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Bedford and Concord Rail Trails, MA


• 4-star trails
• 7.5 miles each way
• Easy difficulty | Easy elevation
• Bedford & Concord, MA | NE Massachusetts
• Driving Directions: Marked on map


Cyclists connecting rail trails at Bedford's Depot Square.

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Bedford sits at the nexus of three former railroad lines, all of which are now navigable as rail trails. This article covers the Reformatory Branch Rail Trail that runs into Bedford from Concord in the West, and the Narrow Gauge Rail Trail which heads North out of Bedford's depot square replete with preserved passenger station, freight house and restored railroad carriage. Also departing from Bedford depot is the ten mile Minuteman Commuter Bikeway which we've reviewed and mapped in a separate article.

The rail trails that we're focusing on here share the common characteristics of having a relatively rustic feel, mostly hardpack surfaces and occasionally mildly bumpy sections. Both rail trails offer access to several hiking routes, including hikes around Fawn Lake, the Great Meadow National Wildlife Refuge and several wildlife preserves and conservation areas.

Asphalt, Hardpack, Rough, Road, Historic. Expand Map

Combined Rail Trails 4★
7.5 mi each way, Medium, Gain 90ft (or 180ft W-E)
Trailspotting Map: AllTrails
Trailspotting Map: GPX Download
Trailspotting Map: Google Earth KMZ

Reformatory Branch Rail Trail 4★
3.9 mi each way, Easy, Gain 70ft (each way)
Trailspotting Map: AllTrails

The Middlesex Central Railroad railroad opened in 1873 servicing passengers and freight needs from Concord to Lexington and connecting to other routes in the direction of Cambridge and Boston. The Reformatory Branch name comes from the similarly named station on Elm Street next to Concord Prison. This almost four mile long trail stops short of the prison by terminating at Lowell Street in Concord, so there's no need to be on the lookout for shady folk in orange jumpsuits.

We really enjoyed this hardpacked trail, mostly surrounded by trees to the point that we had to dodge between them at several places along the route. Birdlife here was very audible and noticeable, and became even more apparent once we reached the expansive wetlands and lake of the Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, where we took a short detour to check out the observation tower.

There are controversial plans under development to pave this route with asphalt to make it an extension of the Minuteman Commuter Bikeway. Some folk welcome the idea of a smooth pathway but others see this as unnecessary, and potentially a detriment to the rustic and ecologically sensitivity of the area (Save the RBT).

Just off the West end of the trail is the Minute Man National Historical Park, the site of Old North Bridge and where it is said that the first shots and first casualties of the American Revolution were reported.

Although the most Westerly part of the former Middlesex Central Railroad is no longer navigable, through cyclists can still reach more rail trail if they're willing to ride down Lowell Road then Main Street for 2.6 miles to reach the 24 mile Bruce Freeman Rail Trail in West Concord. See Trailspotting's Rail Trail Map for connection information.

Trail Conditions:
Flat, hardpack trail with some mild rough sections and one brief hill. Some very light mud in places.


Observation tower at the Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge.

Bedford Narrow Gauge Rail Trail 3★
3.3 mi each way, Easy, Gain 30ft (or 110ft S-N)
Trailspotting Map at AllTrails

The shortlived 1877 Billarica and Bedford Railroad was a showcase of narrow gauge rail technology, though the company went bust after only a year and before they had even built any stations along the line. A decade later the route was converted by others into a standard gauge railroad that connected the Middlesex Central Railroad to the Boston and Lowell Railroad just North of Billerica. Less than half the width of the 4 ft 8⅜ inch standard gauge railroad, the two foot narrow gauge railway could be built with lighter rails and lower costs that are most often found in restrictive locations like mountain terrain or mines. Today some survive as heritage railroads, and modern examples can also be seen in amusement and theme parks around the world.

The rail trail begins just beyond Bedford's depot square where a section of narrow gauge line has been rebuilt, complete with railroad handcart. Northbound the paved asphalt surface yields to a wide and well compacted hardpack surface beyond Great Road, which continues throughout.

The trail passes by many Bedford backyards and makes a total of six road crossings, becoming narrower, rougher and ultimately fizzling out at Technology Park Drive. Though the last section from Springs Road to Technology Park Drive does sport a faded old 'No Trespassing' sign, we assume this refers to the neighboring properties since the rail trail route is not part of any residential or commercial property here. The second half of this trail is our favorite; passing through dense wooded conservation land with great views of Fawn Lake and the smaller Buehler Ponds.

Trail Conditions:
Mostly smooth hardpack surface, becoming rougher and narrower particularly at the Northernmost half mile. There is a 30ft per mile uphill gradient heading Northwards but it's barely noticeable.


Narrow Gauge Trail, track and handcart.


Bluebells at the Concord end of the Reformatory Branch.


Fawn Lake on the Narrow Gauge Trail.

Tangents:
• External Links: Bedford Depot
• Trail Link: Reformatory Branch, Narrow Gauge

• Facebook Group: Comment on this article

Nearby Trails:
• 0 miles away: Minuteman Commuter Bikeway (4★, 10 miles)
• 2.6 miles away: Bruce Freeman RT
• Show on map: All nearby rail trails

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