2 DAYS, 12.6km
There are enough scenic highlights in the Blue Mountains to keep you busy for at least a week via sealed roads and short walking tracks. But this is a fun and easy way to really get amongst the wilderness, striking out from Katoomba across the valley to the mass of Mount Solitary – best known as the cliffs in the background of all those pictures of the Three Sisters. A fun and challenging rock scramble, a large well-appointed campsite and splendid views make this a perfect weekend escape.
Day 1: Golden Stairs to Ruined Castle (9.3km, 4-5 hours)
The breakdown of this walk is flexible and will likely depend on your travel schedule; exploring Mount Solitary can be done on either day one or day two, leaving the other as a shorter day to allow for a late start or to be back in Katoomba in time for an early afternoon ice-cream.
The walk starts at the Golden Stairs – there is a small car park on the Narrow Neck Pleateau Trail, a dirt road that leads out on to the Narrowneck Plateau (turn off Cliff Drive on Glenraphael Drive).
Enjoy the view from the lookout just below the cliff edge then head steeply down, in some places making use of handrails on a metal staircase. About 800 metres below is a track junction at the base of the cliffs (if you have more time you can extend the walk by starting in Katoomba and following the Federal Pass track from there. This also allows the option of getting back up the cliffs on the Scenic Railway).
At the junction head right and follow a flat and enjoyable trail through lovely eucalypt forest, passing through some beautiful rainforest groves. The track follows the path of a railway that once transported shale from mines near Ruined Castle.
After about 2.5km the track splits with a sign indicating the route to the top of Ruined Castle. Drop packs here and climb a steep slope to the base of a jumble of boulders that mark the castle itself. Some fun rock scrambling is rewarded by wonderful views across the valley back to the spectacular prow of the Narrow Neck Plateau – known as Castle Head – and as far as Wentworth Falls. Take care in some very exposed spots.
Returning to the main track and picking up packs, it’s a short walk to the campsite which is impossible to miss. There are two water tanks (boil water before drinking), a table and plenty of nice flat spots to put up a tent. Set up camp and put some food, water and warm clothing in a day pack and keep going to explore Mount Solitary.
More good forest walking leads to the base of a narrow ridge that leads up the southern end of what looks like a wall of cliffs. The ridge is known as the Korrowall Knife Edge, which gives you some idea of what’s in store.
There is a clear path up the ridge, with several great spots to stop and take a breath and soak in the views back over the Jamison Valley – in some steep sections care is needed to negotiate shifting ground and narrow gaps between rocks and trees; note that this would be even harder with a full pack on if you want to camp on top of Mount Solitary, which is another fun option.
The track eventually levels out among she-oak trees. Pass some campsites before dipping into Chinamans Gully – a 50m track leads to a lookout over Lake Burragorang. Back on the main track, a short climb leads to the summit of Mount Solitary and, a little further on, a rocky outcrop with excellent views back to Katoomba. If you’re camping, there are great spots to pitch a tent nearby.
If your tent is at Ruined Castle, turn around and follow the same path back to the campsite. The castle itself is an excellent vantage point to watch the sun go down (take a torch!)
Day 2: Ruined Castle to Golden Stairs (3.3km, 2 hours)
Another quick trip to the top of Ruined Castle to watch the morning light (or fog) is recommended before packing up and heading back to Katoomba. Take a breather before the steep climb up the Golden Stairs.
NEED TO KNOW
Before heading out call into the police station in Katoomba to fill out all your trip details and pick up a free EPIRB (locator beacon). Remember to return it when you get back! If you are feeling really adventurous the walk can be extended to continue across the top of Mount Solitary, descending via The Col – a steep gully on the eastern side. There is no marked trail after this but four-wheel drive tracks can be followed most of the way to Wentworth Falls. This is for experienced walkers only. Wherever you go, remember the weather can change rapidly and there have been a number of serious bushfires in the Blue Mountains, so take appropriate gear and precautions.
OTHER THINGS TO SEE AND DO
The Blue Mountains is one of Australia’s great outdoor destinations with a long list of fantastic bushwalks, waterfalls, lookouts and other natural attractions. The Gingerbread House in Katoomba also makes delicious post-hike milkshakes. Click here for track notes to a selection of great short walks.
ACCOMMODATION AND SUPPLIES
There is no shortage of places to stay in and around Katoomba, from campgrounds to luxury bed-and-breakfasts. There are several outdoor gear shops in town including Paddy Pallin, Macpac and Mountain Designs to stock up on last-minute supplies.
The NSW Parks and Wildlife Service visitor centre is on Govetts Leap Road in Blackheath. It’s open from 9am-4.30pm every day except Christmas Day. Phone (02) 4787 8877 or visit nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/visit-a-park/parks/Blue-Mountains-National-Park