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The Best NSW National Parks For Hiking And Chasing Waterfalls

The Best NSW National Parks For Hiking And Chasing Waterfalls

Couple enjoying a hike to Cascade Falls in Macquarie Pass National Park.

New South Wales is host to an incredible selection of national parks, each packed full with native wildlife, plants and more great walking trails than you can shake a hiking pole at. One of the most well known is the Royal National Park, however whether you’re in the mood for a swim, a sight or a stroll, there’s a bunch of other incredible parks too.


In fact, New South Wales‘ national parks have so many beautiful spots that it can be hard deciding where your next great outdoor adventure will be. To help you along, here are some of the best national park hikes in New South Wales.

Karloo Walking Track, Royal National Park


No matter which hike you choose, the Royal National Park rarely disappoints. Located to the south of Sydney, the park is the perfect place to enjoy a picnic, go bird-watching, and let yourself be revitalised after a long week at work.

If you’re looking for an invigorating, moderate hike that also includes opportunities to swim, you can’t go past the Karloo walking track. Just a short walk from Heathcote Station, this popular 10km round trip will bring you by the Karloo Pools, which include a deep freshwater swimming hole that’s big enough to swim laps in.

If you only want to go to the Karloo Pools, it’s a 6km round trip, which should take around two hours of walking all up. But if you push on, you’ll be rewarded by the scenic Uloola Falls. You can even camp at the Uloola Falls campground, also located in the Royal National Park, if you book in advance.

You’ll have to pay the Royal National Park entry fee, $12 per vehicle per day, and there is an additional fee if you’re camping. Even so, it’ll be worth it.

Distance: 10km return

Emerald Pool Circuit, Popran National Park


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For those further toward Sydney’s north, try a hike through Popran National Park near Glenworth Valley to the aptly named Emerald Pool.

Park your car at the end of the Pipeline Trail and walk down Ironbark Road to Ironbark picnic area to warm up, or drive straight there if you have a four-wheel drive. The Emerald Pool circuit then takes you down Mount Olive trail to the partially shaded, fern-lined Hominy Creek walking track, where you’ll find the titular Emerald Pool. Return is via the 248 riding trail, so keep an eye out for mountain bikers and horses.


The Emerald Pool circuit is recommend for those with bushwalking experience, and takes over four hours to complete. It will take even longer if you stop to swim, and you will definitely want to stop. The clear water of Emerald Pool’s quiet swimming hole is clean enough to host yabbies, and in spring you’ll see colourful wildflowers.

There are no entry fees for the Hominy Creek Walking Track, so you can spend your cash on the fancy trail mix with cranberries and walnuts in it.

Distance: 10.8km circuit

Winifred Falls Fire Trail, Royal National Park

A 10km hike is all well and good, but it can feel like a bit much. Sometimes you’re in the mood for a short walk and a long, lazy swim. If you’re after something a bit easier but still rewarding, try Winifred Falls fire trail in the Royal National Park.

Starting from Warumbul Road, this trail starts relatively flat before sloping downward. Winifred Falls fire trail also has a few steep sections you should be careful of, and is covered with loose rocks which can pose a slipping danger. It also gets rather muddy after rain. Still, it’s a relatively easygoing walk that only takes around one hour return.

Once you reach the end, you’ll be able to take a dip in the relaxing Winifred Falls, and enjoy a family picnic on the rocks. If you walk around 300m further downstream, you can also enjoy a swim in the quiet South West Arm Pool.

As with the Karloo walking track, you’ll have to pay a $12 entry fee to the Royal National Park to access the Winifred Falls fire trail.

Distance: 3km return


Crystal Shower Falls Walk, Dorrigo National Park


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An hour’s drive from Coffs Harbour, Crystal Shower Falls walk in Dorrigo National Park is not one to miss if you’re ever in the area.

A gentle stroll through lush rainforest, the Crystal Shower Falls walk is achievable even if you have no bushwalking experience or want to enjoy a picturesque walk without getting too sweaty. It’s low risk for high reward, taking you across a suspension bridge and behind a gushing waterfall, while a forest full of native birds soothe your weary soul.

This walk isn’t exactly a secret, so expect to share the trail with others, but it’s beautiful enough that you likely won’t mind much. Starting from The Glade picnic area, head a little way around the 600m Satinbird Stroll to reach Wonga Walk and the entrance to the Crystal Shower Falls walk.

The Glade picnic area also has free barbecues and picnic tables, so you and your partner can also enjoy a peaceful lunch date after returning from your walk.

Distance: 3.5km return

Wentworth Falls Track, Blue Mountains National Park


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If you want a short walk to a waterfall a bit closer to Sydney, try Wentworth Falls track at the Katoomba area of Blue Mountains National Park. You can choose to either catch a train to Wentworth Falls or take the hour and a half drive from Sydney, as there’s plenty of parking.

Starting from Sir H Burrell Drive, this short walk only takes around an hour return, and has a clearly marked, formed path. There are a ton of steep steps, so you’ll still be getting a workout, but no bushwalking experience is required. You don’t have to worry about rough terrain, as much of the path is sealed.

You’ll go past several lookouts giving you a spectacular view of Wentworth Fall, as well as Jamison Valley and Jamison Creek. It’s a small investment for a lovely pay-off, and you’ll have enough time left in your day to find a nice cafe for a well-deserved lunch.

Distance: 1.4km return

Glow Worm Tunnel Walking Track, Wollemi National Park


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For a unique experience, explore Glow Worm Tunnel walking track in Wollemi National Park, a three hour drive from Sydney.

This moderate Blue Mountains forest walk ends in a 400m-long abandoned train tunnel covered with thousands of blue glow worms. The stunning display lights up the dark with speckles of light, creating a cool, starry ceiling you’ll want to gaze at for ages.

Though the worms are at the very end of the track, the walk to get there certainly isn’t deprived of scenery. The surrounding forest is filled with flowers and ferns, and you may see some wildlife along the way as well. There’s a good chance you may have seen the entrance to the Glow Worm Tunnel pop up on your Instagram feed.

Glow Worm Tunnel is pitch black inside so you’ll need to bring a torch, remembering to shine it at the ground so as not to disturb the worms. You’ll also want to be as quiet as possible. The best time to see glow worms is between December and March, however be forewarned that the Glow Worm Tunnel walking track can get very busy during that period.

To get there, park at the end of Glow Worm Tunnel Road. From there, you can immediately get onto the trail.

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Abel Tasman, New Zealand

Distance: 2km return

Coastal Walking Track, Wallarah National Park


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Smack in between the Central Coast and Newcastle, Wallarah National Park‘s Coastal walking track is the toughest hike on this list thus far. The 5km return trip is recommended for people with experience. It has limited signage, a few obstacles and steep hills.

If you can brave that, you’re in for a refreshing breeze and ocean views, which may even include a whale or two during winter. There are also opportunities to surf and fish at Pinny Beach, provided you’re willing to carry your kit along. This coastal walk is one for when you want to go home tired, wet and happy. Just make sure your legs are up to it.

Wallarah National Park’s Coastal walking track can be accessed by following the trail from Spoon Rocks Road.

Distance: 5km return

Ironbark Road To Glenworth Valley Track, Popran National Park


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Maybe a tough 5km hike isn’t enough pain for you. Maybe you want to, if not regret your birth, at least strongly reconsider the wisdom of that action. There’s a hike for that too.

Starting from the same location as the Emerald Pool Circuit, the Ironbark Road to Glenworth Valley hike deviates at the Ironbark picnic area, heading along the Mount Olive bush track to the Glenworth Valley track. The steep decent takes you from dry bushland to a forest of ferns, and past some great views. Beautiful, until you remember you’re also going to have to hike back.

The Ironbark Road to Glenworth Valley hike is tougher walk than the Emerald Pool circuit, graded at the same level as the Coastal Walking Track. It arguably has one of the best rewards though, the trail ending at Glenworth Valley Outdoor Adventures.

Glenworth Valley Outdoor Adventures offers a plethora of activities including horse riding, kayaking and abseiling. If you don’t fancy tackling the uphill hike back on the same day, you can book a spot to pitch a tent and make a weekend of it.

Distance: 10.1km return

Cascades Walk, Macquarie Pass National Park


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The Southern Highlands is a lush region south of Sydney and home to Macquarie Pass National Park. The park is set right between Bowral and Wollongong, just short of a two-hour drive from Sydney.

The Cascades Walk is an easy hike through rainforest and tall eucalypts, with the possibility of spotting elusive native animals like lyrebirds, platypus and goannas.

It’s an easy hike, but that doesn’t mean you’ll enjoy the payoff any less: the titular Cascades. You’ll want to snap some pics for later. There are also a few opportunities for swimming along the way – but this spot is popular with locals on hot days!

Distance: 2km return

(Lead Image: Karloo Pools, Royal National Park, Source: Wikimedia Commons)

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