You’ll be in no doubt as to your impending arrival to the Warrumbungles after spying the vividly shaped formations against the skyline on your approach. The jagged outlines of notable peaks like Belougery Spire, the Breadknife and Bluff Mountain are the remnants of an ancient shield volcano. The leftover peaks and troughs create a truly incredible landscape ready for exploration, and boy is there plenty to explore. Often regarded as one of the best hikes in NSW, there’s really no better trail than the Breadknife and Grand High Tops Walk in the Warrumbungles. And better still, the extended version we’ll detail in this post.
In this guide, we’ll tell you a little about the Warrumbungle National Park, before diving into the ins and outs of the extended Breadknife and Grand High Tops Walk. We’ll let you know of all the natural attractions you’ll pass on the hike, including scaling Bluff Mountain and Mount Exmouth, as well as reaching the summit of Grand High Tops itself. Lastly, we’ll look at other hikes to do in the national park, what else there is to do in the area and where to stay.
For more epic hikes nearby, check out our Discover the Best of Mount Kaputar National Park and Pilliga State Forest (coming soon) posts.
Table of Contents
Where Are the Warrumbungles?
The Warrumbungle National Park, or simply, the Warrumbungles, is a spectacular mountain range in central northern New South Wales. The nearest town in which to visit the Warrumbungles and see the incredible formations of the Breadknife and Belougery Spire is Coonabarabran. The Newell Highway, linking Melbourne, Victoria with Brisbane, Queensland makes the Warrumbungles quite accessible.
How Were the Warrumbungles Formed?
The outstanding mountain range of the Warrumbungles is the remnants of an ancient shield volcano, active some 13 to 17 million years ago. Over time, erosion has left the phenomenal peaks and interesting formations we see today. The main sites of Belougery Spire, Crater Bluff, Bluff Mountain, The Breadknife and Mount Exmouth, which you’ll see along the extended Breadknife and Grand High Tops Walk, are all examples of volcanic remnants.
About the Extended Breadknife and Grand High Tops Walk
The Breadknife and Grand High Tops Walk, sometimes referred to as simply, the Breadknife Walk, is by far the most popular and well-known of all trails in the Warrumbungles, and for good reason. The stunning scenery, breathtaking vantage points and pure sense of accomplishment upon reaching Lugh’s Throne make this hike pretty special.
The trail to the top is spectacularly maintained and, in parts, paved to perfection. Like a yellow brick road, it can lead even the most novice of walkers to the summit. However, don’t get too comfortable. The sharpness of the ascent, the leg-burning stair-cased sections and, on our occasion, the searing sun transforms this hike into a real heart-pumping trek.
But, the rewards upon reaching the summit of Lugh’s Throne on the Grand High Tops are tenfold. The 360 views are superb and the sense of accomplishment is beyond satisfying. However, like us, you might not feel quite done with the hiking playground surrounding you. It’s quite common to add Bluff Mountain onto the Breadknife and Grand High Tops Walk, since you have to pass the trailhead to Bluff Mountain anyway. That being said, if you’re up for pushing yourself, then this guide goes that little step further.
The Extended Version
At just short of 40km is our extended Breadknife and Grand High Tops Walk in the Warrumbungles. This stellar hike essentially encompasses no less than six separate trails! It’s a fantastic day hike (yes, it’s most certainly doable) taking around 9 hours to complete. Every peak as good as the last, every view as drool-worthy as the next, and every effort justified with each step taken – get ready for an absolute corker of a day.
Now, I understand what you might be thinking, but don’t be put off by such a huge amount of km’s to complete in a day. Oh, and also the fact there are 3 peaks to summit (Grand High Tops, Bluff Mountain and Mount Exmouth). You can do it! But, you’ll need to be sensible as to whether this is within your capabilities, it is of course a challenge. That being said, this is by far one of the greatest long-distance day hikes that Dan and I have been lucky enough to complete in Australia, and we know you’ll love it too.
Extended Breadknife and Grand High Tops Walk Map & Preview
- Type: Loop
- Distance: 38.8km
- Time: 9 hours
- Accumulated elevation gain: 960m
- Difficulty: Hard
- Trailhead: Pincham car park
- Map: AllTrails
The linked GPS map roughly outlines the route as a whole. You’ll just need to remember to add on Goulds Circuit near the start, and Cathedral and Arch out and back before Mount Exmouth.
Breadknife and Grand High Tops Walk Highlights
So you’re keen to give the extended Breadknife and Grand High Tops Walk a crack, eh. YES! Great choice. Obviously, a hike like this isn’t for the faint-hearted, and hiking 3 mountains plus numerous other lookouts during one hike is going to hurt. I should know! But believe me, when I say, the Breadknife Walk in the Warrumbungles is SO good! With views of the iconic Breadknife, Belougery Spire and Bluff Mountain, it’s a feast for the eyes every step of the way. And the distractions are more than welcome as the climbs are steep and tough. Below are the highlights along the way.
The Breadknife Walk Warrumbungles
- Goulds Circuit: scramble the rocky outcrops of Febar and Machor Tor for sensational views.
- The Breadknife: easily the most recogniseable rock formation in the Warrumbungles, the Breadknife is around 100m high and only 2–3m wide in parts. It has a very cool window lookout with awesome views.
- Balor Peak: this vegetation-covered lava dome is viewed directly through the Breadknife window lookout.
- Belougery Spire: this iconic mound of rock is an ancient volcanic plug, where lava once erupted.
- Grand High Tops: witness, up close, the impressive shapes of Belougery Spire, the Breadknife, Crater Bluff and Lugh’s Throne, the summit of Grand High Tops and the ancient centre of the Warrumbungle volcano.
- Crater Bluff: another volcanic plug in the Warrumbungles. If you look carefully behind, you’ll spot another called Tonduran Spire.
- Bluff Mountain: mountain number two of the hike provides exceptional views of Belougery Spire, the Breadknife and Crater Bluff.
- Cathedral & Arch: an out and back through an intriguing landscape of unusual rock formations.
- Mount Exmouth: if you can muster the effort, take on the out and back to mountain number three, and discover a sky-high secret garden.
- Burbie Canyon: a relaxing finish to an exhilarating hike, passing through epic canyon walls and wildlife spotting.
Breadknife and Grand High Tops Walk Description
The hike begins from Pincham car park and follows the Grand High Tops track along Spirey Creek. The trail has a quaint woodland feel, and in spring, when the flora is in full bloom, feels quite magical. After around 1.5km, you’ll reach a small turnoff, to the left, for Gould’s Circuit. From here, you can reach Febar Tor and Macha Tor.
Goulds Circuit (Machor Tor & Febar Tor)
Febar Tor and Machor Tor are rocky outcrops with sublime views towards Belougery Spire and the Breadknife. The trail to reach them feels much narrower and overgrown in comparison to the well-walked and maintained Grand High Tops track – almost like searching for a secret lookout. Heightened, for us, by the fact that no other hikers seemed to be turning onto this short loop. It would seem that we’d have this short 3km section to ourselves. Perhaps you’ll be the same.
First up is Febar Tor. The smaller of two lookouts on this loop, the rocky scramble necessary to access the viewpoint is fun and offers a fantastic first look at those big players, like Belougery Spire, to come.
Another 800m further along the track is Macha Tor. This peak is slightly taller than Febar Tor and is a more difficult scramble up, feeling near-vertical in sections. Still, the views from the top platform are mesmerising. The Breadknife, Belougery Spire and Crater Bluff feature heavily on the horizon line, looking fiercely difficult to scale, yet managing to conjure the excitement of rising to the challenge.
After scrambling back down, continue along Gould’s Circuit trail to join back up with the Grand High Tops track. A couple of km before reaching Lugh’s Throne, which sits at the top of Grand High Tops, you’ll find a small offshoot to the left for Spirey View lookout. It’s just 100m or so of extra trail, so you may as well check it out. What’re a few extra metres, eh? Especially for some new views of Belougery Spire.
Spirey View Lookout
Spirey View offers a closer vantage point of Belougery Spire and the Breadknife than previously seen from Gould’s Circuit. Dan and I began to get a real sense of the grandeur surrounding us as we became more and more immersed in these wonderfully shaped and ever-looming rock formations.
From here, retrace your steps to continue on to Grand High Tops towards Belougery Spire and the Grand High Tops summit.
Grand High Tops
Now, onwards to the main event. The Breadknife and Grand High Tops Walk, as previously mentioned, is by far the most popular hike in the Warrumbungles. You should expect the trail up here to be fairly busy in parts, with a lot of weary legs stopping for rest bite on various steep sections. If you enjoy a speed hike, as we do, and you’re keen to motor up, you’ll find this section tough going and a real leg burner.
What is speed hiking? Speed hiking is hiking a trail quicker than your average pace, relative to your normal speed of course. This enables you to cover a greater distance in the time you have, plus, get a bit more of a work out too. The end result? Seeing and fitting more into an itinerary and utilising the time you have.
Once you’ve scaled the staircase, you’ll arrive at the Warrumbungle’s famous Breadknife. Be sure to get plenty of water down you during this section of the Breadknife and Grand High Tops Walk. Its steepness is a challenge, but the rewards from the summit views outweigh any discomfort.
But just before you tackle the final ascent up to Lugh’s Throne and Grand High Tops Lookout, you’ll have an opportunity to check out the Warrumbungles’s Breadknife Gap.
Experiencing the incredible scale of this flat, sharply jutting rock is amazing. You’ll feel like a tiny crumb on the edge of the rock’s serrated edge. There’s a fantastic ‘gap’ in the rock face offering a window-like cutout through to the volcanic landscape beyond. Directly through the gap in the Breadknife is a fantastic view of Balor Peak. This lava dome is just another example of the volcanic history of the Warrumbungles.
After the last push up to Lugh’s Throne and Grand High Tops summit, the gratifying views suddenly come into focus. From feeling like a small speck, walking amongst these giant rock creations from below, now you’ll have a chance to enjoy them from above. With clear vantage points down over the Breadknife and Belougery Spire, take a moment to rest (seriously, do) and admire the beauty of mother nature in all her glory. This place is sure to take your breath away.
Belougery Spire and Crater Bluff
From Lugh’s Throne and Grand High Tops summit lookout, it’s easy to see just why the Breadknife and Grand High Tops Walk rates so highly. The Warrumbungle National Park is nothing short of any hiker’s fantasy. Good news for us, there’s even more to come.
From Lugh’s Throne, you’ll discover awe inspriing 360 views of the Warrumbungles. Crater Bluff now comes into view, as too does Tonduran Spire, another volcanic plug in the disctance beyond. Looking back down the trail to the summit is the immense Belougery Spire. Incredibly, the huge form of Belougery Spire dominates the immediate Warrumbungle landscape, even more so than that of the Breadknife from this vantage point.
After catching your breath and enjoying the views, continue along the Grand High Tops Circuit to descend down to Dow’s Camp. Once at Dow’s Camp, you should keep left to continue on to Bluff Mountain. However, should you decide Grand High Tops was enough for the day, you can continue along the track, on the right, towards Ogma Camp, and then take the West Spirey Track back to Pincham car park.
The sharp descent from Lugh’s Throne offers a great look at what’s to come. Ahead, you’ll see the burly mound of Bluff Mountain rising like a sleeping giant. Dan and I had heard, from a few accounts, that the hike to Bluff Mountain summit was tough going. At a 200m climb, and after the exertion of Grand High Tops, I can now say we tend to agree – stick with it though.
The route up Bluff Mountain follows a gradual switchback of steady incline, which doesn’t let up until you reach the open summit. The treetops are a welcome sight indicating the difficult stretch is almost over and the summit is close. The exposed, rugged Bluff Mountain is windy and harsh, yet feels relieving after the climb. The effects soon wear off though and so I recommend wind jackets at the ready.
The views are breathtaking. They more than justify your efforts in getting there. From Bluff Mountain, you’ll have some of the best Warrumbungle views of Bluff Pyramid, Grand High Tops, Belougery Spire and the Breadknife. We were so lucky to have such glorious weather, and the views really did seem endless.
Keen to explore more, and complete the whole hike as we’d set out, we made a speedy descent along the same route we’d just taken up. Bluff Mountain is an out and back trail afterall. At the base of Bluff Mountain, rejoin the Grand High Tops trail and continue on toward Ogma Camp.
Cathedral & Arch
At Ogma Camp, take the Western High Tops Track to the left, toward Danu Camp. Just before Danu Camp though is another off-shoot trail along this corker of a hike. This one brings you to the Cathedral & Arch. At just a 1km out and back, it’s an easy add on. The rock formations along the track are some of the most unusual we saw in the entire national park. On the hillside are rock groupings, resembling the ruins of an old Cathedral. Their tube-like structures standing proudly on the sharply sloping grassy hillside.
The trail is quite up and down, which, by this stage, may feel hard on the legs. The landscape is more than interesting enough to offer a distraction though. Completing the extended Breadknife and Grand High Tops Walk is really the only way to see Cathedral & Arch, so this little trail feels like a high five from nature for your perseverance!
Further exploration of this trail leads you to a brilliant arch formation at the end of the track. Amazingly, the arch has a lone tree standing atop it. The views through the arch gaze back towards the Grand High Tops Track from where you detoured. To the right are excellent views of Bluff Mountain. Looming large in the background, you’ll be left wondering how you ever managed to scale such a monolith.
Retrace your steps along this same track to re-join with the main Breadknife and Grand High Tops Walking trail and continue on to Mount Exmouth, the last peak of the hike.
At around 18km in, fatigue will be hot on your heels and the thought of scaling another peak may potentially feel like one hill too many. However, if it helps, Mount Exmouth was every bit as fantastic to hike as the other summits, with its ‘secret garden’ at the top particularly special. So, dig deep and push on.
Upon reaching Danu Camp, the trail continues along to Burbie Canyon or left, up to Mount Exmouth. The trailhead for Mount Exmouth is a small opening along a grassy trail that ascends almost immediately.
Truth be told, I was not excited to meet the trailhead for Mount Exmouth. My legs were tired, I was feeling the effects of the blistering sun (perhaps that’s just being a Brit though) and the thought of scaling another mountain after 18km and two previous peaks was a real struggle to comprehend. I was in need of a boost. Luckily for me, Dan whipped out the bag of Wine Gums I’d recently received from back home (a British sweet/ lolly if you’re Aussie). After scoffing a mouthful, waiting for the sugar hit to race through, and then watch as Dan enticed my first steps by rustling the bag like a breadcrumb trail, we set off. My re-energised state had me suddenly ready to meet the challenge. I genuinely don’t think anything else would have worked. The lesson there – always pack emergency sweet things for your hiking buddy.
The trail to Mount Exmouth summit was extremely quiet. The only other people we saw on the hike were a couple of rangers on their way back down from carrying out some works at the top. Otherwise, Mount Exmouth was ours – it couldn’t have been more perfect.
Mount Exmouth Summit
The summit of Mount Exmouth feels quite different to the other peaks of Lugh’s Throne and Bluff Mountain. For that reason alone, we recommend you find the energy, and will, to add this onto the hike. The top is a smallish flat plateau, with the feeling of stumbling across a secret garden. The unusual tree shapes, inviting grassy patches to relax on and stellar lookouts instill a real desire to stay put and camp out for the night. Sadly, this is not a thing.
From here, there are phenomenal views over the cluster of mountains and lookouts you’ve just accomplished. Bluff Mountain appears to dominate the landscape from here, with Belougery Spire jutting to the left and the Breadknife cutting through the mountainside.
With a brief rest in the mid-afternoon sun, I was most content. I’m sure you will be too. To descend, take the same track back down toward Danu Camp once more.
After descending Mount Exmouth, it’s easy to think all the hard work is over, given the fact there are no more mountains to climb. To an extent, that’s true. However, there’s still much distance to cover yet, and as we all know, often the final stages are the hardest.
From Danu Camp, you’ll join the Burbie Canyon track. Beginning from the base of Mount Exmouth, it’s a fairly uninspiring management trail. The ground is up and down with loose rocks making the trail quite uneven. We found it tricky to speed hike. This section can feel fairly laborious and hard going. However, when the trail does eventually reach Burbie Canyon, the mundane management trail is soon transformed into a blissful meadow, filled with the pleasant sound of trickling water, blooming flowers and fabulous local wildlife. Be sure to keep an eye out for peregrine falcons and the rare turquoise parrots. Oh, and of course, plenty of Kangaroos.
This is a truly delightful, not to mention easy stroll through an awesome sandstone canyon. The trail squeezes between the towering walls and along a small creek. We visited in spring and so the abundance of wildflowers made this walk all the more enjoyable. It made for such a great end to all the epic sightseeing along this fantastic hike.
Rounding off the Breadknife and Grand High Tops Walk
I’ll be honest with you, after exiting Burbie Canyon, the final 4km of this hike are a real struggle. It’s pure road walking, slightly uphill and fairly uninspiring. The most notable attraction is gauging how close Belougery Split Rock is to the roadside. Mentally, it feels nice to have a marker to aim for though. Soon enough, you’ll be rounding back into Pincham car park, and boy will you feel good. Well, once you’ve sat down and whipped the hiking boots off.
By the end of this hike, you’ll have ticked off SIX worthwhile trails in the Warrumbungles. Perfect if you’re short on time or, better still, up for something really challenging.
Breadknife and Grand High Tops Walk Recap
Exhilarating, rewarding and one of the best ways to enjoy the Warrumbungles in a day, the extended Breadknife and Grand High Tops Walk has it all. Walking amongst the ancient volcanic rocks of Belougery Spire and Bluff Mountain is immense. Pack smartly, take it at a good pace and set little goals along the way. You’re bound to love the challenge of this hike as much as we did.
How to Get to the Warrumbungles
At a 6–7 hour drive from Sydney, the Warrumbungle National Park is quite the distance to travel, especially for just one hike, however epic that hike may be. We highly suggest visiting as part of a wider Aussie road trip, or at least a weekend trip. We travelled to the Warrumbungles after a quick stop in Mudgee and then headed on to Pilliga State Park and Mount Kaputar National Park afterwards. Closer still is to travel from Coonabarabran.
Coonabarabran is just 70km from the Warrumbungles and takes around 35 minutes to drive. You’ll head west out of town, and travel along Timor Road before joining John Renshaw Parkway. It’s a very straightforward drive.
Wherever you’re travelling from Coonabarabran or further afield, the best way to visit the Warrumbungles and take on the extended Breadknife and Grand High Tops Walk is with your own set of wheels. There is no public transport link to the Warrumbungles, even if you get yourself to Coonabarabran. The good news is, the roads in the Warrumbungles are perfectly accessible for 2WDs, campers and caravans also. If you don’t have access to your own set of wheels, we recommend and typically use RentalCars.com
If you’re travelling to Australia from overseas, we recommend using Skyscanner to search for the cheapest flights. When flying abroad, we always get the ball rolling with a Skyscanner search. Also, if you’re based in the UK or US, you should sign up to Jack’s Flight Club for the best flight deal alert service. By simply subscribing to the free weekly newsletter or buying premium membership, you could save lots of money with international travel.
You’ll need a Parks Pass to enter and park in Warrumbungle National Park. Make sure to organise one beforehand at the NSW National Parks website, you can click here.
Where to Stay Near the Warrumbungles
If you’re looking for a little more comfort in your Warrumbungle accommodation, then your best bet is to check out hotels in Coonabarabran. Below, we’ve selected some of the best budget, mid-range and luxury options to help you out.
- Budget – Imperial Hotel Coonabarabran: the Imperial Hotel Coonabarabran is a simply styled and well-located hotel in the centre of town. There’s a shared kitchen and a private terrace to rest up after hiking The Breadknife in the Warrumbungles.
- Mid-range – Acacia Motor Lodge: the Acacia Motor Lodge comes with a pool and the spacious rooms are said to be very comfortable. Another great central location too.
- Luxury – Pilliga Pottery Creative Farmstay: admittedly, you’ll struggle to find anywhere truly luxurious close to the Warrumbungles, so I’ll include something a little fun on the outskirts. At Pilliga Pottery Creative Farmstay, guests love the beautifully peaceful and remote location and describe it as a great base for exploring the area.
Accommodation in the Warrumbungles
There’s a wealth of camping accommodation options in the Warrumbungles. Seriously, loads. However, we can highly recommend Camp Blackman as the perfect base. Dan and I were thrilled to camp here for a few nights, so we really got to see all that this national park has to offer.
Of course, there are also campsites along the Breadknife and Grand High Tops Walk, should you want to take your time with the hike and really camp, remotely, among these rock giants. You can pitch at Camp Pincham, Dows Camp, Ogma Gap Campground, Danu Camp and Burbie Camp.
In 2016, the International Dark-Sky Association declared the Warrumbungle National Park Australia’s first International Dark Sky Park because of its exceptional starry night skies. If that’s not a reason to camp before or after the Breadknife and Grand High Tops Walk in the Warrumbungles, then I don’t know what is. We had an extraordinary night under the stars.
Wildlife of Warrumbungles
The remote nature of the Warrumbungle National Park means there’s plenty of wildlife to be spotting. Indeed, you might catch sight of a fair few of these animals along the Breadknife and Grand High Tops Walk, especially the extended version. There are over 120 species of birds in the Warrumbungles, including Rosellas, Lorikeets and Parrots. Additionally, you’ll likely spot plenty of grey kangaroos. I know we did on the final stretches of the Breadknife and Grand High Tops Walk through Burbie Canyon.
Other Walks in the Warrumbungles
- Whitegum Lookout Trail: 1km | 1 hour | Easy
- Tara Cave: 3.5km | 1.5 hours | Grade 3
- Belougery Split Rock: 4.6km | 2 hours | Grade 4
- Belougery Flats Trail: 5km | 1.5 hours | Easy
- Fans Horizon Walking Trail: 3.6km | 1.5 hours | Grade 3
Around the Warrumbungles
If you’ve travelled all the way out to hike the Breadknife and Grand High Tops Walk and visit the Warrumbungles, you’ll be wanting to make the most of the trip. Below we’ll look at some other exceptional things to do around the Warrumbungles.
Sawn Rocks are Australia’s best example of ‘organ piping’ rock formations. It really has to be seen to be believed! They are set within Mount Kaputar National Park.
Sandstone Caves, Pilliga
The short 1.7km loop trail dips in and out of incredible sandstone caves to visit some outstanding examples of Aboriginal rock art. Located in Pilliga Nature Reserve, you can walk in the footsteps of the Gamilaraay People.
Sculptures in the Scrub, Pilliga
This is an award-winning project, in Timmallallie National Park, close to the Warrumbungles. The sculptures celebrate Aboriginal history and culture, with the sculptors collaborating with local Aboriginal Elders in order to produce them.
Five Hiking Gear Essentials For the Breadknife Walk
These are our five hiking gear essentials for the extended Breadknife and Grand High Tops Walk in the Warrumbungles. For a more comprehensive packing list, check out the Ultimate Packing Checklist. It’s a great general summary of everything you’d need for a trip. For even more information check out our 66 Travel Accessories That You Must Travel With. We go in-depth into what hiking and camping gear we use. There, you’ll find specific recommendations for all the products we love.
- Merrell Moab Mid Gore-Tex Hiking Boots: these hiking boots are super comfortable and lightweight.
- The North Face Venture Jacket: a fantastic windproof/waterproof jacket.
- Osprey Skarab 30L Day Backpack: a great backpack for hiking, which has plenty of space to store your gear.
- The North Face TKA Glacier Fleece Jacket: an excellent warmth:weight ratio fleece jacket that’ll help keep you warm.
- Columbia Convertible Trousers: a value for money pair of water-resistant convertible trousers.
Bonus Tips for the Breadknife and Grand High Tops Walk
- Spring: some of the walking trails are further enhanced by the arrival of spring flowers – so time your visit.
- Pack thoughtfully: We can’t stress enough the importance of being fully prepared for a hike of this length and difficulty. Make sure you pack at least 3L of water, high-energy snacks, full sun protection and a selection of layers for any weather eventuality. Also, be sure to read up on the trail beforehand.
- Busy route: As I’ve previously mentioned, the Breadknife and Grand High Tops Walk is the most popular hike in the Warrumbungles, so get an early start to avoid the crowds… and to ensure a parking spot at Pincham.
Let us know in the comments below if you managed to tackle this monster trail, we’d love to hear how you got on. Bookmark it for quick reference as you go.