Rochester & Farmington Rail Trails, NH

• 3-star trails
• 1.9 to 9.1 miles each way
• Medium difficulty | Easy elevation
• Farmington - Rochester, NH | Seacoast Region
• Driving Directions: Marked on map

Rattlesnake Mill Pond Falls on the Farmington Trail.

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Close to the Maine state line, the Rochester area was once in important New Hampshire railroad hub, with routes radiating out from the town at six different points of the compass. These days there's one surviving railroad line and two named rail trails that we can explore today. New Hampshire State Parks manages the Farmington Recreational Rail Trail which traces a 7.2 mile route out of Rochester heading North West. The 1.9 mile Lilac City Greenway may be named and identified as a rail trail, but it's more of a mission statement than a completed rail trail as we explain below.

Farmington Recreational Rail Trail 3★
7.2 mi each way, Medium, Elevation nominal.
Trailspotting Map: AllTrails, GPX File

Maintained by New Hampshire State Parks and the Powder Mill Snowmobile Club, this trail is more popular as a winter snowmobile route than it is as a cycle trail. Though we found the trail to be wide and clear of obstacles we'd recommend it mainly for more rugged bikes. The surface is level, hard-packed and despite recent rains on our visit the trail was mostly dry, but the presence rocky sections and sandy stretches made the going tough.

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

Running alongside roads for much of its length, traffic noise is frequent, views are minimal and there are few views of the nearby Cocheco River that also parallels the route. Perhaps the trail's only saving grace was the suprise appearance of an impressive mill pond waterfall on the Rattlesnake River. More of a creek than a river, yet still enough water to provide a spectacle over cascading rock. Views are available from the trail, but as there are no posted signs you may also be able to walk up to the falls, and to inspect the foundations of the long-gone mill building.

Approaching Rochester the trail passes under Spaulding Turnpike, past several industrial buildings before running between Hanson Pines Park and Spaulding High School. The area near the turnpike felt a little sketchy, with evidence of rough sleeping nearby. The trail terminates at Wakefield Street, though you can continue on down Columbus Street along the former railroad route and link up with the Lilac City Greenway.

There are no formal provisions for parking anywhere along this rail trail. We have identified several probable locations on our map which we've identified to be on state land, but they are not explicitly signposted for parking. The most likely location is where the trail intersects with Meetinghouse Hill Road - see driving directions link at the top of this article, though you park at your own risk. From this location it's also only 0.6 miles South to the mill pond waterfall. Nearest formal parking is available in Rochester (also linked in this article).

Mugging for my own camera, on the Farmington trail.

Lilac City Greenway 3★
1.9 mi each way, Medium, Elevation nominal.
Trailspotting Map: AllTrails, GPX File

From our perspective the Lilac City Greenway is more of an idea than a cohesive rail-trail. The railroad alignment from Farmington through Rochester is now long gone and repurposed as the busy Columbus Avenue, accommodations for pedestrians is sporadic, and consideration of cyclists is non-existant.

On our map we've plotted out a route, identifying in red lengths on which you'll need to ride on the road alongside heavy trucks, and navigate around tricky junctions and strip mall parking lots. In these areas its probably best to dismount any cycle you may be riding and follow any available pedestrian sidewalks.

Eventually as you head South you'll find a half-mile section of protected paved trail that is much more appropriate as a rail trail, though there are no signs identifying it as such. In truth it feels more like a sidewalk, and I half expected the police to turn up and threaten me with a ticket for riding on a pedestrian footpath. However, watching the trucks roll by on the road reminded me that I'd rather take my chances with the law than with the construction vehicles rolling down Columbus Avenue.

Rail trail or sidewalk? I'll take a ticket over riding with the trucks.

Beyond Lowell Street you can pick up the route behind a row of trees, continuing directly South on a narrow and rough trail that passes behind a row of residential properties until it reaches Old Dover Road where the bridge no longer exists. Beyond this point the landscape has also been transformed for the continuation of the Spaulding Turnpike.

Rochester and Farmington trails set a poor example of what New Hampshire rail trails can be. With few attractions enroute, and as both NH State Parks and Rochester have made no provisions to accommodate cyclists, we can't really recommend these routes to anyone looking for a pleasant ride or hike. Since the Lilac City Greenway isn't acknowledged as a route by the city of Rochester then perhaps they should be cut some slack, but on the other hand their downtown area does such a poor job of accommodating non-motorist traffic.

Trail Conditions
Farmington Trail is hardpack, sandy sections at South, standing water at extreme North. Lilac Trail is a mix of sidewalk & road biking in town, then rough for the last Southern 0.7 mi section. Both trails are flat.

Rough trail South of Rochester. | Downtown Rochester circa 1892.

• TrailLink Map: Farmington
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Rattlesnake River mill pond waterfall on the Farmington Rail Trail.

New Hampshire State Parks
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