My first experience of the Blue Mountains was back in 2014, just 2 weeks into my Australian adventure. It was cold and wet. The warmest item of clothing I had brought with me was a thin hoodie and my best footwear was a pair of old running trainers. I was completely unprepared.
Almost 2 years later I returned, armed with ample clothing and a wealth more experience and confidence when it came to the great Australian outdoors. I was here to conquer the mountains and put an end to the plastic poncho nightmares once and for all.
There are countless walking paths throughout the mountains. Some require a certain level of skill and ability and most require a decent level of fitness, because, well; steps. If you aren’t dreaming of steps after completing these hikes, then you didn’t do it right.
Giving an accurate time and distance for each walk proved very hard for this post. Most of the tracks are connected to each other, so you can begin and end in a number of locations, creating your own unique route. I also began and ended most of my walks at the very top of Katoomba town, which added on a large chunk of walking time each way. Because of this, the times I give are just a rough guess.
In no particular order, here are my top 5 walks.
Approx. 2-4 hours circuit // Accessible from Katoomba (Echo Point) and Leura
The walk – Myself and my new travel buddy, Lauren started this walk at the famous lookout, Echo Point. From there we began by tackling the Giant Stairway, 900 steep steps descending approximately 1000ft past the Three Sisters and into the forest below. Our legs were nice and wobbly by the time we reached the bottom.
Once in the forest, the air became cooler and the sunlight weakened. We took a left and made our way to the Leura Forest picnic area for a bite to eat. From there on, the walk began to ascend once more, following trickling streams and waterfalls, which grew in size and became noisier the higher we climbed.
We eventually emerged from the forest and at the very base of the Leura Cascades. As we craned our necks upwards and squinted, we could see the water and spray gently flowing over the huge hunk of rock. The climb then continued to the top of the falls, for a different perspective.
From there on, there were a number of routes to choose from, which made things a little confusing. We continued to follow the water until we ended up coming out in the Leura car park and walked back into Katoomba via the back streets. In hindsight, we should have looped back along the Prince Henry Cliff Walk. I would advise avoiding walking along Cliff Drive as much as possible. The road is bendy, fast and there are no footpaths, making it very dangerous for pedestrians.
Effort – Moderate to Hard. The Giant Stairway and steps leading up and out of the forest and past the Leura Cascades are relentless!
My score – 7/10. A nice varied walk. The only part I wasn’t keen on was having to partially walk back along a busy main road in order to get back to Katoomba.
Approx. 2.5 hours return // Katoomba (via Katoomba Falls Road)
The walk – We reached Katoomba Falls by descending the Furber Steps. These steps were much more gradual and kinder on the ol’ legs. The walk down took us into the damp, ferny rainforest and then a side path lead to a ledge and viewing area of the falls. From there, you can continue on to Scenic World and the forest boardwalk.
Effort – Moderate. In my eyes, steps are never easy, but I suppose these steps are a little more forgiving than the rest.
My score – 7/10. Nice view points along the way and relatively varied.
The Ruined Castle
Approx. 8 hours loop // Accessed from Katoomba (via Furber Steps)
The walk – This was one of my favourite walks in the mountains and not to be taken lightly. We reached the track by descending the Furber Steps, passing Scenic World and the old mines. We almost missed the turning, which was very subtly marked off to the right. This path immediately made us question whether we were actually even on a path to begin with. There were fallen trees to negotiate and we crossed a rocky area, which we later found out was an old landslide. Markers were frustratingly unclear around this area and it would have been easy to go the wrong way.
Luckily for us, we had bushwalker and experienced climber, Steve handy, to offer some much needed advice and guidance. We eventually came out into the forest below the escarpment and were offered some relief by a well trodden, flat path, which we followed for some time.
After about an hour of excitable powerwalking we reached some steps, which took us up onto a ‘saddle’ of land. As we climbed higher, we were teased with subtle indications through the trees that we were heading for somewhere special; somewhere with a killer view. It was around this point that Steve informed us that the Ruined Castle was actually not a castle at all, but a pile of rocks resembling what looks like the ruins of something manmade.
As we reached this pile of lies, we began skirting the base for a way to climb up. This is where many people go wrong; they trek for hours with high expectations and visions of something magical, only to find a pile of old rocks. They turn around disappointed and disheartened, wishing they had never left Echo Point.
We scrambled our way up, squeezing through a hole in the rock. It wasn’t easy and if Steve hadn’t have been with us, we’d never have found our way up.
We climbed to the very top of a columnar shaped rock and perched precariously. The 360 degree view was absolutely breathtaking.
We sat and ate our lunch, soaking in the beauty with every bite. On the return hike, we tackled The Golden Staircase. This was a long, hard climb and some of the steps were not particularly well maintained compared to the other staircases down into the valley. Nevertheless, it was fun!
At the top of the Golden Staircase, we had to trudge back to Katoomba along a dirt road which seemed to go on forever, and then through the backstreets of the town. This took at least an hour.
Effort – Physically and mentally hard. It is a long walk and there are many steps, regardless of the route you choose. Negotiating the landslide area requires some navigation skill and determination. If you choose to climb the Ruined Castle, do so with caution. Leave early, take plenty of water and something to eat. I’d also recommend letting someone know of your plans.
My score – 8/10. I loved this hike and its challenges. The hard slog was completely worth it for the stunning views from the top of the Ruined Castle.
Approx. 3.5 hours return // Wentworth Falls via Charles Darwin Walk
The walk – The picturesque town of Wentworth Falls is just 2 train stops down the line from Katoomba and the beginning of the Charles Darwin walk is just a short walk from the station. The track is a flat, easy stroll through bush land and open forest and follows a tranquil stream and scattering of cascades and waterfalls the entire way.
Weeping Rock is a rocky overhang laden with ferns and a nice area to stop and explore.
When we reached the top of the falls, we initially felt a little disappointed. That was until we realised we could hike down the steep cliff face looking over the beautiful Jamison Valley and into the depths below.
And this was our reward; full, frontal waterfall!
Effort – The Charles Darwin walk is easy and can be accessed by most. The steps down to the base of the waterfall are incredibly steep and narrow, but well maintained and it doesn’t take too long to go up and down.
My score – 8/10. I absolutely loved the variety of this walk and the epic view of the waterfall at the end. It is very accessible from Katoomba and the perfect day trip. Wentworth Falls town also has some lovely cafes, so you can treat yourself before catching the train back.
Like the tracks I mention earlier near Katoomba, there are heaps of other tracks to explore in this area (I only touched the surface). Most of them join together to form loops and circuits, meaning you are free to start and finish your walk from a number of locations to suit your own preferences and time frame.
The Grand Canyon
Approx. 3.5 hours circuit // Neats Glen Carpark, Blackheath
The walk – This walk turned out to be my favourite during my time in the Blue Mountains. Blackheath is accessible by train, although most of the walking tracks are a fair distance from the station. We were lucky enough to have Steve’s car at the time and I would strongly suggest renting one so you can explore the surrounding areas with ease.
From Neats Glen carpark we hiked down into the canyon, following the water below the tall, winding, rocky grooves. The air was a fair bit cooler and felt damp on the skin, but the sunlight still managed to creep down and light up the gloom in a series of warm, hazy beams, which highlighted the fine, misty spray coming off the thin streams of water falling over the rocks from high above.
Everything about this place felt prehistoric and untouched, from the rocks to the plants to the path we followed.
It was a fairly long climb out of the canyon to Evans Lookout, but the view rivalled that of Echo Point and was the perfect spot for lunch.
Effort – Moderate. Again, there are a number of steps in and out of the canyon, but if you have mastered the other hikes in this post, then you’ll probably appreciate this hike a lot more.
My score – 9/10. A fascinating and enchanting walk, not to be missed.