the station building itself has now been moved across town and converted into a residence. There is also roadside parking for a couple of vehicles where the trail meets Whittier Street at the West end.

Trail Conditions:
Hardpack ground with occasional small rocks. East of South Main Street is rougher & fallen trees. Flat trail.

Woodland setting of the Peanut Trail at Newton, NH.

Jay McLaren Memorial Rail Trail 3★
2.0 mi ea way, Easy, Gain 30ft (or 80ft S-N)
Trailspotting Map at AllTrails

To explore the Jay McLaren Memorial Rail Trail its best to begin at Merrimac where you can find street parking or use the lot South of Main Street. The easiest way to reach the South end of the trail is by the crosswalk at the intersection of Church and Abbot Streets, though there's also a very narrow and rough path around the edge of the cemetery which accesses the very end of the navigable trail.

The rail trail sets out from Cobbler Brook which is mostly hidden from view along a small embankment surrounded by trees and past backyards. Trail surface is mostly smooth and often exposed dirt with occasional blankets of pine needles, and remains dry in winter months thanks to its elevated position.

This remains true across the wooden trail bridge over Harriman Road, which is built on the stone abutments of a former railroad bridge, but beyond Brush Hill Road the surface became strewn with puddles and mud on the early spring day upon which we visited. Despite this we were able to navigate the water hazards to complete the final half-mile of trail that led to the stateline and concrete barriers forbidding us to proceed further.

Views along most of this trail are limited to woodland, though there are some views at the very Northern end, over the marshy Perkins Conservation area which is also accessible by nearby hiking trails.

Trail Conditions:
Hardpack ground throughout, though the last 0.5 mi North of Bush Hill Rd gets marshy.

Typical Jay McLaren trail | Merrimac Church at the South end of the trail.

Jay McLaren wooden trail bridge over Harriman Road.

Newton Station, now the trailhead location (Public domain image).

• External Links: Town of Merrimac Map, Merrimac Branch History
• TrailLink: Peanut, Jay McLaren
• AllTrails Public: Peanut,
• Facebook Group: Comment on this article

Nearby Trails:
• 5 miles: Amesbury, Salisbury & Old Eastern Marsh RTs (4★, 7.1 mi)
• Show on map: All nearby rail trails

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