West Swanzey to East Swanzey to Swanzey Center is 13.9 miles; it’s easy to moderate. Total elevation gain: 670 feet. It features miles of pastoral meadows with a few dashes of suburban neighborhoods mixed in.
Start at the Community Church parking lot in West Swanzey at the corner of Main and Holbrook Streets. It’s across the street from the Stratton Free Library — yes, it’s a jewel box, and yes, you should stop in if it’s open. General principle: if you see a town library is open, check it out. The architecture is always compelling. Next, head south on Holbrook Avenue and cross the rail trail that you’ll join at the end of the ride. This road was just paved. Bikers refer to this as velvet asphalt, as it makes the riding sublime.
After about a mile and a half, take a left on Swanzey Lake Road. The next half-mile is meadow heaven and it hints at many meadows to come. You’ll ride up along Indian Brook over a low ridge and down past the outlet of Swanzey Lake. If you’re looking for a post-ride swim, the town beach at Richardson Lake Park is your go-to spot.
Continue through meadows, past a few handsome capes, along a pleasant valley for a mile and take a right onto Warmac Road. At Route 32, take a left and go north for about a half-mile to a right on Blake Road. Poof, you’re not in Kansas anymore and you’ve been sent down in a suburban neighborhood.
A quick right on Goodell and then left on Old Richmond Road across Bridge Brook, through more rural ‘burbs until you enter the scattered remains of the lost village of East Swanzey — best preserved are the old schoolhouse and the Swanzey Community House facing each other on both sides of the road. These are both attractively preserved historic buildings.
The next section is a bit complicated. You’re going to drop down steeply to cross the south branch of the Ashuelot. Take a left on South Road and then an immediate right on a steep little connector road up to Webber Hill Road and across to a right onto Carleton Road. It’s flat for a few tenths of a mile and then there’s a nice downhill. But make sure to catch the righthand turn onto Whitcomb Road before the bottom of the hill. If you make it to the cute, little Carlton covered bridge, you’ve gone too far.
Whitcomb Road is pleasantly flat with more rural ‘burbs and a gun club somewhere along there. Not notably pretty, but it’s much better than busy Route 32 that you’re paralleling. It’s a couple of miles up to Oliver Hill Road, where you’ll take a left and then cruise past the extensive Whitcomb sand and gravel pit. There are all kinds of interesting features here at what appears to be this undistinctive place.
Across the road is a go-kart place — great weekend recreation with the kids — and behind that is the end of the main runway at the Keene airport. This is a great location to watch planes land, especially at night when all of the runway lights are on.
Next, head south on Route 32, Old Homestead Highway, and back across the South Branch of the Ashuelot to Monadnock High School on the left and Mt. Caesar Elementary on the right. You’re now in Swanzey Center. Slip through the elementary school parking lot and turn right on Eaton Road for a quarter of a mile. Turn right again on Sawyer’s Crossing Road for about a quarter-mile to the elegant Sawyer’s Crossing covered bridge, across the main stem of the Ashuelot River.
Geographic note: Take a look at a map and try to make sense of all of the comings and goings of the Ashuelot River and its branches in Swanzey. It’s remarkably twisty and turn-y. The Ashuelot rises about 30 miles north of Keene; it’s rocky and rapid-y until it gets to the Surry Mountain Dam above Keene. After that, it’s carving its way through silty, depositional soil that was once the bottom of a post glacial lake bed — hence the flatness of Keene and much of Swanzey, and it’s the reason why so many of these bike rides are mellowly unhilly. In silty soil, rivers kink and meander effortlessly, making for zillions of little abandoned oxbow lakes you’ll never see because they’re lost in thickets of river bottom forest filled with poison ivy and dense shrubs. It’s fun to look at on the map though!
After you pass through the bridge, just past Matthews Road, look for the rail trail on your left. From here back to your car, it’s an uncomplicated counterpoint to all of those right, left, rights back in East Swanzey. Once you’re on the rail trail, you’ll cross the Ashuelot again (wait, didn’t we just do this?) on an old trestle bridge and then head south and west through hemlock woods back to West Swanzey. As you end the rail trail and exit onto Railroad Street, check out the beautiful Queen Anne house featuring an unusual artist palette on the gable over the front entrance. Turn the corner and you’re back to your car; it’s less than a half-mile over to the West LA brewery.
West LA Beer Company — West Swanzey.
Blink and you’ll miss it as you speed by the antique stores, hair salons, ice cream stand and gas stations on Route 10 heading south from Keene. West LA, which stands for Lower Ashuelot, is slivered into a small commercial building on the west side of the road and it makes a great post-ride refreshment stop.
Head inside, pick up your IPA and bend around back to where there’s an amply sized beer garden with tables (spaced appropriately far enough apart) with umbrellas to provide shade. It’s lovely and cozy. We had the nice lime-zested Patrick Swanzey IPA. And there were at least three other brews I wanted to try.
Bike often and support local brewing!
Backroads Biking is features a series of backroads bike loops throughout the Monadnock region. They all seek out quiet, untrafficked roads and the hidden historical features, beautiful landscapes, nooks and crannies of the nearby, explorable world. They’ll range from 8 to 15 miles, from easy to challenging. They can be good for after work or a weekend amble. Also included will be suggestions for cool swimming spots, culinary delicacies and micro-breweries to explore.