Bikepacking the Netherlands
The Netherlands might be one of thé biggest cycling countries in Europe. Not only do the dutch cities offer great cycling facilities, the possibilities to make adventurous cycling itineraries through nature are endless. In all honesty, we must acknowledge we do not know our neighbouring country that well, so we thought it was finally time to explore it by bike. Lovely to go on a cycling holiday so close to home!
Towards the Veluwe
Choosing a destination for a cycling holiday is already half the fun. We love to explore possibilities and are always shocked how much you can do so close from your own doorstep. For this trip we had two items on our wish-list. First of all we did not want a lot of hassle to return back to Ghent with public transport (check), second of all we were in need for a bit more of an adventure and wanted to avoid the main cycling roads (double check!). After talking about it with other cyclists, the Veluwe was the direction to go.
The best time to make a trip to this part of the Netherlands is the end of August. The heather fields are fully blossoming by then and you can enjoy the purple colours to the fullest. A downside of this is that you are cycling there in high season, but if you'd choose the same itinerary as we did this is not a problem at all.
Our cycling itinerary in the Veluwe
First things first, our cycling itinerary:
- Day 1: Kinrooi to Venlo // 60km // 120 meters of altitude (ma)
- Day 2: Venlo to Nijmegen // 76km // 140ma
- Day 3: Dagje Nijmegen // resting day
- Day 4: Nijmegen to Groenendaal // 68km // 340ma
- Day 5: Groenendaal to Garderen // 43km // 404ma
- Day 6: Garderen to Vaassen // 65km // 315ma
- Day 7: Vaassen to Zwolle // 42km // 210ma
As you've probably already noticed, we are not the most badass cycling people out there. We wanted to limit distances for this trip and also fully enjoy some rest in between our working weeks. It was a HOLIDAY with a little bit of a challenge, but not too much. So you could easily spend half the amount of time on this route, but we love the 'less is more' lifestyle and are happy in the end. Route-wise, we have combined the Fietserpad with The Green Divide, a combination of very different cycling styles which we loved.
Bike Setup - Surly Bridge Club
You can find a detailed review from our steel touring bikes, Surly Bridge Club, on this link. For this short bikepacking trip we made a few changes and decided to leave some stuff at home. We eliminated the front racks and front panniers, but added some stem bags, fork cages and fork bags. We will not bore you with a detailed overview of this, but if you want some more details feel free to contact us. To make a long story short, we are still in love with the Surly Bridge Club, but they are not the perfect fit for these kinda trips. However, with only a few little adjustments compared to the setup we use for long-term-touring they definitely do the trick.
Fietserpad + The Green Divide
This trip, and the Netherlands in general, is a perfect match for beginners as well as for the more experienced bikepackers whom are up for a challenge. Adventure is never far away in this country, for all levels. It had been a while since we went cycling for multiple days, so we were looking for a combination of easy riding with some adventure. We combined two very different itineraries and they offered all we were looking for.
The Pieterpad is the longest long-distance hike in the Netherlands, leading you from the south to the north of the country. There is also an alternative route for cyclists, 'Het Fietserpad', which you can follow and still enjoy the same highlights as the hike. The river 'de Maas' is your best companion on this trip and guides you from little towns and big cities to beautiful nature. Unfortunately the route is not signalled, but you can easily use de SNP Route App. For only € 5 you can download one part of the trip (total = 4 parts) and use the app as a GPS.
For the second part of our trip we were in the need for a bit more of a challenge and headed towards the Green Divide. This is the longest bikepacking itinerary in the Netherlands and was recently put together by Erwin Sikkens. This 300km itinerary is a combination of gravel paths, short mountainbike parts and some singletracks. You need a MTB-vignette to cycle these paths which you can buy for €12.
Erwin has succeeded in creating a very diverse, but most of all very fun, bikepacking itinerary. You can find more detailed information and gpx files on this site. It was our first multiple day bikepacking experience and we fell absolutely in love with this kinda riding. The constantly returning meadows in combination with stretched forest will make you fall in love with this part of the Netherlands very quickly. Even the heavy rain was not a mood killer and we can only recommend trying out this peaceful bikepacking trip. The best time to make this trip is at the end of August, because of the purple colours.
Combining flat roads with offroad gravel paths
Day 1 - Kinrooi to Venlo
Before starting our trip we slept in Kinrooi where Niels' aunt and uncle live. From Kinrooi in Belgium you reach the dutch border by bike in about 30 minutes. The charming white city of Thorn is the starting point of this cycling trip. It's a beautiful city and the centre is filled with cute white houses and there is an abundance of cosy restaurants and bars, in case you'd be ready for that first cold pint before the journey even starts.
The paved roads lead you to the Fietspad from where you cycle towards 'het Leudal'. The switch from paved roads to easy unpaved paths is very fun. It was quite hot the first day and the trees will provide plenty of shade during sunny days. We did a little picknick next to the Leumolen, an old mill in an orchard, which you can visit for free. The rest of the day will lead you back and forth from the river to forest paths until you reach the city of Venlo.
When you arrive in Venlo, there are plenty of sleeping options. However, if you are in need of some peace and quiet, there are a few campgrounds 5km's from the centre. We pitched our tent at Camping de Weerd and had a little chat with other cyclists there. We took out our Trangia Cooking set and had a great meal before falling asleep in our sleeping bags.
Day 2 - Venlo to Nijmegen
We crawled out of our tent very early after a rainy night. You can read all about our morning routines on a bike trip in this blog. To save some time, and because of a cold/wet morning, we opted for an easy breakfast with just some yoghurt, nuts, fruits and chocolate. Full of energy our day in the saddle started and we quickly reached 'het Veer'. A small ferry awaited us and for only € 1 pp we could cross the river. Here, the flat roads next to the river change into small climbs, but nothing too difficult. The wide views filled with dutch flowers and fruit trees give a great view, but we especially loved the surroundings around the Mookse Heide and Groesbeekse Bos.
In this part of the country, the city of Nijmegen is a perfect getaway for a short citytrip. We always love visiting cities on a bike trip, but unfortunately sleeping accommodations can be very expensive and it's not always easy to park your bikes safely. Some friends of us recommend the platform of “Vrienden op de Fiets”. It's only for hikers and cyclists making a multiple day trip, so you can not use it while travelling with public transport or your own vehicle. You pay a yearly donation of €10 and for one night you pay €22.50 per person. You receive your own bedroom, a place to take a shower and breakfast. Our first experience was one with Michael, who opened his home for us for 2 nights. We had great talks, slept in the cleanest room and had diner together. We can recommend this platform if you are looking for a bit of luxury and a local experience. We prefer it to a hotel bed, but you have to be aware you are spending time in someone's home. (the website is only in dutch, so that might make it a little bit harder if you travel international).
Day 3 – Nijmegen
After a great breakfast at Michael's we decided to explore the city during this rainy, sunny day. It's a shopper's paradise, but we really don't like walking around in these busy streets. We walked around the Lange Hezelstraat which is a cute and authentic street, filled with cool coffee bars and local shops. You will also find some sustainable shops in Nijmegen like 'Van Nature', where we bought our favourite deodorant from 'We Love the Planet'. And for all those other veggies and vegans out there, Nijmegen offers plenty of delicious places to eat. Definitely try the vegan scampi sandwich at Veggie Galore, loved it!
Day 4 – Nijmegen to Groenendaal
After another great breakfast with Michael, our bikes are impatiently awaiting us. When cycling from Nijmegen to Arnhem, we'd advise not to take the shortest route. Instead it's a lot nicer to cycle from the Ooijpolder towards de Waal, where you will reach the nature park 'De Gelderse Poort. De Millinger Theetuin is one of the most beautiful gardens you will ever see. There is an entree price of € 6 per person, in which one drink is included. The gardens, where you can also have a piece of pie or a brunch, is only reachable by foot or bike. (open from March till October)
The closer you will get to Arnhem, the more you will feel the differences in altitude. It's quite a hilly city and for us it was the perfect place for a lunch break. As mentioned before, you can buy a mountainbike-vignet for the Green Divide. A good place to buy this is the cycling store Roelofs.
About 10 minutes later you will feel the ground beneath you changing from paved roads into sandy forest ones. It doesn't take long before you will see the purple heather for a first time, but definitely not the last. The pace changes quickly due to more technical parts through dry sand, but we feel awesome and the little kid inside of us takes over. It's immediately all fun and play and we really don't mind the slow pace, perfect for taking some pictures.
The storm is chasing us and the temperature suddenly drops, we're only just in time to pitch our outer tent at camping Groenendaal to stay dry. A perfect moment to enjoy some food and drinks and heat our bodies. When the storm is passed, we crawl outside and notice the beautiful camping ground. We spend some time outside and finish our diner before crawling into our sleeping bags for a rainy night.
Day 5 – Groenendaal to Garderen
It's been a few months since we went camping for a few nights in a row and we have to admit, it again takes some getting used to. Especially Niels always has a hard time adapting to the small sleeping pad, but it's all part of it. The view from our tent feels fresh in the morning and we take our time to have some breakfast and decide to let our tent dry in the sun. It's necessary to use a pause button every now and then and a great way to recharge our batteries, we love these moments! Even though we barely slept, we feel energised and jump on our Surly's.
The effects of the storm are immediately noticeable. Big puddles, muddy roads, single tracks blocked by branches... combined with a forse wind and new rain every now and then. The direction of the wind doesn't blow in our favour today and the open fields are hard work. Luckily there is a watchtower in the middle of the heather fields and we decide to take a break and enjoy the views. A perfect place to recharge and take some pictures. After this we stay relatively dry, but the wind feels very cold and we quickly call it a day. We stumble upon a camping where we can book a little hut and decide to spend the night there.
Day 6 – Garderen to Vaassen
Well rested we wake up in our warm hut while a family of squirrels tries to steal our food. It's such a difference when you don't have to clean up your tent and you're up and ready to go. We leave early and make a supermarket stop. The Green Divide is never too far away from the living world, but it is important to plan your supplies a little bit. There are not a lot of places along the road to resupply.
The itinerary gets more technical closer to the end. There first layer is wet but beneath the tracks are full of dry sand. Our heavily packed Surly Bridge Club is not an ideal companion for this but can definitely do the trick. With Shwalbe's 27.5" MTB Marathon Plus tyres, you will never loose grip on these roads but there is so much fraction you will lose speed. If speed would be your intention or main goal for this trip, it's probably better to choose a real gravel bike with more narrow tyres. The Kona Rove Series would be a great choice if you'd be into bikepacking in our opinion!
We are surprised how quickly we adapt to these bikepacking roads. We don't mind the mud, the rain, the puddles, pushing the bikes through the dry sand... it gets more fun every day and decide this is something we want to do more once we are on the road for our world trip. This night we sleep at Natuurcamping Helftercamp, a family camping, where we can pitch our tent next to a children's farm.
Day 7 – Vaassen to Zwolle
We are in for only a short ride until we reach Zwolle. We enjoy a peaceful morning and the last part of the itinerary is only around 40km, nothing we couldn't handle. We are surprised though, because you find a few very steep and difficult MTB-paths close to Zwolle. Our bikes are packed with mud, the chains rattle and we look like we have not had a shower for weeks. When we cycled from Belgium to Spain last year we never looked this dirty.
The end is coming near and we're cold and tired, but still love it. It's always harder to take a lunch break when you're wet, so we decide to keep on cycling towards Zwolle. Once there we make a stop next to a garage where we ask if we can wash our bikes and gear. Very friendly they help us out and the bikes are shiny and feel new again. Some sunshine is finding its way through the clouds again and we happily cycle towards our "Vrienden op de Fiets" hosts. We decide to end our trip with a good diner and some beers in the city, a perfect last evening.
How to prepare your bikepacking trip to the Green Divide
How do you prepare a cycling trip like this? We think there are multiple ways to plan your holiday and all depends on cycling experience and the amount of time you have for the cycling trip. However, it's such an easy part of the Netherlands to travel to we would advise not to plan too much in advance. We love to stay flexible on a cycling trip, because you never know how the legs feel and how the weather will change.
Sleeping on het Fietserpad & The Green Divide
In the Netherlands, and practically Europe, we feel it is not a necessity to book your accommodation beforehand. During the high season this can cause a bit of an extra search sometimes, but in general you will always find a place to sleep. Especially if you take your own tent with you, it will not be difficult to find a place to pitch it. We did not book a single night beforehand and in the end we love the combination of different types of accommodations.
If you are not used to cycling long days yet, it could be worth to leave sleeping gear at home and book 2 or 3 nights beforehand. This could be a perfect way to save some weight and enjoy a warm bed every night.
Costs for a bikepacking trip
What is the budget for a cycling trip through the Netherlands? Again, this is a subjective answer. Everyone has his/her own preferences during a cycling holiday, but like always accommodation and transport will determine the biggest costs. If you camp every night, that will be of course cheaper compared than sleeping in a hotel.
For this trip we spent around € 500 for the 2 of us together. A bit more than our average budget for a longer holiday, but it is still not a lot. In this budget everything is included: food, train tickets, accommodation. The costs of the bikes and all the gear is left out, but if you'd have any questions about that, feel free to get in touch!
Transport to/from de Veluwe
The train network in Belgium and the Netherlands has its flaws, but in general there are a lot of options. We love to start or finish our shorter trips with a train ride. This way, we don't have to keep on cycling in circles and can cover more ground on one trip. We only needed a oneway ticket from Zwolle (NL) to Ghent (BE) at the end of our cycling trip.
Via NS International you can book several trains between Holland and Belgium. According to us there are 2 downsides to this. Firstly, the reservation system is very outdated when travelling by bike. You have to call NS International if you want to take your bike with you and there are only 4 spots on each train. This reservation took around 45minutes and we think it's strange that it is not possible to book this through the online website yet. They were very friendly though and helped accordingly, you just have to be patient.
A second downside is the price. For the two of us we paid €140 to get from Zwolle to Ghent, a 4hour train ride. We feel it's very difficult to understand why we pay so much for a train ride but for less than half this amount you can fly to the south of Spain. This is another discussion of course and we are very happy being able to take a train.
Are you convinced to start planning your cycling holiday close to home? It's such a fun way to travel and we fell in love with our first bikepacking trip. Let us know where you are heading towards and feel free to get in touch with any questions, enjoy your trip!
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