North Central Pathway Rail Trail, MA


• 4-star trail
• 9.5 miles each way
• Easy difficulty | Easy elevation
• Winchendon to Gardner, MA | Central Massachusetts
• Driving Directions: Marked on map

Cyclist on the rail trail. Pond to the left. Direct morning sunlight coming from behind the trees, casting dark shadows on the ground.
Riding out of Winchendon past Whitney Pond.

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Nestling up to the New Hampshire state border the small Central Massachusetts town of Winchendon was once a railroad hub with five distinct rail routes radiating from its center. Today there's no evidence of this downtown, but thankfully some of these routes live on as rail trails.

The mostly asphalt paved North Central Pathway Rail Trail wins our prize for sporting the most generic trail name that we've found to date. This trail treats users to a journey that passes large ponds, scenic wetlands and woodlands. Though most trail users seem to stick to just one, there are three distinct sections to this route and they can all be linked together to make a total length just short of ten miles. You can also continue even further, tracing the old lines through Gardner until they connect up with the live East-West rail lines south of the town.

green icon Asphalt, purple icon Rough, red icon Road, No Access, Parking Expand Map

green icon purple icon red icon North Central Pathway 4★
9.5 miles each way, Easy, Gain 310ft (160ft S-N)
Trailspotting Map: AllTrails
Trailspotting Map: GPX Download
Trailspotting Map: Google Earth KMZ

The northernmost 2.8 mile segment of trail heading south out of Winchendon is perhaps the most scenic and varied. Large dilapidated buildings on the banks of Tannery Pond stand as reminders of an industrial history. Heading southeast and close to the unfortunately rather busy Route 12 highway the views are great - first of Whitney Pond, and then of the meandering Miller River wetlands. The trail terminates unceremoniously at North Ashburnham Road as the old alignment continues onto private property, but a 0.8 mile segment of mostly quiet road biking can link you up to the next segment of North Central Parkway.

The middle segment heads due South for 3.3 miles and mostly passes through woodland, with a large clearing close to the mid-point. The asphalt trail makes for an easy journey, particularly for cylists, and terminates at the busy Route 140.

Wide panorama of blue Whitney Lake with fall colors on trees on the far shore, reflected in the water.
Fall colors on Whitney Pond near Winchendon.

Leaf covered dirt road, surrounded by colorful trees on both sides.
Woodland section, heading for the town of Gardner.

Giant bike by Glenallen Street, with our bike for scale.

The southern segment of the North Central Pathway is a gated service road that is partly hardpacked ground, but with sections of loose large aggregate gravel that leads us to categorize the trail condition as rough. This section continues through woodland and heading for the town of Gardner. After reaching a second electricity substation the old rail route becomes impassible, but you we recommend continuing on via the roads of the neighboring cemetary to reach the shores of Crystal Lake. Here it seems the dead have the best views in town.

The south end of the trail comes to a halt at Park Street by a large parking and picnic area. Out of curiosity we traced the continuing route of the rail alignment all the way down to where it connects with live railroad lines. On the way we found occasional track and signage in town, followed by complete and inaccessible track that weaves though an industrial area.

trail conditions logo
Trail Conditions:
Includes 6.1 miles of asphalt and 2.1 miles of mostly hardpack ground with some loose gravel sections. Section closest to Winchendon is flat. Middle section has mild gradients, most noticeably heading south. Section closest to Gardner has light gradients.

Massive 20ft? tall bicycle sculpture made from steel bar and rod. I could fit my bike directly underneath without touching the structure at all.

Left: Cyclist POV with mowed green grass under my wheels. Rails and railroad ties visible. Right: old railroad sign crossing.
Signs of railroad remain in downtown Gardner.

Hiker standing on the banks of a reservoir, with a border of trees in full fall color.
Hiking the nearby Perley Brook Reservoir.

Tangents:
• External Links: TrailLink
• Facebook Group: Comment on this article

Nearby Trails:
• 0.5 miles away: Ware River Rail Trail
• 1 mile away: Monadnock Rail Trail
• 4 miles away: Cheshire Rail Trail South
• Show on map: All nearby rail trails

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