Originally Posted on Ontario by Bike | October 2023
Waterloo Region is emerging as a really interesting ride destination and cyclists around the province are taking note. The Region has put a lot of work and resources into developing trails and cycling infrastructure and more recently has developed a collection of signature rides to explore for everyone from locals to day trippers, to overnight bikepackers.
First off, for those unfamiliar, Waterloo Region is a regional municipality in Southern Ontario made up of three vibrant cities — Cambridge, Kitchener and Waterloo — and four scenic townships: North Dumfries, Wellesley, Wilmot and Woolwich. Each city and township boasts its own unique attributes.
The Region’s contrasting urban and rural communities make it a treat to explore by bike, with urban trails, museums, cafes and breweries adjacent to quiet country roads, tranquil Mennonite farms, farmers’ markets, rivers, and first-class mountain bike trails.
Getting To and Around Waterloo Region
It’s getting easier to access the Region by public transit, with increasing two-way GO Train service between Toronto and Kitchener (including on weekends) and convenient bus service from other major centres in southern Ontario to the Region. Keep in mind, while you can bring your bike on GO buses and trains, bikes are not allowed on peak rush-hour GO trains during the week (except folding bikes). Once you’re in the Region, the ION light rail trains can take you between Kitchener, Uptown Waterloo, and almost all the way to the St. Jacobs Market District, with just a short trail ride away from the furthest north station. Hop on and off with your bike, no problem.
Didn’t bring your bike? Available until the end of October 2023 (check back in for 2024), Neuron Mobility has up to 500 e-bikes that can be rented from a variety of locations around the Region. For more information, visit rideneuron.com. Or if you prefer a traditional bike, check out River City Cycle Rentals.
Cycling Guide App
Another unique development for cycling in the Region is the new Cycling Guide app, developed by local software developer Zeitspace the app is managed by the Cycling Guide Foundation, a local group dedicated to increasing active transportation in the area. It’s purpose is to help cyclists navigate to safe cycling routes in the Region and give riders options and information about the type of infrastructure en route.
Also included in the app are bicycle friendly businesses, bike parking locations, and a collection of signature urban and rural rides developed in partnership with Explore Waterloo Region to guide cyclists to the best trails and routes to explore. Cycling Guide is free to download and is available for both iPhone and Android.
Seven New Signature Rides
For visitors, the new signature rides around the Region are a huge draw and give visiting cyclists a ton to explore. Published summer of 2023, they can be found on both the Explore Waterloo Region Cycling webpage, or in the Cycling Guide app under the ‘Explore’ tab. Whether you prefer trails close to urban amenities, quiet country roads — or both — there is something for every type of rider. Read on to find your ride of choice!
Total Distance: 44km
Experience Level: Intermediate/Moderate, due to distance, some hills on route, mix of terrain (40% paved and 60% unpaved trails and roads), some short sections on higher speed country roads. Hybrid, gravel, or road bike recommended.
This ride takes cyclists into the tranquil country roads of Woolwich Township, a.k.a. Mennonite country, in northern Waterloo Region. Getting to the route start in St. Jacobs by bike from Uptown Waterloo is a pleasant 11km ride and follows a mix of bike lanes and trails passing by the renowned St. Jacobs Market District (see route below). Once on the ride, discovery tree-lined farm lanes with horses and buggies and farm gate produce, while hitting all the major sights in the area. Suggested stops and sights include the well-known ‘Kissing Bridge’ at West Montrose (one of the last covered bridges in Ontario), the Kissing Bridge Trailway (part of the Goderich to Guelph Rail Trail) and the bustling town of Elmira with its cafes and markets. The route starts and ends in the quaint but cosmopolitan town of St. Jacobs, with breweries, excellent restaurants, and even a model railway museum.
Total Distance: 40km
Experience Level: Intermediate/Moderate, due to distance, mix of terrain (50% paved trails and roads and 50% unpaved trails), some short sections of on-road cycling with traffic. Hybrid, gravel, or mountain bike recommended.
If you’re in the Kitchener or Waterloo area, this is a fantastic looped ride that explores the great cycling infrastructure through both cities, and take riders to the peaceful greenspaces along the Grand River. Starting in Waterloo Public Square, ride the Iron Horse Trail along the new ION light rail line as you travel south, winding along a lush green corridor through parklands and residential neighbourhoods. Stop at unique and welcoming trailside cafes, restaurants and breweries and the Ken Seiling Waterloo Region Museum. Cross the Grand River and marvel at the Pioneer Memorial Tower. Follow the Walter Bean trail as it continues along the river, returning to the city centre via residential neighbourhoods and trails.
Total Distance: 14km
Experience Level: Beginner/Intermediate, due to ride being almost entirely on a hard-packed dirt and stone-dust rail trail (72% unpaved trails, 28% paved roads). Hybrid, gravel, or mountain bike recommended.
If you’re in the Cambridge area, pedal a pleasant out-and-back trail ride on the Mill Run Trail along the Speed River which flows into the Grand River. Riders will explore this forested, hard-packed rail trail with plenty of river views and crossings to enjoy. From a pedestrian bridge en route, riders can view the remains of a dam and the mill run that powered Pattison’s Mill. Starting and ending in Hespeler Village, a historic village part of the city of Cambridge, enjoy the historic buildings and setting of the bicycle friendly business area, with multiple craft breweries, restaurants and plenty of interesting sights to check out, including the Fashion History Museum, recognized as one of the finest collections in Canada.
More Signature Rides in the Cycling Guide App
While the three above routes can be found on the Explore Waterloo Region cycling webpage, you can find even more signature rides on the Cycling Guide App. The following are a few other great rides to discover in the Region.
Waterloo Region Four Rivers Bikepacking Route
Discover the magic of Waterloo Region’s trails and gravel roads as they wind along the picturesque Conestogo, Grand, Speed and Nith Rivers on this 212km, three days suggested, bikepacking itinerary. Inspired by the Grand Nith Ramble, this route explores the best of Waterloo Region while keeping the terrain and trails a little more manageable for the average rider. Expect an off-the-beaten path adventure never far from great cafes, restaurants and breweries, farmers’ markets, and compelling urban centres.
Beginning and ending in downtown Galt — the historic city centre of Cambridge – this 45km ride takes cyclists on the Cambridge to Paris Rail Trail south through Carolinian forests along the Grand River. After leaving the trail at Glen Morris and crossing the river, enjoy a mix of gravel and paved country roads west to the charming riverside town of Ayr, with a craft brewery and distillery and great mid-ride food options to experience.
Uptown Waterloo to Downtown Kitchener Loop
This fun 7km loop starts in Uptown Waterloo and heads to Downtown Kitchener via the Spurline Trail, a multi-use path that connects both cities. Once in Kitchener, this ride follows protected bike lanes that are easy and comfortable to use. It then heads back to Waterloo using the Iron Horse Trail, a former railway right-of-way that is now a wonderful multi-use path.
Waterloo to St. Jacobs Village and Market Ride
Beginning at Waterloo Public Square, this 22km out-and-back ride takes cyclists north out of the city centre on protected multi-use trails and bike lanes, visiting the renowned St. Jacobs Market District with its year-round farmers’ market and antique and local vendors open seven days a week. Continuing north on the Trans Canada Trail, enjoy a refreshment at a bicycle friendly cafe, restaurant or brewery in St. Jacobs, learn about the railway history of the area, all before continuing back to Waterloo on the same paths.
Plan Your Cycling Trip to Waterloo Region
Ready to start exploring Waterloo Region by bike? There is a route for everyone, geared to match your ride style and interests. Whether arriving by bike, bus, train, or car, the area is a breeze to get to from so many communities in Ontario, and has much to discover.
- Explore Waterloo Region – Cycling – Find more info on trails, mountain biking, bicycle friendly businesses, and the signature rides above, with full route maps, points of interest and staging/parking areas.
- Explore Waterloo Region – Find more things to do, places to eat and drink, and great places to stay overnight in the Region.
- Cycling Guide – Download the Cycling Guide app and get cycling-oriented directions, and find cycling routes that match your skill and confidence level. Explore and navigate all of the routes mentioned above free of charge.
- Ontario by Bike – Waterloo Region – Great Places to Cycle – Find routes, trail information, maps, and bicycle-friendly businesses in the region.