The GNR Bikepacking Route
Who says you have to venture deep into remote wild country to have a great bikepacking adventure. The GNR (Grand Nith Ramble) was designed not only to offer an extension to the BT 700 route, but to also take riders on a journey along two of southern Ontario’s most alluring rivers – the Grand and Nith.
For 2020, the GNR route is up on Trackleaders all season long for anyone interested in having their dot-watched as they pursue an ITT. It is supported by SPOT and Garmin InReach devices. Use this form to register. If not using your own device it is possible to rent one from Trackleaders. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org for info on pricing. But be sure to give yourself at least 2 weeks before your ride to allow for shipping. (The use of Trackleaders is not required to ride this route).
2020 Route UPDATES
1) The Health Valley trail beginnnig at the 2km mark of the route (shortly after leaving St. Jacob's when you pass under the Arthur street bridge) might still be closed due to flood damage. If so, here is a re-route you can use to meet back up with the main route. https://ridewithgps.com/routes/33373338
2) Webster Falls in Dundas remains closed. Riders can skip the out-and-back section starting at KM 125. But the beautiful Sherman falls at the 141 KM mark remains open.
3) The Mill Race trail into St. Jacob's at the 355km mark is closed for the time being. After you cross the bridge continue on three bridges road to Henry Street. Take this east to Queensway Drive and go north on this road in St. Jacob's. When approaching the mill race trail on Three Bridges rd there might be a gate down that says bridge closed for flooding. This is likely to keep cars off the bridge and unless there has been serious rain you can proceed around the gate and continue over the bridge.
A large network of doubletrack and singletrack trail riding along the Grand River and within the beautiful Dundas Conservation Area.
A handful of historic steel truss bridges spanning the Nith River - several of which are closed to vehicular traffic.
Lonely country roads with minimal traffic.
Local breweries to help quench a riders thirst.
Plentiful birdlife along the waterways.
Waterfalls galore in the Dundas area.
Plenty of options for idyllic riverside camping spots.
There are TWO route files you should have downloaded for the BT 700.
The route can be updated or modified at any time so it's best to review the route at any time for trip planning but download these shortly before your ride so you have the must up-to-date file.
This route file (https://ridewithgps.com/routes/30874383) with Points of Interest (POI) should be downloaded using the Ride with GPS mobile app (https://ridewithgps.com/help/mobile/). To download, simply click on the above route link while using your mobile device and it should pop up in the app, then click download. You can use it to navigate on a mobile device even when offline and all the Points of Interest including locations for food stores, hotels and camping areas will remain visible. Just tap on a POI and the additional information will be displayed such as the opening hours for food outlets. You need to zoom in on a particular area of the route as some POI’s overlap and many of them are not visible when zoomed out. Offline navigation is only available to subscribers of Ride with GPS.
App tips 1) When navigating with the mobile Ride with GPS app, it’s best not to rely solely on the voice prompts as sometimes they can steer you in the wrong direction. The line on the map remains the best navigation tool
2)When downloading the file using the Ride with GPS app it may say that it's downloaded but in reality it may not yet fully be downloaded on your phone so check to be sure before you set off. It can take a long time to properly download.
3) If running the Ride with Gps mobile app as you ride you can enable Live Logging so friends and family can follow your journey in live time.
The second route file you want to download is this one (https://ridewithgps.com/routes/31335821) which will go on navigation devices like Garmin and Wahoo. This is a smaller file with no POI's. It is not advised to download the larger file with POI's on these devices.
If downloading a .gpx file do not click on Reduce to 500 Points. This will result if poor navigation.
Some GPS navigation devices, including the Garmin eTrex, have a track-point limit to the .gpx files they can store. For this reason breaking up the route file into smaller segments might be necessary.
Need to Know
It must be stressed that the route is entirely unsupported and unsanctioned with no insurance provided. All riders are responsible for their own well-being on the route and ride at their own risk. The route developer takes no responsibility. There is no guarantee of route conditions at any given time. You are entirely responsible for your own safety and decisions that are made including accommodation and necessary detours. Planning and due diligence is imperative. It is advised to study the route map and make note of your supply options as well as some possible detours (these are marked with a Control Point symbol). If you are not comfortable riding a section of the route take any necessary alternatives. Planning and due diligence is imperative as is riding within your means. People "racing" the route do so at their own risk.
The designated start and end point is the red tractor at Ecocafe in the village of St. Jacob’s, but the route can be started at any point that best suits a rider.
The first half of the route involves the most trail sections while the second half features a greater amount of riding in the open countryside using as many gravel roads as possible.
It should take most riders between 2 to 3 days to complete the route. Those who are really ambitious will combine both the GNR and BT 700 in what I call the BT XL.
The GNR was designed to be a touring route and not a racing route. But nothing is stopping a rider from gunning for a time goal, but you do so at your own risk.
The route consists of approximately 70 percent non-pavement surfaces in the form of gravel roads, doubletrack, singletrack and rail trail. So even though the route runs into some fairly big urban centres it never really feels like you are too far removed from nature and countryside. With the exception of a few short sections, the trails used for the GNR are not especially technical and don’t require expert mountain bike skills.
The GNR is not as demanding as the BT 700 in terms of ruggedness and elevation gain. The total elevation is roughly 2,900 metres. But there are enough hefty inclines and other nuances in the route to keep riders from simply just cruising along. It can be rated as an intermediate ride, but also a good introduction to bikepacking.
The GNR can be tackled using either a gravel bike or a hard-tail mountain bike. If using a gravel/cross bike with 700 wheels, you’ll find some of the trail sections easier to ride with fatter tires, say a width of 40 or larger. You should also have some experience riding trails with this type of bike and run tubeless if possible. For mountain bikes, anything over 2.5-inch tires will be overkill. A mountain/gravel hybrid like a Salsa Cutthroat would also be a great choice for this route.
The route can be enjoyed from May to October. Because of the amount of riverside trails, it’s best avoided during a particularly wet spring.
Two waterfalls - Webster and Sherman - involve an out-and-back trip. These are picture-worthy spots, but these side-trips are optional.
There are a couple access points to old bridges where a sign suggests that you should not enter. But, indeed, you can proceed. These are indicated in the route file at the 233km and 316km marks.
Between the 34km and 38km are three sections of singletrack along the Grand River. These are easy to miss but keep a lookout for them as they are very fun to ride.
I have noted several “wild” camping options along the route. These are places that I thought could be good for discreet tenting as they appear not to tramp on private land. However, I can’t guarantee these and all riders are responsible for safely securing their own overnight resting spots – and absolutely leaving no trace.
You can use the BT 700 forum page to also post questions pertaining to the GNR.
If needed, riders can obtain a free multi-day parking permit if the start/finish town of St. Jacob's. Contact me if you require this.
Think of these as serving as virtual checkpoints, but, more importantly, forcing you to slow down and embrace your surroundings. But know that these are neither mandatory nor do you have to take them all. And it’s not an exhaustive list; there are plenty of other sites along the route that are photo-worthy. Selfie is loosely defined. Feel free to get a curious bystander to snap your picture. You may also photograph your steed instead of yourself or simply take a good old-fashioned scenery shot minus the bike and rider. Video counts as well.
Riders are encouraged to post pictures to any social media sites they see fit to help bring others along on the journey. And don’t forget the #gnrbikepacking.
Wood Man – This one is a bit tricky to spot (KM 3)
Grand River (Anywhere along the route between KM 29-48)
Pioneer Tower (KM49)
Old Quarry (KM 67)
Little Tract (KM 76-78)
Puslinch Tract (KM 83-84)
Fletcher Creek Preserve Quarry (KM 99.5)
Lafarge Trail Marsh Boardwalk (KM 102.5)
Webster Falls (KM 125.5)
Dundas Peak Lookout (KM 128.5)
Sherman Falls (KM 141)
Hamilton-Brantford Rail Trail (Anywhere between KM 154-172)
Grand River Singletrack (KM 181-194)
Township Rd 2 Pedestrian Bridge (KM 211)
Nith-Ayr Bridge (KM 232)
Grand Valley Trail Boardwalk (KM 244)
Drydan Tract (KM 250-252)
Township Rd 12 Bridge (KM 271.5)
Country Gravel Roads (Anywhere between KM 294-310)
Chalmer’s Bridge (KM 316)
Eco Café Red Tractor – Your Victory Photo (KM 356)
If you would like to be included in the GNR Hall of Fame following completion of the route please pass along a photo of you and your ride out on the route. You can also include your total time on the route.
More questions? Use the contact form to send me your questions.
If you enjoyed your time on the BT 700 or GNR bikepacking routes consider making a donation to help support future route development.