Born out of a curiosity to explore Southwester Ontario’s lesser known nooks and crannies, the BT 700 (now about 790 km, but who’s counting) is a grand, multi-day jaunt that makes use of a combination of gravel roads, rail trail, bounding two-track, forest singletrack, rugged unserviced roads and just a whisper of tarmac to take riders through varied landscapes and the rugged beauty of this chunk of Ontario. It should be consider a mixed surface, all-terrain route and more mountain bike oriented than a pure gravel ride. Along the way, you’ll come into contact with inviting rivers, widescreen vistas, lush green pastures, charming communities and plunging waterfalls. A somewhat demanding route full of two-wheel challenges for cyclists of all abilities and one that benefits old-fashioned ‘rough stuff’ attitudes. It is not designed to be the easiest, most direct or fastest route, but one that inspires a sense of adventure. As always, take a breather, and a photo opportunity. A bikepacker’s toil is invariably worth the effort. Of course, butter tarts are the terrior of the route. Covering the route under your own steam will surely work up an appetite for routes namesake treat.

  • Mennonite Country: The journey starts in St Jacob’s Mennonite country where the surrounding dirt roads are home to more horse-and-buggies than cars.
  • Sunsets: A visit to Lake Huron, home to perhaps Ontario’s best sunsets.
  • Escarpment country: Grand views in escarpment country.
  • Provincial Parks: Riding the dirt through five provincial parks allows for plenty of forest-bathing.
  • Backroads: Tapping into a bounty of long forgotten backroads where few venture.
  • Waterfalls: Two photogenic waterfalls.
  • Single and double-track Bayview Escarpment, Glen Haffy and other nature reserves and conservation areas dot the route to deliver the singletrack and forest two-track that is requisite for a true bikepacking adventure.
  • Rural Communities: Pass through small communities that never seem rushed and are full of welcoming smiles.
  • A collection of quaint general stores, each with its own character, history, and butter tart recipe.
  • Rail trail: Some on Ontario’s most welcoming rail trail.
  • Microbreweries: Microbreweries and cider houses to help celebrate a love for bikepacking.
  • The section down the ravine on the way in to Meaford should be walked. It’s very steep and the switchbacks are very tight.
  • Don’t burn yourself out on the way to the Blue Mountain range. It’s very tough and you will need your legs.
  • Take it easy on the downhill sections in the Blue Mountains. They are very rough and can lead to injury if you are not careful.
  • The section of off-road after Mono can be quite difficult to navigate. Pay close attention to your route maps.
  • The rail-trail on the way back to St. Jacobs is very difficult if you are tired and short on sleep. Focus on staying upright and watch for pedestrians and other cyclists.

This is based on my experience racing the BT700 and setting an FKT.

  • Recommended bike: The recommended bike for this ride is a mountain bike with 2.2″ or larger tires. The current FKT on the route was ridden with 2.6″ tires, making the ride extremely comfortable over such a long distance.
  • Minimum tire size: Having ridden the BT700 at an ultra-endurance pace, I recommend a minimum of 45C tires. This will be rough and tough on the body, but completely ridable. Riding something smaller such as a cyclocross bike with 38C tires will make some sections extremely difficult.
  • Starting in St. Jacob’s you quickly leave the town behind and get onto some fast-flowing country roads that take you through Mennonite country. With relatively little elevation gain on this part of the route, it goes by quickly. Going through this farm area can be quite difficult in the middle of summer when the sun is blaring.
  • After around 100km you reach the Carrick Tract Trail System, an amazing little section of single-track that takes you around three unique little loops of fun.
  • The next 100km takes you downhill as you approach Port Elgin, where you will get another chance to get off the road and onto some fun multi-use trails as you weave around MacGregor Point Provincial Park, before hitting up some boardwalks and cruising along the beach.
  • Leaving the beach you head up through some rural roads through the Saugeen First Nations territory.
  • Reaching Shallow Lake you start a long clockwise loop up towards Wiarton and then down to Owen’s Sound, before turning north again along the coast to Balaclava, where you will head off-road down some pretty serious trails as you make your way to Meaford.
  • Meaford is fully stocked military town a short ride away from Thornsbury and the start of the toughest part of the whole ride….the Blue Mountain range. As you leave Thornbury, the road looks like it will never stop going up.
  • Up gravel roads and down insane what-once-upon-a-time-may-have-been gravel roads, but are now more akin to washed-out, rutted, beat down, rock-garden trails. It’s quite literally the most amazing and, at the same time, scary ride of your life. This may also have something to do with the fact that throughout the previous 400+km I had only slept for 1 hour.
  • After nearly 100km of the Blue Mountain range, you finally exit the mountain range, only to be dumped right back into it when you climb the back trails and roads all the way to the summit of Blue Mountain itself. The next 100km heading out of the Blue Mountains takes you up and down some massive hills, giving you the feeling that you must almost be completely done with the climbing on the route.
  • Reaching the small town of Mono, you are about to go into the final stretch of unending trails, covering everything from ATV trails, double-track, single-track and rail trail as you make your way back to St. Jacobs.
  • Making that final push along the rail-trail, you leave it to climb up and around Caledon Mountain in what is known as the Devil’s Pulpit, where you will ride a series of trails, cross bridges, and have amazing views.
  • You end the ride going through the town of Elora, riding right through the old town centre and getting amazing views of the Elora Gorge before making your way back to where it all started … St. Jacobs.

Overnight Rest Stops:

  • The BT 700 has been designed so that there is accommodation at frequent intervals along the entire route with paid campgrounds, wild camping, B&B’s, Warmshowers, Airbnb, motels, 5 star opulence if that’s how you roll all being fair game.
  • Sleeping on the ground is not a requirement for a bikepacking adventure. During busy times such as holiday weekends it is advisable to book ahead.
  • Several “wild” camping options that could be used for discreet camping have been noted on the master route file.
  • There are also a few areas of crown land such as the Hogg’s Falls area where Canadian residents can camp for free.
  • Fresh water everywhere: Check the master route file with POIs for locations to fill up on water. In this part of Ontario there are not nearly as many lakes and rivers are there are further north.
  • Restaurants/Cafes/Bars: There are many places to get food throughout the BT 700 route. Towns are spread out and sometimes quite far apart, so make sure to look over the maps closely to plan out resupply points and where you will eat.

Average Physical Difficulty – 6

The BT 700 will put a physical toll on your body. While large parts of the route are easy going on rolling gravel roads and smooth rail trail, there are many bouts of singletrack that will challenge your body’s ability to control a fully loaded bike as you wind your way through Conservation Areas and Provincial Parks. To make things even more demanding the route is peppered with rugged trails that throw massive climbs and descents your way. Completing the entire route will put a lot of strain on your legs and may even require a bit of hike-a-bike in order to get up some of the steeper hills.

Average Technical Difficulty – 7

In terms of technical skill required to complete the BT 700, the skill level needed to ride every section of trail along the route is greater than that needed for other similar distance bikepacking routes in the region. With the constant change from gravel to singletrack, hiking trail, unmaintained roads and disused roads, you need to constantly be aware of what is coming up next on the route and prepare yourself accordingly. The more physically demanding the route it, the harder the technical sections will be, so be sure to rest not just your body, but your mind as well, and be prepared for a really amazing and fun time.

This route was created by:

Matthew Kadey, curator of Bikepacking Ontario.

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