The Molonglo Valley is a less well-known place to explore off-road in Canberra. Following the northern bank of the Molonglo River from just below Scrivener Dam, the gravel tracks are quickly changing. A good route from which to see kangaroos and other wildlife, the ACT has a plan to develop the corridor with new parks, Coppins Crossing upgrades and the new suburb of Whitlam. Hopefully this will only make this escape from the city even better.
Crossing the Molonglo
It is easy to access this ride from the cycle path around Lake Burley Griffin: the Komoot planned ride leaves the lake loop, crossing Yarralumla Creek. Passing the old woolshed and equestrian park, the ride crosses the river at the equestrian trail, clearly marked on the bike path. There are a few crossings in addition to this one but each is low and may not be possible to use if Scrivener Dam is releasing water after rain. Should the crossings be impassible, it is possible to start back at the dam next to the zoo – there is a small car park from where it is possible to get down to the trail.
Having crossed the river, the trail follows the Molonglo until Coppins Crossing Road. A worthwhile diversion is to ride up Barrer Hill. Whether you do this detour or not you’ll see some unusual poles and tree trunks near the trail. Canberra’s (at times questionable) track record with public art is part of the explanation, but not solely so – the poles and trunks are wildlife habitat structures established as part of the Restoration Project of the area.
Detour up Barrer Hill
Barrer Hill provides panoramic views of the new suburbs of Molonglo and across the valley. The hill also provides a great view of the pine plantation between the Molonglo and the arboretum, through which there are a number of gravel trails to explore. One of the advantages of Boundary Road is that it is possible to ride directly into the arboretum, rather than having to lift your bike over a gate.
After Barrer Hill, there is a gate to cross before a lovely run through to Coppins Crossing Road, and the start of Pipe Flat Road.
Temporary closure: until mid-2021
Unfortunately, it is not possible to proceed on the reserve after Coppins Crossing Road at present. I most recently checked mid-May 2021, and this work is still under way. You can return back towards the arboretum – as suggested below.
Detour to Butters Bridge
After Coppins Crossing Road, it is worth a detour to Butters Bridge for a view of the river. Strangely isolated, it stands waiting for more than the occasional walker and cyclist. In addition to the view, this bridge is a great way to adjust the mapped Komoot: to head to Stromlo Forest Park via the trails around the suburb of Denman Prospect, or to return to Canberra via on road cycling (eg John Gorton Drive to Cotter Road).
Pipe Flat Road, then back to the Aboretum
Beyond Butters Bridge, Pipe Flat Road proves that sewerage maintenance infrastructure can be a gift to gravel cycling. Along this road you will be rewarded with some great views of local grass land, river-side cliffs and the Brindabella Mountains. Unfortunately, this brilliant ride is abruptly (and rather rudely) curtailed by a local property. It would be amazing if somehow arrangements could be made so that walkers and cyclists could get through to Stockdill Drive – this would open up a number of other cycling opportunities.
Heading back towards Canberra, it is worthwhile returning through the National Arboretum. After the 2003 bushfires burnt through pine plantations in this area, the growing forests and gardens are becoming increasingly interesting in their own right. Whether this is your thing or not, it is great for cycling and awesome views. Filled with gravel roads and single tracks, you could spend hours here – see the CyclingGravel article about how to have a full single track adventure around the Arbo. For shorter rides, highly recommended is part or all of the Mountain View Track. Whatever you decide, from here it is a gentle ride back to the Lake Burley Griffin loop.
Details of this ride
Hints and tips
- A gravel bike is good for this ride. It is even ok if you are planning to explore the single tracks in the Arboretum as these are very well maintained and quite smooth.
- Gates – I had to put my bike over a gate 9 times on this trip. You are warned! It would be nice if the ACT Government replaced some of them with grates.
- As flagged above, there are ACT government plans for the corridor. You can read more in the Molonglo River Management Plan.
- There is also a Concept Plan for a park on the river. Go now before it all changes.