Grand Nith Ramble
The trail-heavy Grand Nith Ramble (GNR) was born not only to offer an extension to the BT 700 route, but to also showcase two of southeastern Ontario’s most alluring rivers – the Grand and Nith. And just maybe the trail will begin in the jungle and take you to the mythic Paradise City. But most certainly, a river runs through it. Start your journey in the village of St. Jacob’s, located in the heart of Mennonite country, where it doesn’t take long to ditch pavement for forested trail. From here, riders will wend their way south to escarpment country and then back north along punchy gravel, sinuous trail, well maintained rail trail and undulating roads with a surfeit of bucolic views. It is not designed to be the easiest, most direct route possible, but one that inspires a sense of two-wheel adventure. The scenery won’t disappoint, and either will the welcoming hospitality. Even though the route runs into some fairly big urban centres it never really feels like you are too far removed from quiet countryside and natural ecosystems that will appeal to any bikepacker. A far more diverse appeal than just fields of corn.
- Trails: You’ll be amazed by the volume of singletrack, doubletrack and rail trail riding on the route while never venturing too far from a hot meal and cold beer. Railing along some sections of sweet trail will put you up close and personal with the mighty Grand River.
- Grand and Nith Rivers: Picture-worthy River views seemingly await you at ever bend in the trail.
- Dundas Conservations Area: Ride deep into the thickly forested, waterfall-laden Dundas Conservation Area. It’s so vast some riders have yet to come out. Hands down one of the prettiest sections of the route.
- Lafarge Trail: Score bragging rights by conquering the notorious Lafarge trail.
- Bridges: A chance to ride along a handful of historic steel truss bridges spanning the Nith River – several of which are closed to vehicular traffic.
- Breweries: Avail yourself of one (or many!) of the local breweries that dot the route. A well-deserved pint is never far away.
- Birds: From kingfishers to indigo buntings, there is no shortage of birdlife along the waterways. Can you spot the GNR heron?
The Grand Nith Ramble can be tackled using either a drop-bar gravel bike or a rigid mountain bike, with the latter providing the most comfort on the rougher trail sections and if encountering the dreaded ‘fresh gravel’.
- Mountain Bike: For mountain bikes, anything over 2.5-inch tires will be overkill and full-suspension is not required. A mountain/gravel hybrid like a Salsa Cutthroat/Fargo would also be a great choice for this route.
- Gravel Bike: If using a gravel/cross bike with 700 wheels, you’ll find the route easier to navigate with fatter tires, say a width of 40 or larger. You should also have some experience riding trails with this type of bike, or you may find yourself walking more than you like.
- Other Bikes: There have been riders who have also completed large portions of the route on big plus size tire set-ups, but in many cases this is overkill.
- Setup: Run tubeless if possible. You can use bikepacking style bags or old-fashioned panniers. A lighter set-up allows of easier riding, especially in the hillier sections.
- Blue trail: There are a few sections on the route file colored in blue. These illustrate the more challenging trails that riders can choose to ride or not. These are great riding for those who like to spice up their bikepacking with singletrack. The master route file with Points of Interest suggest alternatives to these sections.
- 20km mark: The trail at the 20 km mark is marked as closed but this is not accurate. You can proceed with no problem. Just go around the washout at the small metal bridge.
- Old bridge: The lovely old bridge over the Nith River before entering the town of Ayr at the 241km mark of the route now has about a 4 foot farm-style fence on either end. It can be climbed over, but this is easier with two or more people to help with lifting bikes. Some riders report being able to slide their bikes through the openings in the metal gate. If you are unable to take this option, at the 239.5km mark of the route you go east on Brant Waterloo Rd to Swan Street. Take Swan Street north into town.
- Ticks: If conditions have been wet and humid some of the trails along the Grand River can become weedy and jungle-like. It’s always best to do a tick check after immerging from any bushwalking and if you are sensitive to any weeds try to wash your exposed skin with hot, soapy water as soon as possible.
Accommodation options on the GNR range from established campgrounds to hotels to Airbnb. Most options are indicated on the RWGPS link. I have noted several “wild” camping options along the route file that could be used for discreet camping. However, I can’t guarantee these and all riders are responsible for safely securing their own overnight resting spots – and absolutely leaving no trace.
- Fresh water: Southern Ontario does not have nearly as many lakes and rivers as further north, so there will definitely be stretches of trail where it may be hard to re-fill. Luckily, the route regularly passes by the rivers Grand and Nith, so there are definite opportunities to top up your bottles. Be sure to always use a water filter or purification tablets. It’s also best policy to make sure you use flowing water, as it is less likely to grown bacteria that will make you sick. You can also access fresh water at campsites, police stations, fire stations and most cemeteries.
- Food: There is no shortage of places to stock up on food or to fill your belly. This route passes through or near many cities and town, allowing for easy access to resources.
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