Biking the East Coast Greenway: 19 traffic-free miles on Connecticut’s Air Line Trail from Willimantic to Pomfret

I’ve cycled almost all of the East Coast Greenway. I’m spending three days riding sections I haven’t yet ridden, starting with Connecticut’s Air Line Trail.

It’s such a great feeling when you turn on your bike computer and it says next turn in 19 miles.

That was our experience on the first of three days of bike riding in Connecticut and Rhode Island. I’ve ridden almost all of the East Coast Greenway, and I’m now shrinking the size of my remaining gap. We were biking the Air Line Trail from Willimantic, Connecticut, and we wouldn’t leave it until we reached Pomfret Station.

And if we’d just waited a bit longer, our traffic-free stretch would be even longer. A bridge is going in to cross the road, some tunnels have already been installed and a few more miles of the Air Line Trail are being upgraded. By early next year, it will be a 22-mile trail to Putnam. (That’s just the Pomfret-Putnam line, not to downtown Putnam. 1.4 miles still to go. It’s never as easy as you’d like.)

UPDATE: More of the trail is done!

Us? We took to the road to capture a few of those miles, which meant a few ups and downs. The trail will be much easier. (And of course we had to bike back to Willimantic, so this was a 44-45-mile day.)

But with no trail, you’d miss catching sight of this 15-bedroom fixer-upper of a mansion now on the market for the knock-down price of $1.4 million (down from $2.9 million when it listed in 2011!). DIY skills helpful. Annual property taxes: nearly $29,000.

We appreciated the trail even more as we drove to our campsite in Oneco (that’s O-nee-ko) at the eastern end of Connecticut. (Not yet ready to stay in hotels.) Sure, there were some elevation gains, but nothing like what we experienced driving.

What’s the Air Line Trail like? This is an unpaved trail, mostly wide and with a crushed stone surface. But there is a mile, roughly in the middle, where the rocks are bigger than I’d have liked. The next couple of miles eastward are somewhere in between that and the smoother crushed stone of the rest of the trail.

There are barriers well before every road crossing, and the space between that and rocks is narrow. No idea how anyone with a bike trailer gets through beyond pushing it under the barriers.

One of the hardest things to figure out when planning a ride like this is where to park. We had planned on a Willimantic trailhead. The first looked empty and unappealing, so we looked at Riverside Drive just behind Main Street. Three-hour parking limit.

The last thing we want to worry about is an expensive parking ticket, so we decided to ask the police department for advice. It turns out the person who enforces parking rules doesn’t work on Sunday so we’d be OK. (Don’t take this as fact when you decide to park there on a Sunday!)

The lot was so empty that when we found another parking area just where the trail started, we decided to move the car. This might have been just into Windham, and the area didn’t look great. But at least there were plenty of cars and no time limit. Just no cars with bike racks. Pomfret Station is where we found that. Would it have been a smarter choice? We could have taken a mid-ride break in Willimantic, which had better food options. And it turns out driving time would have been similar.

Masked up in Willimantic, the thread city!

What’s it like on the other side of Willimantic? (It’s sharrows on Riverside Drive through town.) We’ve ridden to Bolton Notch State Park, all on trail, but there’s been a lot of work in the last several years to extend the trail to East Hartford. Looks like it’s now a 25-mile traffic-free stretch. So from East Hartford to the Pomfret-Putnam line, you can soon pedal nearly 50 miles almost all on trail — wow! (Get your free cue sheets here.)

Author: alliumstozinnias

A gardener (along with the Brit) who has discovered there is more than hybrid tomatoes. And a cyclist.

6 thoughts on “Biking the East Coast Greenway: 19 traffic-free miles on Connecticut’s Air Line Trail from Willimantic to Pomfret”

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