Cycling the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail - How adventurous are you?

Yimbun Tunnel Brisbane Valley Rail Trail

The Brisbane Valley Rail Trail (BVRT) follows an old rail corridor from Yarraman to Ipswich in south-east Queensland. At 161 km, it is Australia's longest rail trail beating the Great Victorian Rail Trail and the Murray to Mountains Rail Trail by almost 30 and 50 kms respectively. Queenslanders like to do things differently however so if you head up to the BVRT for a bit of spring cycling with the idea that the trail will be just like its easy-riding Victorian counterparts only longer, you are in for a shock.

The Brisbane Valley Rail Trail

Location - The Brisbane Valley Rail Trail begins at Yarraman in Queensland, a couple of hours north west of Brisbane by car. It ends at Wulkaraka, 10 minutes from the centre of Ipswich.
Distance - 161 km.
Surface - Mostly dirt, grass and compacted gravel.
Difficulty - Moderate to challenging. Some sections are relatively easy, some are more difficult.
Suitable for - Mountain bikes, walkers and horse riders. This is not a trail to tackle with your brand new road bike.
Website - Brisbane Valley Rail Trail  There is a handy distance calculator under the tab heading 'Trail Maps'.
Guidebook - Brisbane Valley Rail Trail by Gillian Duncan and Mark Roberts has detailed colour maps of the trail and the towns it passes through.  Useful locations such as picnic tables, camping spots, horse yards, ATMs, cafes, toilets and water are marked.  I highly recommend this guide. You can purchase a printed copy or PDF. Note that the printed copy is too big to fit in a pocket or bumbag but fine for a backpack.
Facebook Groups - Brisbane Valley Rail Trail Users Association IncBrisbane Valley Rail Trail Community Group, Brisbane Valley Rail Trail and  Brisbane Valley Rail Trail Ambassadors.

Brisbane Valley Rail Trail near Moore
The BVRT south of Moore - 2019

Cycling the BVRT - then and now!

The BVRT in 2012 

David and I first rode the BVRT way back in 2012. In those early days it was a challenge. Whole sections were closed or inaccessible, decaying bridges were blocked off and signs were non-existent.  The BVRT wasn't so much a single trail as a selection of disconnected corridors - a kind of jigsaw puzzle on bicycles.

BVRT Lowood
Not far from Lowood - 2012

Information on the state of the trail was thin on the ground and often misleading. One morning we called in at the Visitor Information Centre at Fernvale. In the tradition of volunteer Visitor Information Centre staff all over Australia, the lovely ladies manning the counter wanted to be helpful - but they had no idea. In response to our questions about the trail they looked perplexed.

 'You mean there is a rail trail around here,' I could almost hear them thinking.

Seven years later, in 2019, we discover the trail runs directly behind the information centre building and always has!

Linville Railway Station - 2012
The old station building at Linville in 2012

To make matters worse the state Government funded Brisbane Valley Rail Trail website was dangerously misleading. It was as though whoever was in charge had just walked out one day; just turned the lights off and shut the door without so much as putting up a sign that the site would no long be updated. Day after day we trusted it only to find ourselves in the middle of nowhere without a rail trail in sight - misled again.

BVRT culvert - 2012
A creek crossing on the BVRT in 2012

Even the state of the countryside was different. In contrast to today's parched and fire-ravaged landscape, 2012 was a time of very high rainfall. The countryside was green, the rivers were over-flowing and the frequent potholes were filled with muddy water. Unable to gauge their depth we would plunge in not knowing whether they might swallow us whole or spit us out the other side. Ironically the creek crossings were easier than they are today. The soft grassy tracks leading down to the bottom of the gullies were much less perilous than the current wheel-rutted, cracked, hard-baked earth and, sometimes, gravel -  as if our wheels don't slip and skid enough.

Coominya Railway Station
The old station building at Coominya in 2012. Notice how green it is.

Oh, and one more thing - THERE WERE NO SWOOPING MAGPIES!  Perhaps this was just a timing thing. We were there in late winter before magpies all over Australia pull on their combat kit and seek to rid the continent of we pesky human beings - especially the ones on bicycles - see the tale of our encounter with the Mad Magpie of Toogoolawah.

Brisbane Valley Rail Trail in 2012
In 2012 cows, rather than magpies, thought they owned the trail. I took this just north of Linville. 

The BVRT in 2019

Fast forward seven years to the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail of today. The disconnected corridors have been joined up, the trail information and signage is state-of-the-art and the trail is host to a thriving community of cyclists, hikers and horse riders. It has several Facebook Groups, a couple of great websites, loads of enthusiastic supporters and regular community events. The trail is well maintained and rail trailers are welcomed by the local towns.

Brisbane Valley Rail Trail cafe at Moore
A cafe at Moore

Years of drought have however taken their toll. Where once the countryside was a lush green, now it is brown and, in some sections, fire-blackened. The old station buildings have come out in sympathy and seem to be crying out for a new coat of paint and a few pots of flowers.

Linville Station in 2019
The old Linville Station looks a bit worse for wear in 2019. Notice how the green grass and flowers have gone.

Coominya railway station
Coominya railway station in 2019 - without any green at all.

One thing has not changed however.   Rather than make life too easy for users, the BVRT has embraced its dirt surface and death-defying gullies and now bills itself as an 'adventure trail'. The potholes and creek crossings are still there - just not filled with water.  There are perilous descents and equally frightening ascents where the soft grass which once slowed our bikes has long ago disappeared. An exaggerated signposted warning system (see the photo below) is in place just in case we aren't freaked out enough by the dry creek crossings - and did I mention the gravel. Whoever thought gravel was a safe surface for plunging down into steep-sided ravines! And the concrete landings at the bottom are a nice touch for when you skid off the gravel, now completely out of control!

Most of all the isolated, out the back-of-beyond nature of the trail is untouched. If you are looking for a bit of adventure with your cycling, the BVRT is for you!

Brisbane Valley Rail Trail warning sign
A ravine warning sign on the BVRT

My tips for cycling the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail

  • If you are riding the whole trail start from the Yarraman end and ride toward Wulkaraka Station (Ipswich). The trail is predominantly downhill in this direction and you will avoid the long slow 18 km uphill climb from Linville to Benarkin. If you are really tough, do it the other way around!
  • Don't ride the whole trail! The trail comes packaged in convenient sections making it easy to pick out the ones which suite your fitness level. See the heading below for descriptions of each section. 
  • Walk the gullies! There is plenty of adventure to be had without landing yourself in hospital on one of the advanced level gullies.
  • Take plenty of water. This is Australia. Do not underestimate how much water you will need. There are long stretches where you won't be able to refill that water bottle.
  • Leave the high heels at home. This one is for the ladies (mostly). The trail accommodation is  of the camping ground and country pub variety - 5 stars it is not. We stayed at Wiikirri Retreat at Blackbutt, one of the few exceptions to this rule, and later on at Quest Apartments in Ipswich. 
  • Out There Cycling  offer bike hire, a call out repair service, tours and a shuttle bus service. We didn't use any of these so I can't recommend them but it is good to know they exist.

Breaking the trail into sections - 

As a rough guide the more challenging parts of the trail are in the north, between Moore and Yarraman while, dry-creek crossings aside, the less challenging sections are south of Moore.

  • Yarraman to Blackbutt - 19 km. Between Yarraman and Blackbutt the trail dips down to a steep gully at Cooyar Creek and then climbs back out. This is not the section to ride if you don't like hills.
  • Blackbutt to Benarkin - 5 km. An easy, pleasant ride through the Benarkin State Forest. Listen out for the bellbirds. The Benarkin State Forest was the site of fires in mid-2019. I am not sure of the extent of the damage but the trail is currently open.
  • Benarkin to Linville - 18 km. Linville is a lovely little land-that-time-forgot kind of town. The Linville Hotel has just been taken over by new owners who seem keen to welcome rail trailers. Benarkin to Linville has an easy downhill gradient with some great views. It is a long slow climb if you start at the Linville end. This part of the trail suffered during the 2019 bush fires.
  • Linville to Moore - 7 km. There are a few challenging hills and gullies but over all this is a pleasant moderately challenging ride.
  • Moore to Harlin - 13 km. Overall an easy, flat cycle with a few steep, hair-raising gullies. 
  • Harlin to Toogoolawah - 14 km. Another easy section. The Yimbun Tunnel is a highlight.
  • Toogoolawah to Esk - 18 km. Predominantly flat easy cycling punctuated by a climb up to Mount Beppo.
  • Esk to Coominya - 24 km. Climb up to Mount Hallen from Esk and then it is downhill (almost) all the way into Coominya. The old station building at Esk is in great condition.
  • Coominya to Lowood - 12 km. Another flat easy section. Don't miss the native flower gardens at the side of the trail as you come into Lowood. They are lovely and full of birdlife in the late afternoon. Another highlight is the heritage-listed and newly-restored Lockyer Creek Bridge. 
  • Lowood to Fernvale - 8 km.  Easy flat cycling on a fast well-maintained surface. 
  • Fernvale to Wulkuraka - 23 km. A couple of not-too-taxing hills to climb.

Photo Gallery

Yarraman Station Park
Yarraman Station Park at the start of the BVRT

Nukku Station at Blackbutt
The old Station building at Blackbutt. I have no idea why it is called 'Nukku'?
Magazine Hut BVRT
Magazine Hut north of Linville. The hut was used to store tools and provide shelter for fettlers who maintained the rail tracks. This hut is not original.
Esk Railway Station
The old station building at Esk

Brisbane Valley Rail Trail not far from Harlin
BVRT near the site of Yimbun Station 
Me at Blackbutt on Day 1

Have you cycled the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail? What did you think of it? Do you have any advice for others?

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  1. The Brisbane Valley Rail Trail looks like quite the challenge. But what some pretty stations and views along the way. I agree, I always think of rail trails as going to be pretty flat and easy. We have a couple in WA that are anything but! My favourite for a morning ride is the Margaret River Rail trail. Very easy compared to this Brisbane one!!

    1. We have done a fair bit of cycling in W.A - mostly in and around Perth - and there are some great trails. We once spent a few days in the Margaret River region with our bikes but it rained the whole time. We are definitely fair weather cyclists!

  2. My husband did this bike ride a few years ago and loved it. We stayed in the pretty town of Esk when all the Jacarandas were blooming. Although I didn't do the bike ride I had a long walk around Esk and surrounding area. It's an interesting place with it's old railway history. How fabulous that you found your own town - Linville!

    1. Haha - I didn't even make the connection with 'Linville' but I see what you mean.

  3. As someone who spent a bit of my childhood in tropical Cairns it was very interesting to read this! Such a different landscape! Although I don't mind a good bike ride, 10kms on a city footpath is enough for me 😆

    1. I can't imagine doing a long bike ride in Cairns. Much as I love tropical north Queensland it would be just too hot. Great place to wander though, and snorkel and catch the cable car and the Kuranda train and take an overnight trip to Cooktown and lots of other things.

  4. I have only recently fallen in love with the BVRT and so fortunate to live close by, I am on the trail most days, it brings back balance in my life and makes me feel young again. Enjoy 😄

    1. I wish we lived close to a rail trail like the BVRT. New South Wales is sadly lagging the rest of the country when it comes to recognising the benefits of rail trails and bike paths. It does give David (hubby) and I an excuse to travel though. Our next trip is back to Victoria to cycle some of the great rail trails they have there. Hopefully we will make it back to the BVRT next year - not in magpie swooping season though - lol!

  5. Re your question about Nukku at Blackbutt, the original Blackbutt structure isn't available, but the structure that was at Nukku did become available. So they moved the Nukku structure to Blackbutt to add some QR authenticity. I trust this assists.

    1. Thankyou! You have solved one of life's little mysteries for me - only several thousand to go.

  6. Loved your blog. Congratulations. My husband and I are currently tackling the full trail up and back over four days and your information is still relevant (and wise!). I think we butted heads with the same cow you encountered in 2012! It was so interesting to hear how the trail has progressed. Congratulations to all involved. Angela (Qld)

    1. Thank you for your kind comments. Hubby and I have the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail in our sights again for next year. It will be the first time we ride it with electric bikes so we should get further each day. I admire you riding the whole trail. I would love to know how you go.