Blue Mountains National Park near Sydney Australia offers a lush break from the urban life of Sydney. It is one of my favorite places to go when I visit my husband’s family in Sydney. I have been to the Blue Mountains a few times including once for a wedding when I did the quick touristy things and another time when we had a local friend show us some hidden gems and unique things to do in the Blue Mountains that aren’t the Three Sisters. My local friend who has been living in the Blue Mountains for close to 20 years, told my family that our three-day stay wasn’t long enough and he is always so bummed that people often come to the Blue Mountains on a day trip. If you only have a day it is definitely worth visiting, but if your itinerary allows for several days in the Blue Mountains there is plenty to do to keep you busy for three full days and more. This guide covers everything from the best hikes, towns, viewpoints, cafes, and other activities like cycling, cave exploring, wine tasting and apple picking!
The first time I went to the Blue Mountains I assumed they wouldn’t actually be blue, but I was wrong. Resting above the vast expanse of rolling mountains is a misty blue haze. You might think your eyes are playing tricks on you, but the eucalyptus oil from the trees releases oil particles into the air where they interact with dust particles and water vapor, which scatter short-wave rays of light which are blue in color. This creates the blue haze you see over the mountains.
Weather and What to Pack
The Blue Mountain National Park tends to be slightly cooler than Sydney. During the winter, it can get a bit chilly, but the summers are quite hot. It is a relaxed area with lots of hiking and outdoor options. I suggest packing breathable outdoor clothing, like hiking pants and shirts, good trail shoes, a camelback with extra space for sunscreen, a coverup, and snacks. It can storm with a moments notice, so be sure to pack a nice rain jacket and extra socks. Always wear sunscreen and be prepared before heading out on one of the hikes.
Aboriginal and Indigenous History
It is important to remember that people lived here long before the “historic” towns in the Blue Mountains were settled. The Darug and Gundungurra tribes called this place home for Millennia. There is an area called The Gully, which is a sacred spot in the Blue Mountains and indigenous people lived there into the early 1900s before being driven out by the construction of a race track. The race track is abandoned and the land is now protected under the National Park and Wildlife Act. When visiting the Blue Mountains please remember those who were slaughtered and driven from their home and visit with respect and honor.
How to Get to the Blue Mountains
Rent Car and Drive from Sydney
The best way to see the Blue Mountains, in my opinion, is to spend two nights and three days bushwalking, antique shopping, exploring caves and much more. In order to do this, you would need to rent a car and drive up from Sydney. On your way there drive through Glenbrook, Wentworth Falls, and Katoomba and on your way back drive through Mount Tomah for entirely different scenery. Having your own car is ideal because you can stop at scenic view points, create your own unique itinerary and enjoy the Blue Mountains at the slow pace they were intended for.
Public transportation is often overlooked in Sydney and there is a fantastic train that will take you from Sydney Central Station to Katoomba Central Station. From there you can essentially walk to the Three Sisters lookout. After that, you can hop on a train or bus to Wentworth Falls lookout. It is a great independent option for those that want to do things in the Blue Mountains, but don’t want to drive a car. To get to Katoomba, hop on the BMT from Sydney Central. There is a direct train that goes to Katoomba and it leaves at least every hour. Catch on of the earlier trains at like 6:53 or 8:18 am and you can be there well before noon, for a full day of exploring. You can stay the night at a location of your choosing in Katoomba or Leura and head back on the train the next day. Or, if you only want to do a day trip, make sure you catch the last BMT before 10:20 pm.
Did you know that Katoomba and the surrounding area is a Cittaslow town? A Citta – what town? Our local friend told us that the town of Katoomba came together to apply to be accepted as a Cittaslow town and they were approved. The Cittaslow slow movement was created to promote slow sustainable travel while maintaining the authentic feel of a location. In order to be a Cittaslow town, the community must come together and agree on several things such as:
• Implement an environmental policy which nurtures the distinctive features of that town or city and its surrounding area and focuses on recycling and recovery • Put in place an infrastructure with an emphasis on environmentally-friendly use of land • Preserve the history of a region, the important buildings, and historical locations and make sure they are identified, protected and maintained • Encourage the use of technology that will improve the quality of air and life in the city • Support the production and consumption of organic foodstuffs • Promote the use of local produce and products • Protect and promote products that have their roots in tradition and reflect a local way of doing things • Encourage learning about food and where it comes from • Encourage a spirit of genuine hospitality towards guests of the town or city
So, just by visiting Katoomba and the Blue Mountains you are doing your part to promote sustainable travel. However, to fully embrace the Cittaslow-ness one should spend several days in the Blue Mountains National Park and surrounding area to ensure you are giving your money to locals and doing your part to boost the economy.
Of course, always remember to say no to plastic and bring your reusable shopping bag so you can hit up all the vintage stores and farmers market without asking for more to-go bags.
The Best things to do in the Blue Mountains
Medium Level Scenic Bushwalks
Bushwalking is one of the best things to do in the Blue Mountains National Park if you ask me. Looking at rock formations and the trees from above is cool and all, but until you’ve got some steps through the bush you haven’t seen the Blue Mountains. On a bushwalk, you can see the stunning bottlebrush flowers and get a close look at cockatoos, other birds, and lizards. While there are plenty of lookouts accessible by car, the lookouts along these hikes are unobstructed and offer better views into the mountains. I’m only recommending medium level bushwalks since I think you need to go further than a car park to see the Blue Mountains, unless you have accessibility concerns, and some of the bigger hikes include an overnight camp which involves more planning than what I offer in this post.
Always check the National Park website for currently open and closed trails, pack a bag with lots of water, extra snacks, sunscreen, and wear appropriate hiking attire.
I think this is my favorite walk in the area because you can go from the conservation center to the popular Wentworth Falls. So, you get a little bit of the touristy scene, with some off the beaten path bushwalking. Also, as the name suggests part of the trail is over the cliff, looking out into Jamison Valley and the last part of the trail you are cutting under the cliff with half tunnel-like trails. We did this trail with my 60-year-old parents and it was challenging enough to keep me and my sister entertained, but easy enough for my parents to enjoy the trek. We saw cockatoos, bottle brush, a blue tongue lizard, lots of keets and much more. I suggest starting this trail at the conservation hut, following the trail to Wentworth Falls and back to the hut (there is an easy short cut on the way back if you choose.) The trail is well marked and there are plenty of side loops to take if you want more activity.
4k Round Trip
National Pass *Currently closed
The National Pass either starts from Wentworth Picnic area or the same Conservation Center as the Overcliff Undercliff trek. This trail is cut into the red cliffs and offers stunning views of the Blue Mountains. This trail has a decent amount of stairs and a trail close to a sheer drop down. It is exhilarating and a fantastic half day adventure spanning nearly 5k (longer dependin on where you start). Due to some rock slides, this is currently closed. Check the National Park Service for updates and take the Overcliff, Undercliff for a similar experience.
Charles Darwin Hike
This adventure follows the steps of the famous Charles Darwin during his exploration and studies. Starting from Wilson Park this trail goes through the bush, swamp, and Wentworth Falls before connecting with Weeping Rock Trail for a longer and more difficult trek. Turn around at the merger, for 5k of bushwalking with tons of opportunities to see wildlife.
Pulpit Rock Walking Track
This trail is on the slightly more difficult side of medium. The 7k trail starts at the scenic Govetts Leap and follows a trail until you reach Pulpit Rock Lookout. Pulpit Rock is this seriously cool ridge where you can walk out along the spine of a blue mountain to stand on this small surface (with a fence) and get a 360 view of the Blue Mountains around you. You really feel like you’re standing in the middle of the mountains. If you’re already heading to Govett’s Leap, add an extra 3-4 hours for this stunning walk.
Get ready to get wet as you walk through pools and falls and feel like you’ve been transported back into the Jurassic period. This one is a bit off the beaten path, and that is what is so great about it. People have been walking this trail since the 1700s and you can be a part of history while taking in waterfalls, flora, and fauna. There are some narrow cut and steep stairs and areas that can be quite slippery, so make sure you have good hiking shoes and clothing with food and water in your bag (but that should be the case for all of these.) This trail is nearly 7k and can take you about 4 hours.
Prince Harry Cliff
This is probably the most popular trail since it starts at Echo Point where the Three Sisters lookout is located in Katoomba, but it is still worth it. The trail runs from Katoomba to Leura and is potentially 14k if you go all the way out and back, but you can make it as long or as short as you need. There are 20 lookouts on this trail, including waterfall views, valley views, and scenic vistas. If you’re interested in this walk you can ask for more details at the Echo Point Visitor Center and just keep track of how far you go, so you’re not stuck doing 14k when you’re unprepared or look at bus schedules.
Best Lookout Viewpoints in the Blue Mountains
If you don’t have an extra 4 hours to spend on a scenic bushwalk or have mobility concerns, these viewpoints offer the same stunning views. If you strategize you can pack a few of these viewpoints in, while doing some of the bushwalks with trailheads near the viewpoints for the ultimate scenic adventure in the Blue Mountains.
This accessible lookout is near Blackheath and has a parking lot nearby, making it a great stop on your way in or out of the Blue Mountains. The exposed orange cliffs radiate light during the sunrise and sunset and you won’t be disappointed if you plan your trip around the early morning or late evening. Evans Lookout is also the launching point for several serious hikes, so if you’re a big outdoors person, you can gather more information and plan a trip. The NPS recommends you are able to read a compass before heading out on your out past the viewpoint.
Govett’s Leap Lookout
This is one of the most popular lookouts in all of Australia. It is here, looking out into the Blue Mountains and valleys you can really see the blue haze coming off the eucalyptus trees. You also get a great view of the bridal veil falls, which is a towering and thin fall coming off the edge of a sheer cliff. This is the starting point for a few hikes, making it easy to combine for a half or full day adventure.
Wentworth Falls View
You very well might come to the falls on one of the bushwalks, but you are just here to see the falls, then you can park at Wentworth picnic area and walk about 10 minutes to the falls. This is not an accessible walk with stairs and uneven ground, but it is a short and easy. When the water levels are high enough you can even get in the waist deep pool and cool off from a hike.
Gordon Falls Lookout
This is a family friendly area with a picnic space and playground. There is also a view of Gordon Falls with small easy walking trails branching off.
This is a huge flat rock that you can access just off a parking lot nearby. It is a great place for a picnic with a view or a great spot for watching the sunset. It is off a dirt road called Little Switzerland and you’ll see plenty of cars parked.
The Three Sisters – Echo Point
The most popular lookout be prepared to fight busloads of people for a view of the Three Sisters if you go in the middle of the day. If you are going to go to the Three Sister’s myself and our local friend recommend going at sunrise or sunset when hardly anyone is there. If you have some extra time, head to Prince Charles walk or follow the path down to the Three Sisters to take a suspension bridge across the gap.
If you’re short on time, don’t have a car with you, or have accessibility concerns such as being wheelchair bound, this is going to be the best way to get a variety of views and experiences in the Blue Mountains. Scenic World offers Skyway rides for a bird’s eye view of the lush foliage below, an accessible walkway through the Jurassic Rainforest, an accessible cable car that drops you down into Jamison Valley, and a train with a choose your own adventure style allowing for a more adrenaline filled ride or a relaxing incline through the forest.
Local Tip: I’m saving the best for last. Our local friend, who actually lives in the Blue Mountains took us to Hargraves Lookout. We were one of only a few people there and you basically trek along the spine of a mountain for 360 degree views. You need to be able to scramble over rock and have steady balance as there are sheer dropoffs with no railing. I highly recommend this lookout for a bit of adventure and freakin’ amazing views. Pair this with a trip down into Megalong Valley.
If you want to hire a bicycle I suggest renting from Blue Mountains Bicycle based on a local suggestion. They are the experts, so if you rent bikes then you should ask them for trail recommendations that meet your fitness requirements, but here are a few ideas to get you started. The trains that connect the various towns in the Blue Mountains are bike friendly.
Woodford Oaks Fire Trail Woodford to Glenbrook
This is 80% downhill 28k ride, with some uphill especially at the end and you might have to get off and walk a bit. The trail starts from Woodford car park and heads toward Glenbrook. You would then catch the train back up. On a clear day, you can see all the way out to Sydney. You should be at least an average level bicyclist and pack plenty of sun protection, water, and lunch. It could take you between 3-5 hours.
A great trail option for beginners, as it is mostly paved and trail with limited hills. This trail starts at Blackheath Station and goes to Hanging Rock. You return by the same path back to the station, for a total of 14k. For a longer ride continue to Anvil rock for a more challenging 35k.
The one thing that surprised me most about Australia and the Blue Mountains the first time I visited was the unique flora, unlike anywhere else in the world. These four fabulous gardens house some of the best Australian and Pacific plants along with some unique species from around the world making these gardens one of the best things to do in the Blue Mountains.
Blue Mountains Botanic Garden
This is a great option if you drive back to Sydney through Mount Tomah. These botanic gardens have tens of thousands of species of plants mostly from Australia and the Pacific. Resting on a high point you have views of the Blue Mountains from the north side not often seen. My favorite thing about the Blue Mountain botanic gardens is most of their money and energy is dedicated to the conservation and research of Rainforest and Australian wildlife. It is a great place to spend your money and enjoy a relaxing and educational visit.
The Campbell Rhododendron Gardens
Enjoy a relaxing day in a secluded forest at the Campbell Rhododendron gardens in the Blue Mountains. These gardens have plenty of rhododendrons flowers if you didn’t guess that already. Unlike some of the other gardens in the area, the Campbell gardens are home to lots of deciduous trees. With the flowers and trees the best time to visit is spring and autumn, so from October- November and again in April. That will ensure you see lots of colorful flowers and the changing of leaves. The gardens are open the rest of the year, but the tea house is only open in spring.
Everglade Historic House
Once the personal home of a woman who named her charming Art Deco house the Everglade House. The name stuck over the years, even when a Danish landscaper came in to design the gardens which combine European gardening techniques with the unique Australian bushland. The gardens are near Gordon Falls lookout, so it is a good idea to combine the two for a relaxing walk.
Local Tip: The Mayfield gardens are privately owned by a family, who invite you to visit and enjoy their creation. This isn’t some small scale backyard garden, this impressive landscaping feat features many pools and water features, bridges, cascading waterfalls, trees, flowers, and much more. The Mayfield gardens are open year round, but the family’s private gardens are open only a few days a year during the spring festival Oct 12-27 and the autumn festival April 12-28. This is a bit out of the way, so plan ahead.
Just about everywhere you drive in the Blue Mountains is scenic and honestly, the ride to and from Sydney is beautiful, but if you’re itching to get more kilometers in, check out these three scenic drives in the Blue Mountains.
Lithgow to North Richmond
If you take this alternative route when heading back to Sydney you’ll be treated with scenic views and a quieter route than the highway allowing for lots of stops along the way.
Greater Blue Mountains Drive
If driving is your thing, then you might want to spend two entire days doing the Great Blue Mountains Drive, which surrounds several National Parks and Conservation areas. This is more in-depth than I will go into for this post, but if you want more information on planning this multi-day trip, check out the official website.
Local Tip: The drive down into Megalong Valley is your chance to head off into the thick green vegetation you see from above. You can make it a quick trip and stop for lunch at the bottom of the Valley at Megalong Valley Tearooms, or continue as far down to Kelpie point for a nice scenic 3-4 hour drive, stopping at your own leisure.
Wentworth Falls – McMahon’s Point
Take this scenic drive into another valley for great views of the massive Lake Burragorang. The drive could take you 2-3 hours RT depending on how often you stop for photos.
Explore Cute Towns: Antique Shopping, Dining, and Markets
The entire Blue Mountains area feels like you’ve been transported back in time, which is why antique shopping is so great and why the cafes are so cute. Don’t miss these towns and a few places I’ve highlighted in each town. When in doubt, just head toward the center of town and walk up and down the main street for lots of great shops.
Is probably the largest and more popular town in the Blue Mountains, so it can be a bit touristy, but it has it has a local charm that shines through. Make sure to stroll in the downtown area for rich history. If you’re looking for antiques don’t miss Black Antiques, Peach Tree Antiques, and Katoomba Vintage Emporium. If you’re an avid book lover then don’t miss Mr. Pickwicks Fine Old Books. And if it is food you are after there are lots of great international options and some of the more traditional cozy spots. For quick bites to eat don’t miss Brown’s Siding Store and Cafe for a fancier meal with a view don’t miss Echo’s Point Boutique Hotel. For those who love history and want to explore more of the Heritage of Katoomba and the Blue Mountains, self-guided art and heritage walk.
Leura is a more intimate and cozy alternative to the larger Katoomba. So, if you’re looking to get away from the tourists for a bit, just hop next door. Leura is the ideal sleepy town that is packed full of cute cafes and vintage shopping galore. For those who want to go shopping, don’t miss the First Sunday Farmers Market – which is full of great products, hand made goods and oddities, CWA Hall Market- which is full of knitted items and everything that might remind you of your grandma, Leura Vintage, and Leura Emporium. Make sure to explore the road called Leura Mall for more options. To grab a bites to eat don’t miss the Red Door Cafe and Lily’s Pad Cafe.
Blackheath is where our lovely local friend lives and it is a charming town not to miss, even if it is a little out of the way. For those that enjoy shopping don’t miss the Antique Theater – a massive 2-floor antique store in the bones of a historic theater.
Local Tips: Market goers will love Blackheath Community Markets – which is a sustainable market focusing on recycling and upcycling while supporting the local community. You will find homemade household items like yarn and soap, local honey, and plants. For some fresh local food straight from the farm, don’t miss Blackheath Growers Market for an unexpected food experience in the mountains. Anonymous is a fantastic local favorite for coffee, breakfast or brunch. All the food is local home-made and organic.
Other places not to miss in Blackheath are FUMO – a more upscale dining experience and Piggy Wiggy – a little sundry shop with fresh bread and snacks sold alongside homewares.
Local Tip: In addition to the above places to eat in the Blue Mountains do not miss the Megalong Valley Tearoom in Megalong Valley. This is a great hidden gem snuggled in the heart of the mountains. There is wonderful outdoor seating and a great menu full of local fresh ingredients. It is well worth the trip into the Valley and our local friend’s favorite restaurant in the area.
Lithgow is a quirky little town that has a little bit of everything from sustainable vegan restaurants, off the grid cabins, historic annual events, and a classic train ride. Come here for a step out of time and a nice break from the hustle of the Blue Mountains main towns. For vegan farm to table food in a rustic setting dine at Secret Creek Cafe. The Lithgow Tin Shed has live music on Fridays and is a nice little spot for tapas and wood-fired pizzas. Beer lovers should stop by Old Zig Zag Brewery. Established in 1888 there are still vintage brewery equipment lying about for a blast into the past on beer production. The real highlight of Lithgow is the Zig Zag Train, which is a classic heritage standard gauge train that climbs the Blue Mountains in a zig-zag pattern. This train has been closed since 2013 due to severe damage, but if you’re reading this post in 2019, you might be in luck! It is set to reopen in 2019, so keep an eye on their website for updates.
Learn About Aboriginal Culture and History
A visit to the Waradah Aboriginal Center should be on everyone’s list for visiting the Blue Mountains. Here you can learn about the rich culture and tradition of the peoples who lived in the area long before white invaders came. You can learn about their dance, beliefs, and art. The Red Hand Cave (mentioned below) is a good opportunity to see Aboriginal art. The Gully is undergoing a transformation from a place of slaughter turned race track turned to an educational area. This area is sacred to the traditional owners of the land. Right now it is just a nature walk around the old race track, but in the future the local councel hope to receive input from the traditional owners about the future of the space.
Explore Caves in the Blue Mountains
The Blue Mountains are home to several cave systems that you can head underground and explore a unique view of the Blue Mountains.
These caves are popular for a reason. They are known to be some of the oldest and most grand in the world. You can explore 9 caves, take a guided or self-guided tour, go adventure caving, go during the night, and explore the bush. Reservations are strongly recommended, so make sure you book in advance and give yourself plenty of time to get to the caves.
Red Hand Cave
Local Tip: The Red Hand Cave is a precious piece of Australian history and you are asked to respect the cave with no flash photography and the utmost respect. Inside the cave there are hand prints and ochre drawings from Abroiginals, dating back to 1,600 years ago. The cave can be reached by an 8k loop from the Red Hands Cave Walking Track Hear Glenbrook or you can drive to the Red Hands Cave carpark for a 1km return walk.
Bilpin is the town for apple picking. Call ahead or reserve your slot for apple picking at Bilpin Fruit Bowl or Bilpin Springs Orchard. While you are in Bilpin make sure to check out the markets, held at District Hall every Saturday from 10 am to noon. If you want to visit a local family owned orchard and NOT pick apples, stop by Logan Brae to buy apples for your picnic. Seriously, how cute is this family?
Wine, Beer, and Cider Tasting
Australia has some amazing wine and the Blue Mountains are often overlooked for their wine growing expertise. Head into Megalong Valley for wine tasting at Dry Ridge Estate or Megalong Creek Estate. If you want to try regional wines, without heading to a Vineyard, you can try a tasting at Carrington Cellars in Katoomba. If you love cider, don’t miss Bilpin Cider or Hillbilly Cider Shed in Bilpin. ZigZag Brewery and Katoomba Brewing beer can be found at the Carrington Hotel.
Cultural Centers, Art, and Museums
Blue Mountains Cultural Center is a unique cultural experience that highlights the culture, history, and landscape of the Blue Mountains with interactive exhibits and cultural programs. The Katoomba library and Blue Mountains City Art are located on the same campus. For any thespians don’t miss the Blue Mountains Theater showing a variety of plays and musical acts hosted by local and foreign talent. The Braemar Gallery is located in a heritage house and features fine and abstract from local and regional artists.
I just highlighted on a few of the things to do in the Blue Mountains and there are dozens of more activities to keep you occupied for a week or more. In my opinion, to really get a feel and taste of the Blue Mountains you need at least 2 nights and 3 days. I’ve been to the mountains a few times and still feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface. This is just a sample itinerary based on 2 nights and 3 days to give you an idea of what you can pack into that time frame.
Drive from Sydney, leaving early in the morning (7 am) and entering through Glenbrook heading toward Katoomba – getting breakfast on the way. Before checking into your accommodation find and complete one of the medium level hikes not too far from where you will be staying (I sugged the Overcliff Undercliff to see Wentworth Falls 2-3 hours), driving past a few scenic viewpoints on your way to or from the hike/accommodation. After you complete the hike head to your accommodation to check in. Once you’re ready for more exploring head out to check out the downtown (you can easily explore both Katoomba and Leura together) area to get lunch, shop at markets or vintage stores, and visit the Aboriginal cultural center or a museum.
Take a little break to get refreshed and scope out a good spot to watch the sunset. I suggest Lincoln’s Lookout, which is the big flat rock with plenty of space to sit down and enjoy the sunset. After sunset head back into town to find a good place to eat.
We stayed in Leura for both nights and really enjoyed the quiet option compared to Katoomba. I highly recommend staying in Leura the first night and if you want to experience a different town you could possible move to Blackheath for the second night or just stay in Leura both night and use the car to get out and see more of the Blue Mountains.
This will really depend on the type of person you are. You could wake up and rent bikes if you are into cycling. However, I suggest waking up early to see the sunrise at the Three Sisters. Hardly anyone will be there, and the lighting will just be perfect. Since you are close by you could go to Scenic World after sunrise, but honestly, I personally would leave this out of the itinerary unless someone in your group has mobility issues. I think there are better ways to experience the mountains. So, after sunrise at the Three Sisters, I would head into Megalong Valley to Megalong Valley Tearooms for brunch.
After brunch, you could go to one of the wineries in Megalong Valley if you prefer to have a more relaxed day. Make the wine tasting with a sober drive head out of the valley for Govett’s Leap Loop and exploring Blackheath’s vintage markets.
For the more adventurous, head back up out of the valley and go to Hargrave’s lookout, which is a nice 10-minute active trek to my favorite local lookout. After that, you can head to Govett’s Leap Lookout and either opt for another medium level hike, such as Pulpit’s Rock. Or if you’re done hiking you can head into Blackheath for lunch, vintage shopping. Find a nice place to eat dinner and if you’re looking for another sunset spot, I would suggest Sublime Point Lookout, which is located in Leura and a five-minute walk from a car park.
If the Jenolan Caves are on your bucket list, this would be a good day to wake up early (having prebooked this in advance), check out of your accommodation and heading off to catch one of the 9:30 am or 10 am tours into the caves. These caves are a bit of a drive off-the-beaten-path, so plan ahead. After the caves or first thing in the morning if you skip the caves, head up to Lithgow, stopping for breakfast or lunch and briefly exploring the town. After that head back toward Sydney via Mount Tomah. Visit the botanical gardens here, before continuing to Bilpin for some apple picking and lunch before heading back to Sydney.
If you did not go to the Jenolan Caves you can always drop back down to Glenbrook on your way out and hike to the Red Hands Cave for a more local and intimate cave adventure.