Exploring Gravel – Hillsburgh to the Luther Marsh

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If there is one thing I’ve really come to like about gravel riding it’s how it has encouraged me search out new routes, expand my heat map, and explore parts of Ontario that I never knew existed. From the beauty of the shores of Lake Erie while riding the Cannonball 300, to the epic hills of Dufferin County while riding The Motherload, and the quiet solitude of the Luther Marsh I discovered this past weekend.

Today’s ride was a relatively flat, 86km loop, starting in Hillsburgh, west along the Elora Cataract Trailway to the Grand River, north to the Luther Marsh, and back along mainly gravel roads.

The inspiration for my route today was the Grand River Roubaix, posted by AGrant, on Ride with GPS.

Route Notes

Parking – Ample parking at start and throughout Hillsburgh

Elevation Profile – Mostly flat with a few slight climbs

Speed Profile – Faster then most with hard pack gravel throughout

Route Profile – Roughly 20% rail trail, 70% gravel/dirt, 10% road

Safety Profile – With limited time on tarmac, barely a car was to be seen

Stores – Bellwood Country Market at km 16; Grand Valley just off route at km 66

Favourite Part – Luther Marsh Wildlife Management Area

Least Favourite Part – n/a

My Stats – 86.6km, 520m, 4:36 total time, 3:56 moving time, 22km/h moving speed

Hillsburgh to the Luther Marsh

I arrived in Hillsburgh, about an hour northwest of the GTA, located roughly between Guelph and Orangeville for a mid morning start. Although I parked at Hillsburgh Park, I soon realized that a decent amount of parking exists at the trail way itself.

Elora Cataract Trailway

14km later my brief time on the trail was finished, it was time to cross the Grand River, and head north along mainly gravel roads to the marsh.

As for the Elora Cataract, what can I say? It’s a rail trail, in decent enough shape, save for some wet riding bike grooves, and nothing overly memorably along this particular stretch.

Grand River Crossing Belwood

I include this photo of a beautiful lab for one simple reason.

When I turned north on to East-West Garafraxa Townline, he came out hard, nipping at my heels as I pedalled up the one and only climb I had on the day.

I knew I wouldn’t outrun him, so I tried a different tactic I recently read about online. Instead of pedalling hard, I got off my bike, keeping the bike between us, and with that, he immediately stopped the chase, put his tail between his legs, bowed his head, and slowly walked away.

I don’t know if it would work on a more intimidating dog, but it worked suprisingly well on this beautiful beast.

Dog Chase – East-West Garafraxa Townline

Although there was the odd “no maintenance” warning, the 24km of gravel north to the Luther Marsh was basically perfect.

E West Garafraxa Townline – No Maintenance
Side Road 13

Luther Marsh Wildlife Management Area

The Luther Marsh was the unexpected highlight of today’s trip.

Luther Marsh Main Entrance – Side Road 21 & 22

The shot above is from the main entrance on the eastern side of the marsh, my eventual exit, instead I entered from the west, and as you can see from the shot below, I was certain that there would be plenty of bushwacking in my future.

Luther Marsh – Entering From Side Road 13

Three hundred meters of tall grasses later, I transitioned onto perfect double-track the rest of the way through.

Luther Marsh – 300m Later

The view south along the western side of the Luther Marsh.

Luther Marsh – West Side

One of the many clean water crossing throughout the marsh trail.

Luther Marsh – Water Crossing

There was not a soul to be seen as I stopped for lunch on the northern side of the marsh.

Luther Marsh – Lunch Break

The main dam at the Luther Marsh near the eastern entrance.

Luther Marsh – Dam

Thousands of upon thousands of fish were pooled just opposite the dam.

Luther Marsh – Fish at the Luther Marsh Dam

A perfectly manicured picnic area just south of the dam.

Luther Marsh – Lunch Spot at the Luther Marsh Dam

My ride today had me head south of the main entrance, where I was then supposed to head east along Concession Road 9 via this non-existent exit. Instead, I turned around headed north, out the main exit, and was back on the route in no time at all. As you may recall from my post of Loop 2 of The Motherload, my Garmin hates change, and this slightly detour and rejoining of the course confused it for at least the next five kilometres.

Blocked Eastern Exit from Luther Marsh

Immediately exiting the marsh it was time to loop back to the start, via 35km, of 90% gravel, extremely quiet roads.

Luther Marsh – Exiting at Concession Road 8

Where the lab gave chase earlier in the day, the random loose pig was to lazy to care.

Random Pig on Amaranth East Luther Townline

After the crossing the Grand via this bridge on 13th Line, the route followed a slight grade for 8km, before transitioning to what would have been a fast 6km downhill push to finish, if it wasn’t for a nasty headwind.

Crossing the Grand at 13 Line

Final thoughts… the Grand River 85 is a fast and fun route that’s definitely worth exploring, especially for the brief but beautiful tour of the Luther Marsh.

Thanks for reading,

Cory

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