Ride the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail
Courtesy Farmington Valley Trails Council
By Cornel Matarrese
(c) Connecticut Explored Inc.
Imagine riding your bike on a sunny afternoon. The fresh air is blowing gently in your face. You listen to the birds chirping. You are calmly riding on a bike trail. You can see the peaceful flow of a river nearby. These are some of the things you might experience on the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail.
One warm summer day, my family and I explored the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail (FCHT). We rode our bikes seven miles. We rode through Simsbury to Granby. It was a beautiful route with all sorts of nature to see. We saw a deer on the trail. We enjoyed the trail very much.
A deer spotted along the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail, Hamden. photo: Elizabeth J. Normen
The Farmington Canal trail is about 80 miles long. It goes from New Haven, Connecticut to Northampton, Massachusetts. Fifty-four miles of the total trail go through Connecticut. The first six miles were opened in 1996.
Farmington Canal Heritage Trail, New Haven. photo: Elizabeth J. Normen
The Farmington Canal Heritage Trail goes back to 1822. A group of business people decided to build a canal. It would start in New Haven. It would go north to Massachusetts. This explains the word “canal” in the name of the trail.
A canal is a man-made river. A canal is used to transport goods. Read about the Farmington Canal in “Canal Crazy in Connecticut.”
This map from 1848 shows the route of the Farmington Canal. The Farmington Canal Heritage Trail takes roughly this same route.
The canal closed in 1847. It had a lot of problems. During floods and droughts the canal couldn’t fully operate. The canal leaked. Its sides caved in. It constantly needed repairs.
Railroads were beginning to be built in Connecticut. Railroads seemed like a more dependable form of transportation. Railroads were not usually affected by the weather. Trains moved goods and people faster.
The canal was filled in. Train tracks were laid on top. Eventually though, railroads were replaced by a newer technology. Companies chose trucks to move their goods. Cars and busses could move people closer to where they wanted to go. The railroad over the former canal closed by the late 1980s. It had operated for more than 100 years.
Farmington River rail trail which connects to the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail. Courtesy of Farmington Valley Trails Council
A group of people came up with the idea to replace the rails with a trail. The trail would be used for walkers and bicyclers. In 1987 a group of people got permission to replace the railroad tracks with a public trail. This was during the “rails-to-trails” movement. In 1992 the Farmington Valley Trails Council (FVTC) opened the trail to the public.
What You’ll See
The FCHT is a beautiful trail. It follows the Farmington River. You get nice views of nature. The trail also passes through several towns. The town centers are great places to stop for a break. You can find a place to eat, and places to shop and relax along the way.
The trail starts at the famous Yale University campus in New Haven. You can also visit Lock 12 Historical Park in Cheshire. This is where you can see the remains of the former canal.
William Lanson statue along the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail, Canal Street, New Haven. photo: Elizabeth J. Normen. Lanson was an important businessman and entrepreneur in New Haven who constructed the New Haven section of the canal in 1825.
Find maps and information on the trail’s website: fchtrail.org
Lock 12 Historical Park, Cheshire
487 North Brooksvale Road, Cheshire. The park contains a pavilion, picnic area, a restored 150 year old canal lock (one of the original Farmington Canal locks) and a museum which is open by appointment only.
Cornel Matarrese wrote this as a fourth grader in Simsbury, Connecticut.
“The Ill-Fated Farmington Canal,” Connecticut Explored, Spring 2008
Turtle crossing the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail, Hamden. photo: Elizabeth J. Normen
Mural along the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail near the Hamden/New Haven line. photo: Elizabeth J. Normen