The BT 700 (now about 760 km, but who’s counting) is loop in southwestern Ontario that uses a combination of gravel roads, rail trail, two-track, forest singletrack, rugged unserviced roads and just a whisper of pavement only when necessary. The scattering of challenging riding surfaces are there to spice things up and get participants into the backcountry. These may require some riders to take part in the sport of hike-a-bike. With that said, none of these are designed to be very long in order to maximize the amount of time riders can spend on the saddle. Riders who will be the most comfortable on the route are those with some mountain biking experience. Come prepared for an adventure and don’t underestimate how long the total route will take to ride. Some rough and steep sections will slow down the pace. As a rough estimate, it will probably take most riders 5 to 7 days to complete the route. But please know your cycling abilities and prepare yourself, bike and kit accordingly.
The designated start and end point is the red tractor at Ecocafe in the village of St. Jacob’s (and a good place for a victory photo at ride's end), but the route can be started and finished at any point that best suits a rider. The route can be cycled either during the Grand Depart or at any other time of year that best suites you.
The journey starts in St Jacob’s Mennonite country where you can ride alongside more horse-and-buggies than cars
Riding the sunny shores of Lake Huron
Grand views in escarpment country
Riding the dirt through three provincial parks
A bounty of long forgotten rowdy backroads with plenty of forest-bathing
Two photogenic waterfalls
A great network of rail and forest trails
Small country stores where you can fuel up on butter tarts
Microbreweries and cider houses to help celebrate a love for bikepacking
The route is designed to run in a clockwise direction towards Lake Huron to allow for a couple days of flatter riding and conditioning before the steeper inclines begin.
The real elevation gain for the route is around 7,500 metres. And is most certainly hillier than you think it is going to be so.
The flattest section of the route is between St. Jacob’s and Lake Huron. However, a dreaded headwind can slow your progress on this section.
The section of the route between Thornbury and Mono Mills is the hilliest and most rugged. Plenty of tough climbs on rougher (albeit beautiful) terrain await you. So plan your time accordingly.
The ride between Mono Mills and St. Jacob’s involves the biggest sections of singletrack. These are generally not technical sections but can slow down the riding pace and be a bit tricky to navigate especially if riding at night and/or sleep deprived. There are also areas that can be overgrown in the summer so caution is needed and should be followed by a tick check.
You'll also notice that the route is not designed to go from one point to the next as quickly as possible. My goal is to take riders through the most interesting terrain and scenery possible which means some wandering occurs.
For the most part, there are sufficient resupply opportunities available along the BT 700 in the form of larger supermarkets, general stores, cafes and bakeries. In only a couple of cases will riders need to make sure they are packing sufficient water and food. Again, the master route file can help you plan accordingly.
This is a very important decision when it comes to tackling the BT 700. There are plenty of rowdy off-road sections in which certain bike set-ups are better suited to handle. A hard-tail mountain bike with tires in the 2.0”-2.25” range is a great choice. Certainly, the route can be tackled on a drop-bar gravel style bike, but ideally it would be outfitted 29-inch or 650b wheels and fatter rubber. A mountain/gravel hybrid like a Salsa Cutthroat would be an excellent choice for this route. The BT 700 has been completed by riders using bikes with 700x32-38 wheels but most people will find several sections of the route very challenging with this wheel size and tire width especially if carrying gear. At the very least, 700 wheels should to be outfitted with a tire width of 42 or larger and should have some tread. But, in the end, the best bike for any route is often then one you already have and are comfortable riding.
It should be noted that this is not a flat route. It’s recommended to use gearing that is capable of riding up steep, rough inclines. A traditional gravel road crankset (say 46/36) may not ideal especially if you are carrying gear. Remember, bags, a tent, a change of clothes and a dozen butter tarts weigh a lot more than all the pounds you put on over the winter. Lower gearing like a 32 front chain ring and/or an 11-42 cassette (or larger) will give you more ability to spin up the climbs.
Here is some additional information from bikepacking.com about gear selection for your bike including what some of the top guns bring along.
Sharing and Selfie Spots
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 #bt700bikepacking.
If you would like to be included in the BT 700 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 and approximately what percentage of the route you completed as plotted.
Think of selfie spots as fun virtual checkpoints that force you to slow down and embrace your surroundings. It’s not an exhaustive list; there are plenty of other sites along the route that are photo-worthy. And of course, nothing is mandatory. OK, one photo that is a must is that of the almighty butter tart.
Butter Tart (anywhere along the route)
Mud Lake Not Assumed Rd (KM 80-82)
Brant Tract Trails (KM 138-141)
Paisley Rail Trail Bridge (KM 148.5)
MacGregor Provincial Park Beach (KM 182)
Southampton Point Lighthouse(KM 200.5km)
Kemble Mountain Lookout (KM 289)
Inglis Falls (KM 315)
Bayview Escarpment Nature Reserve (KM 354-358)
Georgian Trail/Christie Beach (KM 372-384)
Beaver Valley Lookout – at old chairlifts (KM 421)
Kimberly General Store (KM 424)
Hogg’s Falls (KM 436)
41B Rd Little Wood Bridge (KM 453)
Kolapore Trails (KM 468-470)
Blue Mountain Viewpoint - if doing Loree forest trails (KM 497)
Big Red Chair (KM 504)
Pretty River Provincial Park Trail (KM 516-521)
Giffen Country Store (KM 544)
Noisy River Park Garden of Eden Rd (KM 560-562)
Bruce trail old bridge (KM 568)
Centre RD (KM 583 -585)
Boyne Valley Provincial Park (KM 592 - 594)
Mono Cliffs Provincial Park Trails (KM 602-607)
Glen Haffy/Oak Ridges Trail System (KM 627– 636)
Palgrave Trails (639-642)
Forks of The Credit Bridge (KM 673)
Belwood Lake Dam (KM 709)
Grand River Bridge Crossing (KM 718)
Elora Gorge Lookout (KM 722)
West Montrose Covered Bridge – a.ka. Kissing Bridge (KM 745)
Eco Café Red Tractor – Your Victory Photo (KM 757)
Spread the Word
As you ride around the BT 700 route it would be great if you could mention to local businesses that you are taking part in it. This is not to boost my ego, but just a way to make more people aware of this cycling route which will hopefully generate income for small scale local businesses and improve services available to future riders. I am always on the hunt for land/business owners looking to get involved such as providing tenting space, water for riders and, in a wonderland, half priced butter tarts.
Check out the forum page to post questions. Or start up conversations on the BT 700 Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/pg/BT700/groups/
If interested in tackling the BT 700 (or GNR), send me a message using the contact form and I can supply any additional information you may need.
To register for the Grand Depart in July please fill out this form.
Want some more? You can combine the BT 700 with the GNR route into the BT XL for a truly grand bikepacking adventure.
The 700 stands for the approximate distance, but what’s with the BT? Well, that is a tribute to the butter tart – the quintessentially Canadian sweet treat that has what it takes to fuel any BT 700 participant. There is great debate about which bakery or general store serves up the best butter tart or what should or should not be included (pecans, yes or no? Maybe raisins?). In fact, two Ontario townships have had a spat over who rightly owns “the butter tart trail”. See, serious stuff. Try a few along route and decide for yourself.