The final leg in our 5-day, two-nation bike tour was the 26-mile Missisquoi Valley Rail Trail, which begins within a few miles of the border crossing in Richford, Vermont, and ends just north of downtown St. Albans.
This is a quiet, if perhaps underutilized, rail-trail — we counted just 23 cyclists, 2 dog walkers (each with one dog), and two women on horseback as we rode the entire length on Saturday. The surface is a somewhat rough gravel, rather than the stonedust/crushed stone I appreciate on unpaved trails, but perhaps that’s what works better for snowmobilers. It certainly wasn’t as squishy as some trails like that, so we didn’t bail and switch to the road. My road bike, with its not-so-skinny, not-slick tires, did just fine.
A detailed look at the Missisquoi Trail
The trail follows the Missisquoi River for a good part of the route, offering up natural beauty as well as plenty of farm vistas. It’s a perfectly fine trail. I know plenty of trails like this near me. Unfortunately, its biggest problem is its proximity to those Route Verte trails we spent three days riding, and it just can’t compete.
That said, I appreciated the mile markers at every half mile. I’d suggest adding some signage pointing out amenities (water, food, restrooms, accommodations), especially in Enosburg Falls, the only town that’s not at one end or the other.
And while you think of rail trails as being flat, this one had a few noticeable ups and downs. Nothing steep, just enough to slow you down or let you pedal oh so casually. For those who think trails are boring, there’s some variety for you. You also have to slow down for many road crossings, particularly of the main road, but if that’s the way the train went, that’s the way the trail will go.
One day, the 93-mile Lamoille Valley Rail Trail (now in development) will cross this one, and that could give it a popularity boost, especially if there’s a way to create a comfortable loop.
Starting and ending a bike ride in St. Albans
Overall, St. Albans turned out to be the right place to start and end our five-day loop. Day 5 was a 65-mile day, slightly edging out Day 1 for the most mileage. We were able to stay off major roads, something I’m less confident we’d have pulled off had we needed to get to Colchester, our original idea for the starting point. We spent the night before our first day in the saddle at the local La Quinta, which let us leave the car while we traveled. Had that not worked out, we’d have turned to the parking garage downtown.
Yes, Burlington gets all the love. St. Albans is small, just one-seventh its size, and that’s before all those Burlington suburbs. But it’s bike-friendly, has a prosperous-looking Main Street with restaurants and hipster coffee shops — and even its own craft brewery. And for those who don’t want to drive to the ride, this town has an Amtrak stop downtown. Burlington’s Amtrak stop is way out of town.
And here’s a fun St. Albans fact: A Civil War … “action” took place here. In 1864, 21 Confederates robbed three banks and escaped on horseback to Canada, where they were eventually arrested. The Canadians recovered some of the money but wouldn’t extradite the raiders.
We biked about 230 miles in five days. With so many choices of where to go, what to see and where to stay among the B&Bs on the Champlain Islands and along the Route Verte, there’s no limit to the ways to adapt our route, adding and subtracting to make it your own.