We are still working out the kinks on our new tandem bike, so this past weekend took us on an explore of the Hop River Trail, starting in Willimantic, CT, near the Windham town line, and traveling west. We did not plan to join the RIMACONN marathon race, but there you have it. Sometimes you get lucky!
We pedaled our tandem bike and joined several hundred runners who had come (in teams–the distance was 95 miles or so!) from Lincoln, RI to Hartford, CT, traveling along the East Coast Greenway.
The biggest challenge we found along this trail was the gates, designed to discourage motorized ATVs, for sure, but for many of us, tandems, trikes, and others pedaling along the trail, the gates not only were a challenge, they also presented a concern when so many runners were using the trail along with us.
We found one gate nearly covered with poison ivy. It was a great spot to get a photo for my upcoming book on “How to Find Easy Walks Wherever You Go,” (great example of poison ivy with plain gray rock underneath) but not so fun when the clearance was already tight.
On the positive side, along the way we found a very cool covered bridge,
some great tunnels,
amazingly tall rock cuts, and places where all that rock was dumped to fill in spots along the former rail line. The angle, and depths of the slopes on either side of the trail were, at time, quite impressive. We spotted substantial washouts on the slopes we pedaled past, giving the sense that springtime would be a very cool time to visit, when these seasonal streams would be much more active as they cascaded down the slopes.
We got great water views of the Willimantic and Hop rivers along the trail. We traveled from Willimantic, Windham and Coventry, to Andover, and finally turned around in Bolton, realizing we were running out of daylight. Perhaps the surfaces of the trail were groomed for the race, but regardless, we have rarely traveled along a trail that was in such great condition.
We encountered few, if any branches on the trail, no washouts, solid, even packed stone dust surface, gentle sloping grades for the most part, and such pretty sights all along the way. And did I mention that the trail was almost always in shade? What a welcome respite on warm sunny days.
The parking we used, directly next to Mackey’s Home, Farm and Pet Supply Store, Willimantic, CT, on Rt. 66, offers a chance to head west toward the bulk of the Hop River Trail, or east, toward the intersection of the Hope River trail and the Airline Trail.
Heads up if you choose to head west from this new parking area. A new bridge has just been completed to get you across the Willimantic River, but once across the bridge, the trail is not ready for prime time. Railroad cross ties remain on the trail. The path stops at Flanders River Road and you must ride on the road west about a quarter mile til you reach the next road, King’s Road, on the left. Follow King’s road another quarter mile where you will see trail gates on your left and you can resume traveling on the Hop River Trail.
Unless the signs for the marathon remain in place, we wonder if any signs will direct travelers how to find the next section of trail. Despite the congestion on the trail, we felt lucky that the marathon had posted multiple signs along the way,making it easier to figure out where we needed to go to stay on the trail. And it was inspiring to see these runners nearly keeping up with us as we pedaled. We cheered each runner along as we passed them (and then they teased us as they passed us while we navigated each grade crossing gate!
Construction, slated for next year, promises to link these two sections of trail, but for now, you will need to travel on road for a short distance. Not to worry, however, these roads are rather quiet, and not heavily traveled like nearby Rt. 66.
We intend to return to explore further, hopefully for an entire weekend on our next trip. We were impressed by the connectivity that we found on these trails, and look forward to more great rides in this area of Connecticut in the future.
Marjorie Turner Hollman is a personal historian who loves the outdoors, and is the author of Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd edition, More Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd edition, and editor of Easy Walks and Paddles in the Ten Mile River Watershed. Just out is her latest book, Finding Easy Walks Wherever You Are. She has been a freelance writer for numerous local, regional, and national publications for the past 20+ years, has helped numerous families to save their stories, and has recorded multiple veterans oral histories, now housed at the Library of Congress. She is a co-author of the recent community history, Bellingham Now and Then.