The ultimate day hike in the Blue Mountains
If you’re reading this post, that means most likely you’ve got the 'iso-itch' and you are planning your first adventure into the wild post-COVID-19. The Blue Mountains is a logical choice to get a dose of nature, but with the recent bushfires, and then heavy rains that followed, there are a lot of track closures right now. Parks and Wildlife do an excellent job of listing any track closures, but unless you intimately know the area, it’s hard to figure out exactly where you can, and can’t walk. Well, rest assured, we’re here to help!
You’re probably thinking I’m crazy. I run a tour company that charges for this information, why would I be giving it away for free? Because, in all honesty, I just want more people to get outdoors and amongst the trees. If I can make your experience just that little bit easier, and help you to learn some stuff along the way, then that makes me immensely happy.
So, here you go. A detailed itinerary of one of the most beautiful hikes in the Blue Mountains, that really captures all the key points to see and experience.
Start: Leura Cascades
Finish: Leura Cascades (this is a circuit walk!)
Time: Approximately 5 hrs of walking, plus unlimited time to stop, take photos and enjoy the beauty of the bush
I call Leura Cascades the awkward middle sister of the mountains. Stuck between the two shinier and much busier Scenic World, and Wentworth Falls, little old Leura gets overlooked by many. Which is exactly why you should start here. There is always a park, there is a loo (see ‘Essential Things to Know’ below for details), and you’ll spend the first hour or two of the hike passing by only a handful of hikers.
If you’re looking for some other walking inspiration, then check out our blog about “The Best Secret Day Walks in the Blue Mountains”.
To complete this circuit, you want to start here. There is a bunch of track closures around here due to rockslides and flooding, so be careful and double-check you’re in the right spot before heading off, otherwise you'll probably just get turned around by closed signs. Once you're officially on the track, you'll begin descending into the valley fairly quickly right beside the stunning Leura Cascades. Now, don’t be alarmed if your little legs start shaking, it’s totally normal and only because you’re cold and descending, I promise it’ll go away!
About 10 minutes into the hike you’ll reach a set of metal stairs, which you want to take down further, turning to your right. After reaching the bottom, and passing the little Lila Falls, you’ll come to an old wooden bench on the left of the track. Look closely and you’ll notice the word “Gratitude” carved into the wood.
Our lives can be pretty intense, especially right now and it's difficult to stay positive. Try sitting for a moment, taking some slow, deep breaths and listing 5 things you are grateful for in your head. It's a beautiful moment to reflect, and will really set up your mental state for the rest of your hike. It might sound a little 'hippy-woo-woo', but just give it a try, please!
Keep descending past the gratitude bench and when you reach the bottom of the track, turn right over the small bridge and follow the path into Leura Forest. Since the early 1900s, families have been picnicking in this beautiful open area, and near the rotunda is a sign-board with some more information about this historic site.
Now I can’t promise this, but if you’re quiet and hang around for long enough, you might be lucky to spot a lyrebird scratching away in the undergrowth:
Fun Fact: Lyrebirds scratch the leaflitter looking for small bugs to eat. They do this so much, and so frequently that they are now considered one of the erosions factors for the Blue Mountains, and a single Lyrebird can move up to 60 TONNES OF MATERIAL IN ONE YEAR!
However, don’t get confused by the brush turkey that lives around this spot, he’s a local legend!
From here, you want to be taking the “Federal Pass Track” which forks to the left (NOT Dardanelles Pass). Follow this section of the track right around and underneath the majestic Three Sisters, which you might catch glimpses of through the tree’s above. As you move through this part of the track, pay particular attention to the constant ‘ping ping’ of the bellbirds. Despite the beautiful sound, it’s actually a warning to all other birds, informing them to stay away from the area.
About 30-45minutes after leaving Leura Forest, you should reach a track junction, with stairs leading up to the right towards the Giant Staircase. There are some benches here which are a great place to rest and have a snack, before continuing straight along (NOT up the stairs) the Federal Pass Track towards Scenic World.
This is a lovely stretch of track; flat and open with glimpses of the surrounding valleys through the trees. The roar of Katoomba Falls will signal that you’re getting close, and a steep set of stairs will bring you to stand right atop the mighty falls. Notice how high the water can get, indicated by the debris caught in the rocks around, and even the bridge itself. After heavy rainfall, this waterfall absolutely surges with water and can look like this:
If you’re looking for a spot to rest, then grab a picnic table and settle in. Otherwise, keep moving along the track until you reach Scenic World.
Scenic World has a fascinating history and is well worth exploring for a short period, to enjoy the lookout over the Jamison Valley, and to learn more about the history of coal mining in the area. Then, once you’ve soaked up some history, from here you have two choices:
Furber Stairs are a dramatic, and very steep set of stairs that lead you out of the valley. They will take the average person around 45 minutes to ascend. It’s a thrilling way to get the heart rate up, and you’ll be rewarded for your efforts with incredible valley views and a few extra waterfall viewing spots on the way up! If you’re up for a challenge, then I highly recommend this option for a true leg burner. Head about 20m back along the track we’ve just come from to find the base of the stairs.
If you take this option, you will exit the stairs here, at a 4-way intersection with a handy bench to catch your breath on.
The Scenic Railway is the steepest railway in the world! If a steep climb sounds daunting, or you’re looking for a bit of extra fun, then hop on the train and ride it out of the valley floor. The ride will cost you $25/pp one-way, and you can pay at the top as you exit. To get the most out of the experience, make sure you put your seat into “Cliffhanger” mode and hold on tight!
If you take this option, you will exit into the gift shop of Scenic World. Make a quick escape from the crowds by heading directly outside past the toilets. From here, you want to rejoin the track towards Echo Point. You should pass by the engine room on your left, but if you’re unsure, just ask one of the friendly staff members to point you towards Echo Point.
Both options will rejoin together at the 4-way junction here. If it’s time for lunch, then climb the stairs leading towards the valley (not the road) to Reid’s Plateau Lookout and you’ll find a little picnic table inside a (very fake) cave, and some more sweeping views if you haven’t already had enough (but seriously, can you ever have enough?).
If you’re continuing on at this point, then pass directly through the junction and follow the trail towards the top of Katoomba Falls. If your feet are a little sore, it can be the perfect place to take your shoes off and soak them in the cool waters.
Fun fact: The word Katoomba is an Aboriginal word that means “water falling over rocks”. How appropriate!
Climb the stairs out of the falls, and follow the signs towards Echo Point, along the Prince Henry Cliff Top Track. This is an exciting section of the hike, which dips into shady gullies and curves under the natural sandstone overhangs. Take special note of the birds through here, as it’s not uncommon to spot a Crimson Rosella in the bush.
Fun Fact: Crimson Rosellas, consume a diet of seeds, which can be hard to digest. To assist with the process, Rosella’s will often eat small bits of rock and pebbles, to grind down their food. Essentially, they make their own mortar and pestle in their belly!
After curling along this track for 20 minutes, you should be arriving at the incredible Echo Point Lookout. It’s currently under some construction to expand the platforms, but that won’t diminish the incredible sweeping valley views that can be seen from here. Stretching as far as the eye can see is National Park, dominated by over 700 species of Eucalyptus trees. In fact, the Blue Mountains National Park is one of a few sites to achieve World Heritage status based almost entirely on the diversity and richness of the tree species!
Fun Fact: The large commanding mountain in the middle of the valley is called Mt Solitary. The track is currently closed (as at May 20’) due to the recent bushfires. But when they are open, you can climb up and traverse right over this incredible mountain. You can even spend the night camped on top, with nothing but a star-filled sky at night.
After ogling Echo Point for a while, continue to find the gift shop and public toilets (see Essential things to know below), then follow the signs to the Three Sisters. This path can be quite busy, so just be conscious of the families with small children and elderly please and you make your way towards these incredibly iconic rock formations.
If you’d like to get up nice and close, then follow the stairs down towards Lady Game lookout (yeah, you better be game enough to look down over the side of this one) and Honeymoon Bridge, which connects the path to the first sister. It’s not the finest production, but the short video below will explain the Aboriginal legend of the formation of the Three Sisters, and is well worth the watch!
After visiting the sisters, climb back UP the stairs (do not continue down into the valley, or you’ll be sorry!) and resume along the Prince Henry Cliff Top walk, keeping the valley on your right. The track is easy to follow, leading you around the natural curve of the cliff edge, and somehow like magic, right back to your car! There is one small burnt section along this path, that illustrates some fantastic examples of Epicormic Growth.
To learn more about what Epicormic growth is, have a read of our "4 Australian Plants that Thrive after Fire".
And there you have it! An amazingly diverse, comprehensive and decent day hike in the Blue Mountains, taking in some of the most popular sites, such as the Three Sisters and Scenic World, but also exploring some of the more quiet and off-the-beaten-track places, such as Leura Cascades.
I’ve included some additional essential things to know below. But if you have any questions about this track, or want to double-check any instructions, please do not hesitate to contact me. I am more than happy to help you out and can also share some great tips for where to eat after your hike and other amazing things to see and do in the Blue Mountains.
Hungry after your hike? Then perhaps you want to visit one of the Best Cafes in the Blue Mountains.
Essential things to know:
There is a funky artificial cave loo at the Leura Cascades Picnic Area. Highly recommended for an architectural giggle, but also a great chance to pee before the hike.
There are toilets at Scenic World. If you choose to take the train up out of the valley, you can pop into the loos there.
There are also toilets at Echo Point lookout. These are the last ones for the hike, so even if you don’t need to go, we recommended popping in. The track is narrow and can be quite busy from here, so there won’t be many opportunities for a bush-wee.
If you want a little giggle, then I highly recommend reading our "Pooing in the Bush" blog!
Phone reception: It can be pretty sketchy along this track. Make sure you’ve told someone where you are hiking and make a plan to contact them when you return to your vehicle.
Water refills: For about ¾ of this track, you won’t have access to any clean drinking water. It’s imperative that you pack at least 2L of water before setting out. If you have water left at the end of the hike, then let me be your mum for a sec and say “TSK TSK - NAUGHTY NAUGHTY - you did not drink enough!”. If you’re running low, then you can get a refill at Scenic World, or at the water fountains at Echo Point.
Weather in the mountains: Sure sure, the mountains aren’t exactly the Himalayas, you won’t be needing survival gear. But don’t be fooled by their height, or mislead by the tourist walking next to you in a pair of kitten heels. The weather can change very quickly in the Blue Mountains, and it’s always best to be prepared for anything. We always recommend people carry at least a warm layer, and certainly a raincoat if the rain prediction is over 15%. Its also super handy to have a small first-aid kit in your pack, with some basics. You seriously just never know!