While visiting family in northern New South Wales, we spent half a day exploring the enchanting Northern Rivers Rail Trail. Nestled in picturesque landscapes, this charming and peaceful trail offers locals and visitors the chance to explore the region on foot, wheel or horseback.
I haven’t done a rail trail before and I was a little nervous on my first time. So, this post is for anyone else who’d love to see some photos and get useful information before they go. Read on to find out if it’s suitable for kids and which local delights you can uncover on your journey…
What and where is the Northern Rivers Rail Trail?
Located near the north coast of NSW, the Northern Rivers Rail Trail is a shared recreation and nature trail. It traces the path of the old railway line, providing an off-road transport route for residents and visitors in the area.
Eventually, it will stretch 132 kilometres across the north coast of NSW, connecting the Tweed Valley with Byron Shire, Lismore and Casino.
The Northern Rivers Rail Trail (NRRT) is split into four sections that will be managed by different councils. They are at different stages of completion and planning:
- Tweed section (24km from Murwillumbah to Crabbes Creek) opened in March 2023
- Richmond Valley (14.4km from Casino to Bentley) has a completion date in December 2023.
- Lismore (31.8km from Bentley to Eltham) is currently being built.
- Byron Council have received funding for a feasibility study of the 62.8km Eltham to Yelgun stage. They are also studying connecting Crabbes Creek to Mullumbimby.
The NRRT Tweed section
Opened in March 2023, the Tweed section of the trail has been enjoyed by more than 24,000 people so far. The 24km path starts in Murwillumbah (population ~9,245) and winds through idyllic countryside and the charming country towns of Dunbible (pop. ~330), Stokers Siding (pop. ~660), Burringbar (pop. ~2,480) and Mooball (pop. >200) before ending in Crabbes Creek (pop. ~290).
Everybody is welcome on the Northern Rivers Rail Trail
The best thing about the trail is that almost anybody can experience it! We saw other couples, families of all ages and formats, school-aged children and wheelchair users. And almost every person had a welcoming nod or “Morning!” greeting to share.
With 6km of sealed asphalt and 18km of solid compacted gravel, the entire rail trail is suitable for walkers, runners and all types of mobility devices including bikes, e-bikes, mobility scooters, wheelchairs, and prams. Push scooters can be used on sealed sections, while horses are permitted in designated areas with a permit.
The sealed asphalt sections are:
- 2.2km from Murwillumbah Railway Station to the Tweed Regional Gallery
- 3.2km starting before Burringbar Station and finishing at Mooball Station
Fur babies (doggos) are welcome on short leads. Just remember to pick up after them!
Is the NRRT suitable for young kids?
On our ride we saw other young school-aged children enjoying the trail on their push scooters. And children being pushed in prams along the sealed sections.
However, on our first time, we left the kids at home so we could test which sections would be suitable for them. It was a good decision, since some of the stretches between stations would have been too long for our 4yo (on training wheels) and 6yo.
We did consider hiring a chariot for the little one to ride in. This would be a great option for trail users with young kids. And you can hire these at Murwillumbah Cycles at Murwillumbah and Mooball.
However, there are short sections that would be fine for their riding ability (and patience).
- The 2.2km between Burringbah Station and Mooball Station is sealed, mostly flat and has great local places to stop and check out. I highly recommend the Tweed Valley Whey Farmhouse Cheesery for gelato!
- Stokers Siding Station has a small playground and picnic area, and Hosanna Farmstay is a few minutes ride away.
- To take them on a shorter ride through the long Burringbah Ridge Tunnel, we’d park at Upper Burringbah Station about 2km away.
- Others recommended the 2.9km gravel stretch between Mooball Station and Crabbes Creek Station to see a few bridges and the Hills Road Tunnel.
How long does it take to ride the Northern Rivers Rail Trial (Tweed section)?
We parked our car at Stokers Siding Station and rode the trail south to Mooball Station and back. It was a leisurely 12.6km ride, each way. It took us about 1.5 hours in total because we stopped for some photos and lunch.
Some companies offer a shuttle service, which is great if you only have time or ability to go one-way. Make sure you book ahead. Check out the list of e-bike suppliers below.
Your time will depend on your speed, ability and how often you stop. However, the 24km trail should take you around 1.5 hours, each way on pedal bikes. Using or hiring e-bikes could make the journey a little quicker. Check out the Northern Rivers Rail Trail distance and time page.
I would allow for 3-4 hours to do the entire Tweed section of the trail on a human-powered bike and have enough time for lunch and photo stops.
What to expect and how to prepare for the Northern Rivers Rail Trail
Make sure you have enough time. Whether you’re exploring a short section of the trail, or the entire 24km and back, allow enough time to go at your own pace and explore the region around you.
Keep left! The trail can get busy and many people are walking/riding/rolling at different speeds. So, keep yourself and your kids, friends and fur babies safe by staying to the left so others can pass you on the right.
Much of the path is shaded. However, in the Australian sun it’s essential to be sun-safe. Wear sun-safe clothing, such as long sleeves and a hat. And always wear sunscreen!
Helmets save lives! For those who are using their bike to explore the trail, you’re required by law to wear an approved bicycle helmet securely fitted and fastened on your head. (https://www.nsw.gov.au/driving-boating-and-transport/roads-safety-and-rules/bicycle-safety-and-rules/wearing-right-gear)
Make sure you take:
- A map – you can get one at the information centre in Murwillumbah or most stations along the way
- Water – a water bottle can be refilled at most stations
- Lights, if going through the Burringbah Ridge Tunnel or after dark (there was a fun full moon ride recently!)
- A tyre puncture kit – something we forgot!
- Any medication or personal items you may need.
- A picnic or snacks if you don’t want to buy anything along the way.
Hire an e-bike for the day
Don’t have your own bike? No problem!
You can hire bikes, e-bikes and supplies (such as chariots for kids) from a variety of suppliers. Some also have a shuttle service for if you want to do the trail one-way.
Make sure to pre-book so you don’t miss out!
- Murwillumbah Cycles located at Murwillumbah or Mooball: https://www.murwillumbahcycles.com.au/bike-hire-shuttle-accommodation/bike-hire-shuttle/
- Better By Bike: https://betterbybike.com.au/
- Valley e-bikes: https://valleyebikes.com.au/
Where can I park for best access?
Where you park your car will depend on where you want to start/finish the trail.
The four major stations along the trail (Murwillumbah, Stoker’s Siding, Burringbah, and Mooball) have ample free parking. The smaller stations have parking, but it can get busy on weekends and school holidays.
Wherever you park, please be mindful of:
- local stores and cafes who need the parking for customers.
- Time limits – some parking has a 2 hour time limit.
You may need to cross some roads
Depending on where you start and finish, you may need to cross a country road to continue on the trail. These intersections with roads seem to be well signed, but always use caution.
Are there signs along the Northern Rivers Rail Trail?
The trail is well signed. Large signs give users historical and interesting information at every station and various locations along the way. And smaller signs indicate how far you’ll travel (in kilometres) to the next station along the trail.
Things to see and do on the Northern Rivers Rail Trail – Tweed section
On the Northern Rivers Rail Trail, you have a chance to:
- visit the heritage-listed Murwillumbah Railway Station
- cross or bypass 26 historic railway bridges, including 5 heritage
- travel through Burringbar Range Tunnel (500m) and Hulls Road Tunnel (50m).
- enjoy scenic rural countryside, charming towns and lush rainforests
- visit many local stores, galleries, cafes, pubs, restaurants and farms along the way
There are plenty of places to stop for food and drink. And public parking and toilets at the four main stations: Murwillumbah, Stokers Siding, Burringbah and Mooball.
Around Murwillumbah Station
At the most northern point of the NRRT is Murwillumbah, a large country town and major hub in the Tweed Valley. Within a few minutes walk from the start of the rail trail is the Road And Rail Cafe and Riverview Hotel. And closer to the centre of town is the Imperial Hotel with great burgers and comfortable accommodation. It’s the perfect starting point for exploring the Tweed area and the rail trail.
At the historic Murwillumbah Station is the Murwillumbah Visitor Information Centre (say hi to the lovely Garry!) and Murwillumbah Cycles where you can hire or buy bike supplies. This is the start of the 24km rail trail. There are plenty of informative signs and guides to get you started on your journey.
And 2.2km south of Murwillumbah Station is the Tweed Regional Gallery & Margaret Olley Art Centre with a great restaurant and gift shop.
Stokers Siding Station and surrounds
In the town of Stokers Siding is Stoker’s Post and Rail Cafe for ice creams and delicious samosas, the Stokers Siding Art Gallery, and a small children’s playground with picnic tables nearby.
And, just 3-5 minutes’ ride away, is Hosanna Farmstay, home to some friendly alpacas and a great place to stay if you’re looking for some family fun! Hosanna Farmstay has camping and cabins, a restaurant, and activities such as live music and animal feeding.
Burringbah Range Tunnel
The Burringbar Range Tunnel is located on the 7.1km stretch between Stokers Siding Station and Upper Burringbah Station.
(Ironically?) The long and dark 524m tunnel is a highlight for many on the trail. There is no lighting within the tunnel to help preserve the microbats and glow worms that call it home. So, all users should take a light to assist with visibility inside the tunnel so that you don’t run into a wall or another trail user – it’s easy to do in the dark!
We used our mobile phone lights, which were ok for a non-busy day. However, for safety, I highly recommend getting a proper light with higher lumens (and take off your sunglasses!).
There is a gradual incline on the way up to the tunnel as you walk/roll from ~40m elevation to a ~95m peak. It’s easy for a fit person, but it could be slightly more difficult if you are suffering injury or impairment.
Note: if you are visiting with young children or not able to do the ~6km ride to/from Stokers Siding Station, you could probably park at Upper Burringbah Station and walk/roll/ride the ~2km from there.
Burringbah Station was a lively place to stop. There was plenty of parking and a large park with picnic tables and places to sit and enjoy the main street.
Opposite the park was a strip of shops, including The Barn cafe and the Natural Wine Shop. And The Lotus Van often pops up on Butchers Lane. They serve chicken satay sliders, slow roasted pork belly bahn mi and lots more – check out their Facebook for times.
On our return journey, just north of Burringbah, is when I got a punctured tyre. I was devastated that I wouldn’t have time to get it fixed and complete the return journey. But, I have to admit, I did enjoy waiting at the Cheesery with a yummy limoncello gelato while Daniel rode back to collect the car!
To visit Tweed Valley Whey Farmhouse Cheesery, continue about 1km south of Burringbah Station. Watch out for the sign before Mills Creek bridge that shows where you leave the NRRT. Go through the gate and follow the path to the main road – watch for cars when you cross! The Tweed Valley Whey Farmhouse Cheesery offers camping accommodation via HiCamps.
Mooball Station is where we stopped for lunch at the Victory Hotel and a beer.
We would love to check out the Moo Moo Roadhouse and Pedal and Sip cafe next time. Mooball is a fun little town with cow-print painted electricity poles and a giant motorbike on the main street.
Airports and accommodation near the Northern Rivers Rail Trail
If you are travelling from a distance, there are a few airports that are nearby:
- Gold Coast airport (OOL) is about 30 minutes’ drive north of Murwillumbah.
- Ballina Byron Gateway airport (BNK in Ballina) is about 1 hour drive south of Murwillumbah.
- Brisbane airport (BNE) is about 1.5 hours’ drive north of Murwillumbah.
From there, you can hire a car to get around the area. And from the Gold Coast and Ballina you can book a shuttle to your accommodation. It’s always a good idea to book ahead.
Accommodation near the NRRT
Check out these amazing places along the NRRT:
- Imperial Hotel, River View Hotel or Gallery Hotel in Murwillumbah
- Hosanna Farmstay in Stokers Siding for camping and glamping options.
- Tweed Valley Whey Farmhouse in Burringbah for camping options.
Alternatively, the Gold Coast (30-45 minutes’ drive away), Tweed Heads, Byron Bay and many other towns in the Northern Rivers area have plenty of accommodation options to suit most budgets. Start your search by checking out places on booking.com, HiCamp, vio.com or Airbnb.
Did I miss anything?
Have you been on the Northern Rivers Rail Trail? I’d love to hear about your experience and what other information our readers should know.
Share your ideas and experiences below. 🙂