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 350 kilometre journey along two of southern Ontario’s most alluring rivers – the Grand and Nith.
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 idyllic riverside camping spots.
Need to Know
All riders are responsible for their own well-being on the route and decisions that are made such as riding at night and when to take necessary detours. It is advised to study the route map and make note of your supply options as well as any possible detours (this are marked with an i symbol).
The designated start and end point is 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 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. Or for a really long adventure on two wheels you can even add in the Cannonball 300 (www.cannonball300.com). We now have about 1,400 kilometers of plotted bikepacking terrain in Southern Ontario.
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 pretty 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.
There might be a few sections of trail that can be a bit tricky properly navigate – this is a limitation of modern GPS devices when it comes to riding in trail systems. With a bit of perseverance you’ll get where you need to.
All efforts were made to avoid taking riders on busy paved roads, but there a few sections where this was not possible. For the most part, these are marked with a caution sign on the route file.
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 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 gravel bike or a hard-tail mountain bike. If using a gravel/cross bike, you’ll find some of the trail sections easier to ride with fatter tires, say a width of 38 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. There is an abundance of trail between St. Jacob’s and Paris that is best not to ride during rainy conditions.
The Dundas and Christie Conservation areas can get especially busy on summer weekends and fall weekends during peak foliage. If possible, plan your ride to visit this section of the route during the weekday – but this is just a suggestion and not a rule.
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 don't enter. But, indeed, you can proceed. These are indicated in the route file at the 226.5km and 310.5km marks.
In addition to handlebar navigation devices like Garmin and Wahoo, I also recommend uploading the route (https://ridewithgps.com/routes/30874383) with the Points of Interest using the Ride with GPS mobile app (https://ridewithgps.com/help/mobile/). You can use it to navigate even when offline and all the Points of Interest will show up. Just tap on a POI and the additional information will be displayed such as when certain food stores are closed. You need to zoom in on a particular area of the route as some POI’s overlap and all of them can’t be seen when zoomed out. Offline navigation is only available to subscribers of Ride with GPS, but they have a one-time fee if you don’t want to commit to a yearly service. 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 is still the best navigation tool.
For navigation devices like Garmin and Wahoo, it’s advised to upload this smaller file sized version of the route that does not include the Points of Interest: https://ridewithgps.com/routes/31335821
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 camping – and absolutely leaving no trace.
Like the BT 700, you’ll notice that the route is not designed to go from one point to the next as quickly as possible. My goal for any bikepacking adventure is to take riders through the most interesting terrain and scenery so that means some wandering occurs. But of course, it's possible to shorten the course if needed.
You can use the BT 700 forum page to also post questions pertaining to the GNR.
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 finishing time.
More questions? Use the contact form to send me your questions.
Had a great time on the GNR? Consider making a donation to help Matt continue to develop this and other routes.