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Cotton Valley Rail Trail, NH

• 5-star trail
• 12.0 miles each way
• Easy difficulty | Elevation gain nominal
• Lakes Region | Wolfeboro to Wakefield NH
• Driving Directions: Wolfeboro, Cotton, Wakefield

Riding an historic railroad car on the CVRT (Photo: Collin Sulloway)

Multi-use trails are popular with wheeled vehicles of several kinds, but on this New Hampshire rail trail you may encounter something different. Partnering with New Hampshire State Parks to maintain this rail trail, the Cotton Valley Rail Trail Club frequently run a collection of historic rail cars along the route. These motorized evolutions of human-powered railroad handcars were once a crucial part of railroad maintenance, and thanks to the club's restoration work these extraordinary vehicles still roll down the track today.

Running from Wakefield to Wolfeboro by the Eastern shores of Winnipesaukee, the former 1872 railroad branch line is twelve miles in length and takes a picturesque route alongside Lake Wentworth, through forested terrain and across the wetlands enveloping Pike Brook. This setting makes for one of the most charming and scenic rail trails in New Hampshire.

Asphalt, Hardpack, Live Rail,

Unique trail uses require unique trail design on the Cotton Valley Rail Trail. Existing railroad track remains in place almost throughout the full length of the route. Where practicable a hardpack trail capable of two-way traffic runs parallel, but constrained terrain in some sections make it difficult to maintain parallel rail-and-trail so instead the trail runs in between the rails themselves. Sharing the track with infrequent motor rail car traffic isn't dangerous as the vehicles proceed at a slow pace, but there does remain one significant hazard of this trail design - the transitions.

Transitioning between trackside trail and in-track trail sections is dangerous for cyclists who don't obey the signs requiring them to walk bikes across rails. The transitions themselves are made as level as possible by rubber mat surfacing and close to level ground surfaces. However, the further you ride from Wolfboro the rougher the transitions get and the easier it is to be thrown from your bike. This happened to me, but thankfully my slow approach to the transition saved me from injury, if not embarrasment. Please take heed.

Troublesome transition. | Wolfeboro Station Architecture.

The East end of the trail trail concludes at Wakefield's restored railroad turntable which forms part of a small grassy park, next to a restaurant that opens for breakfast and lunches. Perhaps better appointed in regard to eateries is the town of Wolfboro at the other end of the tracks. Well known as a summer resort, Wolfeboro has many cafes, restaurants and opportunities for ice cream that you can enjoy at the waterside Cate Park. The town is also home to the Wright Museum of World War II and the New Hampshire Boat Museum.

Trail Conditions
Hardpack crushed stone surface throughout. Wide enough for 2-way traffic except on the many in-track sections. Cyclists should walk over rail transitions. Mostly flat. Single hill roughly in the middle of the route, descending 100ft West for 1 mile. Diversions near Wakefield with small hills.

Riding between the rails, through forest.

Cyclist passing Lake Wentworth with Moose Mountains as backdrop.

Restored turntable at the trail's Wakefield terminus.

• External Links: Official
• External Maps: AllTrails Public, TrailLink
• Facebook Group: Comment on this article

Cotton Valley Club
The Cotton Valley Rail Trail Club preserves and runs historic railroad motorcars on the trail.

CVRT Committee
The Cotton Valley Rail Trail Committee manages this trail and looks to volunteers to help with trail maintenance.

NH State Parks
New Hampshire State Parks manages shares maintenance responsibilities of this trail with the CVRT committee.
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