Walks around Katoomba and Leura

Katoomba Kids in Leura Forest
Katoomba kids in Leura Forest, 2000.

Topo Maps: KATOOMBA, JAMISON 1:25000 Second Edition

Probably the best place to visit first is the Tourist Information Centre (K508641) at the end of Echo Point Rd where you can obtain maps, brochures etc. From Echo Pt Lookout you can take in the views of such landmarks as Mount Solitary, The Three Sisters, Ruined Castle, Mount Colong, Jamison Valley etc.
    I tried to provide a sketch map of the Leura/ Katoomba Falls areas but the scan quality was lousy so I had to use Paint which isn't much better (see below). So for what it's worth.

Map of Leura Falls Walks

1. Leura Cascades, Bridal Veil Falls Lookout, Prince Henry Cliff walk, return track. Very Easy
From the top of the town head down Katoomba St. and turn left at the bottom of the hill into Waratah St. Turn right at the next intersection into Lurline St and then the next turn left into Merriwa St. Follow Merriwa St for just over a kilometre till you come to the Leura Cascades car park and picnic area (K518655). Have a look at the covered notice board to get an overall idea of the track layout. Follow the track down to the cascades which flow under the road bridge and continue downstream. After crossing the footbridge turn left at the track fork and continue downstream till you reach the Leura (Bridal Veil) Falls lookout. After taking in the views climb the steep steps to your right and follow the track for another fifty metres or so till you come to another track junction. The left fork steeply descends via a couple of steel stairways to the bottom of the falls. Take the right fork for a couple of hundred metres till you come to another track junction on your right. This takes you back to the beginning of your walk. Alternatively you can continue straight ahead through the dark and pretty Minnie's Grotto and on to a couple of other side-tracks to lookouts on your left before exiting onto Cliff Drive Road near the 'Fork and View' restaurant. The topo map is rather inaccurate as to the placement of the tracks around here but this is no problem as the tracks are well signposted.

2. Leura Cascades, bottom of Bridal Veil Falls, the Amphitheatre,Fern Bower, Prince Henry track, Cliff Drive.
Follow the directions for the above walk but take the left fork to descend to the bottom of Leura Falls. This has a lovely rainforest section as well as a couple of very steep steel stairways. At the bottom of the falls turn as if you are going to return the same way but take the lower track to your left which gently descends a few metres to a low walkway before steeply ascending up the hill and around the base of the cliffs.You soon come to a lovely spot dotted with tree ferns and known as The Amphitheatre which has this amazing coachwood tree growing on a boulder imprisoned by the tree's roots. The track soon climbs out of here and under the base of the cliffs before heading up towards Fern Bower. You'll see a steel stairway to your left which descends down to Linda Ck and continues on to Leura Forest. Ignore this turn off and continue to ascend the gully till you get to Fern Bower which is a good spot to take a short break. From here keep climbing out till you get to the very top and turn left at the next junction. Follow this track for a hundred metres or so and take a right turn when you hit the Prince Henry track. This quickly brings you out onto Cliff Drive Rd which you cross over to Carrington Park. Have a short rest here before following Cliff Drive road back to Leura Cascades car park.

3. Carrington Park, Fern Bower, Leura Forest . Medium.
While not a difficult walk this does involve a steep descent and climb. Head down Katoomba St and take the first turn left at the bottom of the hill into Waratah St. Take the next turn right into Lurline St and then the next left into Merriwa St for 500 metres till you see the small Carrington Park on your right. Leave the car here and cross Cliff Drive at K513654 to get on to the Prince Henry track. Take the first turnoff on your left and proceed for 100m or so before taking the next turn on your right which will entice you down into the beautiful rainforested gully known as Fern Bower. Continue descending the gully till you come to a signposted track on your right to Leura Forest. This immediately descends via a steep stairway to Lila Falls and then Linda Falls (K524650). Continue to descend the track till you come to a large clear area in the rainforest at the bottom of the cliffs. This is Leura Forest and is clearly signposted. There is an aluminium National Parks and Wildlife Service information board in the vicinity of the old shelter shed roofing (see above photo) which you come to after crossing a very shallow stream .
From the old shed (soon to be replaced/restored) you have three options, all of which are clearly marked tracks. Times given below are from Leura Forest.
Option 1. Return the way you came.(approx. 1 hour).
Option 2. Take the upper (right hand) Dardanelles Pass track to the bottom of the Giant Stairway and then a stiff climb to get to the Three Sisters and Echo Point.(approx. 1-1½ hours).
Option 3. Take the lower (left hand) Federal Pass track to the bottom of the Scenic Railway and take the ride up to the top or climb the delightful Furber's Steps track to the top. I recommend the very steep but exciting ride but make sure you cross over the overhead platform first and have a look at the old coal mine entrances where you will find an audiovisual display on the history of the mines and the railway. The short ride is approximately $6.00 adult, $3.00 child/ one way.(approx 1½hours).

The fascinating history of shale and coal mining in the area can be perused in a great book entitled " The Shale Railways of NSW " by G.H. Eardley and E.M.Stephens, available from the Australian Railway Historical Society at 67 Renwick St, Redfern NSW 2016 (price approx. $50)

4. Narrowneck, Golden Stairs, Federal Pass, Ruined Castle. Medium. Allow 5-6 hours(including lunch).
The Ruined Castle Head along the Gt. Western Highway but do not turn left at the second set of lights to go over Yeaman Bridge into Katoomba. Instead go straight ahead through the lights and continue for about 1km before turning left into Valley Rd just as you approach a sharp right hand bend on the highway (K497667). Follow Valley Rd (which becomes Narrow Neck Rd and then Cliff Drive) for about 2.5 km till you see the signposted Glenraphael Drive on your right.(K493644).

The Ruined Castle is the small hump in the middle of the gap between Castle
Head on the right and Mount Solitary on the left. Photo © A.Wells

This is a narrow dirt road which cuts back sharply and is easy to miss. It's the first turn to your right just after you pass Oak St on your left. Head along Glenraphael Drive slowly for about 1.5km, keeping an eye out for oncoming traffic, till you see a NPWS information board on your left. This marks the beginning of the Golden Stairs (K481637).Park your car here or further back on one of the side trails.

On top of the Ruined Castle

The Golden Stairs track quickly and steeply descends through the cliffline to the Federal Pass track. If you've got young children in the party don't let them get in front as there are a couple of potentially dangerous spots should they trip or stumble. About one-third of the way down you may notice a large old sloping tree trunk on the ground with the words "Golden Stairs" carved into it. The words were very skilfully carved with a small chainsaw around 1976 by Jack Tolhurst when returning from fighting a bushfire near the Ruin Castle. Once you reach the Federal Pass track (after 20-30 minutes) head south to the Ruined Castle track which you will see signposted on your right after about an hour from the bottom of the Golden Stairs track. The Federal Pass here is actually an old light railway bed which was used in the 1880's to haul kerosene shale to the base of what is now the Scenic Railway. The skips were hauled by horses from adits around the Mt Solitary and Ruined Castle area as far as the entrance to the Daylight Tunnel which runs through Narrowneck not far from the Landslide. From here they were hitched to a cable system which went via another tunnel to the base of the Scenic Railway, which was originally installed to haul coal up the cliff face. The Federal Pass track goes through some spellbindingly beautiful rainforest on the way out to the Ruined Castle and bellbirds frequent the open forest as you come out the southern end of the rainforest. After about 2.5km you'll come to the track up on to the Ruined Castle which is signposted on your right (J490611). The steep (40m high), short (80m long) climb brings you into a small saddle.

Katoomba kids in the shade of Ruin Castle with a parent on top. 2000.Photo © A.Wells

Turn left when you reach the saddle ridge and follow the scenic track for approximately 600 metres. to the Ruined Castle which is just a pile of large sandstone boulders. You can easily scramble up on to the top of these for great views of the Jamison Valley. There is also a natural cave or tunnel at the base which kids enjoy crawling through. Guard your food from the local brazen currawongs if you decide to have morning tea on the Ruin Castle

Return the same way or do a round trip by descending off the SouthEastern end of the ridge till you hit the main track and turn left to head back to the Golden Stairs track. An old mine adit just off to the left of the main track below Ruined Castle used to be a good, reliable source of clean water but unfortunately it is now usually dry. Also filthy deviates have defaecated in it's entrance. These same inconsiderate Neanderthal types throw their rubbish into the bush and drop tissues, lolly papers etc along the track. This walk could be be started from the bottom of the Scenic Railway but it would add a couple of hours to the trip and isn't recommended.

5. a) Narrowneck, Golden Stairs, Federal Pass, Mount Solitary and return. Medium. Allow at least 8 hours if going to the eastern end.
b) Golden Stairs, Mount Solitary, Eastern Col (Solitary Pass), Kedumba Valley Road, Queen Victoria Hospital. A long hard day. Experienced walkers only and keep the group small.

a) Proceed as for Walk 4 but continue along the Federal Pass track instead of turning off to go to the Ruined Castle. There is a lovely forest of Angophora Costata (Rusty Gum) in Cedar Gap but it is a steep climb from here up the Korowal Knife Edge (mild exposure in places) to get up onto Mt Solitary. Once on top the track is fairly straight forward and leads you into a gully with a large rock overhang or cave. This is Chinaman's Cave and Gully (J510584) named by a group of bushwalkers in honour of that venerable and famous Chinaman Ah Sup when they encountered gale force winds here back in the 20's. There are excellent views of Lake Burragorang to be enjoyed from the southern cliff face at the head of Chinaman's Gully. The main track continues on to the eastern end of Solitary (where there is a visitor's book to sign) and this is normally as far as most groups go before making their way back to Katoomba. From memory it is about 15km return. Take at least 2 litres of water per person. A pleasant alternative is to camp up on Solitary overnight and do a bit of exploring before your return. I am not prepared to tell you where to find water or campsites as both of these are scarce and precious, especially clean water.

b) Leave one or more of your vehicles at the locked gate on Kedumba Valley Rd (J569599) before driving to the start of the Golden Stairs on Narrowneck. Do the walk out to the Eastern end of Mt Solitary as described above before continuing down the steep descent immediately to the north of where you signed the visitor's book. The track is rather steep but quite safe. A word of caution. My edition of the Jamison topographic map incorrectly shows the descent track exiting at a bend on the dirt road at J539572. The track actually comes off the side of the ridge and exits further to the northeast at around J543576. The new edition of the Jamison topo map has corrected this blunder and a new section of track now continues through the bush, crossing Kedumba Ck about 1.5km north of Kedumba Crossing and exiting at approximately J568591, cutting out about 7km of road bash in the process. This makes for a more pleasant and much faster trip. What a great idea St George! (or Brian Fox). Old Farmhouse Ruins Alternatively, if you wanted to see the ruins of the old farmhouse (though I can't imagine why) you can navigate your way onto the short dirt road just to the south at J543575 (climbing through an old wire fence in the process) and then take the long road bash to the locked gate at J569599 on Kedumba Valley Rd. where you should have left one of the cars. A small, fit group can do the trip in eight hours or less but it's best to allow 10 or more hours. Unless you know where to find clean water along the way (eg.Waterfall Creek J561565) each person should carry at least three litres of water as well as a torch and spare batteries as a precaution. I prefer to do this walk in reverse order ie.begin with the Kedumba road bash and finish at the Golden Stairs.
Note: There is an old miner's pass (J532582) off the north face of Mt Solitary, just past the Singajingawell campsite, but at the bottom you still have to traverse around SouthEast to connect up with the main track. Not recommended.

Old farmhouse ruins. Photo Mike Zikan

6. Golden Stairs, Mount Solitary, Eastern Col (Solitary Pass),old dam J543575, dirt road J543571, Cleary's Kedumba homestead J559564 (camp), Lions Head Pass J578553, Queen Victoria hospital J569613. . A comfortable overnight walk. Experienced leader. Leave one or more vehicles at the Queen Victoria hospital on Tablelands road and head for Katoomba and the Golden Stairs carpark on Narrowneck. Traverse Mt Solitary as in walk 5 above but after you you descend the East Col at around J543580 head right(south) off the track and head for the back(west)side of the old dam at J543575. After passing the dam you'll soon step over an old barbed wire fence and eventually get on to the dirt road at around J543571. Turn left and head for Kedumba Crossing. Very soon after crossing Kedumba Creek and climbing up the hill you'll see a lovely mown campsite on the right hand side of the road replete with fireplace ring and a composting toilet. Camp here. You'll also see the chimney remains of Cleary's old homestead (see photo to the left). For some strange reason the homestead was demolished by NPWS or the Water Catchment Authority (unsure which) as soon as they obtained the land. Clean drinking water can be obtained nearby by following the road to Waterfall Creek J561565. Next day follow the road east for 300metres to a junction and turn right (south) for another 300metres or so keeping an eye out for an old overgrown firetrail on your left J562560. Head up this overgrown track which soon clears up and climbs the steep talus slope below Lions Head cliffs. I didn't have my GPS with me when I did this pass recently with Owen and Michele Kimberley of The Sydney Bushwalkers. According to a terrific website called "Dingo Gap Gallery" the Grid Reference for the pass is J579555(3rd edition) which places it at J578553 on my second edition map (used for this walk description). I'd actually aim to ascend about 50metres north of this point as we had to traverse a sloping ledge south for about this distance in order to get into the bottom of the pass which is a steep, short, easy scramble up a vegetated slope to the top (no exposure). At the top of the pass you'll see a huge rock cairn. From here there is a well defined foot track heading in a northerly direction back along the cliff line of Lions Head Ridge to Tablelands Road. A friend, Geoff Fox, told me that the track was 'cleaned up' with secateurs by Roger Clarke of the Upper Blue Mountains Bushwalking club. Thanks Roger; good job!! Once on the road it's about a 4.5km walk to Queen Victoria Hospital.

7. Leura Public School, Mt Hay Rd., Flat Top, The Pinnacles, Lockley Pylon, Du Faur Head and return. Medium. One of my favourite walks in fine or foul weather. In the mist you'd swear you're walking in the Scottish highlands (not that I've ever been to Scotland mind you!). Heading west up the highway from Sydney turn right at Leura Public School into Mount Hay Road (K530565). Drive for approximately nine kilometres till you come to the start of the Lockley Track on your left (K561732). The road turns to dirt after about 1km and can get a bit rough in places but is negotiable by ordinary 2WD vehicles. View from Lockley track Park the car here. Head north along the track, which is mildly undulating most of the way, till you come to Lockley Pylon hill on your left after about 3km. Make sure you climb the side track to the top of Lockley Pylon to get fantastic views of the Grose Valley. After descending Lockley Pylon it is worth continuing the extra 400 metres or so to the top of Du Faur head. Return the way you came. To make a full day walk you could continue along the track and descend Docker Buttress into the Grose Valley, cross Govett's Creek and explore the magnificent Bluegum Forest before returning the same way. The walk would then be graded medium/hard because of the steep climb back up Docker Buttress.

View of Mt Banks (centre background) and the Grose Valley from the Lockley track.Photo © Allan Wells

8. Minniehaha Falls. Easy. K521700 (2nd Edition)

9. Darks Cave. Easy/Medium. K546734(3rd [New] Edition) From Leura Public School (K531667) head out along Mt Hay road for about 8.5km till you come to the Fortress Ridge firetrail on your left (K555726). Park your car and follow the firetrail west then northwest till you come to a fork in the trail at K552730. Take the left fork west for 700m and take the foot track at the end right to the cliff edge for fantastic views across to Evans and Govetts Lookouts, Arethusa Falls (see photo below) etc. For safety reasons don't take young kids down this track! Return along the firetrail for 230metres and keep an eye out to your left for a foot track (K546731). Take this track which goes down the slope to cross a small creek and then follow it downstream. It eventually brings you to Darks Cave above a small sidestream which has a delight ful small waterfall and shallow pool at it's head. The cave was set up with cooking and sleeping gear by Katoomba resident Doctor Eric Dark and his family who used to holiday here back in the 1930's and 40's. Some of the cooking implements are still lying around. Please leave everything as you find it and carry out your rubbish or any you see left by less considerate walkers.

View from Darks Cave