How to Thru-Hike the New England Trail 101 | Guide and Interactive Map - Greenbelly Meals

New England Trail | How to Plan Your Thru-Hike 101


An interactive map of the New England Trail complete with a state-by-state breakdown (length, highest elevation and highlights).

thru-hiker on the new england trail

© Dave Moore


New England Trail Overview


Length: 215 miles

Time to hike: About 2 weeks (10-20 days)

Start and End Points:

  • Southern Terminus - Guilford’s Chittenden Park on Long Island Sound
  • Northern Terminus - Massachusetts/New Hampshire border - In the middle of the woods a little over ½ mile away from Hwy 32 near Royalston Falls

Highest Elevation: Mount Grace 1617ft

Lowest Elevation: Long Island Sound 0ft

The 215mi New England Trail (NET) is the shortest of the 11 National Scenic Trails. It runs through Connecticut and Massachusetts. It evolved from the historic Mattabesett, Metacomet, and Monadnock (M-M-M) trail systems before being designated as a National Scenic Trail on March 30, 2009.

The rich New England beauty of this trail delivers unique traprock ridges, farmland, unfragmented forest, abundant streams, river valleys, sweeping vistas, waterfalls, and historic villages teeming with New England culture. With just under 32,000ft of elevation gain, the NET offers plenty of ups-and-downs through valleys and mountains with many rocky paths waiting to change the difficulty level as you hike.

To Print PDF: Step 1) Expand to full screen view (click box in top right hand corner of map). Step 2) Zoom in to your desired map section view. Step 3) Click on the three white vertical dots and then "Print Map" from that drop down menu.


PLANNING YOUR THRU-HIKE


When to Go: Timing, Weather and Seasons

Although this trail could be hiked year-round, the prime season to start your hike is fall with spring as a close runner-up. You’ll likely enjoy the more moderate temperatures and fall foliage or spring wildflowers. Summer conditions can be hot, humid, and buggy; ticks are worse in this season. Although do-able for experienced hikers, winter isn’t ideal because it brings snow, ice, and obviously cold temperatures.

Since the trail is relatively young in terms of its designation as a National Scenic Trail, it’s not likely you will run into many other thru-hikers so your start date won’t be dictated by avoiding large groups or moderated by an agency. You’re much more likely to find plenty of day or section hikers enjoying a portion of the trail

Another unique feature of the NET is the additional 26.9-mile branch off the main north-south trail starting at Broomstick ledges in southern Connecticut. This branch heads northeast to the Connecticut River near Middletown and features caves, rolling hills, rocky summits, and waterfalls, including another 1.1mi diversion: the Seven Falls Loop trail. 

highlights of the new england trail hike
© Jessie (@jessieelizabethhh)


Direction to Go: Northbound or Southbound?

Choose your own adventure. This trail can be hiked Northbound (NOBO) or Southbound (SOBO). Northbound seems to be the most popular option, but perhaps only out of tradition. Southbound could be considered slightly more difficult for two reasons:

  1. The northern terminus is in the middle of the woods at the border and requires an out-and-back hike to get started
  2. Northern Massachusetts is slightly more remote with less opportunity to resupply, which could be logistically more difficult at the beginning of a hike. However, finishing at the coast sounds like a great reason to hike southbound!

There are no permits needed to hike the NET. A few of the overnight sites (see below) require reservations.

thru-hiking the new england trail
© Michelle Swank


Navigation: Maps and Apps

The NET is mostly composed of a single-track hiking path with some old logging roads. Mix in about 10% road walk across the length of the trail and you have an overall pleasant hiking tread. The NET is relatively easy to follow. It is well-marked with blue blazes in Connecticut and white blazes in Massachusetts. It’s worth noting that Massachusetts is blazed a little better than Connecticut. 

Aside from following the blazes, you may have to plan a little more than normal to logistically navigate the New England Trail. Unlike some of the other national scenic trails, there is currently no map on the Atlas Guides “Guthook” App. (Note: the team at Guthook let us know a map of the trail is currently in the works and should be released this year)

If you want to get a comprehensive look at the trail, take a hard look at the maps on newenglandtrail.org and the official New England Trail Map & Guide

For information on elevation, check out this Elevation profile and Mileage Guide, courtesy of Nick “Parks” Wagers. This guide is similar to AWOL’s guide for the Appalachian Trail but does not include town info pages. Extremely useful.

Lastly, if you're used to using your smartphone for navigation, consider downloading Maprika. Maprika is an Android and iOS app which can be used offline. It interacts with your GPS software and is able to show you exactly where you are on the trail. Keep in mind these maps aren’t updated in the same fashion that an app like the Guthook guide is so you will need to balance this app data with what you see in the field. Some new, updated reroutes should be clearly blazed but may not be updated in this GPS app. Here are the maps you'll need for the New England Trail:

hiking blaze on the new england trail
© Mackenzie (@hikingctandbeyond)


Navigating Rivers

There are a few spots where the trail requires a river crossing but there is no bridge where the trail meets the river. These two are worth noting:

  • The Connecticut River (Mile 131.8 / Mile 75.3 Southbound): you must shuttle or road-walk around. It’s roughly 10 miles to walk around. An Uber is commonly available to shuttle here if you don’t want to road-walk for this river crossing. You can split this river crossing up by stopping in the town of Hadley where there is a nice Econo-lodge; this happens to be located near Walmart and Eastern Mountain Sports for an excellent resupply.
  • Westfield River (Mile 112.7 / Mile 94.5 Southbound): Hikers commonly ford this river (when safe) as it is typically knee to waist high depending on the time of year. It can be swift-moving. Use your prior experience and comfort level as a guide and walk-around if you feel like the river ford will be unsafe for any reason. You can often get a shuttle around this crossing by contacting Heather Wyman via email. Uber is also typically available here.

Check the current water level of the Westfield River in advance of your crossing here.

© Steven Clark

deep river crossing on the new england trail
Challenging river crossing on the NET


How to Resupply: Food, Water, and Towns

Resupply options abound on the New England Trail. With around 100 road crossings and a short trail length, you will be able to fill your pack and your belly without too much trouble.

Somewhere around Amherst (approx mile 150) there are limited resupply options. The food carry from this point should be 5-days or less for most hikers and shouldn’t be cause for concern.

Hitchhiking on the NET is spotty since the trail is new and not frequented by thru-hikers. If you want to get to town, your best option is to make the short walk or call an Uber. The trail doesn’t have a strong trail angel community either (yet).

As mentioned, there is no printed guide with resupply/towns listed or Guthook guide to show you campsite and resupply options. So, we've put together a simple spreadsheet to outline some of the major resuppply points on the trail.


Download the Resupply Guide

(mileage numbers are in reference to Nick “Parks” Wagers's Guide)


Where to Sleep: Camping, Shelters, and Hostels

Unlike most National Scenic Trails, the NET has a limited number of places to stay overnight on the trail. There are a limited number of lean-to's which are first-come-first-serve. Stealth camping is NOT permitted as much of the New England trail coincides with private property and relies on the cooperation and partnership of private landowners.

Given the lack of campsites and other on-trail overnight accommodations, thru-hikers should plan on using a shuttle to and from off-trail lodgings for many of their overnight stays (ie. hotels or Airbnb). Since this is the shortest of the National Scenic Trails, this added expenditure shouldn’t prevent most hikers from being able to afford the trek across New England.

Hikers should be able to reliably acquire an Uber ride to their nightly off-trail shelter for most of the trail. Uber support will likely end just north of Amherst (approx mile 152) in Massachusetts.

Luckily, the trail North of Amherst has a small list of possible camping sites:

  • Unofficial campsite - Mile 167: As the trail hooks back around near the West Branch of the Swift River (0.75 mi before Jennison Road) there are a few obvious spots that locals walk back in and camp. If hikers can make it to Wendell State Forest Lean-to listed below, that is preferred. 
  • Wendell State Forest Lean-to - Mile 174.3: Reservations not required, but your intent to stay can be claimed on the New England Trail's website.
  • Richardson-Zlogar Cabin (MA) - Mile 189.1
  • Mount Grace Shelter - Mile 196.8: Reservations not required, but your intent to stay can be claimed here

There are a few spots that require a reservation in advance:

small river crossing on the new england trail
© Ben Smith


Sights: Nature and Wildlife 

Some common wildlife dispersed across the New England landscape include deer, coyote, beavers, muskrats, weasels, skunks, raccoons, woodchucks, cottontail rabbits, and squirrels, not to mention over 400 species of birds. Connecticut and Massachusetts also host two venomous snakes—the copperhead and timber rattlesnake. Although less common, you might also encounter black bears, moose, porcupine, or bobcats.

As a side note, although it’s not required, it is recommended to hang your food. It’s a great Leave No Trace option that will keep your food safe from rodents and bears.

The New England Trail provides a small variety of uniquely interesting wildlife species, too. If you have a keen eye, you might find the elusive southern bog lemming. They’re practically ultralight creatures weighing in at ¾ to 1 ¾ oz with brown fur and a stocky body similar to a meadow vole (a.k.a. field mouse).

The next mammal you might find are fishers who are members of the weasel family and, although once a rare sight, are now common again. The small creature might be found climbing and is one of the few predators that successfully hunt the porcupine.

You also might successfully spy a Harbor Seal in Long Island Sound if you happen to start your hike between November and mid-March to April. The seals spend the winter along the shores of the sound and leave for northern waters again by April. 


SECTIONAL OVERVIEW


Connecticut Highlights

  • Castle Craig Tower - Mile 54.6: Established in 1900, this stone observation tower is built from the native trap rock. On a clear day, it has views to Long Island Sound or even Long Island itself. This slice of history is reportedly the highest mountain within 25 miles of the coastline from Maine to Florida.
  • Rattlesnake Mountain Cliffs and Will Warren's Den/Caves - Mile 74.3: The 750ft mountain has cliff-side views and is a frequent rock climbing destination for locals. The mountain also has a boulder cave and a local historic site known as Will Warren's Den. The caves themselves can be found by exploring around the den and the plaque mounted on the ancient rock will tell you the tale of Will Warren.
  • The Heublein Tower - Mile 87: Previously built as a summer home, this 165-foot structure built in 1914 sits on Talcott Mountain and has fantastic views. From this perch, a person is said to be able to see up to an estimated 1,200 square miles. The tower and its museum are open seasonally. The grounds also offer bathrooms, water fountains, and a spacious picnic area.
  • Bartlett tower ruins - Mile 94.1: Remnants of a 70ft resort tower built in the 1800s for the rich and famous will break up the monotony of power lines and road junctions leading to the Farmington River crossing. It’s a grand example of craftsmanship and you can catch a view while you’re in this area too.
© Eddie

castle craig on the new england trailCastle Craig Tower, one of the highlights of the trail (Connecticut). 


Massachusetts Highlights

  • Mt Tom - Mile 127: More than just another summit, Mt Tom’s 1200ft peak is surrounded by views, history, and hiker-friendly resources. The ruins of an old summit house foundations remain visible on the mountainside along with views of the Pioneer Valley in west-central Massachusetts. The views are so good that this is a popular bird-watching spot, especially for hawks. There’s also a crash site and memorial to the 1946 B-17 "Flying Fortress" bomber crash on the mountainside hikers can explore. Lastly, Mt Tom has a picnic area, drinking fountain, and bathrooms. 
  • Wendell State Forest - Mile 174: Wendell State Forest is known for its gorgeous hiking and climbing. Many hiker-friendly accommodations also lay within the forest. Conveniently, the forest has a visitor’s center, pavilion, and restrooms. Hikers can also use the Wendell State Forest lean-to shelter which sleeps 6-8 people, has a fire-pit, water access, and a privy. Hikers will also pass the scenic Ruggles pond and a few striking vistas. (see Wendell State Forest Map)

thru-hiking the new england trail© Clayton (@860go)


RESOURCES


  • Facebook Group: The New England Scenic Trail hikers Facebook group has a helpful community of hikers if you have specific questions about this trail. It’s also arguably the most reliable place to ask about shuttles. 
  • Guidebook: Nick “Parks” Wagers PDF Guidebook (Note: all of the mileage references notated in this post refer to the mileage in this guidebook.)


joshua johnson writer photo

By Josh Johnson (aka "Pace Car"): Pace Car is a Florida based long-distance hiker and adventurer. A strong believer in Leave No Trace™ ethics, he can be found cleaning up the trails and outdoor spaces he visits striving to make his adventures count.
About Greenbelly: After thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, Chris Cage created Greenbelly to provide fast, filling and balanced meals to backpackers. Chris also wrote How to Hike the Appalachian Trail.

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