The spectacular New South Wales Blue Mountains sit on the western edge of the greater Sydney area. They are easily accessible by car or train from the neighbouring metropolis of over 5 million people. More of a plateau, they gradually rise from the Sydney basin to over 1100m of elevation. The area’s largest town of Katoomba is perched high up at 1017m.
These upper sections are justifiably famous for their deep cut valleys lined by sandstone cliffs, as well as lush forests, impressive waterfalls and windswept heathlands. Thankfully this dramatic and rugged scenery has remained largely unaffected by urban or agricultural development. And since 1959 it has been protected in the World Heritage-listed Blue Mountains National Park.
Where are the walks?
The most spectacular walks are clustered around the Upper Mountains towns and villages of Blackheath, Katoomba, Leura and Wentworth Falls. They feature two very scenic valleys, the Jamison Valley and Grose Valley. But there are also worthwhile tracks in the Lower Mountains, and in the northern section off Bells Line of Road. You can check out the rest of my blog for some of those.
Following is my selection of favourite day-hikes in the area. I’ve linked titles to my original post so you can have more of a look at what’s on offer. Walks with grand views feature heavily in my selection, but there are more intimate experiences in the mix also.
First up are walks at the Grose Valley near Blackheath, but you can jump to Grose Valley walks near Leura, Jamison Valley walks at Wentworth Falls, and near Katoomba. And I’ve included one in the Lower Mountains near Winmalee.
Upper Blue Mountains: Grose Valley
Bushwalks Near Blackheath
Difficulty: hard (long but mostly flat), with shorter options
The eastern side of Blackheath is pretty spectacular, and this longish walk takes in the best of the cliff top views in the area. It includes the viewpoints of Evans Lookout, Govetts Leap, and Pulpit Rock, although there are ever changing views for as long as you are on the cliff’s edge. Turning it into a partial circuit via Popes Glenn and the Braeside Walk adds some atmospheric variety. You can shorten this walk by doing smaller circuits or ‘in and out’ walks.
The Grand Canyon Circuit offers a fairly unique Blue Mountains experience, passing through the shadowy recesses of a narrow canyon carved out by Greaves Creek. There’s lush rainforest vegetation, tall and dark cliffs, as well as more open sections with dryer vegetation. There’s also excellent views of the Grose Valley from Evans Lookout. It’s a shortish walk at 6.3 km, but can be combined with the Rodriguez Pass for a much longer circuit walk (see below).
You can sample some of the best of the Upper Blue Mountains on this harder than average circuit walk through and then above the Grose Valley near Blackheath. You get the usual grand valley and cliff views, but also numerous waterfalls, rainforest and creek scenery. And you can combine the Rodriguez Pass with the Grand Canyon Circuit (see above) to make a full and varied day of it.
There are other good options in the Blackheath area, some of which could have made it onto this list, only I decided to stop at twelve. There’s Porters Pass on the western side, adjacent to the Megalong Valley, and also Perry’s Lookdown (which I’ve done but not posted on yet).
A bit past the village of Blackheath is the even smaller village of Mt Victoria. Nearby is a lesser known walk offering typical Upper Blue Mountains scenery with less people. The tracks visit some excellent vantage points on the edge of rather precipitous cliffs with views over the spectacular Grose Valley. There’s also a few patches of treeless grassy plains that make for a nice change of scenery. Add to this a handful of rocky outcrops, some interesting trees, and a worthy side trip to a historic mine. All this for less than 10km of flattish walking.
Bushwalks Near Leura
There are a number of excellent walks which start on the unsealed (and rough) Mt Hay Road, near the Blue Mountains village of Leura. They offer great views of the Grose Valley, looking over towards the cliffs near Blackheath.
The Lockleys Pylon Track is probably the most popular of these walks. It’s fairly easygoing, and the mostly heath vegetation means there are wide open views for much of the walk. Definitely a good scenery to effort ratio. It’s also possible to extend this walk by dropping down into the Grose Valley from near Du Faur Head. And see below for two more options starting on Mt Hay Road.
The Fortress Ridge Track undulates through heath and occasional tree cover to a viewpoint over the Grose Valley and Lockleys Pylon. There are nice views of the surrounding heathland, and of cliffs lining the Grose Valley. There’s also a short and worthy side trip near the start, which takes you to another spectacular viewpoint.
Difficulty: moderate (with steep sections)
There are a couple of excellent and shortish walks starting at the end of Mt Hay Road: climbing Mt Hay itself, and also visiting Buttterbox Point. But it’s possible to continue on over Mt Hay to a rocky outcrop called Venus Tor. I only learned of this excellent walk from a couple I met on the summit of Mt Hay. It’s not an official route, and so will provide a more secluded walking experience than most in the Upper Mountains. There are excellent views over the Grose Valley for much of the way, and Venus Tor feels pleasingly remote. The drop down from Mt Hay is very steep, so you’ll need to be reasonably fit.
Upper Blue Mountains: Jamison Valley
Bushwalks Near Wentworth Falls
Difficulty: hard, with easy to moderate options
The village of Wenworth Falls is named after the impressive waterfall on its southern border. There are a number of great walking tracks in the area, including three circuits passing by Wentworth Falls and through the attractive Valley of the Waters. The longest of these circuits visits Hippocrene Falls and Vera Falls. There are the usual grand sandstone cliffs the region is famous for, as well as numerous waterfalls of all shapes and sizes, and lush forest down in the valley. Probably one for the more adventurous walker, as sections of this quite long walk are on less distinct tracks.
Many of the sights can also been seen on an alternative and shorter circuit via the spectacular and cliff-hugging National Pass. (Note though that as at 2019 this track is closed due to a rock fall.) The Wentworth Pass is a third option. And if you just want views of the Jamison Valley and Wentworth Falls from afar, then you can stick to the network of tracks on the cliff’s edge.
Bushwalks Near Katoomba
Difficulty: hard (Ruined Castle: moderate)
When my wife Sophia and I first started regular bushwalking we did the first half of this walk as far as the Ruined Castle. This is already a classic Sydney walk, with 360 degree views from the top of this rocky outcrop. But continuing on to the summit plateau of the stately looking Mt Solitary provides more great views, with the added satisfaction of a big day’s walking in fairly isolated country. Note that the climb up to Mt Solitary is quite steep, so you’ll need reasonable fitness for this section.
Difficulty: hard, with easy to moderate options
This fairly long circuit takes in some of the best bits of the Blue Mountains near Katoomba, and is highly recommended. You’ll enjoy views of cliffs, waterfalls and lush forest along much of the route. And definitely visit Bridal Veil Falls and Leura Cascades on your way down to or up from the Federal Pass.
Perhaps best done on a weekday to avoid the crowds at popular and accessible spots, such as Echo Point, where you get the classic view of the Blue Mountains’ most famous landmark, the Three Sisters. The Katoomba Landslide section of the Federal Pass is also worth a visit, and could be done as a side trip from Furber Steps, or as a separate walk. You can also shorten this walk by doing sections of it, such as returning via the Giant Stairway. And you could just stroll along the Prince Henry Cliff Walk without descending into the valley.
Difficulty: short but steep
This short but atmospheric walk descends steeply through a narrow and deep gap in cliffs called the Devils Hole. At the bottom of Devils Hole you turn left to view a scenic waterfall. And you can continue on along the bottom of these cliffs for a while. You’ll see evidence of rock climbing here, including some rather impossible looking overhangs.
Lower Blue Mountains
Difficulty: hard, with a moderate ‘forest only’ option
I’ve snuck in this walk as one of my favourites in the Lower Mountains. It starts near Winmalee, and summits Grose Mountain via Shaws Ridge and Blue Gum Swamp. Whilst not as spectacular as some of the Upper Mountains walks, there’s impressive forest scenery and good views over the Blue Mountains and Grose River Gorge on a worthy (and longish) side trip. The section up to Grose Mountain feels fairly remote compared to some of the more popular walks on my list.
If you’d like more information on the region then you can check out the Blue Mountains section of the National Parks & Wildlife Service website. There are are also various online and printed walking guides, a few of which I’ve listed on my track notes resources page. For more general info on the area there are tourist sites like Visit NSW, Blue Mountains Tourism, and Blue Mountains Australia. And of course you’re welcome to contact me or comment on this post.
Enjoy your walking!