A Family Bikepacking Adventure in Waterloo Region

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by Joe Meissner

My wife and I had been talking about a bikepacking adventure for quite some time. With three kids ages seven, nine and eleven, there were a lot of things to consider. We opted for what we’re calling “an urban bikepacking adventure” in Waterloo Region so that we would be close to amenities if we ever needed to stop. Our route took us through the Haldimand Tract and land granted to the Six Nations on both sides of the Grand River from its mouth to its source.  As we connect with nature in Waterloo Region, it’s important to acknowledge and teach our children that the trails, roads, our homes and spaces we enjoy fall within this territory.

DAY 1- The Adventure Begins in Elmira

The Route

We set out from Elmira on a sunny and very warm day in August just after noon, travelling along the wide paved shoulder of highway 85 south into St. Jacobs, Ontario.

EcoCafe in St. Jacobs (Photo: Joe Meissner)

I was up front with my 11 year old daughter and I looked over at her and yelled “This is so fun!” She agreed and together we grinned and rolled onto the patio of one of our favourite coffee shops.  The EcoCafe was only 8km into our ride, but was the perfect spot to stop for some ice cream and a bit of a rest. After our break, we headed off to complete our 32km day.

Our route consisted of multi-use paths, quiet residential streets and only a few larger roads to connect everything. It was nearly 3 o’clock in the afternoon, really hot and humid out and we were all getting hungry as we regretfully passed by the Lancaster Smokehouse. We were anxious to get settled at our campsite, but the smoky flavours followed us and the kids said their stomachs were grumbling. We travelled down the Walter Bean Grand River trail which is a perfectly maintained crushed-gravel trail offering spectacular views as it traces the edge of the Grand River. As we neared our first destination this trail does have a few ups (which the kids didn’t “love”) and downs (which the kids did love) and it opens up just behind Marshall Hall at Bingemans, where we would be camping for the night.

We registered our pre-booked campsite and bought some marshmallows and a bag of wood for the campfire that night. I managed to balance the large bag of firewood on my handlebars, navigate back down the steep hill where we safely found our campsite. The site was beautiful, right beside the Grand River and we immediately felt energized.  Karen started to set up the 2 tents and sleeping bags and I headed out on my bike to Victoria Street Market. I grabbed something for dinner and a couple of cold beers from Waterloo Brewing which was conveniently located across the street. I came back with some potato salad, sausages, buns and a cucumber.  It was yummy and definitely hit the spot. The kids found a rope swing and spent the evening playing near the river.

Camping at Bingemans (Photo: Joe Meissner)

DAY 2 – Waterloo Bound

The Route

We woke up well rested and ate some oatmeal for breakfast. Our plan was to be Uptown Waterloo around lunchtime so we could get a bite to eat somewhere. After navigating a few side roads, we hit the Spur Line trail. The Spur Line trail is essentially flat, paved, and easily navigated which was welcomed after our longer day yesterday. Maria saw a sign for ice cream and pulled over at Cafe Pyrus Outpost. It’s such a cool place along the trail and ice cream at 10am seemed completely appropriate.

Ice cream at Cafe Pyrus Outpost (Photo: Joe Meissner)

We found ourselves uptown in time for a late lunch at McCabe’s and we locked up the bikes in the Uptown Parkade. We then continued our adventure along the Laurel Trail, which like the Spur Line trail, was mostly paved and a little natural oasis cutting through a busy urban setting.

Cooling off at Laurel Creek Conservation Area (Photo: Joe Meissner)

It was the perfect route to Laurel Creek Conservation Area. When we arrived, we set up camp, the kids changed into their bathing suits and Karen took them to the beach.  I headed out to a nearby grocery store to grab some food for dinner.  We spent the evening by the campfire and sluggishly crawled into the tents early.

We may have turned in early that night but it was far from a peaceful night’s sleep as thunder rolled in shortly thereafter.  This turned into the perfect opportunity to test out exactly how waterproof our 15 year old tent was. We quickly found out the results of that test and I can confidently say that it failed.

Luckily the storm didn’t last long but we spent the night sleeping in damp sleeping bags and on damp sleeping mats.  Somehow, we all managed to fall back asleep for a bit.

DAY 3 – Back Road Journey Home

The Route

After thunderstorms through the night, we packed up our muddy bikes with our muddy gear and started home. The sun followed us into Woolwich Township as we took quiet gravel roads back to St. Jacobs and stopped at Harvest Moon for lunch. We were all pretty tired as we had completed 66 km of our 72km bike-packing adventure, and set out on the Mill Race Trail for the final trek that would take us back home.

The kids were awesome throughout the three day journey and carried most of their own gear for the trip. They’re big readers so they each brought a book too – not exactly a light addition to the camping gear, but necessary to them. When we made it home later that day, Karen weighed all our gear and it totalled 82lbs.

It really was the perfect bike-packing experience through Waterloo Region on a bike: lots of places to stop when the kiddos needed it, lovely trails and some adventure along the way.

Joe Meissner with his partner and their 3 children on their bikepacking trip. It is summer and they are on a trail along the Grand River.
Joe Meissner and his family on their 3-day Urban Bikepacking adventure


Joe Meissner is a cyclist living in Woolwich Township in Waterloo Region. He prefers life on two, human-powered and pedal driven wheels and is always on the hunt for new roads and trails to ride. You might find him exploring uncharted dirt roads, embarking on family cycling adventures with his wife and three kids, training for an epic ride, or simply commuting by bicycle to work. You can find him on facebook and twitter, but check out him out instagram for daily two-wheeled inspiration.


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