Cycling The GR5 Across the Belgian Ardennes

  • Distance

    136 Mi.

    (219 KM)
  • Days

    6

  • % Unpaved

    70%

  • % Singletrack

    5%

  • Difficulty (1-10)

    5

  • % Rideable (time)

    98%

  • Total Ascent

    11,165'

    (3,403 M)
  • High Point

    1,890'

    (576 M)
Crawl through the rural backside of a modern EU country on an off-pavement route in one of the less mountainous corners of the continent. Beware, short and steep climbs and descents belie elevation changes of less than 1000ft. Ride through forests and farmland and along fencelines, hike up and down stone staircases, and drop into historic towns to resupply on Belgium's finest consumables, including beer, cheese, and chocolate.
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Every country in Europe manages marked footpaths, numbering hundreds of thousands of kilometers of trail in total.  This route includes a highly rideable section of the GR5 footpath, a long-distance trail between the North Sea and the Mediterranean.  The route is well marked by red and white painted blazes on trees, fences, and stone structures; or stickers on metal signposts and other semi-permanent fixtures.  Keep your eyes open for trail signs as it is possible to follow the route without detailed maps or GPS, although a road map of the area will aid navigation if you lose the trail.

Expect diverse and rapidly changing “trail” conditions, including signed mountain bike singletrack, well-used farm tracks and decaying doubletrack, managed forest roads, small paved lanes, and labyrinthine routes through town.  Each day is marked by a visit to a larger town, and several smaller communities.  Water and food are in abundance.  Camping along the route is possible in many places, although guesthouses and hotels may also be available.  Despite the proximity to civilization, the route is challenging in places, including a few short, steep pushes which will have you sweating, or pushing.  You will not cover great distances in a day, and you will stop to search for trail markers from time to time.  Come prepared with the patience to discover part of Belgium you would have missed on a brief road tour.

A tire greater than 2” (50mm) is recommended, and a proper mountain bike with suspension is nice on some sections.  Pack light in preparation for some of the more technical sections, including genuine singletrack walking trail, steep climbs and staircases.  Several turnstile cattleguards require that you lift your bike to shoulder-height.

This route includes the GR5 from Diest to the border of Belgium and Luxembourg, passing these towns: Diest-Genk-Maastricht-Spa-Stavelot-Vielsalm-Reuland.  Continue on the GR5 in either direction to lengthen the adventure.

  • Highlights

  • Must Know

  • Camping

  • Food/H2O

    💧

  • A multi-day scavenger hunt for red and white signage, discovering old-world Belgium and great riding along the way. Each turn uncovers new trail surfaces and new curiosities.
  • Belgian beer, for a fraction of the price you would pay out of county. Try Westmalle, Orval, and La Chouffe. The Westmalle Abbey is located along the GR5, further west.
  • Detailed maps and guides of the GR5 are available, although they are not strictly necessary. Local tourisitc offices are the best place to find maps. Some bookshops in larger cities such as Brussels and Amsterdam may also stock these materials.
  • A section of the route near the Maas River, south of Maastricht, includes a sequence of cattle gates that require maneuvering or lifting the bike.
  • Camping, unofficially, is possible in many local forests. Look for the green areas marked on road maps, usually several kilometers out of town. Detailed maps of the area are also found in town at touristic offices for free, or are displayed on signboards in public places. Snap a photo for reference.
  • Everywhere. Plan nice picnics.

Terms of Use: As with each bikepacking route guide published on BIKEPACKING.com, should you choose to cycle this route, do so at your own risk. Prior to setting out check current local weather, conditions, and land/road closures. While riding, obey all public and private land use restrictions and rules, carry proper safety and navigational equipment, and of course, follow the #leavenotrace guidelines. The information found herein is simply a planning resource to be used as a point of inspiration in conjunction with your own due-diligence. In spite of the fact that this route, associated GPS track (GPX and maps), and all route guidelines were prepared under diligent research by the specified contributor and/or contributors, the accuracy of such and judgement of the author is not guaranteed. BIKEPACKING.com LLC, its partners, associates, and contributors are in no way liable for personal injury, damage to personal property, or any other such situation that might happen to individual riders cycling or following this route.

  • Matthijs

    Hello Nicholas and Logan and other readers,

    Last week I packed my fargo and drove 2 hours to the south of the Netherlands tot start the gypsies route in following the GR5 in the Belgium Ardennes.

    Though the weather was typical for the region (for some reason every time I visit the Ardennes it rains) the route was very cool.

    The first day I tackled about 110 km’s of mostly singletrack and forest roads and the occasional ‘is this really the route.. hmm’ meadow cycling.

    Like the description I also had to throw/lift my bike over several fences. I encountered some people walking the trail but they seemed to have more respect then frustrations about me being on ‘their’ hiking route.

    The route is challenging at some points and steering a packed bike with dropbars over some slippery rocky descents can be thrilling yet also scary at some times.

    Add to the fact that my left spd-pedal didn’t want to release my shoe most of the time I had quite some ‘timberrrr’ falling downs.

    So if you do this route with spd’s make sure they release quick and that you have some experience with cycling technical singletrack with click-pedals.

    The second day I decided to make my trip a loop and steered east to Aachen, Germany. There was no set trail or hiking route so I just went full adventure mode and rode half pavement/half forest roads.

    The third and final day I cycled from Aachen, through Maastricht back to Genk to find my car still at the parking lot with no ticket and drove back home.

    In conclusion this route by Nicholas is very cool, but you have to put on your adventure goggles and be open to walking some parts. Also like Nicholas said above pack light because you have to lift you bike up a lot.

    Very cool route! In about a month I’ll be doing the The Traversée du Massif Vosgien route. Can’t wait :).

    thnx.

    p.s. here is a link to my dropbox with some photographs.

    https://www.dropbox.com/sh/m4u71ug7kdjxl5a/AABgVf3o0Fha7hqf-HH8Tjn7a?dl=0

  • Thanks for the input Mattijs; looks like a great trip! Have fun on the Traverseé

  • Mattjis,

    Thanks for the info, and for verifying that this route has some real challenges, even though there are no “real” mountains anywhere in Belgium.

    I had the idea to pedal the entire GR5, before we discovered the true vastness of walking paths across Europe. We gambled for better weather in Eastern Europe and were delighted to find hot, clear days in Czech, Poland, Slovakia, and Ukraine. I’d like to return to more of the GR5 some day, as it is such a prominent route in Europe. The GR5 also passes the Vosges Mountains in France, which you will soon enjoy. However, the TMV is mostly dirt roads and is well suited to a bike like the Fargo. There is a bit of climbing, so this will have been a good warm-up.

    I like drop bar bikes like the Fargo, but for the kind of riding I like an upright bar is better. I also find a suspension fork useful most of the time, and while not strictly necessary, it make the ride safer and more fun. For long dirt roads like we have in the USA, and for paved touring, I might consider a Fargo. I have installed suspension forks on Fargos for other people, and it really changes the nature of the bike. Even with drop bars, I really feel like I could tackle some more challenging trails.

  • Jeroen Smet

    Dear all,
    I am very pleased to see such a small country as ours is able to attract mountainbikers from foreign countries. I would like to follow the above track but looking at the GPX file I am assuming something went wrong. The GPX file shows the first part of the GR5 which has a maximum height of 100m as mentioned in the summary above. BUT the map above shows the beautiful part of the route crossing the Ardennes with much higher parts. Would it be possible to replace the existing GPX with the correct one please. Many thanks!!

  • Hi Joreon. The GPX is correct, it was the text that I think was specified wrong. Thanks for pointing that out; it is fixed now.

  • Jeroen Smet

    Hi Logan. The described route mentioned above goes from Hasselt (BE) to Luxembourg. The GPX goes from Bergen-op-zoom (NL) to Hasselt (BE). I am viewing the gpx file in google earth and gps visualiser and they both confirm this. Could you please look at it when you have the time? Many thanks!

  • Michiel Burgerhout

    I used this link for my upcoming TransVosges bikepacking trip: http://www.gr5.info/wayp.html

    Indeed the GPX here shows only the flat part of the route.

  • Does Vandousselaere

    Hey,

    During the Easterholidays your report inspired us to take on some other GR-routes in the region (less steep and closer to home) and we made a four day loop of the GR129-126-125-12-125 between Dinant and Walcourt (the black line shows this on the map). We had a great time, most of it is cyclable (while there are huge parts that are not yet walkable at this moment of the year, because they are inundated). There are also great mountainbike tracks in the area so you could also make a loop out of these. Next stop will be a loop of mountainbike routes in the eifel or in the bizet region on the other side of the French border.

  • Great tip thanks….Starting in Maastricht at the weekend :)

  • Johan

    The RideWithGPS link is the correct one but the DOWNLOAD GPX link below the map is from Bergen op Zoom to Zuutendaal.

    Another site with GPX files of the total GR5: http://www.traildino.com/trace/continents-Europe/countries-Belgium/trails-GR5#

  • tinguinha

    Would it be over-optimistic for someone with no experience of technical single-track riding to attempt this on a rigid drop bar (but pretty upright) bike with 1.9″ tires (might stretch to 2″)?

    If so, are there any long-ish sections that don’t have too much in the way of difficult terrain and that would make a good day ride?

  • tinguinha

    Another option – are the challenging bits short enough to make getting off and pushing feasible for those sections?

  • Hi Folks, Mid to late May I cycled a chunk of this route and more. From South of Maastricht the the GR5 and a bit of the Rhine route to Basel. Write up is here >> http://www.shanecycles.com/bikepacking-the-gr5-trans-ardennes-pt1/ and http://www.shanecycles.com/bikepacking-the-gr-5-trans-ardennes-pt-2/ The grand total according to my GPS was was 750km, 14,700 m climbing in 11 days. An awesome and challenging route (travel light !!)

  • Bram

    Hello,

    is it possible to do this with a cyclocross bike? Or is it really to difficult without suspension?
    I live near the starting place so it would be awesome to ride this route.

    thx

  • Jasper

    Hi, We did this part of the GR5 some 3 weeks ago (half May) with four friends. Very nice route! A varied route that takes you to places where you’d never come … We started in Hasselt and did the 220km in 3 days.
    Highly recommended!!!

  • Maurits Polak

    The gpx track is from Hoek van Holland to Maastricht instead of from Maastricht down to the South?

  • Koen Greven

    We rode this route last week as our first introduction to off-road touring. We started in Maastricht and followed the route down to Ouren where we then followed the Vennbahn back to Arnhem. The first few days from Maastricht were fun, but did have a lot more negotiating of farms and fences. Everything between Spa and Ouren was more rideable and I don’t think we had to get off the bikes at all. Was a really great route anyway, and a nice way to get some nature while keeping the distance manageable (we live in Amsterdam).

  • Great feedback, thanks!