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Cotton Valley Rail Trail, NH

• 5-star trail
• 12.0 miles each way
• Easy/Hard | Easy - Moderate elevation
• Wolfeboro - Wakefield, NH | Lakes Region
• Driving Directions: Marked on map

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.

Cotton Valley Rail Trail 5★
12.0 mi ea way, Easy, Elevation nominal.
Trailspotting Map at AllTrails
Trailspotting Map as GPX Download

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 a significant hazard of this trail design - the many transitions on the route.

Frequent transitioning between trackside trail and in-track trail sections requires cyclists to cross over at least one steel rail each time. Signs are often present at these transitions requiring cyclists to walk bikes across, but few cyclists do this. Furthermore, transitions are made as level as possible by rubber mat surfacing and close-to-level ground surfaces, seemingly encouraging cyclists to ride rather than walk over them.

Transitions close to Wolfboro were easy for us to ride across, but the further you ride down the trail the rougher the transitions get and the easier it is to be thrown from your bike. I was thrown from my bike at one of these transitions, but thankfully my slow approach saved me from injury, if not embarrasment. Trailspotting readers have reported similar cases of falling from their bicycles, and some of them have suffered broken bones and even hospitalization. Please take heed!

Dangerous transitions. | 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.

We whole-heartedly recommend this rail trail to all types of trail user, except that cyclists must take extreme care. Present trail design and trail signage doesn't do enough to warn and protect cyclists from injury at the rail transitions. From our unqualified perspective, we might suggest that transitions should either be (a) well constructed to allow cyclists to safely cross, or (b) de-constructed so that cyclists are forced to dismount. It's regrettable that this problem persists because of unique trail users on the Cotton Valley Rail Trail but we sincerely hope that a way is found for all modes of transport to safely coexist.

Trail Conditions:
Hardpack crushed stone surface throughout. Wide enough for 2-way traffic except on the many in-track sections. Mostly flat. WALK BICYCLES over rails or risk suffering broken bones!

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: Public Map at AllTrails, TrailLink
• Facebook Group: Comment on this article

Nearby Trails:
• Show on map: All nearby rail trails

NH Rail Trails Map
Trailspotting has published New Hampshire’s first complete rail trail map, including links and details for all rideable trails.

Trail Maintenance
The Cotton Valley Rail Trail Committee and NH State Parks manage this trail and looks to volunteers to help with trail maintenance.

Cotton Valley Club
The Cotton Valley Rail Trail Club preserves and runs historic railcars on the trail. Check out their YouTube Video.

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