Update: January 2022Butters Bridge is accessible again, with the new Namarag Reserve open to explore. Unfortunately, the Denman Prospect development does make some of the navigation between Stromlo and Butters Bridge challenging. Currently you can get to Denman Prospect shops, but then need to go on-road to Namarag car park off Coppins Crossing Road (south of the crossing). More detail below.
This ride involves a route I love to frequent – in part (such as for a commute diversion or a bit of exercise) or in full. It offers some fantastic views, fun descents and smooth gravel. It also is amenable to one of life’s great pleasures, namely off-road night riding. I sometimes do this ride in the evening (in either direction) when the light is falling. You need the right lights and some caution, but in a busy world it is a great way to get in some gravel cycling.
Stromlo Forest Park is enjoyed by mountain bikers – including those who like technical single track, switchbacks and jumps. This is not my kind of thing – I’m happy to slog up a hill for a great descent, but constant navigation of rock gardens and steep lips is just a bit annoying. What I do like, however, is riding Stromlo’s maintenance tracks / fire trails. My preferred route from Eucumbene Drive rounds the bushfire memorial and heads up towards Mount Stromlo summit but not all the way – heading north and under the shipping container bridge. From there it flows down and up and around the mountain on some of the best trails of the park, ending at the Western car park on Uriarra Road.
An alternative route is to continue up the gravel to the summit (for this, head left before the trail starts to descend down to the blue Canberra bridge), pass the observatory and then proceed down one of the routes from there. These are steep! If you are thinking of single track but not really sure what the trails are like, I have ridden many of the green “Easy XC MTB Trails” and they are appropriate for any MTB. Despite my comments earlier, some are kind of fun (Skyline and Luge are some of my favourites).
From the Stromlo Western car park, it is a very short distance on Uriarra Road to the entrance to the tracks of Denman Prospect. Now heavily affected by development underway as part of this suburb, the trails used to offer a fantastic gravel descent to the Molonglo River and Butters Bridge. Now, you can descend as far as opposite the Denman Prospect shops at Holborow Avenue. I have tried to go around the fences and markers, and unfortunately there are closed roads, heavy mud and constant work that make it impassable.
Instead, the best choice is simple – head across the bridge to Denman Prospect (which is part of Holborow Avenue), and continue all the way in the cycle lane until John Gorton Drive/Coppins Crossing Road. Here, turn left and head down to the obvious Namarag car park – it is well before the steeper descent to the river. Here there is a clear sign and details of how to get to Namarag.
Butters Bridge and Namarag Reserve
After 12 months of work in 2020-2021, Butters Bridge has reopened with access to the new (and large) Namarag Reserve. This is well worth an explore if you have time. I will be really interested to see how it changes as things grow.
From Butters Bridge, the route covers parts of the trails discussed in the Molonglo River Reserve article on CyclingGravel. This includes passing Barrer Hill which is worth a detour if you have the time. From here, Boundary Road provides a convenient route through the pine plantation into the Arboretum.
The National Arboretum includes a number of maintenance trails and also some excellent single-track routes. Unlike most mountain bike trails, these are smooth routes through the plantations and designed to help you explore each of the current and emerging forests. At its current stage of growth the arboretum is interesting as some plantations are quite mature, others are just being established. A good way to explore them is on these trails, but be aware that they are shared with pedestrians. If you want to explore further, more information is available in the CyclingGravel article How to Arbo.
The final part of the route passes through a Cork Oak plantation, established 100 years ago (just after the First World War). From here, it is possible to exit to the sealed shared path route to Belconnen or to ANU/city. You can also continue on some gravel through to the city and Russell, described in more detail in the CyclingGravel article Arboretum to Russell.
Details of this ride
- In the CyclingGravel article South Canberra Ridges, that ride ended at Stromlo Forest Park where this ride starts. It is possible to combine the two routes – allowing for a 50km gravel trip of which over 90% is unpaved. If you are combining the two, there are water taps and toilet stops in Stromlo Forest Park – requiring only a very short detour from the route.
- If you are thinking of cycling at night, be aware of kangaroos – particularly in the Molonglo River Reserve from Coppins Crossing to the Arboretum. A wide-beam light is therefore pretty important, as is lower speed.