Eds Note: Since our trip to Victoria's High Country to discover the gravel gold around Beechworth, the region has been affected by bushfires. Despite widespread media coverage, we are happy to report that none of the towns, cycling routes or businesses featured in this article have been physically affected by the fires. Beechworth remains open and, despite some occasional smoke, looks forward to welcoming you back as soon as you can pack your bags - it's the most effective way we can do some positive for the region. Join us in booking your next cycling trip to one of Australia's bushfire affected towns.
Perched atop an escarpment overlooking the Alpine National Park in the Victorian High Country lies the historic town of Beechworth. First populated during the gold rush of the 1850s, the town has seen a resurgence of late, transforming itself into somewhat of a year-round cycling mecca.
With an abundance of quiet roads, mountain bike trails and lush gravel routes on offer, the town is becoming increasingly popular with cyclists wanting a place to base themselves on their next High Country cycling adventure. So to find out what all the fuss is about, we headed into the gravel heartland of the Victorian High Country to check out some of the local loops and the sights that the region has to offer.
Gravel Riding Nirvana
Beechworth is home to some of the High Country's most beautiful gravel routes and roads. With a wide variety of gravel surfaces ranging from hardpacked sandy gravel to chunky logging roads and flowing single track, there's sure to be a route to suit every preference, ride style and ability level.
To help you plan out your High Country gravel adventure, with the help of Marty Young at The Gravel Mob, we've listed a few of our favourite loops in the region below.
Arguably the highlight of the Beechworth gravel riding scene, this ride sends you to the highest point in the unspoilt Chiltern Mt Pilot National Park – the stunning Mt Pilot lookout. The route takes in a host of quiet, hard-packed farm lanes lined with gum trees and rolling gradients before entering into the Chiltern Mt Pilot National Park. From here the trail gets a little more technical, with a few more punchy climbs thrown into the mix on the road up to the Mt Pilot lookout. While the trail ends at the carpark, just below the summit, it's well worth the hike-a-bike up to the summit to enjoy the stunning vista's that await.
The route then returns via Old Coach Road, followed by a descent down Reedy Creek Road (take care on the loose surface), a blast through the Woolshed Valley and a solid tarmac climb back into Beechworth. For those wanting to extend the loop, short side trips to the Beechworth Berry Farm and the Woolshed Falls are well worth the effort.
Starting and finishing in the sleepy gold mining town of Eldorado, the loop takes in its fair share of scenery throughout the 27.5km long route. The ride kicks off at the stunning FireBox Bakery, a backyard bakery that serves some of the finest baked goods, local produce and coffee in the region.
From here riders head down Woolshed Road before leaving the tarmac behind to enter the Chiltern Mt Pilot National Park. As soon as the rubber hits the gravel, the gradient starts to increase. The unnamed climb up Mulls Track averages 5-7% over its 5km length. From here, riders can enjoy a fast flowing descent down Old Coach Road.
Just before the loop hits the tarmac again, the route passes by the Eldorado Dredge, a large, yet eerily beautiful reminder of the industrial gold rush the region enjoyed in the 1950s. From here it's a short 2km roll back to Eldorado, with the route finishing at the McEvoy Tavern. Dubbed Victoria's smallest pub, the McEvoy Tavern, while small in stature, is big on hospitality and the perfect way to cap off a stunning afternoon of gravel riding.
Stanley and Surrounds
Located 8 kilometres outside of Beechworth, is the quaint town of Stanley. With a vast network of gravel tracks, trails and quiet roads in the area all begging to be explored, this is one destination you don't want to miss out on.
Starting and finishing at the Stanley Pub, our route takes riders up the stunning Murmungee Lookout, down flowing tree-lined laneways and around the gravel roads through the Stanley Pine Plantation. The lookout itself is both the highest point and the highlight of the route, offering up a breathtaking panoramic view out towards the Alpine National Park.
The gravel on the route is a little more technical than the other loops listed above, with the tracks becoming a little rockier than elsewhere in the region. There are also a handful of lung-busting climbs scattered throughout the ride. However, the views on the route more than make up for the exertion required!
The Myrtleford Monster
Regardless of whether you're a masochist, or simply just want to see it all, the Myrtleford monster is one of the finest gravel loops on offer in the High Country. With its fantastic scenery, undulating terrain and various lunch options in the King Valley, this all-day mixed surface ride between Myrtleford and the King Valley deserves a place on any list of iconic High Country rides.
Best ridden clockwise, the loop follows the Buffalo River Road past Lake Buffalo and continues over the Black Range to Whitfield via the Rose River Road. The route then returns via undulating backroads and farm lanes to Myrtleford where riders are encouraged to indulge in a few well-earned refreshments.
What to See
Planning a getaway to Beechworth? Why not bring your friends and family along and make a trip out of it! Beechworth itself is home to a range of local attractions, famous eateries and stunning produce. See below for our must-see picks of the region;
Smack bang in the middle of town, Bridge Road Brewers is one of Australia's finest craft breweries. It is definitely a must-see for anyone who appreciates a brown lemonade or two. After all, it doesn't get much better than lunch in the sunshine with a slice or six of their outstanding pizza plus a tasting paddle of award-winning ales on the side. Afterwards, grab one of the brewery's free bikes for a sightseeing pedal and a refreshing swim in Lake Sambell.
Step inside The Honey Shop and discover the ultimate honey destination! The Honey Shop by Beechworth Honey is home to the concept store formerly known as Beechworth Honey Experience. Combining retail with a fascinating honeybee encounter, we invite you to step inside and be tempted by the delicious honey-tasting station featuring more than 30+ 100% Australian honey varieties.
Founded in 1865, Billson's is one of Australia's oldest breweries and is home to some of the finest artisan cordials, small-batch sodas, craft beers and spirits the region has to offer. Recently revamped, the brewery site is home to a tasting room, cafe, speakeasy whisky bar and even a barber! So if you're after somewhere that offers enough to keep the young ones, and the young at heart content, Bilson's is worth the visit!
Begin or finish your ride with a visit to the original Beechworth Bakery. Be greeted by the tantalising aroma of barista-made coffee mingled with hot-out-of-the-oven pies, pastries and bread. Fuel up with freshly made sandwiches, wraps, focaccias and rolls and, of course, check out the massive range of irresistible treats.
The Old Beechworth Gaol is one of Australia’s most significant post-European cultural sites. Its role in the chain of events that led to the execution of Ned Kelly is significant as it housed Ned’s mother, Ellen Kelly, many of the Kelly sympathisers and Ned himself, alongside his brother Dan and the rest of the Kelly gang. The Gaol was constructed in the 1860s with granite quarried onsite and remains a stunning example of gold rush architecture.
Fascinating guided tours are available; of the Old Beechworth Gaol: Midweek tours commence at 11:00am; Weekend tours commence at 11:00 am and 1:00 pm. Tour duration is approximately one hour. Tickets can be purchased at the Café at the Old Beechworth Gaol or online.
Where to Stay
If you're visiting the region and hoping to see the sights, why not extend your day trip into a weekend or a week-long adventure? With a variety of accommodation options ranging from glamping and quaint cottage retreats, through to entire villa's, you're sure to find something to suit your needs and your budget. read on for our picks, or check out RideHighCountry.com.au for more options.
Visit beautiful Lake Sambell Caravan Park located in the heart of Beechworth, within walking distance to the centre of town. The park offers powered and un-powered sites, en suite cabins and on-site caravans. Guests can enjoy the immaculate amenities, laundry, camp kitchen and undercover BBQ areas. For those looking to explore a little more, mountain bikes, canoes and kayaks are available for hire.
Golden Heritage Accommodation is a platinum member of the Golden Chain Group of motels. Offering motel and self-contained spa cottages situated 1.5 kilometres from the centre of historic Beechworth. The one and two-bedroom self-contained spa cottages each nestled in a garden location with views towards the Beechworth Gorge and township from your private verandah.
Comprising of the Chevalier Mill House, Bella Vista and The Old Brewery, Cascades of Beechworth is the perfect accommodation option for any travellers to the region, regardless of how large your travelling party is. Sleeping up to 14 in the main residence, the accommodation looks over the stunning Beechworth Cascades, a mesmerising tumbling water channel that forms Beechworth Gorge. Situated just 1km from the main street, Cascades is ideal for your next High Country adventure.
How to Get There
From Melbourne - Travelling north take the Hume Freeway and in only two hours you will be in Benalla. A little further on is the Wangaratta exit and the exit for the Great Alpine Road. For Mansfield and Mt Buller take the Maroondah Highway from Melbourne.
From Canberra - Travelling south, take the Hume Freeway to Albury/Wodonga, and in four hours you will arrive at the northern tip of the High Country. Take the Wodonga exit for Beechworth and Tallangatta, or exit at the Great Alpine Road for Bright, at Wangaratta for Milawa, at Chiltern for Rutherglen or Beechworth and exit at Benalla for Mansfield.
For those preferring the rail option, the V-Line Seymour Line train departs Melbourne's Southern Cross Station stopping at the High Country stations of Benalla, Wangaratta, Springhurst, and Chiltern. Southbound, the Country Link train departs Sydney for Albury. The XPT Melbourne to Sydney Line runs daily, also stopping at several key High Country stations.
Looking to travel by air? Melbourne International Airport is just over two hours drive to Benalla. To the north, Albury Regional Airport is only 45 minutes to Tallangatta or Beechworth and is serviced by Qantas Link, Virgin Blue and Regional Express.
With so much to see and do, and so many places to ride, why not plan your own High Country adventure? For more information on where to stay, what to eat and highlights of the area, head on over to RideHighCountry.com.au.