Reformatory Branch Trail


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Reformatory Branch Trail Facts

States: Massachusetts
Counties: Middlesex
Length: 3.9 miles
Trail end points: Depot Park (Bedford) and SR 62 at Keyes Rd. (Concord)
Trail surfaces: Dirt
Trail category: Rail-Trail
ID: 6032347
Trail activities: Mountain Biking, Walking, Cross Country Skiing

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Reformatory Branch Trail Description

The rugged and beautiful Reformatory Branch Trail meanders more than 4 miles through three natural areas: Elm Brook Conservation Area, Mary Putnam Webber Wildlife Preserve, and Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge. It is the perfect route for escaping the city to rediscover nature.

Westbound from the Bedford Depot Park trailhead on Railroad Avenue, you'll first reach Elm Brook Conservation Area. Its 19.3 acres of protected wetlands and floodplain offer additional biking and hiking trails through an enchanting red maple forest.

Almost immediately after leaving the conservation area and crossing Hartwell Road, you'll see signs for Mary Putnam Webber Wildlife Preserve. This 20-acre parcel is also mostly wetland and acts as a wildlife corridor for the many species that live within the surrounding wetland and woodland habitats. Trails on the left leading into this area eventually lead to the hiking-only Massport trail around Hanscom Airfield.

At Concord Turnpike, the trail crosses a gravel parking lot and continues across the street behind the guardrail; it's a very narrow path here, but once you descend the small hill, it opens up again to a proper rail-trail. Regrettably, the wooden bridge that carried traffic over the railroad was removed in 1967. Be careful when crossing the busy turnpike, as drivers are not given warning of the trail crossing.

You will quickly arrive at Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge. This massive freshwater wetland covers more than 3,600 acres and stretches 12 miles along the Concord and Sudbury rivers. Birders take note: The National Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages the site, offers an annotated list of the area's 220 avian species. The refuge also shelters white-tailed deer, muskrats, red fox, raccoons, cottontail rabbits, weasels, amphibians, and several nonpoisonous snake species. Bicycles are not permitted on trails within the refuge; to explore, lock your bike to one of several trailside benches, or the bike rack near the telescope-equipped lookout tower, and take off on foot.

Back on the main trail, you'll leave natural tranquility behind as you draw closer to Concord. For approximately the last mile of trail, you will cross several roads; the trail ends shortly after crossing Lowell Road at the Concord River. The railroad corridor continues for another 2.5 miles, passing the reformatory for which it was named, but the bridge over the river is now gone.

Parking and Trail Access

To reach the Bedford Depot Park trailhead, from Interstate 95/State Route 128, take Exit 31B for State Routes 4/225 north toward Bedford. After 1.1 miles on SR 225, turn left on Loomis Street. Loomis Street turns into Railroad Avenue; where the road bends to the right, look for the trailhead parking lot. You may park here or in the paved parking lot at the Minuteman Bikeway trailhead back on Loomis Street.

To access the trailhead in Concord, take Interstate 495 to State Route 2 east toward Concord. In town, turn left on SR 2A east/Elm Street, which soon becomes Main Street. Park in the lot behind the Concord Visitor Center (64 Main Street) then follow the road directly behind the visitor center to the trailhead at Lowell Street.

Reformatory Branch Trail Reviews

I stumbled upon this path after riding around minuteman national park (also great for cx, just be careful of the crowds). The trail is well maintained and pretty. I have ridden end to end and i like that it hooks up with the Minuteman bike path. The path has a few bumps along the way, with one rolling stretch right after crossing 62 heading east. They're kind of fun to ride over though. The only downside to this trail is that it has sever manholes that jut out in the middle of it. This won't bother the average runner/hiker/walker but if you're on a bike you need to be careful. Some seem to come out of nowhere and can easily knock you off your bike if you hit them head on. I recommend checking it out, but be mindful of pedestrians!

This is a beautiful ride with a few caveats. First, I would not encourage absolute beginners to try this trail. Despite some of the reviews, this trail is mostly dirt with occasional sandy spots; the gravel from when the trail was a single gauge railway is mostly gone. You should have a cross-terrain or mountain bike for best results. The conditions will deteriorate after a rain which will produce a muddy ride, so check the forecast before you leave.

Progress along the trail is not clearly marked and if it's your first time, you would benefit from looking over a trail guide or simply use Google Maps set to the bicycle icon. Take note of the significant landmarks mentioned in the trail description accompanying this article.

Since much of the trail used to be a narrow gauge railroad, you need to prepare to move over to the right when approaching oncoming bike/hiker traffic.

However, once you accept the fact that conditions are not as smooth as the Minuteman trail (that being more of a bike "parkway"), you will be rewarded with significantly less nuisance (i.e., strollers, tricycles, skateboarders, and the clueless). What's more, the scenery and wildlife is outstanding; you will have access to among the best spots in the world to enjoy nature, The Great Meadows Wildlife Refuge. The ride is a relatively short hop from The Bedford Depot, about 4 miles and at the trail's end, you can enjoy breakfast, lunch, or coffee at the eponymous "The Trail's End Cafe". You are also only a short ride from Concord Center and its myriad historic sites and interesting shops.

Happy Trails!

I’ve ridden the Minuteman trail, but didn’t know much about either the Bedford Narrow Gauge Trail, or the Reformatory Branch Trail which is close by, so reading the other reviews, I loaded up my cyclocross bike and decided to try both of them out. I parked at Depot Park in Bedford, which is a lovely little park at the site of the station and freight house, both restored from 1877, in the center of Bedford. This is also where the Minuteman Bikeway and the other two trails all come together and are accessible. There is plenty of parking, even for a Sunday, but don’t park in the VFW spaces, which I almost did until I read the clearly displayed signs!

Ride your bike to the west on Railroad Ave. to get to the trailhead, (along side the Bikeway Source bike shop in the big red building as of this date) for about ¼ mile. Where RR Ave makes a big sweeping turn to the right, is where the well marked trailhead is to the left. Except for some short deviations, the trail follows the old rail bed route, and the surface is gravel with occasional dirt stretches. Even with the deviations, I had no trouble at all following the route; it was very obvious to me, anyway. It’s mostly wooded, passing several conservation areas including, and notably, the Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge (no bikes, though) and Minuteman National Historic Park. At the Monument St. crossing, close to the end of the trail in Concord, I most highly recommend deviating from the trail by turning north on Monument St and going the ¼ mile to see the Old North Bridge historical site, where the second (after Lexington Green) of the two earliest skirmishes took place that inflamed the American Revolutionary War.

I rode this on a dry day. If there had been recent rain, several areas on this trail would be wet and mucky. In fact, consider postponing the ride on this trail until conditions are dry, or be prepared to deal with longer sections of glop and muck. In dry conditions, it’s quite enjoyable and fine. Ride a mountain bike or a fat tired cyclocross or hybrid bike, not a road bike – there are a couple of very short technical sections though, but for families and older kids it is quite appropriate. Mind the street crossings.

See my comments also about the Bedford Narrow Gauge Trail under that listing


I embarked on the trail out of Concord and turned back after a mile or so. Perhaps if I had a mountain bike I could have endured the rugged turrain a while longer.

There were no signs off of Lowell Rd, or the Visitors Center in Concord, so found my way by trial and error.

Just getting back into biking again, and have to say, I was really dissapointed with this trail. Will try others.

I utilize the Reformatory Branch Trail on my way from Somerville to Walden Pond in Concord, and it's one of my favorite parts of the ride. The trail is unpaved and frequently very bumpy due to roots, rocks, manhole covers, and other obstacles, but it is FUN! I ride a hybrid/cruiser bike, and as it is my only bike, I can't compare how this ride might be on a road bike.

I especially enjoy the section on the west side where the trail forms small rolling hills, and if you bike fast enough it feels like you're riding a roller coaster.

This trail is certainly not for everyone or every bike, but I think it's a joy to ride. Contributing to the five star review I'm giving this trail is the trail maintenance. Last time I rode it, there was a large downed tree, with the branchy part covering the path. It was easy enough to walk around (but not over), but I had to get off my bike. A few hours later, when I was riding back home, the tree was already cleaned up!

I was In the area for Mothers day and did this trail. It is not a long trail but with a little T.L.C this could be a hole lot better. There is a great canopy and has a lot of great tweets and turns, it has a single track feel to it. There are a couple of very wet spots but the over all trail is dry. I would only do this on a Mt Bike or a Cross Bike. This is not a family friendly trail. It runs next to the Great Meadows Wildlife Refuge and has some great views.

While it is a beautiful trail, it is often muddy. After periods of heavy rain, the trail can be almost impassible to many types of bikes. Mountain bikes or hybrids with wide, knobby tires are best.

As listed, this is an unpaved trail, so it's more suited for mountain/hybrid bikes. I've biked from Boston to Concord a few times in every season. Although the Minuteman Bikeway is great, it is a bit dull and oftentimes crowded. The Reformatory Branch Trail is such a delightful change of pace! In its 4.5 miles, the trail ranges from extremely narrow to wide and the scenery and trail condition keeps changing. There's never a dull moment on this trail! It's also very very quiet. I never encountered more than 10 people on the whole way even on weekends. It can be a little tricky after rains though. Some portions of the trail have very soft dirt and can be very muddy. I had to get off and walk my bike twice during my trip last weekend. So if you are a relatively experienced biker and like something interesting, you should definitely check out this trail.

Started out on Concord ctr. end at parking lot. There are no signs at all from keyes rd or the immediate area. We went up monument st and still did not see a sign for trail. I will start at other end next time.

This trail turned out to be much more than I expected. I had plans to Hike Wapack trail, slept through the morning so had to cancel my plans. I was wondering where to go hiking, could not find many places as the Sun sets early these days. I wanted to try this trail for quite some time. I was in no mood to bike. Left the Bike with car and decided to walk the trail. I was a little doubtfull about the trail to startwith as it looked like the trail was unmaintained. I was totally wrong. Walking on this trail is like walking in the woods.
There are houses on one side and trees on the other. It was quite,lot of trees on either side,chirping of the birds, rough path,secluded trail -- was wonderful. There are about 3 wild life conservation areas along this trail. When I was walking back I took a detour into two of the wild life conservation areas. It was worth. There are few more trails amidst the woods.These trails look like they are really into the deep forest like areas and they are marked. Could hear many birds chirping and flying around.I could not walk all the trails but took about a couple of them.My desire to hike in the woods was satisfied as this trail did give me the feeling.

Left Bedford west from Loomis St at the start of the Minuteman.
The start is about 200 yards to the west of the station and not marked. Heads off into the wood at what looks like parking area with porta pottie just before school. Nice single track with about 3 short sections of mud. The first road crossing was confusing and I did not see the path down the the next section. Look just to the right of and behind the gardrail. I did not follow to the end because of high water in the concord river by the North bridge. Thanks to two local riders for leading me thru Concord over to the Battle Trail to return.

"The surface of this trail is really quite smooth except for a few isolated spots with some roots and rocks. It's excellent for hiking, jogging and mountain biking. A side trail leads directly to the Great Meadows parking area and the observation tower. Another side trail leads to the famous cemetery with ""Author's Ridge"" (Thoreau, Hemingway). Also, you can park near the Concord commuter rail station, follow the trail east until it becomes the bikeway, then all the way to Cambridge. From there it's a quick ""T"" ride to Porter Square where you can pick up the commuter rail back to Concord. That's 15 miles total trip, point-to-point."

"If you’ve reached the Minuteman Bikeway’s Bedford trailhead after starting at a point due east and think that’s as far west as the old railroad right-of way will take you, well you’re simply mistaken. You may head west on Railroad Avenue in Bedford, rejoin the right-of-way within a few city blocks, and continue on through to Concord.

With the exception of short paved segment in western Bedford used as an access road to a municipal utility station, the Reformatory Branch Trail is a hard packed dirt surface with many exposed roots, rocks, and old railroad ties in place. Trail width along most of the route is what I would classify as single track; if you’re the type that picks up poison ivy easily, this trail isn’t for you. However, a portion of the trail does cut through a US Government Wildlife Conservation Area and the surface there is much wider. There are a few pretty busy street crossing along the way, none with crosswalks or safety signs.

For the most part views along the trail are limited to heavily wooded areas and the backs of a few homes. The Bedford trailhead is adjacent to an athletic field and the trail terminates in Concord near a gas station/convenience store. Markers posted on trees at several points along the route identify this route a being a piece of the “Bay Circuit Trail” network.

If you have a mountain bike with suspension or a comfortable pair of hiking shoes, this trail should be included on your list of “things to do.”"

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