Australia's best day hikes
From red sand desert to blue lagoons, Australia’s hikes take in the country’s most rugged nature.
With diverse landscapes and space to spare, Australia is one of the world’s great hiking destinations. Here, you can find yourself walking a chain of beaches, trekking through mountainous hinterland or traversing Australia’s iconic red outback. All you need is one day and a sense of adventure to embark on the country’s best day walks.
Tongue Point Walk, Wilsons Promontory
Wilsons Promontory, a stretch of coastal wilderness located three hours from Melbourne, is known for its many walking trails and day treks. The Tongue Point Walk is one of the most beautiful one-day tracks inside ‘The Prom.’ Begin at the Darby River car park before venturing onto the 10-kilometre (6.2-mile) trail. Along the way, you’ll find the Fairy Cove access path. If you’re ready to add a bit of extra beauty to your day, diverge onto the Fairy Cove track and continue until you reach 250 metres (820 feet) of secluded beach along with giant boulders and rock pools to discover. Bring along your swimming costume to take a mid-hike dip. After returning to the Tongue Point trail, you’ll walk through forested coastline before reaching the rocky shoreline and sweeping views that reward your hard work. Allow four to five hours to complete the return hike.
Mt Gower Trek, Lord Howe Island
Australia’s rocky, tree-covered islands are havens for hikers. Lord Howe Island, a two-hour flight from Sydney, is known for its spectacular walks, including the multi-day Seven Peaks Walk. If you only have a day, you can still take in some of the island’s most astounding nature on the Mt Gower Trek. It’s known as one of Australia’s best day walks, and rightly so. Along the way, you’ll enjoy a view of Ball’s Pyramid, beautiful lagoons and misty forests. Because of its challenging climbs and dizzying drops, hikers are required to walk with a licensed guide, who will share knowledge of the island’s rare plants and seabird population. The hike to Mt Gower takes eight to ten hours return, but you’ll be rewarded with a mountaintop view over the ocean, beaches, and coast below.
Bouddi Coastal Walk, Central Coast
New South Wales has some stunning coastline, with several trails designed for taking it all in. The eight-kilometre Bouddi Coastal Walk in Bouddi National Park takes in classic coastal views and offers plenty of opportunities for a picnic along the way. It’s known as one of the most breathtaking walks in the Central Coast, located about 1.5 hours north of Sydney. Begin your walk at Putty Beach and follow the trail along the boardwalk past sandy shoreline. Keep an eye out for the abundant birdlife that calls the coast home. This well sign-posted walk has some short steep hills and steps, so expect to take three to four hours along the track. Don’t forget to pack some food for a break on one of the welcoming beaches.
Pulpit Rock Walking Track, Blue Mountains
There are countless stunning lookouts in the Blue Mountains, but few are as Instagrammable as Pulpit Rock. The rock itself is striking, jutting out over the forested valley below, but equally beautiful is the view from Pulpit Rock lookout, which gazes out to golden cliff faces and green trees. The 7.6-kilometre (4.7-mile) Pulpit walking track can be walked either from Pulpit Rock or Govetts Leap, walking along the same path in different directions. If you start at Govetts Leap, stop by the Blue Mountains Heritage Centre for expert tips on local walks. Then, embark on your hike up a few staircases before a creek crossing. You’ll pass several lookouts along the way, one of which gives you a view of Horseshoe Falls. After reaching the final destination, Pulpit Rock, retrace your steps back to Govetts Leap.
Figure 8 Pools walk, Royal National Park
A natural wonder located in Sydney’s Royal National Park, the aptly-named Figure 8 Pools are both bizarre and beautiful. The crystal-clear rock pools fill with ocean water at low tide, drawing visitors from all over the world for their unique shape. Their location on a coastal rock shelf means they’re only accessible on foot. While it’s possible to reach the pools on your own, it’s not recommended due to the unpredictable, powerful tides. Go with a guided tour like Barefoot Downunder, who are experienced with the area’s tides and are equipped to assess any potential danger. On the full-day tour, you’ll not only visit the exquisite Figure 8 Pools but also spot wildlife as you stroll past spectacular ocean scenery.
Heysen Trail Loop, Adelaide Hills
The Adelaide Hills of South Australia is known for its cool-climate wines, but just steps from the vineyards lie incredible hiking opportunities. At 1,200 kilometres (745 miles) long, the Heysen Trail is one of the longest dedicated walking trails in the country, but smaller sections of the track can be easily completed in a day. The Heysen Trail Loop treks through native forest and along the ridgeline to Little Mount Crawford. While the loop can be completed in about seven hours, there are also campsites nearby for a night under the South Australian stars.
Riesling Trail, Clare Valley
South Australia boasts incredible nature walks, but the Riesling Trail offers something a bit different. While you’ll stroll through eucalypt forest, you’ll also come across cellar doors, art galleries, bed and breakfasts and endless rolling vineyards. Make your journey into the charming countryside from the Auburn Railway Station, popping into Rising Sun Hotel for some Aussie hospitality and a bite to eat. Don’t stroll past some of the best cellar doors along the way, including Mitchell Wines and Claymore Wines. The complete trail is about 35 kilometres (22 miles) and can be walked in nine hours, but the beautiful Sevenhill Cellars is also a perfect halfway point to stop for the day. Alternatively, take on the shorter five-kilometre section between the towns of Sevenhill and Penwortham.
Box Forest Circuit, Lamington National Park
In Lamington National Park, located just under an hour from the Gold Coast, you’ll find vibrant Gondwana rainforest, home to ancient trees and extensive walking tracks. If you’re eager to seek out tumbling waterfalls, trickling streams and moss-covered rocks, then it’s time to embark on the Box Forest Circuit. The trail is 11 kilometres (6.8 miles) long and takes about four hours to complete, but don’t forget to factor in some extra time to marvel at the waterfalls. You’ll find the start of this circuit about 3.2 kilometres (2 miles) from the trailhead of the Border Track. After diverging onto the Box Forest Track, you’ll be canopied in ancient branches and vines. The track leads directly to Picnic Rock and Elabana Falls, as well as other equally-stunning cascades including Nugurun and Box Log Falls.
Cooloola Great Walk, Sunshine Coast
The Cooloola Great Walk, which begins in Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, stretches just over 100 kilometres (62 miles) and typically takes a few days to complete, but one-day walkers can still enjoy some of the splendours of the trail. You’ll begin at the Cooloola Great Walk Southern Entrance, located in Noosa North Shore, and it won’t take long to see why this region is known for its spectacular beaches. Enjoy the beautiful coastal scenery until you reach Teewah Beach, where you’ll find a trail leading to Lake Cootharaba. After taking the four-kilometre (2.4-mile) return track to the lake, you can choose between walking back the way you came to complete your walk where you started, or continuing along the Cooloola Great Walk track before camping at Brahminy walkers’ camp in time for sunset.
Gibraltar Peak walk, Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve
The Australian Capital Territory’s Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve is brimming with wildlife and wilderness, and standing above it all is Gibraltar Peak. There are more than 20 walking trails within the nature sanctuary, but the best track for adventure-seekers is the one that leads straight to the top of Gibraltar Peak. The Gibraltar Peak walking trail stretches through 8.2 kilometres (five miles) of rough bushland and will take approximately three to four hours return. Begin at the Dalsetta car park before trekking through open grassland before embarking on the climb to Eliza Saddle, which offers panoramic views and a breezy spot to take a break. From here, the trail will diverge for the steep ascent to the peak. Enjoy the 360-degree view before descending the way you came, or take a longer route back via Eliza Saddle, Birrigai Trail, the Visitor Centre and Congwarra Trail.
Near Alice Springs
Valley of the Winds Walk, Kata Tjuta
Of all the day walks in Australia, perhaps the most spectacular are those in the Red Centre, the spiritual epicentre of the country. The Valley of the Winds walk takes hikers within the magnificent red domes of Kata Tjuta, a collection of domed rocks located near the Red Centre’s other famous rock formation, Uluru. On the Valley of the Winds walk, you’ll climb through the towering boulders, stopping at lookouts and descending into a hidden amphitheatre on a deeply immersive journey. Kata Tjuta rests on the land of the Anangu people, who have lived here for tens of thousands of years. According to Anangu culture, the rock formations hold knowledge that should only be learned in person and on location by those with the cultural authority to do so. The circuit takes about three or four hours, and water is available halfway through the walk.
Rim Walk, Kings Canyon
Kings Canyon, part of Watarrka National Park in the Northern Territory, overflows with awe-inspiring nature. One of the best ways to experience this stunning part of the world is on the Kings Canyon Rim Walk. Depart at sunrise, when the sandstone ripples with oranges and reds as shadows pass. Begin the walk at the Kings Canyon car park, ascending about 500 steep stairs; it’s hard work, but the first peek of the canyon from the top is worth the effort. You’ll then continue your journey until you see the domes of the Lost City, so called because of their resemblance to an ancient city in ruins. The six-kilometre (3.7-mile) track then descends into the Garden of Eden, a rockhole surrounded by greenery, and back out again to take in unbelievable views of the canyon.
Wineglass Bay and Hazards Beach circuit, Freycinet National Park
Wineglass Bay is one of Tasmania’s star natural attractions. Its white sand acts as a border between azure ocean waters and dense green forest, making for a spectacular sight. On the Wineglass Bay and Hazards Beach circuit within Freycinet National Park, you can enjoy the bay both up close on the sand and from afar on clifftops. Begin from the car park at the end of Coles Bay Road, then choose between heading toward Hazards Beach or Wineglass Bay. Because this is a loop, either direction will allow you to see the entire track. Along the way, you’ll pass scenic lookouts, orange boulders and white sand beaches, but the highlight is the perfectly-curved lagoon of Wineglass Bay. The entire circuit should take four to five hours return.
Dove Lake Circuit, Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park
One of Tasmania’s most iconic walks, the Dove Lake Circuit takes hikers around the beautiful Dove Lake and beneath the towering spires of Cradle Mountain. Begin at the Dove Lake car park to find the boardwalk, which lasts most of the way around the lake. Expect diverse landscapes along the way; the terrain around you will transform from grassy meadows to sandy beaches and dewy forests. The highlight for most is the astounding view of Cradle Mountain’s peaks, which reflect off the still water in good weather. The circuit takes about two hours to complete.
Pinnacles Desert, Coral Coast
The Pinnacles Desert, located within Western Australia’s Nambung National Park, is one of Australia’s most otherworldly landscapes. Thousands of limestone pillars rise from the sand in an eerie stone forest. You can walk through this unique geologic site on the Desert View Trail, an easy 1.5-kilometre (0.9-mile) track that winds through the spires. It begins at the Pinnacles Desert Discovery Centre, where you’ll also find displays and videos that explain the bizarre geology of the desert.