Cycling the Canberra Centenary Trail

As Australian cities go, Canberra is a pretty cycling centric city. There’s a fairly decent network of cycling routes, a spattering of mountain bike trails, and lots of easily accessible gravel roads.

It’s pretty easy to see why Canberra is known as the bush capital as nearly every suburb backs onto a nature reserve! Perhaps the best way to really enjoy seeing Canberra by bike, is by cycling the Canberra Centenary Trail.

At around 140km long, the Centenary Trail loops around the north, south and central suburbs of Canberra, linking many nature reserves together. The route is predominantly off road, varying from smooth gravel to shorter rocky sections, alongside several stretches of bike path. With these varied trail conditions, you’ll probably be fine on any type of bike, except for a skinny wheeled road bike. Generally, most folk opt to ride the Canberra Centenary Trail on a mountain bike, but a gravel bike will also get the job done. Personally, I favour the mountain bike option for the extra comfort and grip on the looser rockier sections, but that’s just me.

With easy access to the trail from everywhere in Canberra, there are many options for approaching the route. The trail is officially split into seven sections, so you could ride it over several days/weeks, as a cycle touring or bikepacking route, or as one long hit-out in a day.

Cycle touring and bikepacking on the Canberra Centenary Trail

At around 140km long, the Canberra Centenary Trail is a great option for a weekend bikepacking or cycle touring route. Despite running close to Canberra’s city and suburbs, the trail feels surprisingly remote and you’ll quickly forget that you’re surrounded by a city full of people.

Camping options along the trail are actually fairly limited. The best and most remote feeling campsite along the Canberra Centenary Trail is the Northern Border Campground. This ACT parks campsite is at the top end of the Canberra Centenary Trail and is pretty basic. There’s basic toilet facilities and tank water, which you’ll need to treat before drinking. There’s also limited camping spots so you’ll need to book ahead – although it’s rarely busy.

Other options for camping along the route are the EPIC showground, closer to town, and the Hall Showground (also near the top end of the trail). If you want to deviate off the route on the southern end, you could detour around ten kilometres down to the Cotter Campground. This is a great option, but will add an 8km long climb to your morning when you wake up, so be warned!

If you prefer flashpacking, credit card touring or just a bit more comfort, there’s an endless list of hotels and motels around Canberra that you can choose from, many within a stones throw of the trail.

Northern Border Campground on the the Canberra centenary trail
Gravel cycling in Canberra on the Canberra Centenary Trail
Gravel cycling in Goorooyaroo Nature Reserve on the Canberra Centenary Trail

Cycling the Canberra Centenary Trail in a day

Riding the Canberra Centenary Trail in a day is a great challenge and its 140km of mixed terrain will certainly test your limits. Perhaps the hardest part of riding the trail in a day is avoiding the temptation of cutting the route short as its circular design offers far too many bail out points!

It’s always a good idea to start your attempt early, both to avoid the heat and to avoid people on the busier sections. While the Centenary trail is also designed as a multi day hiking trail, very few people can be found hiking the route, especially in the more remote sections. The busiest part of the trail is often the long flowy descent into Hall, which is also part of the One Tree Hill hiking trail.

Despite passing close to many suburbs, the Canberra Centenary Trail only directly passes a few shops and cafes along the way. So if you’re planning on refuelling en route, rather than carrying food, the quickest and easiest food stops are at Hall, Belconnen and Tuggeranong. You’ll want to be carrying a decent about of water with you, as water points are relatively few, poorly signposted and often off trail.

Note: during winter, the gated trail sections of Goorooyaroo and Mulligans Flat are often closed during evenings, overnight and early morning, for pest control, so it’s worth checking ahead to ensure this section of trail is open.

The Best Sections of the Canberra Centenary Trail

If you ask a local which is the best section of the Canberra Centenary Trail, each one will probably give you a different answer and that answer will probably depend on where they live (there’s a bit of a north-south divide). So what follows are some of my favourite sections of the Centenary Trail, bearing in mind that I’m a north-sider.

Mulligans Flat – if you’re looking for smooth gravel riding and a real sense of freedom, it’s hard to go past the champagne gravel of Mulligans Flat and Goorooyaroo Nature Reserve.

One Tree Hill to Hall – this section is best enjoyed cycling anti-clockwise as it offers a smooth, long, flowing descent down to the village of Hall. Just keep a finger or two on your break lever as it’s a shared hiking trail.

The National Arboretum – as the trail passes through the Arboretum, you’ll be treated to a variety of tree types alongside flowing singletrack and views across Canberra.

Red Rocks Gorge – this flowing section of trail above the gorge will have the mountain bike riders grinning as they navigate punchy climbs into winding descents.

The Canberra Centenary Trail is a bit of a local gem and it’s hard to plan a long ride in Canberra that doesn’t touch on at least a small part of the trail.

There’s plenty of fun sections that’ll keep you coming back and detours off the trail into mountain bike parks, alternative gravel trails and shortcuts that’ll help make it your own. It’s worth bikepacking or cycle touring the route at least once, just to experience the trail from a different perspective, and to test yourself on those climbs on a loaded bike.

Share a photo with @desirelinescc if you ride the trail and have fun out there.

Here’s a link to the full gpx route of the Canberra Centenary Trail.


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