Hop River State Park Trail
Length: 20 miles
Trail end points: Colonial Rd. and Parker St. (Manchester CT) and Columbia Ave./CT 66 at the Willimantic River bridge (Willimantic CT)
Trail surfaces: Crushed Stone
Trail category: Rail-Trail
TrailLink is a free service provided by Rails-to-Trails conservancy (a non-profit) . Along with an amazing website they have a free TrailLink app that's very helpful. And if you upgrade to their yearly unlimited plan ($29.99/year) you can also see your location "live" out on the trail as well as download unlimited offline maps. Bikebarn receives no compensation whatsoever from TrailLink - we just think they're a group worth advocating for.
It’s hard to pick a favorite season to experience the Hop River State Park Trail, set amid the dense forests of Eastern Connecticut. Sections of the 20-mile rail-trail dive through steep rock cuts that seep moisture, supplying air-conditioning in summer and freezing into glistening icefalls in winter. Maples and oaks bring fiery autumn hues, and in the spring, trilliums and other wild-flowers speckle the ground with color. Three tunnels and a covered bridge complete the trail’s picturesque backdrop.
Following the former Hartford, Providence and Fishkill Railroad, the rail-trail feels like it’s transporting visitors to the days when rail was the predominant mode of transportation. The telegraph poles from days gone by still jut out of the hillside, and a few miles into the trail from the western side, you can see a turnabout that was used to reverse the direction of the train.
After beginning your ride in Manchester, you’ll have the opportunity to connect to another trail in 2.6 miles. At Church and Phoenix Streets in Vernon, a trail called the Rockville Spur (sometimes known as Vernon Rails-to-Trails) branches north. If you have time, the scenic 4.2-mile pathway is definitely worth exploring.
From that trail intersection continuing east on the Hop River State Park Trail, you’ll climb gradually for a few miles past rock outcrops. Along the way, you’ll pass Valley Falls Park, then Bolton Notch State Park, both of which are accessible via hiking paths that spin off from the rail-trail. Just south of Bolton Notch, you'll also have the opportunity to connect to the Charter Oak Greenway, which heads west to Hartford.
Beyond the Bolton Notch parking lot, the trail passes beneath US 44 and US 6, threading through a narrow rock cut and then descending several miles among thick woodlands. Past Steeles Crossing Road in Bolton, US 6 comes into view on your left, but not so close as to disrupt the tranquil experience. Keep watch for small waterfalls like the one near Burnap Brook Road, and enjoy the covered bridge over CT 316.
In another mile, you pass beneath US 6 through a 100-foot lighted tunnel. The route continues along the river to its end at Columbia Avenue in Willimantic. Here, a bridge over the Willimantic River connects the trail to the Air Line State Park Trail, which spans more than 50 miles, running northeast to the Massachusetts border and southwest to East Hampton.
Click Map below to see interactive version: