Take a Hike

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By Julie Miller

With its accessibility from Sydney, awe-inspiring ancient landscape, fresh air and undeniable beauty, there’s little wonder the Blue Mountains National Park is the most visited park in NSW. And for the millions of people who visit this World Heritage-listed natural playground annually, there’s one particular activity that lures them – bushwalking.

In 2018, 76 percent of visitors to the Blue Mountains went hiking on one of countless bush trails that wind their way along the escarpment or into the densely-forested valleys below, many of them walking for up to half a day. That’s 14 percent more than in other NSW national parks – for good reason. Not only is bushwalking great exercise, it’s also the best way to get to some of the most spectacular vistas, hidden waterfalls and less-frequented beauty spots in the Mountains. Not to mention it’s great fun and leaves you feeling invigorated and inspired!

A walk into the past

Bushwalking is more than just a popular activity: it’s an integral part of the Mountains’ experience, as entrenched in its DNA as the blue haze that gives the region its name. For more than 20,000 years, humans have navigated their way along these bush trails, following the tracks of wallabies and sacred Songlines created by ancestral spirits from the Dreamtime.

Later, European explorers utilised the knowledge of the traditional custodians to forge inroads into western NSW; and on the back of industry and agriculture came tourism, with Sydneysiders flocking to the cooler climes to “take the air” and enjoy its health-giving benefits.

Bushwalkers have also played a huge role in the preservation of the wilderness itself. Ninety years ago, passionate members of the Sydney Bushwalking Club pushed to save the Blue Gum Forest in the Grose Valley, which was at the time earmarked for logging. Through their efforts, not only was the forest spared, but it sparked further conservation campaigns that eventually resulted in the creation of the National Park in 1959.

Preparation is key

With more than one million hectares gazetted into the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area, there’s no shortage of bushwalks to choose from, from easy strolls accessible to everyone, to challenging hikes for experienced bushwalkers. But whatever trail you choose, and whatever your level of fitness, preparation is key to a successful and happy day in the bush.

“The most common mistake people make that leads to search and rescues in the bush is over-estimating their abilities and under-estimating the difficulty and time a track will take,” says experienced bushwalker and SES Search Commander Caro Ryan.

“Add not taking everything they need, wearing the wrong clothes/shoes, not telling someone where they’re going and not checking forecasts and park closures, can not only lead to a miserable day in our beautiful national parks, but could put you at risk.”

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Grand Cliff Top Walk:

Expected to become one of the Blue Mountains’ most iconic attractions, the Grand Cliff Top Walk is a scenic 20-kilometre, two-day walking experience spanning the escarpment between Wentworth Falls, Leura and Katoomba. Showcasing some of the most majestic mountain scenery in Australia, the project will connect existing tracks and pathways to allow walkers to tailor the length of their walk, enjoying a night of rest and relaxation in one of our gorgeous mountain villages.

Much of the trackwork is complete, including the revamped Undercliff/Overcliff trail at Wentworth Falls and new facilities at the Valley of the Waters trailhead. Many sections of the Prince Henry Cliff Walk have also been completed, with the final link between Echo Point and Katoomba Falls due for completion in April 2023.

Stage 2 of the walk, connecting Charles Darwin Walk and Sublime Point Road, is scheduled for completion in 2024.

Lockleys Pylon Track:

This seven-kilometre return trail, culminating in a conical-shaped peak with 360 degree views, is one of Caro Ryan’s favourites, and a good one for beginner walkers. “The Lockleys Pylon track leads off the Mount Hay Rd at Leura, undulating towards see-it-to-believe-it views,” Caro says. “It’s a well-defined and maintained track (please take all your rubbish with you) that delivers in spades, without a lot of stairs.”

Giant Stairway to Fern Bower:

This is a great loop for intermediate walkers, according to Caro Ryan. “Fit walkers (who don’t mind stairs) will find views and waterfalls in abundance following a loop down the (889) Giant Stairs [near the Three Sisters], along Dardenelles Pass and up the 1000+ stairs through the Fern Bower on the Federal Pass.” 

Grand Canyon Track:

Arguably the most popular track in the Blue Mountains, the steep and sometimes challenging Grand Canyon track recently underwent a $4.5 million upgrade, with sandstone steps now making the way safer and less slippery. Accessed either from Neates Glen carpark or Evans Lookout, this walk takes you past massive overhangs into the cool depths of a beautiful sandstone canyon lined with lush tree ferns, where the sound of tinkling water will soothe your soul.

Clifftop Track (Govetts Leap to Evans Lookout):

This 6.2 kilometre return cliff-edge walk at Blackheath is rewarded by breathtaking views across the Grose Valley as well as distant glimpses of waterfalls plummeting into the abyss, From Govetts Leap, the trail passes through wildflower-strewn heathland to Barrow Lookout and the top of Govetts Leap waterfall, before continuing along the edge of the cliffs to the newly upgraded Evans Lookout. There are plenty of benches along the way to rest, catch your breath and take in the spectacular vistas.

Popes Glen, Blackheath:

After thousands of hours of painstaking work, the picturesque Popes Glen track at Blackheath has reopened after being damaged in the 2019-20 bushfires. A NPWS teams has laid 631 new stone steps as well as replacing the old wooden bridges and timber steps, with the trail starting in Blackheath Village, travelling via the sandy banks of Popes Glen Creek and ending at Govetts Leap.

Fairfax Heritage Walking Track:

This 1.8 kilometre (one way) walking track sets off from the Blue Mountains Heritage Centre, meandering along a sealed pathway that skirts the edge of a unique hanging swamp before arriving at the picnic area at Govetts Leap. Mostly flat with some gentle slopes, it perfect for families with prams or those with limited ability, including wheelchairs. Seats are provided at intervals along the track to provide rest stops to soak up the bushland ambience, diverse vegetation and spectacular views.

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