The Blue Mountains, immediately to the west of the sprawling metropolitan area of Sydney, constitute one of the most accessible areas of relatively unspoilt natural highland beauty in New South Wales. Although not particularly high as a mountain range, the Blue Mountains are nonetheless renowned for their majestic scenery of a unique kind, their cultural attractions and a relatively tranquil, alternative mode of life.
Part of Australia's Great Dividing Range, the Blue Mountains region was inscribed as a World Heritage Area by UNESCO in 2000.
- - Known for its small art galleries, including the Norman Lindsay Gallery
- - The entry point to the Blue Mountains National Park. Close by to Blaxland
- - A small town in the middle of the mountain range; there's a group of small villages surrounding the town.
- - Close to Katoomba, bush, views and Bed and Breakfasts.
- - Right next to Katoomba, is known for its quaint craft shops, cafes and boutique shopping.
- - The largest and most visited town in the Blue Mountains, with Echo Point, Scenic World, and shopping. Known for its artsy, hippie population.
- - Genuinely pretty mountain town, surrounded by parks and scenic walks.
- - The highest point of the mountains.
- - The home of the Hydro-Majestic, and its sweeping views along the Megalong Valley
- - The end of the Blue Mountains region. A mining & train town, close by to the Zig Zag historical railway
- and Oberon
HistoryThe Blue Mountains have been inhabited for several thousand years by the Gundungurra people.
The European settlers found that the Blue Mountains cliffs were sufficiently challenging to prevent explorers from penetrating the inland of New South Wales from Sydney for some time. Attempts to cross the mountains began in the very early 1800s and it was not until 1813 when Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson found a way across the mountains by following the ridges rather than the watercourses.
Once the route was found, roads, railway and development followed rapidly. The roads and railways today follow almost exactly the route taken by the original explorers. A visit to many of the scenic vistas, cliffs and waterfalls in the mountains will give you some appreciation of the challenges anyone would face trying to follow the rivers and creeks across the mountains.
PeopleThe mountains are a major weekend destination for Sydneysiders, but also have a passionate local community. Making your way up involves passing through many villages.
The lower villages are almost an extension of the Sydney urban area, but the higher you go the more a mountain way of life becomes evident.
Locals of the Blue Mountains tend to be retirees, folks looking for an alternative lifestyle, including a large and active gay and lesbian community, artists (including, in the past, the infamous Norman Lindsay) and people who want to get back to nature.
There are also the Gundungurra Aboriginal people, who are now represented by the Gundungurra Tribal Council Aboriginal Corporation, based in Katoomba. It is a not for profit organisation representing the Gundungurra traditional owners, promoting heritage and culture and providing a support for Gundungurra people connecting back to Country.
The Blue Mountains locals have resisted much development - you'll only find one fast food restaurant between Glenbrook and Lithgow.
If you stay long enough to get to know the place, you'll find an interesting mix of 1860, 1960 and last year.
ClimateThe temperature is usually a few degrees cooler in the mountains, but it can be up to 10°C colder than on the coast during the day, and drop even further overnight. There is probably only one or two days of snow every one or two years, but there are many more winters days where it feels like it might snow!
If you're in Sydney for a week or so, and planning a day trip to the mountains, it pays to check the weather forecast for each region before deciding which day to travel. A hot day in Sydney can make the mountains a pleasant escape, and coastal showers in Sydney can also see the mountains still dry and sunny. However, cold winter rainy days can see mountain views completely obscured by fog for the entire day.
OrientationThe main visitor district of the mountains centres around Katoomba, with Echo Point (Three Sisters), Scenic World, Wentworth Falls and Leura all within a few kilometres each direction. The towns of Blackheath and Mount Victoria are smaller tourist centres in their own right, only around 15 minutes drive from Katoomba. Jenolan Caves are a significant distance further, over an hour to drive from Katoomba.
The closest airport is Sydney Airport.
Some off-road detours take over 2 hours to get back on the main roads. One route that most GPS journeys use is to turn off at the Leura exit on the Great Western Highway, and then turning right at the roundabout into the residential area of Leura along Mount Hay Road. Another route takes you to to a dead end road in the town of Dargan. Some apps take you to the more sensible location of the Glennbrook Entry to the national park.
If you want to get close to the Blue Mountains most visited attractions, try "Echo Point, Katoomba" or "Katoomba NSW."
Hiring a car from Sydney to spend a day or two in the mountains is a popular option for visitors to Sydney, however an issue often encountered by people staying in the city centre is that car rental companies along the city strip generally close before 6pm, and can have queues when they open at 9am. This can make for a very short day in the mountains. The alternative is paying for an extra days car hire, and for overnight parking in the city for two nights, which can add considerably to the cost.
Trains run every hour (or half hour during peak periods) to the Blue Mountains from Sydney Central, and can also connect at major stations along the way, like Parramatta. Standard trains are used with no seating reservations. Trains run every hour or so as far as Mount Victoria and usually every second one will proceed to Lithgow. While the train will get you to the mountains, you need to determine how to get around when you get there, as there are a number of locations that you won't be able to reach without a car. That said, most of the main towns in the Blue Mountains are linked together by the rail line, and the prime tourist spots are walkable or accessible by visitor friendly bus services. See how to Get Around below.
Many tour companies operate single- or multi-day tours up to the Blue Mountains from Sydney. A number of companies operate chartered tours that offer tour guides and coaches with modern facilities such as toilets and air conditioning. Expect a rushed trip, to take in all the sights and the usual wildlife park stop on the way.
By carOnce you get up the mountains, it is easy to get around the mountains by car, and congestion or parking is generally not a problem. Popular car parks like Wentworth Falls can fill on summer weekends, but travel on the street until you find an available spot. The Great Western Highway (A32) crosses the Mountains east to west, and most places aren't far from it. Expect to pay for parking at Echo Point (The Three Sisters) at $4 per hour, but everywhere else is free of charge. There are large free multi-storey parking lots at Scenic World. if you are going to Scenic World and Echo Point, then park at Scenic World, and walk from the Skyway east station to echo point, to save the drive and parking costs.
- Local Car Rental is available in Katoomba from Hertz. You pay a premium to hire in the mountains - but after considering the additional fuel, car parking in Sydney, and inconvenient opening times, you may still end up ahead.
By public bus
Blue Mountains Transit operates public bus services in the mountains under a service contract to the state government. Their routes are extensive, but can be infrequent - especially on weekends. Check the timetables before deciding to get around the mountains by public bus.
The most useful bus is the 686, that runs between Katoomba station, Echo Point, and scenic world every 30 minutes. This route is actually the same bus as the express trolley, that forms part of the Trolley Tours Hop-on Hop-off service. It is a real bus, just painted on the outside to resemble a trolley. Other useful buses are the 685 Wentworth Falls Katoomba loop that will take you near to Wentworth Falls.
All the Blue Mountains public buses use the same tickets and ticketing structure as Sydney. You can pay cash fares or use an Opal Card.
If you are taking the train from Sydney for the day and using an Opal Card, you'll probably already have hit your day-cap, and using the public buses in the mountains comes at no incremental cost.
By Blue Mountains Explorer bus
The Blue Mountains Explorer Bus consists of two routes: A Katoomba - Leura circuit, that is similar to route 686 bus above, and a second longer route, which includes some areas more remote from Leura station. Many of the stops in both routes are close to a number of the hotels in the Upper Blue Mountains region.
Opal cards are not valid on these services. You can buy tickets just for the bus for $55 that includes travel for one calendar day, or online.
If travelling between towns in the mountains (like from Katoomba to Leura, Blackheath, Medlow Bath, or Mount Victoria), train is also available. Trains generally run every hour or so east of Mount Victoria, more frequently during peak times.
If you are travelling by train and wish to have a mountains experience around Katoomba, you can walk in about 30 minutes to Echo Point, then descend the Giant Staircase at the Three Sisters, walk along the valley floor to Scenic World, come back up the Scenic Railway, then walk along the top of the cliff back towards Echo Point, and then back to Katoomba.
Wentworth Falls is about an hours walk along the Charles Darwin Walk from Wentworth Falls station, however if you can skip this part and allow more time to do the National Pass walk that is more worthwhile. (The National Pass is closed due to rockfall risk).
If you are without a car, taxi is a good option to see worthwhile destinations like Wentworth Falls and Leura Cascades that are away from the stations.
Echo PointThe most popular attraction near Katoomba, a major lookout with incredible views of the Jamison Valley and the Three Sisters. There's also an information centre here with displays about the environment of the area, so its a good place to start your visit to the mountains. Maps and souvenirs available for sale. Come back at night to see the area lit up. There is an easy walk down to a bridge where you can walk to the base of the sisters.
Govett's LeapA lookout at Blackheath with fantastic views over the Grose Valley. A number of walking tracks around the edge of the escarpment start here
- Cliff Drive, around Katoomba and Leura has many pull-offs for admiring the view.
- Kanangra Walls at Kanangra Boyd National Park.
- Watch a IMAX movie at The Edge Cinema in Katoomba - its giant screen has somewhat regular showings of 'The Edge Movie', which is a documentary about the Blue Mountains, but check times on their website first, to make sure they aren't showing the latest Disney feature when you plan to visit. The cinema is about 10 minutes walk from Katoomba Station, the other direction from Echo Point.
- In the more residential lower Mountains commuter belt, there are a couple of mildly interesting tourist sites at Faulconbridge - the Corridor of Oaks, which has oak trees planted by many Australian Prime Ministers, and Sir Henry Parkes' Grave, the final resting place of a man considered to be the 'Father of Federation'.
Explorers TreeThis is well known as the tree where (supposedly) Gregory Blaxland, William Lawson and William Charles Wentworth, who were the first known European explorers who successfully crossed the Blue Mountains in 1813, carved their initials in 1813 on this Eucalyptus oreades specimen. The tree is in a sorry sight now, where it's been partially cut down, arson attacked, bounded together and filled in with concrete. The tree and the monument now been fenced off. However, there are plans to upgrade the site for future generations.
address: 1 Megalong Road, Megalong ValleyA unique venue offering rural experiences. Set in 2000 acres the venue has a restaurant, horse riding, 4WD, bushwalking, children's petting farm, wilderness camping sites and B&B accommodation.
Do check for track closures before setting out on the national parks website. Closures are becoming more common, in an increasingly risk-averse environment.
- The Giant Stairway descends to the bottom of the Jamison Valley, right next to the Three Sisters at Echo Point. You can walk along the base of the valley for around 2 km to get to Scenic World, at take the Scenic Railway back up the hill. From here you can walk to 2 km back along the top of the cliff, by following the Price Henry Cliff Walk back to Echo Point, via Katoomba Falls. There is food and drink at Echo Point, at Scenic World, and at a kiosk along the Prince Henry Cliff Walk. The track is well marked, (you will see the signs to Scenic Railway) and well traversed, so you don't need to be too prepared to do this one. If you are driving, then consider parking at Scenic World, and doing the Prince Henry Walk first, that way you can avoid the parking charges at Echo Point. If you want to test your fitness, go down the scenic railway, and then up the thousand steps.
- National Pass Trail at Wentworth Falls opened originally over 100 years ago. Running along the cliff line at Wentworth Falls, and not as steep as it may sound, it can be conquered as a challenge by someone of average fitness. There is about 3 hours of walking in all. If you choose to only do a section of the walk be aware that but the steep sections are at the very beginning and end of the track, with the centre being largely level along the cliff line. It really is best to plan to do the entire length of the walk if you can. The shortcut track at the top of the cliff will get you back to the start in only 30 minutes or so. Many sections of the walk are fenced, but many steep sections are not. If you are travelling with young children, then you may not be comfortable on sections of this walk. The walk is closed due to risk of rock fall (2017).
- Faulconbridge Point Lookout/Grose River.
- Govett's Leap.
- To get away from the crowds in "scenic" Katoomba, get a bus (or taxi) to Leura falls, and walk down the steps to the wedding veil falls and along Federal Pass - a fantastic walk, not too hard, and loads of wildlife!
- Ride the Oaks Trail on your mountain bike. This is a classic mountain ride, through bushland fire trail well away from the highway. It goes from Woodford to Lapstone, almost all downhill. You can get the train from Lapstone back up the hill to the start.
- Ride on one of the scenic rides into the Jamison Valley from Katoomba.
There are many accommodation options in the mountains, including resorts, bed and breakfasts (popular, but can be expensive, especially on weekends), guest houses, motels, pubs (many have been gentrified, but not all) and camping.
Listings can be found in city pages.
People have died when they have lost the trail while bushwalking in the Blue Mountains. There is a large variation in the signposting and difficulty of walks. Know your limits, and check with visitor information. Also note that getting lost is easy to do and can prove fatal.
There are a number of walks you can take in the mountains to experience them, where the tracks are well marked and well traversed. You can walk from Echo Point to the Scenic Railway, down the steps at the Three Sisters, and take the Scenic Railway back to the top. You can also walk the National Pass walk. These walks have some mobile reception, and you will have no problem following the tracks and signs if you are careful. However, even on the cliff walks near civilisation some places do not have any mobile phone coverage whatsoever. There are shorter walks at Echo Point too. Check at visitor information.
Personal locator beacons are available free of charge from Katoomba Police when undertaking more remote walks. Always let someone you trust know your route, and when you will be back. Take a mobile phone (not always in range) and a GPS.
Some cliff edges are unfenced. Cliff edges near creeks and water may be slippery, and losing your footing can prove fatal.
Although the Blue Mountains are a large nature reserve, the wildlife is not particularly dangerous. However, if you see snakes on the path, stay clear until they move away. Don't disturb rocks and branches with your bare hands for spiders and insects.