Ayer, Groton, Pepperell and Dunstable
The Nashua River Rail Trail is a former railroad right of way that travels 11 miles through the towns of Ayer, Groton, Pepperell and Dunstable. The trail offers a 10-foot wide paved surface for the entire length, and a five-foot wide gravel equestrian path for seven miles of the trail from Groton Center to the New Hampshire border in Dunstable. The entire trail is open to pedestrians, bicyclists, inline skaters, wheelchairs, and cross-country skiers.
The Nashua River Rail Trail travels along a varied landscape, offers numerous scenic overlooks, opportunities to see wildlife and has several resting stops. The trail is particularly attractive during fall foliage season. The Ayer trailhead offers access to commuter rail service between Boston and Fitchburg.
Along this rail trail, you will encounter trail users of all ages and abilities, including bicyclists, walkers, hikers, runners, inline skaters, wheelchair users, and baby carriages. For the safety and enjoyment of all, please adhere to the following:
- Be courteous of other path users.
- All users keep right, except to pass.
- Stop at all stop signs.
- The trail is open for recreation from dawn to dusk. (Commuters with appropriate lights may use the trail at their own risk)
- Pets on a short leash are welcome. Remove all waste.
- Give a clear audible signal before passing and pass only when it is safe to do so.
- Travel at a reasonable speed in a consistent and predictable manner.
- Wear protective headgear. This is required by law for children 16 years and younger, but recommended for all wheeled users.
- Respect private property adjacent to the trail.
- Carry in, carry out.
Parking areas for access to the trail are located in Ayer, Groton, and Dunstable. Click here for a location map. Plans are underway for another parking lot in Pepperell Center.
Ayer Center parking lot (60 paved spaces)
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.
Groton Center parking (Court Street 10-15 spaces)
Take I-495 north or south to exit 31, then Rte. 119 west approximately seven miles to Groton Center. Take left at Station Ave. to the on-street parking area beside the trail.
Groton Sand Hill Road parking (10-15 gravel spaces)
Take I-495 north or south to exit 31, then Rte. 119 west approximately ten miles. Take dog leg right on Nod Road and right on Sand Hill Road. Follow Sand Hill Road to parking area on the right after crossing rail trail.
Dunstable state line parking (10 gravel spaces)
Take Rte. 3 to Exit 35, then Rte. 113 west beyond Dunstable Center. Take right on Hollis Street to New Hampshire state line. Parking is on the left.
Things to Know Before You Go
There is water in front of the Groton Town Hall, close to the trail on Station Avenue. Non-flush public toilets are located at the trail head in Ayer. All users should yield to equestrians upon approach and give a clear voice warning before passing. No motorized vehicles are allowed. The rail trail is maintained by DCR in cooperation with local towns and volunteers. For more information call the Willard Brook State Park at 978-597-8802.
- Bicycling Paths
- Equestrian Trails
- Scenic Viewing Area
- Skiing (Cross-Country)
- Walking Trails
The trail is built along the site of the former Hollis branch of the Boston and Maine Corp. railroad. On July 3, 1848, the Worcester & Nashua Railroad opened for business with over 46 miles of track between Worcester and Nashua, New Hampshire. A through rail line was opened from Nashua to Portland, Maine, in 1874. The Boston & Maine Railroad took over the line in 1886, and called the through route the Worcester, Nashua & Portland (WN&P) Division. Between 1911 and 1912, a second track was built from Worcester through Ayer and Groton and up to Nashua. Some of the concrete signal bases can still be seen.
In 1929, the second track between Ayer, through Groton and up to Nashua was removed; passenger service between Worcester, Groton and Nashua ended in 1934. The track between Nashua and Hollis, New Hampshire, was finally abandoned in 1941, and the present route of the Nashua River Rail Trail was known as the Hollis Branch of the Boston & Maine Railroad. In 1982, the last freight train ran on the line. The only segment of the old WN&P that still operates is the section that was built first, between Worcester and Ayer.
The Hollis Branch was purchased by the DCR (formerly DEM) in 1987, and Mass Highway completed the trail between 2001 and 2002. The Nashua River Rail Trail was officially opened and dedicated on October 25, 2002.