Little over 100km from the centre of Sydney, the Blue Mountains are one of Australia’s oldest and most popular natural areas. It’s also one of the biggest – the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area, proclaimed in 2000, comprises one million hectares of wilderness. There are more than 140km of walking tracks in the park which lead to beautiful mountain vistas, dramatic gorges, serene forest and numerous waterfalls. The selection below is a very small sample of some of the best – stay tuned for additions, we’ll definitely be going back.
Echo Point-Leura Forest-Federal Pass-Furber Steps-Prince Henry Cliff Walk (5km, 4.5 hours)
Start/Finish: Echo Point
Numerous tracks explore the cliffs and forest around Katoomba, this circuit combines the best of them into a great full-day excursion. Walking down into the valley and back up again is strenuous but overall the walk isn’t too difficult and there are lovely rest spots along the way, and even somewhere to buy an ice-cream. Echo Point is the most famous lookout in the park and it’s where all those classic photos of the Three Sisters are taken. The sisters are a rock formation where the forces of nature have eroded a section of cliff to create three adjacent pinnacles that tower 900m over the Jamison Valley. Individually they are known as Meehni, Wimlah and Gunnedoo.
From the giant car park and souvenir shop a concrete path leads to the sisters themselves; enjoy the magnicificent view from Lady Game Lookout and cross Honeymoon Bridge for a close-up look at Meehni, then pass through a stone archway to descend the 900 steps known as the Giant Stairway to the valley floor. There are metal handrails to assist in the steepest sections – take care especially if you’re not great with heights. The stairs end at a track junction in Leura Forest, once home to a popular tea house called the Lady Carrington Dining Hall. Today there is a quaint rotunda which makes a perfect spot to catch your breath and enjoy the beautiful forest surroundings.
From here turn right (west) and follow Dardanelles Pass to join the Federal Pass track which makes for easy walking as it winds through the forest for 1.7km to Cooks Crossing, where the path passes beneath Katoomba Falls. About 200m further on is another track junction – if you’re feeling lazy you can continue straight ahead to the Scenic Railway platform and catch the train back up to the clifftop on the world’s steepest railway (the 415m journey costs $10 for adults and $5 for children; the last train departs at 4.45pm). But this would miss one of the highlights of the walk, the climb back up the Furber Steps.
It’s a steep ascent but the views are outstanding and there are a number of points of interest along the way which provide a good excuse to stop and take a breather – short side-trips are recommended to Vera’s Grotto and the Underfalls Walk to Katoomba Falls. After passing Witches Leap zig-zag to the top of the cliffs, there is a toilet and kiosk here. Then turn right and follow the Prince Henry Cliff Walk back to Echo Point, the easy 1.5km trip passes a number of excellent lookouts.
Note: the scenic railway is worth a visit on a separate trip – for more information visit scenicworld.com.au
The Grand Canyon (7km, 4 hours)
Start/Finish: Grand Canyon loop car park
This is a fantastic walk that takes day walkers into the world usually only seen by canyoners who descent on ropes into the deep, quiet world of Blue Mountains ravines. From the car park take the short track beside the road to Neates Glen car park then follow the Grand Canyon signs to descend via steps and switchbacks more than 200m to the canyon floor.
Your surroundings become noticeably greener and wetter as the track nears the bottom, crossing a small creek and passing a rock overhang before winding down to a sandy beach under a large rock overhang. This area is known as the Rotunda and makes a good rest spot before venturing into the canyon. Duck your head as you pass through a small tunnel, then follow boardwalks and stepping stones as the path passes behind a waterfall and criss-crosses the creek on the way down the canyon, with giant ferns and cliffs on both sides.
After about 1.5km (45 minutes) a sign indicates a 300m detour to Beachamp Falls – the trip is rough, following arrows painted on rocks, but worthwhile to see the 10m falls. Return to the main track and turn right, crossing the creek again to reach a sign pointing the way to Evans Lookout almost 200m above. The climb is just over 1km and takes about 40 minutes. The views from the lookout over the Grose Valley are a just reward before following another short track beside the road back to the loop car park.
Weeping Rock (2km, 1 hour)
Start/finish: Wentworth Falls picnic area
An easy walk to a lovely cascade where water flows over a large rock overhang. Follow the signs from the picnic area, turning left when the track hits Jamison Creek. The path leads through forest above the creek before emerging above Weeping Rock. A metal staircase descends beside the small waterfall to a rock slab below that is a great spot for photography.
Continue along the creek bank to reach a junction at the top of Wentworth Falls; take a few minutes to cross the stepping stones to see Queen’s Cascade and an impressive view out over the valley below before turning right to complete a small circuit and rejoin the track back to the picnic area.
National Pass (5.4km, 4 hours)
Start/Finish: Wentworth Falls picnic area
A fantastic circuit that covers the best of Wentworth Falls and the Valley of the Waters with some excellent cliff walking in between. Start the walk on the path alongside the road, following the signs to Wentworth Falls. Leave the roadside where steps lead to a bush track to visit Princes Rock and Eagles Nest Lookouts, then continue west on the Under Cliff track which passes through a long cave to reach Fletchers Lookout for a grandstand view of Wentworth Falls. From here the path drops to cross Jamison Creek at the top of the falls on stone steps; Queen’s Cascade is on the left and there is another pretty waterfall in the forest as you join the National Pass track, which descends on a spectacular staircase cut into the cliffs.
The track crosses the creek below the immense Wentworth Falls – expect to get wet – then hugs the cliff for 1.5km on a narrow and exhilarating trail before descending gently as it enters the rainforest of the Valley of the Waters. Pass the beautiful Lodore and Sylvia Falls in quick succession then climb a staircase to the base of the much bigger Empress Falls. The track climbs through forest beside the falls then continues on more stairs, crossing below another small waterfall on the steep climb back to the cliff tops.
At the top take a rest at Empress Lookout before more climbing, this time on a steadier incline, to reach Conservation Hut. From here it is easy walking under gum trees for about 1km on the Short Cut Track to return to the picnic area. If you have more time the Over Cliff Walk returns via the edge of the cliffs with several lookouts along the way.
Valley of the Waters (1.5km, 2 hours)
Start/Finish: Conservation Hut
If you don’t have time for the full National Pass walk the Valley of the Waters is still worth a visit. Conservation Hut is a small café perched above Wentworth Falls – take Valley Rd from the Greater Western Highway 1km west of the town of Wentworth Falls. The hut was built as a meeting place for the conservation movement in the 1960s but is now a cafe. The track is well sign-posted and leads to Queen Victoria Lookout – well worth the short detour – before descending on steps to Empress Lookout, which provides interrupted views into the valley below. Catch your breath here before climbing down some wooden steps then a steep metal staircase.
Turn left at a track junction to descend more stairs to cross the creek below a small waterfall then walk downhill through the forest to stepping stones at the base of the beautiful Empress Falls. Canyoners can often be spotted emerging from a slot in the cliff where the Valley of the Waters Creek tumbles over a series of cliffs into a large sandy pool. From the falls the track continues down the valley along the creek, reaching Sylvia and Lodore Falls. This is the turnaround point for the long climb back to the Conservation Hut.
Lyrebird Dell-Pool of Siloam circuit (4km, 2 hours)
Start/Finish: Gordon Falls Picnic Area
The track starts at the car park at the end of Olympian Parade, which joins Cliff Drive just east of Katoomba. Start with a quick 600m return walk to Gordon Falls Lookout for a cliff-top panorama with the falls in the foreground and the Three Sisters and Mt Solitary in the distance. Returning to the track junction just before the car park, head right and walk past an Aboriginal shelter and along the creek. The track descends through wet forest – home of the antechinus, a small marsupial mouse – to the Pool of Siloam, a small fern-lined canyon with a picturesque waterfall at its head. Just before the canyon a track leaves to the left, heading north – back-track a few steps and follow this path (continuing east will take you along the cliff edge). The track climbs a little and crosses the creek before descending under an overhang to Lyrebird Dell, home to a swamp and another small waterfall. Soon after the track emerges from the forest on to Lone Pine Avenue – head left to return to the car park.
Leura Cascades (1km, 30min)
Start/Finish: Leura Cascades Picnic Area
A short, easy stroll to visit one of the most beautiful spots in the Blue Mountains. The cascades and falls are especially spectacular after heavy rain. The creek runs straight through the picnic area, which is just off Cliff Drive 1.1km from the town of Leura. There are toilets and picnic tables here.
Pass the toilet block and under an archway on a well-maintained track to the first of the cascades. Follow the Leura Cascades sign down the steps with the creek on your right. The path follows the creek with excellent viewing spots as it tumbles over rock platforms.
The path leads to a small canyon where bridges provide fantastic close-up vantage points of the largest cascades. Continue to lookouts at the cliff edge that provide great views of Bridal Veil Falls, where the creek plunges into the valley below. Return via the same track or for more cliff views follow the Round Walk-Echo Point sign to Majestic Lookout before turning right (north) to return to the picnic area.
Terrace and Victor Falls (2.8km, 1.5 hours)
Start/Finish: Terrace Falls car park
The eastern parts of the Blue Mountains lack the massive cliffs that characterise the area around Katoomba, but there is still a lot that is worth seeing. The forest around the town of Hazelbrook hides a number of waterfalls, the best of which are Terrace and Victor Falls. Drive down Terrace Road, parking your car at the top of the hill before the road transforms into a 4WD track, then follow it downhill into the river valley. Walking trails lead to the falls from the vehicle track; Victor Falls tumbles into a narrow valley while Terrace Falls , as the name suggests, cascades over a series of sandstone steps amongst lovely warm temperate rainforest.
Burgess and Oakland Falls (4km approx, 1.5 hours)
Start/Finish: End of Winbourne Road, Hazelbrook
There is a small parking area at the end of the road beside a large bush park, walk through the park to locate the start of the walking track, marked by a small sign. The track descends gently through the forest, after about 15 minutes look for a side track that descends on rocky steps to a small waterfall. Return to the main track and continue to a fork in the track – take the right fork to descend to the lovely Burgess Falls and its small beach. Follow the track along the creek to reach the third and most beautiful waterfall on the trip. Oakland Falls tumbles over a high overhang into lush rainforest; walk behind the falls for a different perspective of the forest before continuing along the track to reach the fork passed earlier. Turn right to return to the walk start.
OTHER THINGS TO SEE AND DO
The towns in the Blue Mountains are built on plateaus surrounded by cliffs which means lots of lookouts, most of these are accessible with standard vehicles. Try Echo Point, Sublime Point and Govetts Leap for fantastic views. The mountains are also a great place to undertake multi-day treks, from overnighters close to Katoomba to seriously challenging off-track walks that can see you disappear into the wilderness for more than a week. Click here for notes on a great overnight expedition to Mount Solitary. For more information on these, plus rock-climbing, canyoning and other outdoor activities on offer call the parks visitor centre on (02) 4787 8877.
FLORA AND FAUNA
It’s all about eucalypts. There are 100 different species including the majestic blue gum; a grove of these beautiful trees was the subject of one of Australia’s first conservation battles. The forest, in the Grose Valley, can be visited on a hard day walk or you can camp nearby at Acacia Flat. The park is also home to heathlands and small pockets of rainforest, and the famed Wollemi Pine, one of the world’s oldest and rarest trees- its nearest relative is a 65-million-year-old fossil. Mammals prefer the closed forest in the valleys to the open plateaus, although you will be lucky to spot much furry life as they are mostly nocturnal. Possums, gliders and a small population of spotted-tail quolls call the forests home. Birds are much easier to spot, with eagles and kestrels hovering above the plateaus and king parrots, yellow-tailed black cockatoos and eastern yellow robins among the more colourful forest critters.
From Sydney, follow the signs west to Parramatta. The M4 Motorway (be prepared to pay a $2.20 toll) starts at Strathfield and becomes the Great Western Highway just outside Penrith. The road leads all the way to Katoomba, 122km from the Sydney post office. A slightly slower, but much more relaxing, option is to catch a train from Central Station. The trip to Katoomba takes about two hours. Entry from the west is via Lithgow and Hartley.
Up on the plateau expect temperatures about seven degrees below Sydney. Average temperatures in summer are between 15-25 degrees, in winter it’s 3-12 degrees. Snow falls usually about five days a year. The upper Blue Mountains receive about 1050mm of rain per year – much of it in summer (the wettest month of the year is February), so always carry a raincoat.
CAMPING AND ACCOMMODATION
There is no shortage of places to stay, whatever your budget. Katoomba has a huge range of accommodation options, from luxury bed-and-breakfasts to motels and a caravan park. Nearby towns along the Great Western Highway, including Blackheath and Wentworth Falls, offer more choices. There are several small national park campsites including Ingar campground on Kings Tableland, Euroka campground near Gembrook and the secluded Acacia Flat campground, reached by long-distance tracks from Perrys Lookdown or Pierces Pass.
Many of the walks are close to cliff edges – take care. Water is not safe to drink in the Katoomba-Leura area due to urban run-off. Contact the national parks office (see below) for latest track conditions.
Given the sheer number of walks there is a variety of track standards but most are excellent. Walking in the most popular parts of the park is a step back in time to Australia’s early nature trails on beautifully constructed stone pathways. Some even have their own archways; it wouldn’t surprise to see a party of ladies in long dresses and carrying pinafores coming in the other direction.
These descriptions are a guide only. While we have made every effort to make them accurate, we accept no responsibility for any loss, injury or inconvenience sustained while using them. Make sure you use an up-to-date map and consult rangers before heading out