There are a considerable number of hikes in the Blue Mountains. My first experience of this enchanting corner of Australia was back in 2014. A mere two weeks into my Australian adventure, it was cold, wet and I was completely unprepared. 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.
Almost two years later, I returned. I came armed with ample clothing and a wealth more experience and confidence when it came to the great Australian outdoors. I was here to find the best hikes in the Blue Mountains and put an end to my 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 tricky for this post. Most hikes in the Blue Mountains are actually connected to each other; so you can begin and end in a number of locations, creating your own unique routes. 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 estimation.
So without further ado and in no particular order, here are my top 5 hikes in the Blue Mountains:
Time and location
This is approximately a 2-4 hour circuit and is accessible from Katoomba (Echo Point) and Leura.
I started this walk at the famous lookout, Echo Point. From there, I began by tackling the Giant Stairway; 900 steep steps descending around 1000 feet past the Three Sisters and into the forest below. It’s safe to say that my legs were nice and wobbly by the time I reached the bottom!
Once in the cover of the forest, the air becomes cooler and the sunlight weakens. I took a left and made my way to the Leura Forest picnic area for a bite to eat. From there, the walk ascends once more, following trickling streams and waterfalls, which grow in size and become noisier the higher you climb.
You’ll eventually emerge from the forest and at the very base of the Leura Cascades. As I craned my neck upwards and squinted, I could see the water and spray gently flowing over the huge hunk of rock.
The climb then continues to the top of the falls, for a different perspective. From there on, there are a number of routes to choose from, which can make things a little confusing.
I continued to follow the water until I ended up coming out in the Leura car park and walked back into Katoomba via the back streets. In hindsight, I 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 fairly dangerous for pedestrians.
This walk is moderate to hard going. The Giant Stairway and steps leading up and out of the forest and past the Leura Cascades are relentless! The terrain is nice and varied. 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.
Time and location
This walk is approximately 2.5 hours return and begins in Katoomba, via Katoomba Falls Road.
You can reach Katoomba Falls by descending the Furber Steps. They are much more gradual and kinder on the legs compared with the previous hike. The walk down takes you into damp, ferny rainforest and then a side path leads to a ledge and viewing area of the falls. From there, you can continue on to Scenic World and the forest boardwalk if you wish.
I found this walk to be moderate in terms of effort. In my eyes, steps are never easy, but I suppose these steps are a little more forgiving than the rest. There are some nice view points along the way and it’s relatively varied.
The Ruined Castle
Time and location
This hike is approximately an 8 hour loop. It can be accessed from Katoomba via the Furber Steps.
This was one of my favourite hikes in the Blue Mountains. I reached the track by descending the Furber Steps, passing Scenic World and the old mines. I actually almost missed the turning, which was very subtly marked off to the right.
This path immediately made me question whether I was actually even on a path to begin with. There were fallen trees to negotiate and I had to cross over an enormous old landslide! Markers are frustratingly unclear around this area and it would have been easy to go the wrong way.
I eventually came out into the forest below the escarpment and was offered some relief by a well trodden, flat path, which I followed for some time.
After about an hour of excitable power-walking I reached some steps, which took me up onto a ‘saddle’ of land. As I climbed higher, I was teased with subtle indications through the trees that I was heading somewhere special; somewhere with a view.
It was around this point that my walking buddy, Steve informed me 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.
Once I reached the rubble, I 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.
I scrambled my way up, squeezing through a tight hole in the rocks. It wasn’t easy and if Steve wasn’t with me, I’d never have found my way to the top.
I climbed to the very top of a columnar shaped rock and perched precariously. The 360 degree view was absolutely breathtaking.
I sat there and ate my lunch, soaking in the beauty with every bite. On the return hike, I 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, I 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.
Don’t take this hike lightly; it’s physically and mentally challenging. 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.
Nevertheless, 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.
Time and location
This hike is around 3.5 hours return. You begin in the town of Wentworth Falls and access the waterfall via the Charles Darwin Walk.
The picturesque town of Wentworth Falls is just two train stops down the line from Katoomba. Furthermore, the beginning of the Charles Darwin walk is just a short walk from the station. The track is a flat, easy stroll through bushland 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 I eventually reached the top of the falls, I initially felt a little disappointed. That was until I realised that I could hike down the steep cliff face looking over the beautiful Jamison Valley and into the depths below.
You are rewarded with the most incredible view from the base of Wentworth Falls!
The Charles Darwin walk is easy and accessible for most people. However, the steps down to the base of the waterfall are incredibly steep and narrow. Saying that, they are well maintained and it doesn’t take too long to go up and down.
I absolutely loved the variety of this walk and the amazing view of the waterfall at the end. It’s easily 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.
There are heaps of other tracks to explore in this area and 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
Time and location
The Grand Canyon is roughly a 3.5 hour circuit and is accessible from Neats Glen Carpark in Blackheath.
This walk turned out to be my favourite of all the hikes in the Blue Mountains. Blackheath is accessible by train, although most of the walking tracks are a fair distance from the station. I was lucky enough to have access to a car at the time. I would strongly suggest renting one so that you can explore the surrounding areas with ease.
From Neats Glen carpark I hiked down into the canyon, following the water below the tall, winding, rocky grooves. The air was a fair bit cooler down here and felt damp on the skin, but the sunlight managed to creep down and light up the gloom in a series of warm, hazy beams. Fine mist sprayed 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 I 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.
I found this to be a moderate hike effort-wise. 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. It’s a fascinating and enchanting walk and not to be missed!
For more information on the Blue Mountains, check out the Blue Mountains Tourism website.