The Brisbane Valley Rail Trail is 161km of baked goods, beers, coffee, oh and bikepacking of course! Here’s how to explore this historical rail trail and the quaint towns that do it on two wheels.
We acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the Country on which this adventure takes place who have occupied and cared for this land for thousands of years. We pay our respects to them and recognise that sovereignty was never ceded.
On The Brisbane Valley Rail Trail at Last
By all accounts, the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail, or ‘BVRT’ for short, sounded like my kind of cycle tour. Winding along a decommissioned railway corridor, the trail passes through a collection of quaint country towns, and being built for locomotive traffic, the overall gradient is fairly mellow.
Read more: Essential Gear for Bikepacking Adventures
The more popular choice is to start at Yarraman and ride ‘down valley’ enjoying gravity’s gentle assistance for the majority of the journey. With no vehicles allowed, a well-maintained gravel surface, and plenty of pubs and bakeries to refuel, it really is a cyclist’s dream.
After years of saying ‘We should do that’, four friends and I finally got ourselves organised, and planned a three-day tour of the BVRT in April of 2021.
Day 1 – Yarraman to Linville
After a few hours of rail and vehicular transit, our group of five was itching to get stomping on some pedals. We loaded panniers and ourselves onto the bikes and set off around midday.
Despite having lunch at Yarraman immediately before departing, a bakery stop at the next town was obviously in order. Blackbutt is only a leisurely 19km along the trail, but we’d heard tales the pies were good and felt obliged to confirm if this were true (Verdict: Worth a stop!).
From Blackbutt the trail soon plunges into Benarkin State Forest, with a tiny bit of uphill followed by a long glorious descent all the way into Linville. This is one of the most picturesque sections of the trail, passing through shady bushland and offering some banger views.
Nestled at the foot of the range, the tiny township of Linville was rather bustling upon our arrival. A three-day weekend had pulled in crowds of caravans and camper trailers. City-folk escaping the grind and making use of the large free campground.
There was plenty of space for our hiking tents on a patch of level grass beside a historic station building and some vintage railway carriages.
Directly across the road from our camping spot was the obvious centre of this small country hamlet – the iconic Linville Pub. The beer was cold, the food hot and some pretty decent live music kept the atmosphere suitably jovial.
Day 2 – Linville to Esk
It so happened that our trip coincided with ANZAC Day and the memorial was to take place about 20 metres from our little cluster of tents. Awaking in the darkness we joined a small crowd that had gathered to pay their respects.
After the dawn service, and obligatory instant coffee and oats, tents still damp with morning dew were unceremoniously shoved into panniers. It was chilly so we opted for a slow start, knowing the 52km ahead was quite manageable. So leisurely were we in fact, that after only 7km we stopped at a cafe for another coffee.
The scenery was undulating farmland punctuated by sections of bush and even a cool tunnel. Riding on a trail devoid of vehicles is awesome. Aside from the occasional horse rider and pedestrian, cyclists are easily the biggest user group of the BVRT.
The overall grade of the trail is mellow, but regular detours through mostly dry creek beds keep it interesting. Where the trains would have continued over what are now mostly decaying wooden bridges.
The Toogoolawah IGA provided the goods for a lunch stop and from there it was only another 18km to our overnight destination of Esk. In Esk, we’d decided to book a room at one of the pubs, the Grand Hotel. Figuring a hot shower would be welcome by all.
The pub was cranking, with several locals deep in a game of two-up. Again cold beers and pub food offered welcome nourishment.
Day 3 – Esk to Wulkuraka
Knowing this would be our longest day, the team got underway early. Reports of the pub-room beds varied from ‘comfortable’, to ‘I barely slept a wink’… luck of the draw! After a quick bakery breakfast, we pedalled out of town, hoping the sun would soon warm cold stiff limbs.
More farmland rolled by, and the towns slowly increased in size. Coominya, Lowood, and then Fernvale which would be our final bakery stop. The bike traffic each day was minimal but we’d regularly pass all sorts of other smiling riders, some loaded like us for several days, others clearly just out for a day trip. Gravel, touring, mountain, and fat bikes piloted by young and old alike.
The surface of the trail is mostly pretty good, but it’s not without some softer sections that offer less than ideal traction. It was on a downhill stretch (a mere kilometre or three from the end of the gravel part of the whole trail!) that my front wheel suddenly lurched sideways.
Admittedly I’d built up a bit too much speed, and the bucking bike slid out and launched my stunned form over the bars and onto another softer patch of dirt. Fortunately, aside from a good chunk of knee skin removed and a few bruises, I was OK and able to carry on.
As you come into the outer suburbs of Ipswich the gravel suddenly ends, and the route veers from the rail corridor along a concrete cycleway for the final few kilometres. Back at Wulkuraka we rolled dusty sleds onto a city-bound train and headed for home.
For me, the BVRT definitely lived up to expectations. It was a fun and chilled adventure with just the right mix of scenery, camaraderie, toil, and history. Fuelled by plenty of locally acquired baked goods, coffee, and cold beers, of course.
How To Get There
For my partner Louise and I, getting to the start of the BVRT was a two-stage process. First-up was a train ride from our home in inner-city Brissy to Wulkuraka Station, changing trains in Ipswich.
Meanwhile, the others in our group chose to drive and leave a car near the station instead. From Wulkuraka we caught a (pre-booked) shuttle service to Yarraman, which took about two hours and is operated by Out There Cycling.
Distance Covered / Duration
161km end-to-end / 3 days
Good to Know
Best time of year: Best in the cooler months, so typically from about April to October
Accommodation: Camping in designated parks, caravan parks, and showgrounds, along with pubs and rooms in some towns. Wild camping along the trail is not permitted.
Riding surface: 95% mixed gravel and dirt
Mobile reception: Intermittent outside of the towns