“Popular, well-maintained rail trail that follows and crosses over the Quinapoxet River twice.
— JB Lowell
This is one of the most popular sections of the Mass Central Rail Trail, which includes 4 separate segments running from Sterling, MA to Barre, Ma, covering nearly 20 miles. This section starts at Wachusett Reservoir, which was created by flooding parts of West Boylston containing several textile mills along the Quinapoxet, Stillwater, and (now flooded) Nashua Rivers.
The trail follows along the Quinapoxet River for much of its length, and passes the remains of the once bustling Springdale Mill. The rail trail has a very smooth, well packed stone dust or gravel surface, with several flowy singletrack offshoots that make up an interesting and varied trail network. You'll encounter lots of people on the rail trail at any time of the year, but the offshoots see only occasional riders and joggers.
Parking is available at both ends of this section, and at Riverdale, which is about the mid-point. On nice summer weekends, parking at the West Boylston end can fill up by mid-morning.
Start in West Boylston in the large parking lot beside the Wachusett Reservoir. After a little more than a mile, pass under the Interstate 290 highway bridge high above the trail. At the 1.5 mile mark pass Springdale Mill on the left, with a short, steep trail on the right leading to the mill tenements. The first of two bridges over the Quinapoxet River appears at the 1.8 mile mark. The trail begins a long, slow turn to the south, and crosses the river again at the 2.6 mile mark. Continue another quarter mile to the parking area on River Street.
At this point, the trail departs north from the parking area and no longer follows the abandoned railroad bed. The smooth and well-maintained doubletrack trail wanders through several small rolling hills until emerging on Manning Street at the 3.7 mile mark.
Cross the road and continue up a steep gravel section that can be a little rough if a recent thunderstorm has caused some erosion. The trail bends to the west and at the top of the hill and follows the right-of-way for the Wachusett Aqueduct that carries water for metropolitan Boston from the Quabbin Reservoir. Pass through a clearing behind a private residence and take in the view of Mount Wachusett to the north.
At the 4.5 mile mark the trail veers right off the right of way and quickly turns into a tight series of switchbacks descending quickly to the intersection of Wachusett and Mill Streets at mile mark 4.8, where you'll find a small parking area.
Stop at the Springdale Mill, where self-guiding signs describe the operation of a New England textile mill and the tenements built to house the mill workers.