Paved Trails

Hanover Branch Rail Trail

1409 Hanover St, Hanover, MA 02339, USA

Town of Hanover: 781-826-5000

Owned By: Massachusetts Department of Conservation & Recreation

The Hanover Branch Rail Trail was established as a public trail in 2023. This wide, paved, shady pathway follows a former railroad bed for about a half mile. It connects directly with the Rockland Rail Trail, which extends for 3 miles from the Hanover-Rockland town line to North Abington. Both are wheelchair- and stroller-friendly.


The Hanover Branch Rail Trail, which connects to the Rockland Rail Trail, extends through West Hanover for about a half mile. But you can continue additional 3 miles through Rockland, to Monroe Street in North Abington. Because it is fully paved, it can be used not only by hikers and cyclists, but also people who use walkers, wheelchairs, and baby strollers.

The Hanover Branch Railroad once extended for 7.8 miles from Hanover Four Corners, through South and West Hanover, across Rockland, to North Abington, where it connected with the Old Colony Railroad to Plymouth. Incorporated in 1846, and constructed over the better part of the next 20 years, it officially opened for service in 1868.

Edward Young (E. Y.) Perry — a businessman, Justice of the Peace, and abolitionist — operated a large tack factory in South Hanover, and was largely responsible for the creation of the railway. According to Martha Campbell’s Remembering Old Abington, it was his idea, and he financed it, operated it and provided business for it. He also owned a general store (now Myette’s) and constructed the building in South Hanover that for many years housed a series of a shoe factories – Goodrich, Cochran, and Shanley — and later the Clapp Rubber Company. The railway facilitated the transport of materials and finished products to and from these and other enterprises. While freight handling was its primary source of revenue, it also offered passenger service.

The Old Colony Railroad absorbed the Hanover Branch in 1887. In 1893, the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad took over the lease. The railroad continued to operate well into the 20th century. In 1969, after Penn Central purchased it, the track were torn up from West Hanover to Hanover Four Corners. In 1973, the Massachusetts MBTA took over what remained of the line.

The effort to convert the railway to a walking trail began in 1999, with the adoption of Rockland’s new (at the time) Master Plan. A top priority was the development of open and recreational space. The towns of Rockland and Hanover worked together to acquire two Greenways Grants from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. A land swap related to the re-establishment of the Greenbush Line (Hingham, Cohasset, and Scituate) transferred the land from the MBTA to the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, with oversight by the National Park Service.

The Rockland Open Space Committee worked with Iron Horse Preservation Society to remove the ties, and tracks, and to grade the land for trail use. Since opening to the public, it has become a much-loved and well-used community resource. In 2022 and 2023, the Town of Hanover extended the trail into West Hanover.

There are general plans to extend the Hanover Branch Rail Trail much farther into Hanover, all the way to Broadway. Please note that this is a long-term project with numerous issues to be resolved before it can go forward. Watch this space for updates!

These days, many of Massachusetts’ former railroad beds are overseen by the state Department of Conservation and Recreation. However in Hanover, a few sections of the former railroad bed are overseen by the town. These include a section from Luddens Ford Park, along the Indian Head River to the Hanson line, and a section near the Hanover Senior Center, in the Nava-Stasiluk Conservation Area.

This land is within the region of the Massachusett (or Massachuseuk). To learn more about local Native American tribes, we encourage you to interact with their members. The Mattakeeset band of the Massachusett and the Massachusett tribe at Ponkapoag both share information on their websites. 

Trail Description

The trail is paved, 10 feet wide, and 3.5 miles long (with about half mile so far in Hanover). The primary access point is on Hanover Street (Route 139) in West Hanover, where there is a large parking area. There is additional access at two spots in Rockland — 638 Market Street and at the Rockland Police Department (500 Market Street). (See listing for Rockland Rail Trail.)

From the Hanover Street access point, the trail currently (2023) extends 0.38 miles to the east, ending just before a bridge over the Drinkwater River. Or head west, toward Rockland. Follow the crosswalks across Hanover and Pleasant Streets and then continue 0.12 miles on the paved trail, and onward into Rockland and Abington (3 additional miles).

There is a road crossing is at the Rockland Police Department. Each crossing in Rockland is marked with a yellow metal gate that permits individuals to pass, but not cars. The trail is very easy to follow. Each time it crosses a road, a crosswalk and signage give trail users the right of way. Still, it’s important to proceed with caution through all intersections. Some of them are relatively quiet, but others involve major roadways such as Routes 139 and 123.

Heading west, the trail continues through residential areas and eventually passes by Rockland’s Senior Center, the Rockland Golf Course, and Rockland High School. It continues into Abington, crossing Charles Street and ending at Monroe Street.

Don’t miss the section of original rails at the Hanover Street access point. There are additional rails on display at the Union Street (Rockland) crossing, along with an informational kiosk.

Trail Rules: Cyclists must yield to pedestrians. Clean up after your pets. Horses and motorized vehicles are prohibited, as are fires, alcohol and smoking.

Habitats and Wildlife

The Hanover section of the trail is lined with maple, pine, oak, hemlock, sweet pepper bush and cherry. Cushing Brook flows alongside the trail, and the Drinkwater River passes under it (at the bridge at the current eastern terminus). Both are sources of the North River.

According to Martha Campbell’s Remembering Old Abington, the name “Drinkwater River” is said to be an Anglicized version of the original Native American name for the stream, Nannumackeuitt, “which meant that a hollow stem had to be used as a straw when sucking up water from this shallow, sluggish stream.”

French’s Stream and the Drinkwater River flow together just upstream of Forge Pond. The Drinkwater River continues to flow southeast of Forge Pond, into Factory Pond. From there, the waterway turns east and is known as the Indian Head River. It joins Herring Brook in Pembroke and Hanover to form the North River, which flows 12 miles through Hanover, Pembroke, Norwell, Marshfield, and Scituate, to the Atlantic Ocean.

  • A photograph of a property sign on grass beside a roadway.
  • A photograph of a wide paved trail bordered on one side with woods.
  • A photograph of a wide paved trail beside a roadway.
  • A photograph of a stream through a wetland, with blue sky.
  • A photograph of a wide paved trail through a green woodland.
  • A photograph of a stream through a green wetland, with blue sky.
  • A photograph of old railroad rails beside a paved trail, with grass on one side.
  • A photograph of a green freshwater wetland.
  • A photograph of two benches beside a paved trail, with grass.
  • A photograph of a stream through a green wetland with scattered trees.
  • A photograph of a paved parking area.
1409 Hanover St, Hanover, MA 02339, USA

Historic Site: No

Park: No

Beach: No

Boat Launch: No

Lifeguards: No

Size: 0.5 miles

Hours: Dawn to Dusk

Parking: Parking lot at 1409 Hanover Street.

Cost: Free

Trail Difficulty: Easy


Bicycle rack, benches.

Dogs: Dogs must be kept on a short leash at all times.

Boat Ramp: No

ADA Access: Yes

Scenic Views: Yes

Waterbody/Watershed: Cushing Brook, Drinkwater River (North River watershed)

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