There are 28 rail trails covering a total of 221 miles across Connecticut. Most, like the Air Line or Hop River or Farmington Canal Heritage Trail, are a mixture of paved and blue stone gravel, making a hike or bike ride along the level railroad beds an easy, enjoyable jaunt.
Moosup Valley State Park Trail isn’t one of these. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
The Moosup Valley trail takes hikers from Main Street in Moosup, a village of Plainfield, 5.8 miles through Sterling to the border of Rhode Island where the path continues as the Trestle Trail in the Ocean State.
The trail begins its journey eastward off Main Street in Moosup where hikers travel along a paved portion across a Warren through-truss bridge built by the American Bridge Co. for trains along the New York, New Haven and Hartford line. The line was built in the late 1800s and abandoned in 1968.
The Moosup River passes underneath with hikers getting a view of the sprawling former Cranska Thread Mill and its towering smoke stack. The mill, built in the late 19th century for thread manufacturing, ran more than 4,000 spindles and employed 35 workers. The view of the mill, with its barn-red clapboard siding mixed with granite and brick, is impressive as the railroad bed rises high above with the complex sitting down along the river’s banks.
Much of the nearly first mile of the trail passes along a paved bed through the forest before reaching the first road crossing. On the other side of the road, the unimproved section of the old railroad bed begins. It can be muddy and uneven with damage done by all-terrain vehicles and trail bikes. As one reviewer wrote, “the trail starts off nice then goes downhill fast.”
And that’s not a negative. I like rustic. I like unimproved trails where you have to use your hiking and directional skills to navigate. Unless you are wearing a solid pair of boots, you are going to want to steer clear of some of the wetter and muddier portions of the railroad bed. And it sure has been one of the wettest summers on record, but the trail seems to be pretty wet no matter what the season.
The Moosup River is your constant companion along a 3-mile stretch from Main Street in Moosup to Main Street in Sterling. There are trails that will bring hikers down to the river’s banks and bypass the muddier stretches. The trails are rocky and rugged, so some hikers might want to remain on the railroad bed.
One of the more fascinating stretches is at the second road crossing where hikers can find an abandoned mill complex and scenic dam as well as the abandoned Glen Falls Bridge. The bridge was built in 1886 by the Berlin Iron Bridge Co. and is on the National Registry of Historic Places. The span is one of only three lenticular through-trusses remaining in Connecticut, according to historicbridges.org. The Brunswick Worsted Mills Inc., a textile mill that burned down in 2000, used the dam to power its spindles.
The next mile of the rail trail — be wary of the dirt moguls created by off-road vehicle use — is the most scenic with the path coming close to the river thanks to a side trail off the railroad bed. The trail passes through deep rock cuts and towering ledges, and passes over a pair of trestles that are worth exploring. A side trail takes hikers down to the banks of the river for a better view of the 19th-century railroad ghosts.
The path continues through Sterling, a town named after Dr. John Sterling, who promised to build a library in exchange for naming the town after him. According to the town history, he never followed through on the promise, but the town succeeded in getting its library through private donations.
The trail passes by the picturesque Sterling Pond (the guy is everywhere) and through deep forests, crossing over several bridges before reaching the Rhode Island border. Some portions of the railroad bed are paved in this section before entering into Rhode Island and its paved portion of the trail.
“The trail conditions vary greatly over its nearly six miles,” the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s website notes. “Surfaces range from frequent packed dirt with some grassy, sandy and gravelly areas. Some lengths are still dominated by the old railroad ballast. It is part of the state Department of Transportation’s plan to resurface the entire surface in calendar year 2017.”
So we wait for the resurfacing and navigate the mud and puddles and moguls. It’s not for everyone, but for this visitor who enjoys the abandoned world of railroads, it only adds to the atmosphere along the old New York, New Haven and Hartford line.
Moosup Valley State Park Trail
Plainfield and Sterling
The bottom line: The Moosup Valley State Park Trail is an out-and-back path along the abandoned bed of the New York, New Haven and Hartford railroad. The trail passes over and near historic bridges with side trails along the scenic Moosup River.
Difficulty level: Easy along the paved and flat stretches of the trail. The rocky side paths to avoid the wet areas are moderately difficult. The area of the moguls can be difficult, so stay along the sides of the trails to avoid the moguls and make that section of the hike easier.
Total mileage: Out and back from the western terminus parking area in Moosup to the Rhode Island border is nearly 12 miles. The out-and-back distance between Main Street in Moosup and Main Street in Sterling is about 6 miles.
Directions: Interstate 395 to exit for Route 14 toward Moosup. Follow Route 14 into town to the junction with Main Street. Continue across Main Street and park in the lot next to Dunkin’ Donuts. Go to tinyurl.com/moosuptrail for a map of the trail.
Pet friendly? Leashed dogs are allowed and must be cleaned up after with the waste removed if placed in a plastic bag.
Things to do Nearby
Vanilla Bean Café: The cafe opened in 1989 in a restored early-19th-century barn with the following philosophy: “create a place where we would feel comfortable and serve food that we would want to eat. If we wouldn’t eat it, we certainly wouldn’t serve it.” The menu includes housemade soups, sandwiches and light dinners with daily specials made with “creativity, imagination and seasonal ingredients.” There is also a selection of fresh-baked items like muffins, bagels, croissants and cookies. 450 Deerfield Road, Pomfret, 860-928-1562, thevanillabeancafe.com
Antiquing in downtown Putnam: Over the years, Putnam has become a mecca for those searching for antique treasures. Destinations around Main Street include Antiques Marketplace, central New England’s largest antiques and collectibles mall with 350 dealer spaces in 22,000 square feet, and an old Montgomery Ward building filled with antiques. Other destinations include Brighton Antiques and Jeremiah’s Antique and Collectable Shoppes. Restaurants include 85 Main and Victoria Station Café.
Ekonk Hill Turkey Farm: A family farm owned and operated by the Hermonot family has a farm store selling pastured meat and poultry, homemade ice cream, apple cider donuts and local goods. In 1998, the family raised 15 turkeys for family and friends. Today, the farm has 3,000 and is known as the largest grower of pasture-raised turkeys in Connecticut. 227 Ekonk Hill Road, Moosup, 860-564-0248, ekonkhillturkeyfarm.com