If you’re travelling Australia and have a spare couple days around the Sydney area, visiting the Blue Mountains is an absolute must. It’s our favourite place that we visited on our month long trip down the east coast and we spent an amazing two days in the Blue Mountains exploring some of the sights.
It’s just a couple of hours drive from Sydney to the heart of the national park and although train and coach trips are popular, if possible try to hire a car so you can see plenty of the beautiful scenery that’s on offer.
The mountains and national park get their name from the blue haze that is typically seen from the many viewpoints over the plateaus and mountain ranges. The reasons for this haze are more scientific than I can explain so I’ll borrow a definition from Scenic World:
“The haze which appears to surround any distant object is due to an optical phenomenon called ‘Rayleigh scattering’. This effect, first investigated theoretically by Lord Rayleigh, causes the rays of light which impinge on small particles to be scattered in various directions… Since the atmosphere is always laden with small dust particles, water droplets and the like and since even the air molecules themselves contributed to some extent to the scattering… if an observer look sat a distant object with the intervening atmosphere illuminated by sunlight, eyes will receive the blue scattered rays of sunlight to reflect the object itself. Therefore any distant object will always appear to display”
The area is mainly made up of Eucalyptus Forests, but canyons, rocky plateaus, rainforests and swamps abound, leading to a stunning and diverse landscape. Designated a UNESCO world heritage site in 2000, the Blue Mountains are popular with hikers and climbers as well as day trippers. If you fancy getting out of the city, away from the beaches and spending a couple of days in land, there’s really nowhere better – ideally you need at least 2 days in the Blue Mountains to explore properly.
Where to Stay in The Blue Mountains
There are several small towns dotted around the national park, including Katoomba, Blackheath, Blaxland and Faulconbridge. We chose to stay in Katoomba due to its central location and the fact it has plenty going on there if you choose to eat and drink out in the evenings. We actually happened to stay in the best hostel we’ve encountered in 6 months of travelling so would 100% recommend staying at Hostel No 14 if you visit the Blue Mountains.
It’s a home away from home with lovely friendly owners who will give you all the information you need to help plan your visit, comfy beds and a cosy living room where you can relax after a day’s hiking. They also support a charity in Lima, Peru that’s dedicated to helping local children out of poverty – freshly baked cake in the kitchen is always available for a small donation.
Day 1 – Three Sisters, Wentworth Falls & Leura Cascades
Heading in from Sydney, we arrived around lunch time and drove straight to the Three Sisters mountain view point, located at Echo Falls, Katoomba. This is one of the most popular and iconic spots in the park – offering incredible views over the forests and mountain ranges as well as the three sisters themselves, a distinctive outcrop of 3 rocky peaks.
Aboriginal legend is that three sisters fell in love with three men from a neighbouring tribe but their marriage was forbidden by tribal law. Rebelling against this, the men decided to capture the three sisters with force and declared battle. During the fighting an elder turned the sisters to stone for their protection, but he was then killed in the conflict, and no one else was able to return them to their human forms.
Legends aside, the view points and walks here offer some incredible views. On your 2 days in the Blue Mountains ou should definitely spend a couple of hours seeing the sisters from Spooners Point, the Honeymoon Bridge and walk along the range to Katoomba Falls and Cascades. It’s also possible to take the cable car across the valley from Katoomba Cascades.
After this, we drove around 20 minutes down the road to Wentworth Falls. This is a great and fairly easy short Scenic walk to the top of the Falls. Our route of choice was to begin from the end of the carpark and head to Breakfast Point, before walking the Undercliff Track to the Falls themselves. From here you can cross the top of the Falls and walk a short distance down the famous National Pass to get a great view of the waterfall. We returned to the car park on the Wentworth trail which is a short but steady uphill walk. This route took around 2 hours and offered amazing views of the Blue Mountains and the forest and valleys.
Finally, on the way back to the hostel there’s time to visit Leura Cascades. It’s just on the outskirts of Katoomba and around a 15-20 minute return walk downhill to the bottom of the Falls – these were particularly impressive. Nowhere near as high as Wentworth falls but rainfall meant a great flow of water and some great photo opportunities.
Day 2 – Jenolan Caves, Blackheath Mountain Lookout and Grand Canyon Loop
After chatting with the owners of the hostel and doing some research online we decided our main walk for the day on our second day in the Blue Mountains would be the Grand Canyon Loop. It’s fairly popular but not too packed and is a moderate difficulty track that’s estimated to take around 3-4 hours (although it didn’t take as long as we anticipated in the end).
Before this, we knew we wanted to visit the Jenolan caves, a couple of hours drive from Katoomba. These are a more popular tourist attraction but for good reason! The area hosts a series of natural limestone caves with underground rivers and tunnels running between them. They are the most ancient discovered open caves in the world and it’s possible to take guided tours of up to 11 of the caves, although experienced cavers can access more.
It’s not cheap though, so if you’re on a budget you’ll need to choose your caves wisely! We visited the Imperial Cave, and have also heard good things about the Temple of Baal and Lucas and Chifley Caves. There’s plenty of information on the website to help you pick and one of the pieces of advice we heard many times was to try and visit one with the smallest possible group size so you can see as much as possible in the time available. Visiting the Imperial Cave cost 35AUD each for a one hour tour which we felt was a fair price to see somewhere so amazing. If you’re spending two days in the Blue Mountains I’d say seeing at least one cave is a must!
We spent an hour exploring the various caverns – highlights including the Blue River, a river with unbelievably clear water flowing inches from your feet through the cave, and various impressive limestone stalactites and stalagmites. Afterwards, it’s possible to wander around the trail to the blue lake, which only takes around 30 minutes and is really stunning with still pools and waterfalls.
After this, we drove 1.5 hours to Blackheath where we had a picnic lunch at the Blackheath Mountain Lookout. This is a quiet lookout with beautiful panoramas of the valley and surrounding countryside.
Around 3pm we arrived at Evan’s Point Lookout to begin the Grand Canyon Loop. It’s advisable to begin the Loop from this point for a slightly easier ascent back up the canyon although you can walk it either way. It starts with an impressive lookout for pictures and descends down hundreds of stone steps through rainforest into the canyon. The path is well marked and we didn’t find it too difficult although it would have been far harder heading up rather than down! The trail winds through the canyon, where you duck under rocks and through a tunnel or two, before a more sparse and desert like set of steps up the canyon.
The views are incredible throughout – at some points you’re high above the canyon and stream and at others you find yourself in the depths of the valley. Although it was pencilled to take 3-4 hours we did it in under two at a moderate pace so I think most people with a decent fitness level could complete it without too much trouble. This was our favourite walk and we’re glad it was recommended to us.
Finally, we headed back to the hostel for a well deserved rest! There are hundreds of walks and trails to choose from in the National Park, but we had a pretty perfect two days in the Blue Mountains with this itinerary. If you have any suggestions for other walks that would fit in let us know – we can’t wait to go back one day. Read more about the other amazing free and cheap things we did in Sydney and the surrounding areas to help you plan your budget Australia trip!