There are a lot of old unused roads that connect dirt roads in the area between Norwich, Union Village, South Strafford, and West Norwich. They can’t all be covered here, but they’re not too hard to find with a USGS topo or a look at a Northern Cartographic Vermont map book. I don’t want to give everything away, and besides, exploring is half the fun.
This will point out a few of the better-known trails. You can mix and match them and explore added terrain to create a variety of rides.
Gile Mountain Power Lines to Strafford return on Turnpike
VERY DEMANDING ride (3+ hours)
This is a long, physically difficult, and sometimes technically challenging ride. A large proportion of the ride is on single-track and jeep roads. It makes a large loop from Norwich to South Strafford and back. There are good views from the top of Gile Mountain and from the cleared area under the power lines. This is one of the rare rides on which there is both good, difficult riding, and a food stop — the general store in Strafford.
How To Get There:
From the center of Norwich, head east on the main street past Dan & Whit’s. Just before heading up the big hill east of town, take a left onto Turnpike Road and continue straight on this for several miles. The road ascends gradually on pavement and then turns to dirt. Continue until the road makes a sharp left and then a right turn as it passes under high-tension power lines. Within two-hundred yards after crossing under the power lines, there is a small wooden bridge leading to a trail from the left side of the road.
Take this trail, but don’t ride your bike over the bridge without inspecting it. This trail leads up the hill, out of the woods, under the power lines, and back into the woods on the south side of the power lines. Continue through the overgrown log landing area and across several small streams on corduroy bridges. This is all uphill. Eventually the trail emerges from the woods back out under the power lines. The trail forks here. Take the left on the trail that continues under the power lines. A right will bring you to the parking lot for the Gile Mountain hiking trail at the end of the driveable section of Turnpike Road.
Continue up (still) under the power lines. At the top of the hill, turn around and look back at the view. Continue west under the power lines. Cross the hiking trail up Gile Mountain but don’t even think about riding up it. It wasn’t built for bikes and besides, there’s a much more exciting route to the top that’s perfect for mountain bikes ahead. The riding under the power lines is alternately ledgy (wide, usually-wet sections of bedrock), marshy, and rutted. Hub-deep water holes can be expected after rain. Work it…
A little ways further, a jeep trail crosses the power lines. A gate is on the right. The trail to the left is the trail to the top of Gile Mountain. The trail climbs a bit and comes to an intersection. Take a left again and go up steeply. A dismount and walk up the steep, rocky, usually wet gulch will probably be necessary. Remount at the top and cruise the remaining distance to the firetower at the top of Gile Mountain. When you’ve seen your fill, head back down the gulch; this is serious technical descent.
Back out under the power lines, continue west. Eventually, the trail does descend, steeply and roughly. Here, you reach the main bail-out point. If you’re tired now or the sun is going down, bail out. You’ve done the lesser half of the technical riding and maybe a third of the distance of the ride. This jeep road crosses between West Norwich (left) and the old Turnpike Road (right) that this ride returns on. To go to West Norwich, take the left and after a ledgy, rocky, short climb and descent, follow the dirt road onto which the trail empties. (You return to Norwich. Take a left when you reach the paved road.) To go to Turnpike Road and Norwich, take the right and descend on the ledgy, rocky, almost always wet downhill to Turnpike Road. Take a right when the trail dumps you into Turnpike, climb a little, go across the flat, and then down to the Gile Mountain parking lot at the end of the driveable section of Turnpike Road.
For those that continue on, the trail is more rutted, wetter, steeper, and rockier. Yeehah! After going through the bog just after the bail-out cross road, the trail climbs steeply again. Continue under the power lines. Stop and turn around to check out the views every once and a while. Eventually, the trail does descend again, steeply. This brings you to a fork in the trail, with a steep valley and hill in front of you. The trail leaves the power lines, one fork to the right into the woods, the other slightly downhill into the woods on the left side. I haven’t checked out the right trail yet — explore away.
Go down the left trail, which is much overgrown with small trees. These little nuisances place a premium on narrow handlebars. Follow the path downward, staying on the larger path and going downhill at any forks. The trail is a bit faint at several spots. You will come upon larger and larger trails and see a field on the right. Continue down and emerge on a dirt road somewhere between Sharon, Strafford, and Norwich.
Take a right and descend down this dirt road to a three-way intersection. Take a right and head north towards South Strafford. This road continues until you come out into downtown South Strafford. The ride is now 2/3 done distance-wise, and 3/4 done with the technical riding. But don’t despair. It’s still fun at high speeds. Go right on Route 132 East and order yourself some grinders at the General Store.
Back on your way, where Route 132 turns to the left at the end of Main Street, bear right and up the hill onto Mines Road. A little ways farther, take the right onto Turnpike Road, continuing up a steeper grade. At the end of the road, after a long climb, continue directly straight, without pause, with acceleration, as the well-traveled dirt road turns into an ancient woods road. This is a relatively tame ride, with a gradual ascent followed by a tame downhill. After a mile or two, you reach an intersection. The jeep trail to the left continues past an old graveyard to the abandoned copper mine and then onto a dirt road. This dirt road is Mines Road into South Strafford or New Boston Road into Norwich. It’s good riding down to the old copper mine. This is one of the few western-style descents around — long and straight with loose stones that can knock out fillings when ridden at high speeds. When you reach the orange moonscape, consider a short hike up the hill to check out the long, narrow, sixty-foot deep pit remaining from the copper mine. There’s a good view from there down and across the road to the tailings pond, which looks like an orange parking lot in hell.
Back at the intersection coming from South Strafford, straight ahead, Turnpike Road continues up to the intersection with the bail-out cross-trail described above. Continue on Turnpike Road up a ways and then down to the dirt road at the Gile Mountain parking lot. Enjoy the long downhill (it can get chilly) back into Norwich.
Copper Mines–Turnpike Road Ride
DEMANDING ride (2+ hours)
For a shorter, less physically and less technically demanding ride, link the Copper Mine and Turnpike Roads (counter-clockwise is the best way to ride this loop; the descent to the copper mine is not to be missed).
Take the directions from Norwich onto Turnpike Road, and continue straight when it ends as a car-road. After a climb and a descent, past a sharp left turn (to West Norwich), ride on the main trail to the right (Turnpike Road, which is actually straight ahead). Continue on the Copper Mines jeep road past the graveyard and down to the mines. When you reach the dirt road, which is called New Boston Road in Norwich and Copper Mines Road in South Strafford, take a left and head towards South Strafford.
As you’re heading downhill into South Strafford, take the sharp left onto Old Turnpike Road and follow the “Power Lines/South Strafford Ride” directions back to Norwich.