We love the Blue Mountains and if a month goes past and we haven't visited, we really start to miss it. It's in our top five places that everyone visiting Australia should see, it's that good!
It's not just the beautiful views and the amazing hiking trails, it's also the people and the vibe. It's really easy to get there from Sydney, even if you don't have a car, the train runs to many of the major towns along the way. Don't miss one of the most spectacular parts of Australia.
Best things to do
Hike, hike, hike!
The Blue Mountains are home to some of our favourite walking tracks in the world. There's something for everyone, from short easy paved 20 minute jaunts to full on all day adventures. Here's a few of the best:
All these tracks are one way so either retrace your steps or organise a lift from the other end.
The Charles Darwin Walk
5km return walk, very little elevation and the path is in very good condition.
Follow in the footsteps of Charles Darwin on this short, but stunning 2.5km track. You pass gorgeous streams and are surrounded by trees as you cross over bridges and boardwalk.
This is the walk we always take our parents on as it's very picturesque, but not too arduous. It's the ideal trail to get away from busier parts of the Blue Mountains and get a taster for that mountain wildernes.
The walk finishes very close to Wentworth Falls so if you want to extend the track you can. It's also accessible from the train station.
Three Sisters to Katoomba Falls
3.1 km return walk, very little elevation and fully paved track.
It might be a crime to go to the Blue Mountains and not take in the Three Sisters, the most iconic view in this whole area. And you might as well add in a small stroll while you're there.
This is the classic Katoomba walk starting at the Three Sisters Lookout at Echo Point. It's a really easy walk and only 1.5km along the Prince Henry Cliff Track. The path is paved and while there are a few staircases, it would be suitable for most people.
The track finishes at Katoomba Falls, which are beautiful if it's rained recently. The views of the Jamison Valley are present throughout the whole trail and it's a great way to get a taster of the Blue Mountains.
Pulpit Rock Walking Track
7.6km return, moderate elevation, some uneven sections of trail.
If you're looking for the best view in the Blue Mountains (a rock shaped like a church pulpit in the middle of a huge valley) then this is the hike for you. The Pulpit Rock Track starts at Govetts Leap and winds down a few staircases before reaching a creek crossing. It then passes several viewpoints, including one that looks out to Horseshoe Falls.
Once you've crossed the creek you'll be greeted with stunning views of the valley and mountains that continue along the whole track. After 3.5 km you eventually reach the main attraction: Pulpit Rock.
This is definitely one of the best lookouts in the mountains and really shouldn't be missed. It's so good, it made our most instagrammable places in the Blue Mountains list.
Grand Canyon Track
5.4km circuit, moderate - steep elevation (particularly at beginning and end), very good track condition throughout.
When you think of the Grand Canyon, it's unlikely you'd think of the Blue Mountains! However, the Grand Canyon Loop near Blackheath is one of the most picturesque tracks in the area, covering a variety of landscapes.
Whenever I've posted photos or videos from this track the comment that always comes up is that it looks like a fairy grotto. And it does feel like that, it's a pretty magical place.
The 5.4km circuit starts at the gorgeous Evans Lookout before heading steeply downhill on a newly renovated stretch of track (thanks NSW National Parks) to the canyon. It's a very beautiful area with moss covered cliffs and an abundance of gorgeous ferns and streams.
The track is very well shaded so it's a good choice for a summer's day. It doesn't have the big views of some of the other walks in this list, it's more about soaking up the atmosphere of the canyon. We've walked it many times and it's definitely one of our favourites.
Govetts Leap Loop
9km circuit, moderate elevation, some patches of track which aren't in perfect condition.
If you love big views, then this is the trail for you. The view from Govetts Leap to the Grose Valley is a stunner and reason alone to do this trail.
You can start this loop at Popes Glen or Braeside but we always choose Popes. It's a beautiful stretch of track absolutely covered in ferns which meander over streams and past a couple of little beaches before you begin ascending to Govetts Leap Lookout.
You pass many of the most famous lookouts in the mountains, as well as some lesser known ones too and several waterfalls. The total track length is 9km and while there are a few ups and downs, the overall elevation is not too bad.
The National Pass (Currently closed)
5km circuit, very steep start and finish, track condition throughout is very good.
Sadly this trail has temporarily closed due to some loose overhanging rock, but will reopen again in the near future.
If you only have time for one walk in the mountains I'd make it this one. It is the oldest track in the area and was constructed to attract visitors at the turn of the 20th Century.
The track is carved into the cliffside of the valley and you are never without a spectacular view. You pass several of the most famous waterfalls in the mountains, including Wentworth Falls and Empress Falls. Empress is a great place to get your breath back before the final climb out of the valley, there's usually plenty of canyoners to watch.
The walk begins on a steep downhill track carved straight into the rock, followed by some easy rock hopping across waterfalls and a large period of flat trail. Every time we've walked this track it always feels like you've entered the Jurassic period with loud squawking Sulphur Crested Cockatoos calling and swooping through the trees.
What goes down must eventually come up and after you pass several more waterfalls you begin the ascent. There are plenty of beautiful lookouts to stop and catch your breath. The walk ends at the Conservation Hut which is a gorgeous cafe where you can grab a drink or some lunch, needless to say it has a terrific view.
If you want to make this track a loop there are a couple of options, the shortest would be to take the short cut track back to the Wentworth Falls car park. Ignore the time on the sign post, it only takes around 15 minutes at a brisk pace. The total track length is around 5.5km.
Our ultimate combo track
16km, very steep sections, the track has several parts which are in poor condition (rocks / rubble).
Apple Watch Says
If you're looking to really stretch your legs with some serious climbs, then you'll want to read on. This is a trail we have created by combining a couple of different tracks (Govett's Leap Loop, Junction Rock track, The Grand Canyon, returning via the clifftop trail at Evans Lookout). It's one of our favourite walks within two hours of Sydney.
Starting at Govett's Lookout for a great view of the Grose Valley, you'll soon descend down several steep staircases to the valley floor. Once you've got to Junction Rock (a great place to take a dip in warmer weather), you reach the beautiful blue gum forest.
You can camp in the designated camp site if you want to make this a two day adventure. You then begin ascending and after a fair amount of continuous uphill you join the Grand Canyon hike (a very beautiful part of the Blue Mountains).
The first time we did this there was a lot of rock scrambling and certain sections were roped but on our second attempt the trail had been pretty sanitised and ropes were no longer required.
You follow the Grand Canyon track up to Evans Lookout and head back to Govett's Lookout via the Cliff Top Track (a trail we always remember as being easy but it feels a lot harder after you have already gone up so many stairs!)
The uneven ground on the climb up to the Grand Canyon makes this walk a lot slower than you'd think, but the feeling of getting back to Govett's Leap is rewarding.... even if your calfs suffer for the next two days!
4.2km, continuously steep! (It's why you're doing this), good track condition throughout.
If you read anything about Perry's Lookdown online, you'll feel the anguish of those who take it on! If you're a glutton for punishment and want to tackle the steepest trail in the mountains, then this is your hike.
To put it in context we met people training for Anconcagua walking it. They were load carrying but you know, minor details. It's pretty much a straight down straight up walk, 600m elevation over 2km.
It was one of our training walks for the Humpridge Track and put us in good stead for the steep first day climb on that trail. The reward of Perry's Lookdown comes at the bottom, as the blue gum forest is magical (one of my favourite forests in Australia) and you should spend some time soaking it up.
You can even camp just a 10 minute walk away if you want to get away from it all. You'll feel the burn on the way up and pat yourself on the back at the top.
Scenic World to Ruined Castle
12.4 km return, steep beginning and end, very good track condition.
Start this track at Scenic World and head down the thousand or so Furber Steps onto the boardwalk that meets the SW train. Lookout for the signpost to ruined castle which will be on your right. The trail makes its way through bush land and traverses the landslide. No explanation needed for what this is, just take care with footing.
The views are remarkable. From the boardwalk it's around 6km to the castle. I found getting up onto the castle (large rock formation) a little bit tricky, if you can't see the obvious route up, ask someone, there's always someone who can help and a few of the routes up are a bit precarious if you're clumsy like me. This is a one way track, the only way of shortening it is to take the Scenic World train rather than climbing up the Furber Steps. If you want to take this option the last train goes at 4.50pm but to be honest it's really expensive ($16) so you're better off going up the steps.
We've visited three of the caves at Jenolan and all of them are extremely beautiful. Apparently Queen Victoria even asked for a picture of them as a gift such was their famed beauty. Of the three, Orient, Lucas and River, our favourite was River.
They say this is one of the more strenuous ones but really it was very easy, there are a couple of ladders but not scary ones unless you have severe vertigo. Orient and Lucas are suitable for all ages, we took our niece and nephew, the youngest of which was only four at the time.
You might even get to see a wallaby in one of the caves!
The setting for Jenolan is also very beautiful, you'll see what we mean as soon as you get to the driveway. There are several walking tracks, the best of which is the riverside walking track, a 3km round trip. It's a flat walk and very scenic, we were lucky enough to see swamp wallabies there.
If you have time it's also worth taking the short steep climb to Carlotta Arch for a great view of the lake and Devil's Coach House. The track is 1km return. We followed it a little further and came across many lyrebirds.
If you have the time Jenolan Cave House is a great place to spend the night. It's extremely atmospheric, especially when we visited in the mist and rain. The hotel is still very traditional and has a lovely onsite restaurant for dinner.
We had a private room with a shared bathroom which was a bargain at $80. We took a peek at the rooms with private bathrooms which were over twice the price and we were happy with our choice. The shared bathroom was really clean and there were quite a few of them on our floor so there was never a wait.
You can get a bus from Katoomba to Jenolan Caves at 10.35 most days which takes two hours.
This is your best bet if you want to get a good overview of the area but don't want to hike. There's a cable car that goes across the valley to a fabulous lookout, one that goes to the valley floor and also the steepest train in the world.
There's a couple of short walking tracks from the valley floor and it's a great place to spot lyrebirds, we've seen them every time we've been on these tracks. A couple of longer walking tracks also start at the valley floor including the one we mention above to Ruined Castle, but if you've spent money on a Scenic World ticket you probably want to make the most of it.
Our advice for Scenic World would be to avoid weekends unless you have no other option. The queues can be ginormous, not just to get in but for each of the rides. To avoid the long ticket queue, book online, go to the shorter ticket collection queue and arrive early.
Catch a sunrise
Govetts Leap - Blackheath
This is the go to spot for photographers. You might have it to yourself midweek but if you visit on a weekend you're likely to see a few others wielding tripods, one of them might be us! It's a fantastic place to watch the sunrise above the valley and turn the cliffs golden. The lookout is at the car park, no walking required so it's the easiest of the three options on our list.
Pulpit Rock - Blackheath
This is another lovely sunrise spot, less popular than Govetts. There was just one other person there both times we visited on a weekend. The lookout itself is actually one of our favourites and as with Govetts the sun turns the cliffs golden and even red. The lookout is a 15 minute downhill walk from the car park.
Hanging Rock - Blackheath
A real beauty and a bit more off the beaten track than the other two, although if you're an instagrammer you've no doubt seen pictures of it many times. There's a 5km walk to get there (unless the first gate is open in which case you can knock 1.5km off this) so this one requires you to get up the earliest! The track is an easy fire trail until you reach the final section when you have to scramble down a steep path which was a bit hairy. Getting on to the rock itself also involved quite a large jump over a gap between the cliff and the rock and personally we didn't dare. It's a great spot whether on not you make it onto the hanging rock itself though.
Catch a sunset
Lincoln Rock - Wentworth Falls
You'll probably see this spot has made it on to a few of our blogs, we just love it! Watching the sun drop below the mountains from the cliff top here is epic. It's a fabulous spot for photographers. It's also one of our many favourite Instagram spots in the Blue Mountains.
Sublime Point - Leura
This is a popular spot to watch sunset near the town of Leura. Unlike Lincoln Rock it does have barriers so unless you're going to jump over them it's not really one for sitting and soaking it up. The area you stand in is quite small so it can feel a little busy on a Saturday night, though when we say busy we mean you might be sharing it with 10 other people, considering how gorgeous it is I guess that's not too bad.
Three Sisters - Katoomba
Ok so unlike the other two this isn't technically a sunset spot, in that it doesn't set behind the lookout but it's still a pretty place to be at sun down. If the top platform is busy head down to the lower lookout. It's a good bet for visitors, everyone we've taken there has loved it and sunset gives softer light for photographs.
Bonus tip for your journey back from the mountains to Sydney:
If you haven't seen kangaroos in the wild yet and you are driving from Katoomba to Sydney, go via Glenbrook. It's not much of a detour and you are almost guaranteed to see them at Euroka campground. They hang a round the grassy area beside the campground and can often be seen bounding along the fields beside the road as you drive in.
Where to eat
Everything tastes better after a day's hiking. Here are our go to choices:
Anki's - our favourite
This is our favourite restaurant in Katoomba. It's very small, with only around 11 tables so it might be worth making a booking, although we always seem to get lucky just walking in. The menu is really good with lots of authentic Indian dishes, including paneer, which for me is always a winner. It's a simple homely place and we love the food and the staff. It's also BYO.
The Old City Bank Brasserie
This is a really nice bistro style restaurant. The menu is really good with lots of options from goats cheese pasta to steak and kidney pie. Every meal I've had here has been good.
The menu has all your italian favourites on it, my choice is always the ricotta and spinach cannelloni. I've tried the pizza too when we just want to grab a takeaway and it's ok but won't blow you away.
Graze - Our favourite for brekkie/brunch
Since discovering this place, we go there everytime. Sometimes twice on a weekend! We can't tell you anything about any menu items other than the porridge. We're frankly obsessed with it. It's full of raisins, cinnamon and finished with double cream. All the other dishes look great too but I doubt we'll ever try them!
The Elephant Bean Cafe
This is my favourite place to go for toasties. They're made on delicious sourdough with homemade sauces and a side salad.
Blue Mountains Chocolate Company
If you're here in Winter this is my post hike recommend. The hot chocolate is amazing, the kind where you just add chocolate to warm milk and heat it over a candle. The coffee's good too and of course the chocolates.
Megalong Valley Tea Rooms
This was recommended to us by a local and we're glad they did. It's a 25 minute drive from Katoomba but it's a pretty one. The tearooms are on the valley floor and as well as homemade scones they also do great paninis and a good breakfast too.
Where to sleep
I love this hostel, it's the first place I stayed in the mountains and I've been back many times. I've only stayed in private rooms so I can't comment on the dorms but I found the rooms to be really good, very clean and with a kettle for tea and coffee. The shared bathrooms are always spotless and I've never had to wait in a line. It also has several lounges, the best one has a large fireplace and is a good spot to curl up with a book or play cards. You can also use the large kitchen.
This place is really handy if you are catching the train as it's only about a two minute walk from the station. Built in 1933 it has been renovated but is still old fashioned and that's what makes it an interesting place to stay. It often has special offers so if you snag a deal it's probably hard to beat for the price.
Just a 15 minute drive from Katoomba is the little town of Blackheath. It's also a good place to stay and tends to attract an older crowd as there are no hostels, and it works best if you have a car. This motel is our pick for Blackheath, the rooms are large and clean and it's really close to the major walking tracks.
This place is definitely high end. When Joe's parents came to stay we splurged and rented it for the weekend. It is absolutely stunning, with a large open plan living and dining room with exceptional mountain views. It was the perfect place to celebrate Christmas in July. There are two bedrooms and two bathrooms (one ensuite with a large stand alone bath). We woke up to the sound of the kookaburras laughing and had breakfast outside watching the eagles swoop around the mountain tops.
My favourite part of the Fairmont is actually the lobby, it's really atmospheric, with a huge picture window looking out on to the mountains. I liked the old fashioned pictures behind the reception desk so much that when I saw them in a shop in town I had to buy one! The rooms are really nice, clean and modern. Ours didn't have a view which is probably why I liked the lobby best. It's a great high end choice and has walking trails directly from the garden which we really enjoyed.
How to get to the Blue Mountains
Lots of people come to the mountains on a day tour. While this is convenient, you'll pay the price of actually spending very little time in the Blue Mountains themselves. Day trips tend to break up the journey with unnecessary stops at the Olympic Stadium and Featherdale wildlife park (whilst also planning time for a ferry trip back to the CBD from Parramatta), so we'd advise organising your own trip.
For ultimate flexibility you really do need a car but if that's not possible much of the main hikes and attractions are accessible by train.
Car - From Sydney CBD, the Blue Mountains are a relatively straight forward 1.5 hour drive. It's best to avoid the rush hour times (Friday's between 4.30-7pm are particularly bad) as you can spend hours sitting on the Parramatta Road (a soul destroying experience). On a weekend early morning is best, we usually leave the city at 8am ish and it's always a quick run through.
Train - Katoomba is around a two hour journey direct on the train from central station in Sydney. The station is in the town centre so very convenient. There's also a station at various other Blue Mountains towns including Leura and Blackheath. If you go on a Sunday you can snag a $2.60 return trip deal.
If you're also visiting Sydney then check out our following blogs:
- Instagrammable spots in Sydney
- When is the best time to visit Australia
- The best places to see wild kangaroos close to Sydney
- The best Sydney sunrise and sunset spots
- Top 10 beaches in Sydney
- Ultimate guide to Sydney
- Cheap things to do in Sydney
- The best beaches in NSW
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Have you been to the Blue Mountains? What are your favourite things to do in the area? Let us know in the comments below.