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

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

‚ÄúI‚Äôve done a lot of cycle touring around the world,¬†from¬†Costa Rica to Sri Lanka¬†to name a few,‚ÄĚ he says.¬†‚ÄúThen, my girlfriend and I started exploring Ontario¬†and¬†our own back yard.‚Ä̬†¬†

Recently, there has been an increased interest in¬†bikepacking¬†‚Äď cycling on routes with¬†non-paved surfaces¬†(think¬†gravel roads¬†and¬†forest trails).¬†¬†‚ÄúIt‚Äôs more fun to explore that way,‚Ä̬†says Kadey, ‚Äúand to many people¬†it’s¬†safer¬†because¬†you don‚Äôt have to worry about¬†as many¬†vehicles¬†on these paths.‚Ä̬†

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 ‚ÄėBT‚Äô stands for Butter Tarts. ‚ÄúButter tarts are very ‚ÄėOntario‚Äô,¬†so it seemed like the natural thing to rally around,‚Ä̬†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. ‚ÄúFor example, Eco Caf√©¬†–¬†where¬†the BT700 route¬†starts and ends ‚Äď they couldn‚Äôt be more thrilled to have the cyclists at their¬†business,‚ÄĚ 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 ‚Äď the ‚Äėbelly‚Äô 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.¬†¬†

‚ÄúI think this type of¬†route¬†is appealing to more and more people,‚ÄĚ says Kadey. ‚ÄúAnd 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.‚Ä̬†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.¬†‚ÄúThe GNR is¬†shorter than the¬†BT700 so people can do it in a weekend¬†at their own pace,‚ÄĚ he explains.¬†‚ÄúIt‚Äôs¬†also¬†not as challenging,¬†so cyclists can use it as a testing ground before trying¬†more difficult¬†bikepacking¬†routes.‚ÄĚ Another¬†unique aspect¬†of the route is¬†that it¬†winds through the region‚Äôs three cities ‚Äď Cambridge, Kitchener and Waterloo¬†‚Äď 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.¬†

‚ÄúThe 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,‚ÄĚ says Kadey. ‚ÄúAnd 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.‚ÄĚ In fact, one of Kadey‚Äôs goals when developing the GNR was to create a micro-economy for nearby businesses. ‚ÄúI want places along the GNR to say ‚Äėwow ‚Äď we‚Äôve seen a lot more cyclists come by recently!‚Äô If that happens I can check that off as an accomplishment.‚ÄĚ Maps and details about the GNR can be found¬†here.¬†

*****

Bikepacking¬†and cycle tourism continue to grow at a rapid pace in¬†Waterloo Region, a fact that¬†isn‚Äôt a¬†surprise¬†to¬†Kadey. ‚ÄúWe‚Äôre blessed with so many easy ways to access gravel trails¬†and¬†wide-open¬†spaces¬†here,‚ÄĚ 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.¬†

‚ÄúIt‚Äôs a little bit selfish,‚ÄĚ he smiles, ‚Äúbecause I love to explore this area, and it really motivated me to find new places and spaces. Even this year I‚Äôve found new trails along the Grand River and I don‚Äôt know how I missed them before! Everyone needs a passion project and a purpose, and this is mine because I love cycling!‚Ä̬†

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