Going west to east, the trail starts at on Sharpner’s Pond Road at the North Andover-Middleton line, near its intersection with Essex Street/Salem Road. There is a sign for the Essex Railway Trail at the rail trail entrance. Total distance of the trail to the Danvers line is approximately 4.5 miles.
The trail starts in a mature forest. You will likely see water on both sides of the trail. This is the main channel and floodplain wetlands of Boston Brook, which flows south and east toward its mouth at the Ipswich River. You may notice several beaver dams and lodges along this section, along with opportunities to see the beavers in the water. Other wildlife in the area include fisher, otter, skunk, squirrel, mice, deer, coyotes and many types of birds.
At approximately .5 miles, you will cross through some boulders on the trail, which currently present a modest challenge to carry a bike or stroller. While traveling over this 2-mile section from Sharpner’s Pond to Leitner Way, you will cross three narrow foot bridges. The second and third bridge go over the main channel of Boston Brook. You will also need to pass through a metal gate, which can be opened by unfastening a clip that keeps it shut. Please close the gate and refasten the clip after passing through it.
The next intersection, at approximately 1.5 miles, is with Leitner Way, a new subdivision street. After Leitner Way, Boston Brook turns east away from the railroad bed.
At approximately 1.6 miles, the wooded trail briefly ends and comes out on Old Essex Street. Go left on this road until it ends at Essex Street. Cross the street and go left about 200 feet and the wooded trail resumes.
During this stretch, you will notice an area with high cliff walls on both sides of the trail. This is a place where the railroad engineers had to blast through a few hundred yards of granite ledge using black powder. A few drill holes for the explosive can be seen in the mini-canyon walls.
After a short distance, you will once again see water on both sides of the trail. This is now the Emerson Brook watershed, which also flows to the Ipswich River. You will have a crossing at DeBush Avenue and soon after, a second crossing at Essex Street at the 2.3-mile mark.
The trail next crosses back over Essex Street where there are breathtaking views of the Emerson Pond area from both sides of the road.
The trail then leaves from Emerson Brook and crosses Park Street. Shortly after Park Street are a couple of scenic ponds on the right and then the recreational fields at Howe-Manning School, also on the right. The trail then bears left on a long road/driveway that runs next to Howe-Manning school and the former Central Street Train Station. The trail crosses Central Street at approximately 3 miles and resumes a wooded walk, through a somewhat more settled area. NOTE: taking a right at Central Street will quickly lead you to Middleton Green (Middleton Center) and Route 114.
More houses will be visible along the next stretch of trail between Central and Maple Street (Route 62). The trail passes near the Old Town Hall and Tramp House on Maple Street and behind the Congregational Church on Webb Street, where a brief climb up to the road and back down to the trail is required.
Soon, the trail comes to Maple Street (Route 62). Go briefly left on sidewalk past Liberty Street and look for the trail across the street. The Town will be improving this intersection in the spring of 2020 to make it safer for pedestrians to cross. Cross Maple Street very carefully and continue on the trail to Oak Street, where it briefly ends. Go left on Oak Street until it ends at Maple Street. Go right on the sidewalk on Maple Street and over the bridge across the Ipswich River, where there are extensive views of the river. At this point you have traveled roughly 3.9 miles along the trail. The state is currently planning to replace the existing bridge in 2024 with one that includes a separate pedestrian bridge that will re-connect the trail over the Ipswich River.
Go right at Perkins Road (next street), and then go left where the trail restarts. The trail crosses Gregory Street, behind the former Howes Train Station. You will soon see extensive farm fields on the right. The Middleton trail ends after 4.5 miles at Hathorne in west Danvers. Danvers recently added a .8 rail trail section, going eastward from the Middleton line to Access Road, near Lahey Outpatient Center.