Hooksett Rail Trails, NH

• 3 & 4-star trails
• 1.0 to 1.8 miles each way
• Easy difficulty | Easy elevation
• Hooksett, NH | Merrimack Region
• Driving Directions: Marked on map

Approaching the end of the Heads Pond Rail Trail.

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Situated between Concord and Manchester, several rail routes pass along the route of the Merrimack River and through the small town of Hooksett. Two navigable railtrails exist in this area within a mile of each other. We were particularly enamoured with the Heads Pond Trail which follows a string of ponds and wetlands. The other is Hooksett Riverwalk that is best appreciated as a short riverside walk rather than as a rail trail suitable for bicycles.

Heads Pond Rail Trail 4★
1.8 mi ea way, Easy, Elevation nominal.
Trailspotting Map: AllTrails, GPX File

The longer of these two Hooksett rail trails occupies a section of the Portsmouth & Concord railroad that only existed for a decade, back in the mid nineteenth century. This hypotenuse route branched of the Portsmouth to Manchester line in the direction of Suncook before following the Merrimack River up to Concord.

Today the accessible section of this route is best approached from the large parking lot on Route 3, and a short descent on a connecting trail leads to the rail bed. At this point, most folk head East along the chain of ponds, though you can also head West under Route 3 and proceed 0.4 miles on the less travelled section to a couple of roadside parking spots on Pleasant Street.

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

Heads Pond Rail Trail proceeds Easterly through forest land alongside a creek that opens up to become Heads Pond. Watch out for beaver lodges (nests) close to shore as you continue along the trail. After Heads Pond the tree cover begins to receed, and falls back completely upon arriving at the second - and unnamed - pond. A bench provides a great place from which to admire the views, though there are also a couple of areas of sandy shore that would make a pleasant spot for a picnic and perhaps a way to access the pond for swimming in warmer months.

A gate by this second pond signifies the end of the navigable part of the old rail route, though you could continue on along the unpaved road in a SouthWesterly direction to discover a third pond. Reportedly there is also a mountain bike trail that runs along the opposide shore of the second pond, though it doesn't show up on Trailforks, and we didn't have the time to explore this on our visit.

Trail Conditions
Good hardpack surface with stone dust. Beyond Heads Pond there are some small undulations, but otherwise the trail has minimal gradient changes.

Heads Pond is a popular fishing spot.

Hooksett Riverwalk 3★
1.0 mi ea way, Easy, Elevation nominal.
Trailspotting Map: AllTrails, GPX File

Hooksett Riverwalk is a pleasant park on the banks of the Merrimack River that's best suited for a nice stroll. In addition to river views, interpretative signs add to the interest - describing the brickmaking industry that was present here, producing many of the bricks that were used to build Manchester's mill buildings among others.

Only a short part of the original rail alignment can be traversed at this park. It can be traced from the abutments that cross the river South of the park, past the courthouse and dog park to where the track bed was used as the park entrance. After the path jogs it leaves the old rail alignment, which is identifiable as a long thin strip of trees and bushes. When the park's stone-dust paths end you can continue along grassy meadowland parallel to the rail route, but there's not much of interest up here. Things may change however, as this section of former railroad line may be key to connect up the proposed Granite State Rail Trail.

Bikes may not even be welcome here at the moment. Certainly the purple 'rough' section identified on our map is signed for 'no wheeled vehicles' due to the site being a conservation area. Also the park's entrance sign has the word 'bicycles' carefully scratched off the list of permissable trail uses, though the word hasn't been added to the separate list of prohibited trail uses.

Trail Conditions
Hardpack stone dust path, a little soft in places. No bikes on the purple section. No significant gradient.

Breaking the rules? Riding the Hooksett Riverwalk Trail.

Former railroad bridge, South of the Hooksett Riverwalk Trail.

• Public Maps at AllTrails: Heads Pond, Riverwalk
• TrailLink Map: Heads Pond
• Facebook Group: Comment on this article

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• Show on map: All nearby rail trails

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