- For other places with the same name, see Blue Mountains (disambiguation).
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.
Up in the mountains are:
- Katoomba - the largest, and most visited town, with Echo Point, Scenic World, and shopping. Known for its artsy, hippie population.
- Leura - right next to Katoomba, is a quaint craft shops, and boutique shopping.
- Wentworth Falls - close to Katoomba, bush, views and Bed and Breakfasts.
- Blackheath - genuinely pretty mountain town, surrounded by parks and scenic walks.
- Mount Victoria - the highest point of the mountains.
- Medlow Bath - the home of the Hydro-Majestic, and its sweeping views along the Megalong.
In the lower mountains:
The Blue Mountains range is most famous for its three National Parks and other sites of natural beauty:
- Blue Mountains National Park
- Kanangra Boyd National Park
- Wollemi National Park - Home of the rediscovered prehistoric Wollemi pine
- Jenolan Caves and Oberon
When the Europeans arrived in Australia, the Blue Mountains had already been inhabited for several millennia by the Gundungurra people.
Although not especially high, the Blue Mountains cliffs were sufficiently challenging to prevent European 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.
The mountains are a major weekend destination for Sydneysiders, but also have a passionate local community. Making your way up involves passing through many villages. Each with its own centre, and residential area around it.
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:
- Folks looking for an alternative lifestyle, including a large and active gay and lesbian community
- Artists (including, in the past, the infamous Norman Lindsay)
- People who want to get back to nature
- Hospitality and tourism workers
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 two fast food restaurants (McDonalds/Burger King) 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.
The temperature 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!. An open fire can be nice on a winters evening.
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.
The 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.
Travellers visiting Sydney are often faced with the dilemma of how to best get to the mountains to spend a day or a couple of days. It is quite possible to visit for a day, and to see many of the main sights.
There are no scheduled commercial flights to the mountains. The closest airport is Sydney.
Take the M4 out of Sydney, then continue as the M4 becomes the Great Western Highway (A32) on Lapstone hill. Sydney to Katoomba is 103 km and takes about one hour and fifty minutes in good traffic. The traffic is much worse leaving Sydney on a Friday night, or returning to Sydney on a Sunday afternoon. Your travel time can double. After a long weekend, traffic can come to a standstill coming down the mountains into Sydney.
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 two to the Blue Mountains from Sydney Central, and can also connect at major stations along the way, like Parramatta. It is not necessary nor possible to book a seat - buy a ticket from any station when you travel. 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.
Once 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 from RediCAR, but if you are coming from Sydney, driving up the mountains is a good option.
By public bus
The Blue Mountains Bus Company 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, use a bus travelten, any MyMulti or an Opal Card.
If you are taking the train from Sydney for the day and using an Opal Card, you'll already have hit your day-cap of $15, and using the public buses in the mountains comes at no incremental cost.
The Blue Mountains Trolley consists of two routes: An express route, that is the same as the route 686 bus above, and a second longer route, which isn't a public route service that takes in Leura and some areas more remote from the station. The MyMulti/Opal tickets aren't valid on this second service. You can buy an all-day ticket for $25 that includes unlimited use of both trolleys.
By Blue Mountains Explorer bus
You can purchase a link ticket with the train that includes the Blue Mountains Explorer Bus and the train fare to Katoomba from any station. If you are travelling as a family the family fare saver, where only the first child pays, means that you should only buy a link ticket for one child, and buy the other child ticket on the bus.
You can buy tickets just for the bus for $36 that includes travel for up to 7 days.
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.
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.
- The most popular attraction in the Mountains is Echo Point at 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 Leap, a 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.
- Wentworth Falls.
- 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 Tree
- Tour the show caves at Jenolan Caves. Note that this is quite a long way from the Blue Mountains proper, and is probably a full day affair. If you don't have a car, you'll need to join a bus tour.
- Megalong Australian Heritage Farm, 1 Megalong Road, Megalong Valley (30 Minutes from Katoomba), ☎ . 9AM-5PM. A 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.
There are literally hundreds of walking opportunities in the mountains, from short 1 km trips to lookouts, to multi-day walks, and the famous Six Foot Track from Katoomba to Jenolan Caves. They will have all the details at the visitor information at Echo Point.
- 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 is a recently restored trail, 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.
- 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.
- Bed and Breakfasts are popular, but can be expensive, especially on weekends. These generally cater to a premium end of the market.
- Guest houses.
- Pubs - many have been gentrified, but not all. The price variations are significant between the two types.
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.
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.
Most people return to Sydney, as you will realise if you try leaving Katoomba by car at 4PM on a Sunday (a guarantee for you to be stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic from Leura down the hill).