Bicycling the Nashua River Rail Trail, Ayer, MA – Nashua, NH

Kendra’s parents, Boris and Jane, are in town to help us with the twins. Usually when they visit from South Carolina, we go camping, or hiking, or some other adventure, but this visit we’ve needed all hands on deck because Kate is still in the NICU, Evan has multiple doctors appointments for his heart condition, Addie started preschool, and Kendra is recovering from her c-section and cannot yet drive. Life has been nothing short of hectic juggling our new schedule while trying to maintain some sense of normal for Addison.

With no doctor’s appointments over the weekend, Boris and I made some time just for Addison. While Kendra and Jane took care of Kate and Evan, we took Addison bicycling on the Nashua River Rail Trail that runs from Ayer, Massachusetts to Nashua, New Hampshire.

Addie enjoying her ride on the Nashua River Rail TrailLocation: Nashua River Rail Trail – Ayer, MA – Nashua, NH
Date: September 7, 2013
Distance: 26 miles round trip
Elevation Gain: 289 feet
Our Bicycling Time: 4 hours, 5 minutes round trip
Difficulty: Moderate/Easy

Trail Map

The 12.5 mile trail is paved over what was the Hollis Branch of the Boston & Maine Railroad that ran from Worcester, Massachusetts to Portland, Maine. The last train car ran in 1982, and the tracks were subsequently bought by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and paved over in 2001-2002.

We began our ride from the Ayer end of the trail. The urban landscape quickly faded as we entered beautiful wetlands. Addie squealed from the seat at the back of my bike, “mama, I LOVE this!” She was all smiles as we winked at each other in the mirror attached to my bike handle.

There were two underpasses in the first few miles of the trail, both of which feature murals painted by students at the NOA Gallery School of Fine Arts in Groton, MA, and the Groton School. They depict historic scenes and sights of Groton, as well as modern-day life in the town. Naturally I was drawn to the one that featured rowers.

Mural on the Nashua River Rail Trail

As we biked across the bridge spanning the Groton School Pond, we spotted turtles sunning on fallen trees. At mile five, we entered the J. Harry Rich State Forest, and caught our first glances of the Nashua River. In another few miles we rode along the shoreline of the river, passed through Pepperell center, then Dunstable, and with 1.5 miles left, crossed into New Hampshire.

The Massachusetts-New Hampshire border on the Nashua Rail Trail

Boris, Addie, and me crossing the Massachusetts-New Hampshire border on the Nashua Rail Trail.

Addie checking out the fish in the pond at the end of the Nashua River Rail Trail

Addie checking out the fish in the pond at the end of the Nashua River Rail Trail

When we reached the Nashua end of the trail, we were surprised to find nothing but a parking lot and one dirty porta-potty sans toilet paper. Next time I would choose to start from the Nashua end of the trail, since the Ayer end has better bathroom facilities, as well as several places to get food and snacks.

There was a beautiful pond next to the parking lot, with rocks large enough to perch on for lunch. Addie and I walked to the edge of the water and discovered a school of fish with bright blue fins and tails. That made her day!

On our way back, we stopped in Pepperell center and got ice cream from the Rail Trail Ice Cream Stop. We stretched our legs in the grassy park along the trail and devoured strawberry and chocolate chip ice cream.

Boris and Addie sharing a hard earned ice-cream.

Fish in the Groton School Pond along the Nashua River Rail Trail

Can you spot the fish?

As we biked along the trail, I noticed many resting spots – granite slabs and park benches provide a great place to take a break and watch for wildlife. There are even racks if you want to lock up your bike and explore the surrounding wetlands and woods by foot.

We took advantage of one such spot to explore the shore of the Groton School Pond. Addie was delighted to see more fish, and we spotted several turtles bobbing their heads and gracefully swimming through the water.

Our time on the trail was quite enjoyable. The beautiful weather brought out bicyclists, runners, walkers, and rollerbladers, yet never did the trail feel crowded. We were able to cycle at a leisurely pace, taking time to enjoy the surrounding nature and wildlife.

Groton School Pond along the Nashua River Rail Trail

Groton School Pond along the Nashua River Rail Trail

Groton School Pond along the Nashua River Rail Trail

Groton School Pond along the Nashua River Rail Trail

One of the neat features of the trail are the granite mile markers which indicate the mileage to Portland, Maine, and Worcester, Massachusetts. They were used by train crews in the days before radio communication and served two primary purposes – they provided the crew with their precise location on the rail line and the opportunity to estimate the speed of the train. The Friends of the Nashua River Rail Trail have since restored these historic markers.

Granite mile markers on the Nashua River Rail Trail

Directions to the Rail Trail Parking Lot:

Though there are several parking lots along the trail, as well lots on either end, we opted to park at the Ayer lot.

From I-495: Take Rte. 2 east or west to exit 38B, then follow Route 111 north to Ayer Rotary. Go halfway around rotary to Rte. 2A. On Rte. 2A turn right after Ayer Center, take first right on Groton Street to trail parking lot on the right.

About Jen

Outdoor adventurer and traveler. Writer, Photographer & Communications Professor. Wife. Mom of twins plus one. Tubbs Snowshoes Ambassador. Blogger at

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7 Responses to Bicycling the Nashua River Rail Trail, Ayer, MA – Nashua, NH

  1. Michele September 9, 2013 at 9:45 am #

    You are an awesome mama to head out on the bike trail with so much going on in your life. I’m sure you needed it more than anyone — one of those times that it’s required for sanity rather than optional or a luxury. Love the ice cream photo with grandpa!

    • Jen September 13, 2013 at 9:11 pm #

      I so needed it – nature is my happy place and just getting to spend some time with Addie was awesome.

  2. twogromsandamom September 9, 2013 at 10:15 am #

    What a great outing! Glad to hear that you’re not only getting out for Addie’s sake, but also for yours! NICUs provide incredible care, but they are such hard places to be. Great to offset NICU time with outdoor time — and ice cream!

    • Jen September 13, 2013 at 9:10 pm #

      I think everything is better with ice cream ;)

  3. 911shazza September 9, 2013 at 12:12 pm #

    Way to take care of yourself and still inject the fun moments in a turbulent time!! Looks like a great trail!!

    • Jen September 13, 2013 at 9:10 pm #

      Awesome trail – love when I find new gems!


  1. Welcome to Our New Normal | Adventurous Moms - September 13, 2013

    […] the weekend, my father-in-law Boris, and I took Addie on a bike ride to give her some much-needed one-on-one time. Kendra also came up with a great idea – she […]

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