Update: July 2022Added a recommended option to improve Leg 2 if you are gravel-ready – leaving via Gums Lane.
Looking for day out cycling in the country? This might be the ride for you. I love this route, and it is one I’ve done a number of times – either as a full day or split with an overnight stay in Yass. What makes it great is the way in which it is possible to break it up into manageable chunks, using great local stops as you go. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do – either ‘as planned’ or with modifications to suit your preferences.
Leg 1: Canberra to Yass via Mountain Creek Road, morning coffee (~75km)
There are a number of off-highway routes to Yass that don’t require significant gravel travel, and this is probably the most scenic. When doing this ride I confess to liking early morning starts (about 6am) in order to arrive in Yass in time for a morning coffee (at my pace, around 9.30). After the climb out from Uriarra Crossing on Fairlight Road (this is a climb that keeps giving – just when you think you are up, you aren’t), Mountain Creek Road is a gorgeous ride – undulating hills, solid climbs and descents. Topping it all off is a valley run as you approach and then run parallel to Mountain Creek that is postcard pretty.
Turning into Wee Jasper Road, it is not far until the Murrumbidgee River crossing at the river entry to Burrinjuck Dam. From here a favourite part of the trip is the 3.5km, 5% gradient climb up out of the valley – it is a perfect illustration of how a climb can be a real highlight when it is a steady gradient, provides scenic views, and has very limited traffic. From the top of the climb, it is a further 17km to Yass, including a gradual incline and then an epic straight descent as you approach Good Hope Road.
In Yass, my preferred coffee stop is Trader & Co. The coffee and food options are great, and there are inside and outside seating options. Each time I’ve visited it has been busy without being crazy, so it is clearly also a favourite with the locals (who are also not hesitant expressing their friendly opinions about the wisdom of people who are prepared to cycle from Canberra). It is a great way to recharge before heading off for the next leg. I have also tried Kaffeine which has the advantage of opening earlier on weekends than Trader’s – it is absolutely fine, but Trader’s is great.
Leg 2: Yass to Murrumbateman & wineries, lunch (~30km)
From Yass, after a short time on the reasonably busy Yass Valley Way (it is now hard to believe that this was the Hume Highway before mid-90s bypass), the route turns into Dog Trap Road (opposite the historic Cooma Cottage). After an initial climb, the road provides awesome views but it does run along an exposed ridge. Great views yes, but let me say from experience, if it is windy and wet this is the worst part of the trip. If the weather is dodgy, don’t worry – it is not long before the road heads down through farmland. The road has little traffic which may partly be explained by the fact it becomes a well-maintained gravel road approaching Murrumbateman. This short 5km stretch is smooth and easy to ride on any bike.
Update: An alternative option to leaving Yass via the Yass Valley Way is to leave via Wee Jasper Road and turn into Gums Lane. This seemed in excellent condition. Long Rail Gully Road then connects to Dog Trap Road – this is rougher but absolutely fine on anything other than a road bike. I very much preferred this route over using Yass Valley Way as it can be quite busy.
In and around Murrumbateman there are some choices for lunch. I’ve summarised a number of them in Murrumbidgee & Murrumbateman loop. My recommendation is woodfired pizza at Four Winds. Not only is this a beautiful location with great options and staff, it has a fireplace for cold days and shady outdoor areas for warmer ones. The Murrumbateman café / bakery is a solid alternative if a quiet coffee and pie in the park is your preference.
Leg 3: Murrumbateman to Sutton, afternoon coffee (~30km)
Without traffic, Murrumbateman Road has much to commend it –great scenery plus shallow hills and descents. Unfortunately this road is regularly travelled and whilst there is often a narrow verge, this is not universally the case – sometimes there is none. Further, for much of the route the road has limited overtaking visibility – making for trouble when impatient drivers choose to zoom past without any consideration of possible oncoming traffic. For this reason the road between Four Winds and Tallagandra Lane is not my favourite Canberra-region country trip, and provides one of the best arguments for sticking with gravel! Thankfully the last third, past the intersection with Tallagandra Lane, is straighter, wider, has more verge, and therefore is a more pleasant ride.
Sutton Road is also different. Incorporating more verge and also greater visibility for traffic, this road provides a rapid blast into Sutton across a few minor undulations. Sutton bakery is a regular cyclist stop, and is good for a final energy and caffeine hit before the final leg home.
Alternative return to Canberra via Nanima Road
If going the full return via Sutton is not your thing and you want to stay on tarmac, Nanima Road is a good option. Nanima Road itself is a more pleasant ride than Murrumbateman Road simply because there is infrequent traffic. The other highlight was Robyn Rowe’s Chocolates, which would have recommended for a coffee stop. Or I suppose a chocolate lunch! I have not had the chance to visit since his business changed hands in September 2021 but hopefully it has remained a great place to stop.
A negative aspect of taking Nanima Road is that it is necessary to ride just over 4km on the Barton Highway before reaching the ACT (where dual-lane highway starts). Thankfully, the verge on the highway is generous – so I’ve never felt unsafe – but it is highway riding with high speed traffic passing regularly.
Alternative return to Canberra via Tallagandra Lane
Another alternative to travelling to Sutton is to return via Tallagandra Lane. I discuss this road in Murrumbidgee & Murrumbateman loop and Gundaroo Gravel. In short, it is a gravel road, but it is extremely well maintained and is suitable for road bikes. Highly recommended, particularly if you are heading back to Gungahlin.
Leg 4: Sutton to Canberra (~30km)
My preferred non-gravel route to Canberra from Sutton is via the Federal Highway service road. You can consider Majura Lane (another well maintained gravel road), or even continue to Queanbeyan via Sutton Road (a busy road which also has limited verge in some places). From the Federal Highway at the ACT border, the route will really depend on where you are heading – for me this is down Majura Parkway (Paul Truebridge) cycle path.
Details of this ride
- Overall, the duration of this ride will depend entirely on your pace. I recommend allowing about 2 hours of ‘stops’ across the three breaks – morning coffee, lunch, and afternoon coffee. Of course you can do it quicker or slower, although slower is better in the cooler winter months to allow defrosting time!
- I recommend checking the opening days and hours of the stops that you are planning on this route. I tend to ride on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays when all of the options discussed are open (except Murrumbateman bakery on Sundays). I recommend booking at Four Winds if you want a table.
- I have made a ride to Yass into a weekend away. If you are looking for an inexpensive night, I can recommend the Colonial Lodge Motor Inn for its good value, quiet edge of town location (whilst still walkable to the pub), renovated ground floor rooms with plenty of space, and owners happy for you to put your bikes in the room (for which there is plenty of space).