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. Doomed to future development as part of this suburb, the trails currently offer a fantastic gravel descent to the Molonglo River and Butters Bridge. It took me a few goes to figure out the route followed in the Komoot – there are no real indicators of a specific route and there are some odd corners to take, so be aware. Enjoy while you can and watch out for kangaroos at all hours of the day.
Temporary detour until May 2021: Butters Bridge Closed
There are works being done on the Molonglo River Reserve that has closed Butters Bridge. It is possible to do a detour – shown in the map below. Head under Butters Bridge, and then shortly after there is an exit to the left to a track that runs to Coppins Crossing car park. Cross here, and pick up the Molonglo River trail.
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 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.