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Butter Tarts and Winding Waterways: 2 Bikepacking Routes to check out in Waterloo Region

Butter Tarts and Winding Waterways: 2 Bikepacking Routes to check out in Waterloo RegionButter Tarts and Winding Waterways: 2 Bikepacking Routes to check out in Waterloo Region

Gravel road section of the GNR (Photograph by Nick Iwanyshyn)

For Waterloo cyclist Matthew Kadey, there’s a lot to love about heading out for a ride in Waterloo Region. 

“I’ve done a lot of cycle touring around the world, from Costa Rica to Sri Lanka to name a few,” he says. “Then, my girlfriend and I started exploring Ontario and our own back yard.”  

Recently, there has been an increased interest in bikepacking – cycling on routes with non-paved surfaces (think gravel roads and forest trails).  “It’s more fun to explore that way,” says Kadey, “and to many people it’s safer because you don’t have to worry about as many vehicles on these paths.” 

Originally from Toronto, Kadey has lived in Waterloo for the past 12 years and decided to spend the time and effort required to create new bikepacking routes that would take riders through some of his favourite areas of Waterloo Region. With that in mind, he developed two routes known as the BT700 and the Grand Nith Rambler (GNR). 

The BT700 

cyclist holding a buttertart in their hands

The route namesake – the Butter Tart

The ‘BT’ stands for Butter Tarts. “Butter tarts are very ‘Ontario’, so it seemed like the natural thing to rally around,” Kadey laughs. And, since the route begins in the village of St. Jacobs, where Mennonite-inspired bakeries feature this tasty treat, the name seems even more appropriate. 

St. Jacobs was a logical starting point to Kadey, with its proximity to Waterloo. The village also has easy access to the gravel roads and forest trails bikepackers want.  

Businesses in St. Jacobs are also very supportive of the cyclists who begin the route there. “For example, Eco Café – where the BT700 route starts and ends – they couldn’t be more thrilled to have the cyclists at their business,” says Kadey. 

From St. Jacobs, the BT700 heads out towards Lake Huron using a series of quiet country roads and trail sections. It continues to Owen Sound using a mixture of unpaved roads and forest double tracks, and then the route becomes more challenging as it heads into Escarpment country with its many hills – the ‘belly’ of the BT700 as Kadey calls it. It’s a challenging stretch for cyclists before the route gradually makes its way back to St. Jacobs.  

“I think this type of route is appealing to more and more people,” says Kadey. “And even though cyclists sign up for the BT700 Grand Depart that takes place each June to be part of a big group of riders all heading out on the same day, people can ride the route at their own pace all year long.” You can find a map and details of the BT700 route here 

Many cyclists gathered together in front of EcoCafe in St. Jacobs after completing the BT700 Bikepacking route in the summer

Victory Photo of bikepackers completing the 2019 BT700 in St. Jacobs

GNR (Grand Nith Rambler) 

The Grand and Nith are two rivers that run through Waterloo Region. Not only are they beautiful, Kadey has discovered these rivers also have amazing trails that run along them. So, he decided to develop a bikepacking route that would highlight those paths and their beautiful vistas.  

a cyclist resting at a picnic table on a patio in Waterloo Region and enjoying a craft beer on a summer's day

Enjoying a stop at a craft brewery along the GNR route (Photo by Nick Iwanyshyn)

The route turned out to be very different from the BT700. “The GNR is shorter than the BT700 so people can do it in a weekend at their own pace,” he explains. “It’s also not as challenging, so cyclists can use it as a testing ground before trying more difficult bikepacking routes.” Another unique aspect of the route is that it winds through the region’s three cities – Cambridge, Kitchener and Waterloo – providing an urban adventure that at the same time still feels remote. There are many opportunities to stop and visit businesses along the way so cyclists can explore as they go. 

“The GNR is set up so that you could do a total craft beer tour as you head along the trail – there are a lot of craft breweries close by,” says Kadey. “And there are a lot of bakeries too. The route highlights the communities it runs through, so you can enjoy the sites along the way as you ride.” In fact, one of Kadey’s goals when developing the GNR was to create a micro-economy for nearby businesses. “I want places along the GNR to say ‘wow – we’ve seen a lot more cyclists come by recently!’ If that happens I can check that off as an accomplishment.” Maps and details about the GNR can be found here. 

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Bikepacking and cycle tourism continue to grow at a rapid pace in Waterloo Region, a fact that isn’t a surprise to Kadey. “We’re blessed with so many easy ways to access gravel trails and wide-open spaces here,” he says. And while developing and promoting the BT700 and GNR is his passion project , Kadey says he had an ulterior motive for putting the routes together. 

“It’s a little bit selfish,” he smiles, “because I love to explore this area, and it really motivated me to find new places and spaces. Even this year I’ve found new trails along the Grand River and I don’t know how I missed them before! Everyone needs a passion project and a purpose, and this is mine because I love cycling!” 

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