The Grand River is a beautiful and scenic heritage waterway that spans all the way from the highlands of Dufferin County to the mouth of Lake Erie. Along the way it meanders through towns and cities that provide opportunities to discover the history, culture, food and amenities they offer. And as avid cyclists know, the Grand is flanked by many incredible trails that lead you to each area’s hidden gems.
While these trails exist along the Grand River, there has never been a single route that links them together to provide a network of trails from end to end. Until now.
The Grand Watershed Trails Network
The Grand Watershed Trails Network (GWTN) launched in 2017. Its aim was to create one accessible trail along the Grand River for people to enjoy on two wheels or two feet. The Grand River Watershed and the trails along it are situated on the traditional territory of the Haudenosonee, Anishnaabe and Neutral People, and includes the Haldimand Tract – six miles on either side of the Grand River from the source to the mouth – which was granted to the Haudenosaunee of the Six Nations of the Grand River.
The goal of the GWTN is to connect people with communities and the heritage, cultural and outdoor experiences that exist throughout the Grand River Watershed. Museums, points of interest, shopping, restaurants, bike friendly businesses – the trail will highlight all of this and more to travellers exploring the route.
“The GWTN will be the means of getting people to the (Grand) river, and into the towns, villages and cities along it,” says Anne Crowe, Chair of the GWTN and an avid cyclist. “I’ve done some cycle tourism and this entire trail was pieced together with me asking myself ‘What would I look for if I went somewhere (to cycle)?”
Anne’s specific role in the project was to stitch together already existing trails that lined the Grand River and formulate one route that would provide a truly unique recreational experience. The GWTN group wanted the trail network to be inclusive of everyone and accessible to people of all ages, interests and abilities in all seasons. This proposed network of trails is divided into five different sections, including one that follows the Grand through Waterloo Region.
The Region of Waterloo GWTN route
In September of 2020, Anne participated in Ontario by Bike’s Waterloo Guelph Explorer ride. This looped ride wound its way through both the region’s scenic rural areas as well as the vibrant downtown cores of Waterloo, Kitchener and Cambridge. It became her inspiration for the Waterloo Region portion of the GWTN.
Included through this area are sections of the Kissing Bridge, Trans Canada, and Walter Bean trails. Along with showing the trail route, the GWTN website also provides a map highlighting bike friendly places to eat, culture and heritage points of interest, nearby shopping options, accommodations (including campsites) and more.
“We want the GWTN website to be the place to go to plan a cycling trip to any of the regions involved,” says Anne.
There are also suggested 1-2 day trips to help introduce visitors to the area by suggesting must-stop places to explore.
Anne and her husband rode and/or walked all of the trails along the GWTN, and she has her own must-see destinations along the way.
“In Waterloo Region the West Montrose Covered Bridge is something you can’t miss!” she says. “From Elmira take the Kissing Bridge Trail to Wallenstein – there’s a great store there – and then there’s a beautiful trail into the Village of St. Jacobs. From there you can cycle to the St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market, and this summer they will be opening the new Farmers’ Market Trail which takes you into Waterloo to enjoy great shops. In Kitchener you can stop at wonderful places like the Waterloo Region Museum. And then cross the pedestrian bridge at Doon to go over the 401 into Cambridge – you can stand on top of this bridge and watch the trucks go right underneath you: it’s such a thrill!”
There is also a lot of wildlife to see as you travel the trails along the Grand River.
“We’ve seen herons, mink, beavers, osprey and much more,” says Anne. “The GWTN provides a unique opportunity to interact with nature and learn about the ecological diversity of the watershed.”
For paddlers, the GWTN map also points out canoe access points along the Grand River.
Moving Forward with the GWTN
In March of 2022, GWTN launched its brand new website. Anne and the GWTN group are working with regional tourism offices to promote the site to visitors who are anxious to get back to travelling after two years of the pandemic. While cycling was a safe and popular pastime during Covid, with most restrictions lifted in Ontario cyclists are now able to visit and support businesses lining the routes.
As a volunteer organization with no funding (the website design was made possible through an Ontario Trillium Resilient Communities grant), the next phase for the GWTN is to come up with a revenue stream to sustain the organization. The group is working to improve access points, signage and wayfinding to provide a better experience for anyone using the trails. They will also continue to work with municipalities to update information on the website regarding the trails and amenities.
To start planning your adventure along the Grand Watershed Trail Network, visit the website and follow them on social media (Facebook and Instagram).
Article written by Susan Cook-Scheerer, Explore Waterloo Region
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Photo Credits: Explore Waterloo Region (1, 4, 6), GWTN (3) , Anne Crowe (2, 5)