When Yva Rose was growing up in Wolcott 20 years ago, a bike was simply a mode of transportation for her. “I’d ride down to the store or over to a friend’s house. It wasn’t like I was a ‘cyclist’,” she recalls.
When she first heard about plans for turning the old railbed into a rail trail, her first thought was ‘transportation. ‘The rail bed was built between 1869 and 1877 as the Vermont portion of train service that connected Portland, Me. with Ogdensburg N.Y.
The railway had last operated in the 1990s. But in 2006, a group of locals and the Vermont Association of Snow Travelers submitted a proposal to the state to turn the entire railbed into a bike path. “I figured people would use it to commute by bike from town to town along the trail,” Yva says.
Her husband Jim Rose, a mountain biker from New Hampshire who went to Johnson State College, thought of the rail trail in a different vein. For him, it could be a destination unto itself, 93 miles of double track.
“I remember the first time we rode a section of it as a family, it must have been in 2015,” Yva recalls. “After, we both looked at each other and said: we gotta do this.”
Eight years and more than 30 million federal and state grant dollars later, the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail is now the longest rail trail in New England.
Already, sections have become popular with bike commuters, mountain bikers, touring cyclists on e-bikes, gravel riders, runners, and in winter, cross-country skiers and snowmobilers. Sections of it will also form part of the proposed state-long Velomont Trail. Over Memorial Day weekend, the last two segments of the LVRT that had been closed – a sinkhole in Walden between Bayley-Hazen Road and Keene Road and the historic Fisher Covered Bridge in Wolcott – opened.
This summer, for the first time, the entire 93-miles of trail will be open. It’s a moment the Roses have been planning for. The “this” Yva was referring to is the business the Roses now run out of Johnson; Lamoille Valley Bike Tours.
“We have our rail trail shuttle schedule up on our website, we have a fleet of rental bikes – mainly e-bikes —and we are working on a guidebook to the rail trail,” Yva says.
The Lamoille Valley Bike Tours shuttle service will run three days a week with stops from St. Johnsbury to Swanton on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. “That means you can do the whole trail one way, or part of the trail, and then get the shuttle with your bike back to your car,” says Rose. The couple also offer guided tours and e-bike rentals out of their shop in Johnson and have partnered with Vermont Canoe and Kayak to offer an “E-bikes and Boats” tour with upstream riding the LVRT and downstream paddling on the adjacent Lamoille River.
With other bike shops en route such as Bootlegger Bikes in Jeffersonville, Chuck’s and Power Play Sports in Morristown, there’s support for cyclists along most of the middle segment.
“I am sure we are going to start to see more businesses pop up along the trail – especially lodging,” Yva says. “And the rail trail still needs to have more options for overnight parking,” she admits.
The trail passes through 18 communities, many of which have been building additional trails to better connect the trail to their towns, creating opportunities for new businesses that cater to rail trail visitors. Trail hubs with signage and facilities are springing up, such as the renovated old train station in Danville or the new terminus hub in St. Johnsbury.
There’s no one way to ride the trail, but as Yva says, “We always recommend that folks ride the trail from west to east and, if they can, make it a three-day journey. It really breaks out nicely into three sections, each roughly 30 miles but it’s also fun to do it in more,” she notes.
Here’s why and some of her recommendations for stops along the way.
Swanton to Jeffersonville: Farmland and Mountains
A few of the reasons why Yva Rose recommends riding the trail west to east? “For starters, the first 30 miles probably have the fewest places to stop and stock up. Also, the trail tends to be a bit rougher from Swanton to Cambridge so it’s good to bike that section while you are fresh,” she says.
But another reason? The views. Traveling west to east, the first section traverses open rolling farmland dotted with grazing cows, silos rising up from family dairy farms and come late summer, shoulder-high cornfields. Ahead, the Green Mountains rise up.
The trail starts off Swanton’s Robin Hood Drive, just 30 miles north of Burlington. The town is still the tribal headquarters of the Abenaki, known as the “People of the Dawn” and the region’s earliest known inhabitants.
In Swanton, make time to get a creemee at Maple City Candy and take the self-guided walking tour of the town for a good cultural history of the region. Or explore the Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge. One of the Northeast’s most important stopovers for migratory birds, the refuge trails just northwest of town take you deep into the marsh. The Vermont section of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail also starts here, sending paddlers up the Missisquoi.
From Swanton, the trail parallels Route 78 to Highgate. “Make a stop there to visit Highgate Falls,” Yva recommends. A historic truss bridge is one of the best viewing spots.
Soon after, the scenery becomes more rural—all rolling hills and open farm fields as the trail follows the Missisquoi to Sheldon. Here, the trail intersects with the Missisquoi Valley Rail Trail, which runs from St. Albans all the way to Richford, near the Canadian border.
After Sheldon, it’s about 11 miles until the unincorporated town of East Fairfield, about 20 miles from Swanton. There are no shops there but a slight detour to Chester Arthur Road takes you to the Chester Arthur Historic Site. The home is a replica of the birthplace of the 21st president.
For another 10 miles the trail parallels Bakersfield Road before coming into Cambridge Junction, where giant concrete silos painted by artist Sarah Rutherford mark the junction of Routes 15 and 108
“Cambridge is a great place to end the first day,” says Yva. For those who want to camp, she recommends the Brewster River Campground, a few miles up Route 108, near the cold pools of the Brewster River Gorge. “Grab a burger at the Burger Barn or a more substantial dinner at The Village Tavern or Martells,” she suggests. The next morning, stop off at The Farm Store for a coffee and muffin or to get a sandwich to go.
Stay: At Highgate Springs near Swanton, Tyler Place has week-long waterfront cottage rentals. It’s a great place to base out of if you are riding sections of the Missisquoi and Lamoille Valley Rail Trails. For shorter stays, other than the Swanton Motel, The Hampton Inn and La Quinta in St. Albans may be the next best bets. Right in downtown Jeffersonville, the Smuggler’s Notch Inn has 11 rooms as well as a tavern in a 1790s farmhouse. Nearby Smuggler’s Notch Resort has no shortage of great places to stay, but you may need to bike up Route 108 to get there. Sterling Ridge Resort has cabins that sleep two to ten. Pitch a tent at Brewster River Campground, across from the pools at Brewster River Gorge.
Eat/Drink: If you are ending the day in the Jeffersonville area, stop in at Smuggler’s Notch Distillery or Red Leaf Gluten-Free Brewing for a tasting. If you want a hearty breakfast to start the day, 158 Main serves brunch until 2:00 p.m., Thursdays-Sundays. The Brewster River Pub, Martell’s and the Village Tavern are good dinner spots.
Bike shops: Bootlegger Bike Shop has full-service shops in both St. Albans and Cambridge and offers rentals and repairs as well as e-bikes.
Cambridge to Hardwick: Small Towns & Breweries
The busiest section of the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail? The roughly 15 miles between Cambridge and Morristown. One of the earliest completed segments, the trail follows the Lamoille River for much of the way zig zagging through farm fields with views of Mt. Mansfield and the spine of the Greens.
If you’re an avid cyclist, prepare to be patient on a summer weekend: there may well be hikers or slower bike traffic on parts of this section. But there are also dozens of reasons not to rush it and to stop along the way. Don’t miss stepping off the trail in Johnson, whether it’s to take a dip in the large swimming hole in the Gihon River off School Street or to shop for the classic Vermont woolen pants and other apparel at Johnson Woolen Mills.
A former mill town, many of Johnson’s historic buildings are now part of the Vermont Studio Center, which hosts writers and artists for creative retreats and the Center’s Red Mill Gallery often showcases their work. Fuel up with a locally-roasted brew that benefits people in recovery at Jenna’s Coffee Shop and then head back to the trail.
Just past the village, at Dog’s Head Falls the Lamoille River drops about 5 feet over a rock formation. Across the river are the tiny house and glamping sites of Uncommon Accommodations, another good resting place if you want to make this an overnight stop.
Another five miles takes you to the historic village of Hyde Park and past the cascades of Cady’s Falls. One of the more elegant lodging opportunities along the trail is Hyde Park’s Governor’s House Inn. Built in 1893 by Governor Carroll Page, it’s a classic Vermont B&B with four poster beds that serves afternoon tea and scones on Thursdays and Sundays and hosts Jane Austen-themed weekends.
Hyde Park is also a good place to start beer touring. Ten Bends Brewery’s tasting room is based in Hyde Park and just a few miles ahead, in Morristown, the trail passes right by Lost Nation Brewery.
If you are continuing on, Hardwick is another 15 miles. There, lodging options (other than short term rentals) and dining options are limited. Get a slice at Hardwick’s Positive Pie or a burger at The Village Restaurant. In the morning, stop by Connie’s Kitchen for a cinnamon roll or a sandwich to go.
Stay: In Johnson, just across the river from the trail and with easy access, Uncommon Accommodations has a series of tiny homes, campsites and an Airstream trailer. In Hyde Park, the Governor’s House is a stately inn furnished with period antiques. The Morristown area is rife with short term rentals and the Sunset Motel and Mountain View Campground (up Route 15) offer budget accommodations. In Hardwick, lodging options (other than short term rentals) are limited to the Victorian Kimball House B&B or the Inn by the River, a basic motel.
Eat/Drink: Breweries abound near Morristown. Stop for a tasting at Ten Bends in Hyde Park. Lost Nation is literally right on the rail trail in Morristown and a few miles off the trail you can find Rock Art or, come July, the new Soulmate brewpub opens in the historic downtown. Morristown also has a wide variety of food options, from Siam Valley Thai to organic soups and salads at the Oasis Café (which also has Thursday night trivia contests, karaoke and live music some nights.) Moogs Place has good sandwiches, burgers and entrees and in the morning stop at Thompson’s Flour Shop for fresh baked goods.
Bike Shops: This segment has the best selection of bike shops. Lamoille Valley Bike Tours (which runs the shuttle service and does e-bike and gravel bike rentals) is based in Johnson. In Morristown, Chuck’s specializes in mountain bikes but has gear and repairs for all bikes. Power Play Sports in Morristown is also a good source for gear and apparel. Make sure you have what you need as Morristown may be the last bike shop accessible near the trail.
Hardwick to St. Johnsbury: The Northeast Kingdom
From Hardwick, the trail heads deeper into the Northeast Kingdom’s rolling rural landscape, following the Lamoille River to Greensboro Bend. You’ll cross the historic Fisher covered bridge in Wolcott.
It’s worth it to make a 5-mile (one-way) detour north to Caspian Lake for a swim and, if possible, spend some time at Highland Lodge, an 1860s farmhouse and series of rental cabins that sits on 32 acres. The lodge serves farm-fresh dinners on Thursdays through Sundays, too and while you are there, stop in at Hill Farmstead brewery and taproom (open Wednesday through Saturday) for some of their highly prized brews, which are increasingly hard to find at retail. On July 1, Circus Smirkus performs at its Circus Barn just 4 miles north of the lodge, with performances on Aug. 18 and 19, too.
The ten or so miles between Greensboro Bend and Walden Station is a quiet rural stretch of trail with few towns and several (small) hills to climb so stock up on water before this section. You’ll cross Bayley-Hazen Road, a 48-mile dirt road that was started in 1776 by American militia to help bring supplies to the siege of Quebec. Just south of Walden Station, the trail passes near Lyford Pond and directly by Coles Pond, birding hotspots where you may hear loons calling. Both are part of the 10,826-acre Steam Brook Wildlife Management Area. From there, it’s a just a few miles to Joe’s Pond in Danville.
Go for a swim in Joe’s Pond at the Community Beach (off Route 15). In town, the 1871 railway depot is being converted into a rail trail hub, thanks to a grant from the Vermont Outdoor Recreation Economic Collaborative. The classic town green hosts an ice cream social and free bandstand concerts on June 19 and Aug. 20 and outdoor monthly Saturday movie nights on the green starting July 22 (see movienightonthegreen.com.)
Here, you can stay at the four-room Danville Restaurant & Inn in the village or a mile from town, at the three-bedroom Emergo Farm Bed & Breakfast, a sixth-generation working dairy farm on 200 acres. Refuel with Vermont comfort food such as fried chicken and waffles and a spiked switchel at Three Ponds’ on the town green.
“From Danville to St. Johnsbury, the trail has a very different feel,” says Yva Rose. “Much of the trail is wooded and it feels like you are rolling through a tunnel of green.“ The trail parallels Route 2 before reaching its terminus in St. Johnsbury.
“St. J has tons of things to do so don’t feel a need to rush out of there,” Yva says. The St. Johnsbury Athenaeum, Catamount Arts and the Fairbanks Museum and Planetarium are all worth a visit. And if you are ready for more riding? Kingdom Trails is 15 miles (about a 20 minute drive) north.
Stay: In addition to the Highland Lodge in Greensboro, you can pitch a tent or stay in one of two cabins at Greensboro’s “gay-ish” adults-only Vermont Freedom Campground. In Danville, the Danville Inn or Emergo Farm offer a few rooms but book up early. There are plenty of places to stay in St. Johnsbury like the Comfort Inn or the Cherry St. B&B. Or splurge and head 10 miles east to the Rabbit Hill Inn in Lower Waterford.
In Danville, for pub fare and a Little Devil IPA head to Red Barn Brewing on Route 2. In St. Johnsbury, for an after-bike brew head to Whirligig Brewing and the Taco Poco taqueria. For drinks, try the St. Johnsbury Distillery and Kingdom Taproom’s craft beers. Table features farm-to-table fare.
Bike Shops: In St. Johnsbury, the LINK is a DIY bicycle repair space that offers the tools. linkvt.org
Want to learn more about rail trails you can ride?
For more on the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail, interactive maps and trail updates for the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail and Vermont’s other rail trails, visit https://railtrails.vermont.gov/. To book a shuttle reservation (and yes, you need to reserve ahead), visit lamoillevalleybiketours.com