Hat Head National Park, on the North Coast of New South Wales, is home to stunning coastal walks, which help you discover the area’s natural beauty. In this article, we’re going to talk about 10 breathtaking walks in Hat Head National Park. For completeness, we’ll also talk about the best walks in the nearby Arakoon National Park. Also, to help you plan your trip to Hat Head National Park, we’ll include useful information such as how to get there and where to stay, detailing the best camping spots and accommodation in the area.
Table of Contents
Hat Head National Park Overview
Hat Head National Park is easily one of the best national parks in New South Wales. Located between South West Rocks and Hat Head on the Mid-North Coast of New South Wales, the national park is renowned for its coastal beauty. Encompassing diverse ecosystems, from coastal heathlands to rainforests, the park boasts rich biodiversity. Beck and I were blown away by the spectacular coastline within the national park and as equally impressed with the walks on offer.
Hat Head National Park Walks
There are 10 main walks in Hat Head National Park. The majority of walks in Hat Head National Park are concentrated in two distinct areas. First, there are a bunch of interconnected walking tracks in the northernmost area of Hat Head National Park in South West Rocks. Further south, inland from Kempsey, in Hat Head, there is another collection of adjoining coastal walking tracks.
South West Rocks Walks
Sure, it’s possible to do one walking track on its own. That makes for a short and snappy adventure.
But, it’s also possible to combine all of the South West Rocks walking tracks into one long walk as they’re all interconnected. Similarly, it’s possible to combine all of the Hat Head walking tracks into one long walk as they’re all linked together too.
As well, Arakoon National Park is located immediately north of Hat Head National Park. And, the three walks in Arakoon National Park are all interconnected, creating a short circuit walk. Because of this, it’s possible to combine all of the South West Rocks walks in Hat Head National Park with all of the walks in the Arakoon National Park, creating an even longer walk.
Top 10 Hat Head National Park Walks
Below, we’ll talk about the 10 most popular walks in Hat Head National Park. We’ll break down the walks by area. First, we’ll detail the six main walks in the South West Rocks area of the national park. Given the proximity of Arakoon National Park, we’ll then talk about the three walks in that national park. After that, we’ll detail the four main walks in the Hat Head area of Hat Head National Park.
Personally, Beck and I love speed hiking a long coastal walk. So, we decided to do two long walks, which covered most of the main walking tracks in Hat Head Head National Park as well as in Arakoon National Park.
On our first walk, we completed most of the walking tracks in the South West Rocks area of Hat Head National Park as well as the three walks in Arakoon National Park. Here’s a GPS-guided map of this walk. You’ll note that we didn’t complete the Gap Beach or Rainforest Walking Tracks on this route. If you want to complete the Gap Beach and Rainforest Walking Tracks on this walk, you can follow the guidance from this map.
On the second walk, we completed all of the walking tracks in the Hat Head area of Hat Head National Park. Here’s a GPS-guided map of this walk.
As mentioned, you’re welcome to do just do one standalone walking track or combine a couple of them. That way, you can enjoy a shorter and easier walk among the spectacular landscape. Otherwise, if you like a long coastal walk, a bit of adventure and are an experienced bushwalker, feel free to follow in our footsteps and complete these longer walks.
Hat Head National Park Walks in South West Rocks
It’s time to talk about six fantastic walks in the South West Rocks area of Hat Head National Park as well as three walks in Arakoon National Park. As mentioned, we combined most of these walking tracks, so this is reflected in the descriptions below.
If you want to combine these trails like we did, here’s a bit of a rundown. First, you’ll start from Little Bay, and head south to Smoky Cape (via Gap Beach, if you like), where you’ll enjoy views from Captain Cook Lookout and the historical attraction of Smoky Cape Lighthouse.
Then, you’ll begin your return walk via the Jack Perkins Walking Track by heading across the beautiful North Smoky Beach. Some off-trail coastal walking will then guide you towards The Ledge, which provides views of Green Island.
You’ll then join the Green Island Walking Track which reconnects with the Smokey Cape Track, which then heads back to Little Bay. Alternatively, you can return to Little Bay from The Ledge via some initial off-trail hiking, before joining the Rainforest Walking Track and then the Gap Beach Walking Track.
After passing through Little Bay, head north through Arakoon National Park, taking the Monument Hill Track to the fascinating Trial Bay Gaol. You’ll then return to Little Bay via the Powder Magazine Walking Track and Bridle Trail.
1. Little Bay Walking Track
As suggested by the name, Little Bay is only a tiny bay, but it’s brimming with beauty. Dwarfed by large rocks on either side, the bay is full of character and charm. You could explore Little Bay before you head to Smoky Cape, but there are also the options to check it out mid-way through this walk, or at the end.
Personally speaking, we recommend finishing your hike there – this way, you can take your hiking boots off and feel the soft white sand between your toes. Plus, it makes for an ideal lunch or picnic spot. Unfortunately, swimming is discouraged here, although it’s mighty tempting to go for a dip!
Heading south from Little Bay, you’ll pass a small dam called the Overshot Dam and a park usually filled with kangaroos.
You’ll then join a narrow trail that begins to steeply weave its way through the dense bushland. Keep in mind, that if you’re the first hikers on the trail, expect many cobwebs that’ll you have to clear. We found the initial climb fairly tough as the trail is quite overgrown in sections. You’ll eventually reach higher ground with less bushland around, and from there you’ll have your first exquisite views facing back toward Little Bay.
2. Gap Beach Walking Track
There will be more dense bushland trail to conquer before you reach the Gap Beach Walking Track. As mentioned, we bypassed this track to continue along the Smoky Cape Range Track. But, feel free to check out the immensely scenic Gap Beach via the Gap Beach Walking Track. You could even do this circuit walk, exploring Gap Beach and then following the Gap Beach Walking Tracks to rejoin the Smoky Cape Range Track.
3. Smoky Cape Range Track
Either way, you’ll continue to walk through dense rainforest terrain. Keep an eye out for goannas on this part of the walk. The Smoky Cape Range Track is straightforward to follow and fairly flat, so you’ll reach Smoky Cape quickly.
You’ll then emerge from the coastal bushland trail, onto a vast patch of grass with a paved walking track and sweeping views over North Smoky Beach. Captain Cook Lookout provides some of the best views in Hat Head National Park. There are seats here if you need a quick breather and there are also bathroom facilities. Following the paved path will lead you to the lovely Smoky Cape Lighthouse.
It’s a short but steep climb from Captain Cook Lookout to the lighthouse. Built in the late 19th century, the heritage-listed Smoky Cape Lighthouse is interestingly still running as an active lighthouse. It’s certainly a gorgeous lighthouse, making it one of Hat Head National Park’s most visited attractions. Around the lighthouse is another stellar viewpoint, facing towards South Smoky Beach, which seems to stretch for kilometres on end.
4. Jack Perkins Walking Track
To return to Little Bay, you’ll initially take the Jack Perkins Walking Track down to North Smoky Beach. It’s less than 1km to reach the glorious white sand beach. The track is a gradual descent, partly covered in shade by large trees, so it’s a relaxing stretch of the walk.
Even on the weekend, you’ll find North Smoky Beach is fairly quiet and this only adds to its chilled ambience. North Smoky Beach is a large beach with captivating rocks protruding at its northern end.
Officially, the Jack Perkins Walking Track ends once it reaches the beach. However, you’ll continue north over the rock platforms. Take care as you navigate the uneven surfaces. After passing the rocky outcrops, you’ll be deep into some off-trail hiking where the trails are faint and navigation is tricky. This is probably the hardest part of the entire walk, but on offer, are some of the best coastal views.
5. Green Island Walking Track
You’ll eventually reach an area known as The Ledge, which is where you’ll join the Green Island Walking Track and not surprisingly, you’ll have great views of Green Island.
The Green Island Walking Track then steers you away from the coastline, and back towards the Smokey Cape Range Track, where you’ll then retrace your steps back to Little Bay.
As mentioned, there is an option to continue off-trail hiking to Gap Beach via the Rainforest and Gap Beach Walking Tracks, but the trail is even fainter (basically non-existent) and a bit more hardcore.
6. Rainforest Walking Track
The Rainforest Walking Track connects the northern and southern ends of Gap Beach. As mentioned, you could return to Little Bay via the Rainforest Walking Track. Along this track, you’ll explore the rainforest and freshwater swamps that back Gap Beach.
Arakoon National Park Walks
After passing Little Bay and the small picnic area, you’ll continue your walk in the small but lovely Arakoon National Park by joining the Monument Hill Walking Track.
Monument Hill Walking Track
Compared with the walking tracks in the South West Rocks area of Hat Head National Park, the Monument Hill Walking Track is a much gentler affair. You’ll have serene coastal views to enjoy and there’s even a gnarly stack of rocks at The Gutter to explore.
At the end of the Monument Hill Walking Track, you’ll reach the historic Trial Bay Gaol – the second heritage-listed site on this Hat Head National Park walk. The sandstone gaol took 13 years to build and opened in 1886. Prison labourers were there to help construct a breakwater to create a harbour, which would be roughly halfway between Sydney and Brisbane. Despite the scheme failing, the gaol was used during WWI when it became an internment camp for people of German descent who were feared to be enemy sympathisers!
Powder Magazine Walking Track
To continue the loop trail around Arakoon National Park, you’ll then take the Powder Magazine Walking Track. You’ll find a fine example of early Australian masonry as you pass a historic powder magazine.
Once you complete the Powder Magazine Walking Track, you’ll briefly join the Bridle Trail. Along this track, you’ll cross a small bridge, and catch glimpses of the magnificent Trial Bay coastline. Soon enough, you’ll arrive back at Little Bay!
Hat Head National Park Walks in Hat Head
Now, we’ll look at the four excellent walks in the Hat Head area of Hat Head National Park. As mentioned, we combined all these walking tracks, so this is reflected in the descriptions below.
Again, if you want to follow in our footsteps and combine these trails, here’s the walk in a nutshell. The walk begins with a short out and back to the Kinchela Trig Lookout, before heading northwards to The Gap via Connors Walking Track. You’ll then complete the adjoining Korogoro Walking Track circuit, where you’ll do a short out and back to Hat Head Summit via the Korogoro Trig Track, before taking in the natural attractions of Korogoro Point. You’ll then retrace your steps back to complete the return leg via Connors Walking Track.
7. Kinchela Trig Lookout Walk
It’s possible to either start or finish this Hat Head National Park walk with the Kinchela Trig Lookout Track. Admittedly, it’s not the most exciting lookout, compared with all of the amazing viewpoints along the coastal trails in Hat Head National Park. So you may as well start with this out and back trail, as the lookouts further along this walk will only get better!
8. Connors Walking Track
After a short steep climb, you’ll reach Kemps Corner, where you’ll have awesome views southwards to Killick Beach and northwards to Connors Beach. Connors Walking Track is straightforward to follow and quite flat, but it’s totally exposed, so during summer, it’ll be stinking hot! After passing Third Beach, you’ll eventually descend onto the magnificent Connors Beach and sand walk your way northwards to The Gap.
The Gap, otherwise known as Hat Head Gap, is a tiny bay-like beach, separating the Connors and Korogoro Walking Tracks. This was a quaint area and popular with locals, but we didn’t stay too long as we were keen to start the Korogoro Walking Track.
9. Korogoro Walking Track
If you thought the Connors Walking Track was beautiful, then you might be surprised that the adjacent Korogoro Walking Track is even better, with more unique coastal landforms. The track essentially loops around the summit of the Hat Head headland, with awesome natural attractions and absolutely breathtaking views throughout.
10. Korogoro Trig Track (Hat Head Summit Walk)
The Korogoro Trig Track is a difficult out and back to the summit of Hat Head. Out of all of the Hat Head National Park’s walks, this short trail is perhaps the most challenging. The faint trail is heavily overgrown, which means the steep climb is quite slow-going with many cobwebs and surely many snakes hiding in the bushes.
Despite the tough climb, it shouldn’t take longer than 20–30 minutes, and you’ll be rewarded with sweeping coastal views. To be expected, the summit of Hat Head is pretty barren and dry, but this doesn’t take away from the mouthwatering coastal views.
After descending Hat Head Summit, you’ll continue the Korogoro Walking Track towards Korogoro Point. Along the track are several side trails leading to amazing rock platform gaps and viewpoints. Feel free to explore the area as Korogoro Point has many hidden gems! Without a doubt, Korogoro Point is one of the most epic areas of Hat Head National Park. The remainder of the track is as equally impressive, with sweeping turquoise waters by your side, as you complete the loop.
After reaching The Gap, you’ll complete the return leg by simply retracing your steps along the Connors Walking Track. Despite the out and back affair, it’s just as enjoyable, with glorious coastal views as you walk northwards to the trailhead.
Other Things to Do in Hat Head National Park
So, that’s a wrap on ten of the most amazing walks in Hat Head National Park. Below, we’ll look at the other best things to do in the national park. To help you plan your trip to Hat Head National Park, we’ll then look at the best places to stay in the area, including camping and accommodation options.
Swimming and Surfing
When it comes to beaches, the national park has some hidden gems. The best beaches for surfing include Gap Beach, North Smoky Beach, South Smoky Beach, Connors Beach and Third Beach. When it comes to simply swimming and splashing around in the crystal clear waters, we recommend heading to Hat Head Beach, which is patrolled.
Fishing and Boating
Fishing and boating rank among some of the most favoured activities within the park, presenting ample opportunities to reel in a diverse array of fish species. Designated areas allow for boating, granting access to the stunning coastal waters that characterise the park’s glorious landscape.
Whale Watching and Bird Watching
Nestled along the migratory route of humpback whales, the park stands as a prime location for observing these magnificent creatures during their annual journey, spanning from May to November. Witnessing their playful breaches and antics offshore is a common occurrence, adding to the park’s allure.
Also, owing to its varied habitats, the park serves as a sanctuary for birdwatchers, boasting over 90 species of birds. Among these species include sea eagles, ospreys and migratory shorebirds, contributing to the park’s rich biodiversity.
Hat Head National Park Camping
There are two excellent camping areas in Hat Head National Park. This includes Smoky Cape Campground in the north of the park and Hungry Gate Campground in the south of the park. Below, we’ll look at both of these popular camping spots in Hat Head National Park.
Smoky Cape Campground
Smoky Cape Campground is a popular camping spot located near South West Rocks in Hat Head National Park. Boasting a secluded spot near South Smoky Beach, Smoky Cape Campground is the perfect coastal camping getaway. For more information about this camping area in Hat Head National Park, head to the NSW National Parks website.
Location: Google Maps
Hungry Gate Campground
Hungry Gate Campground is another popular spot for camping in Hat Head National Park. Located at the southern end of the national park, the spacious Hungry Gate Campground is idyllically located near the Hat Head Sand Dunes. Certainly, this campsite offers a laidback and memorable coastal retreat. For more details about this camping spot in Hat Head National Park, head to the NSW National Parks website.
Location: Google Maps
Arakoon National Park Camping
Nearby Hat Head National Park, in Arakoon National Park, there is another fantastic camping area called Trial Bay Gaol Campground.
Trial Bay Gaol Campground
Trial Bay Gaol Campground is one of the most popular campsites on the North Coast of NSW. Beautifully set in Arakoon, next to Front Beach, this large campsite offers various types of camping as well as excellent facilities and amenities. Despite not being located in Hat Head National Park, the camping area at Trial Bay Gaol is still an excellent base for exploring this national park.
Again, for more details about Trial Bay Gaol Campground, head to the NSW National Parks website.
Location: Google Maps
Hat Head National Park Accommodation
If camping in Hat Head National Park isn’t for you, then you may want to consider accommodation in the area. Thankfully, there are excellent accommodation options in both South West Rocks and Hat Head, which are both on the doorstep of Hat Head National Park.
South West Rocks Accommodation
There are loads of great accommodation options in the gorgeous coastal town of South West Rocks. Below, we’ve handpicked the best accommodation in the area.
Best Accommodation in South West Rocks
Hat Head Accommodation
Compared with South West Rocks, there are far fewer Hat Head holiday accommodation options to choose from. By far, one of the most popular accommodation options in Hat Head is the Hat Head Holiday Park (AKA Hat Head Caravan Park). Otherwise, click here to review your other accommodation options in Hat Head in NSW.
Hat Head Holiday Park
How to Get to Hat Head National Park
To explore the national park, you’ll need to drive there. Unfortunately, there are no public transport options for getting around the park. From Sydney, it takes around five hours to drive there. Bear in mind, that the unsealed roads around Hungry Gate Campground can be rough and bumpy for 2WDs. Beck and I did manage in a 2WD, but we recommend a 4WD for a more comfortable journey.
If you don’t have your own car, you should hire one using Discover Cars. Personally, we use Discover Cars and highly recommend them for finding your ideal car hire at an affordable price. Booking online is super easy and the free cancellation policy is great.
Hiking Gear Essentials For Hat Head National Park
Here are our hiking essentials for taking on the best walks in the national park.
Osprey Skarab 30
The Osprey Skarab 30 is our go-to hiking backpack for day hikes. This well-designed unisex backpack is comfortable and spacious, so you’ll have plenty of space to pack everything without feeling the strain on your upper back.
Osprey Ultralight Raincover
A waterproof backpack cover is an absolute must when you’re adventuring outdoors. The Osprey Ultralight Raincover Medium is a high-quality waterproof cover that’ll keep your backpack bone dry.
GRAYL Reusable Water Bottle
The GRAYL GeoPress is the best water filter bottle that allows you to purify 710mL (12 ounces) of water. This bottle will make water safe to drink wherever you’re hiking.
BUFF Original Ecostretch
The BUFF Original Ecostretch is a great option when it comes to multifunctional headwear. We use the Ecostretch as a neck gaiter to keep the sun off our necks and it helps us keep warm in cooler climates.
To find out more about all of the gear that we use and recommend, read our guides about our favourite hiking gear, travel gear and camera gear. Otherwise, read our comprehensive travel packing checklist.
Camping Gear Essentials For Hat Head National Park
If you plan on camping at the national park, you’ll want to have the essentials for a comfortable night’s sleep.
Hat Head National Park FAQs
Below, you’ll find the most frequently asked questions about the national park.
Why Is It Called Hat Head?
The headland in Hat Head looks like a hat!
How Much Does it Cost to Go to Hat Head National Park?
The park entry fees are $8 per vehicle per day. But, if you have a NSW National Parks Annual Pass, you don’t have to pay any entry fees. If you explore NSW National Parks often, we highly recommend buying an annual pass. That way, you don’t have to pay for parking when you visit NSW National Parks where parking fees apply.
Is Hat Head National Park Worth a Visit?
Yes, it’s one of the most breathtaking national parks in NSW.
- Take time to explore Korogoro Point: the Korogoro Walking Track map proposed by NSW National Parks skips some of the most epic sections of Korogoro Point. Don’t be afraid to take the odd side trail to experience all the majestic landscapes and natural attractions.
- Book Hat Head National Park campgrounds in advance: if you’re planning on camping in Hat Head National Park during the school holidays, make sure to book well in advance to avoid missing out.
- Itinerary ideas: you could complete the two long walks we did over consecutive days, making for an epic weekend getaway in Hat Head National Park. Otherwise, the trailheads for these walks are only a 35-minute drive from one another. So if you’re super keen, you could smash out both of the walks in one action-packed day!
- Feel free to break up these walks into the respective individual trails: if you’re after less intense and shorter walks, please use our guide to pick out the individual trails you’d like to explore.
North Coast and Central Coast NSW Guides
- New England National Park Guide
- Mount Kaputar National Park Guide
- Ellenborough Falls Walk NSW: The Ultimate Guide
- Mount Yacaaba (Yacaaba Headland) – An Excellent Summit
- Ghosties Beach Caves (Rainbow Caves) – The Ultimate Guide
- How to Find the Pink Caves on the Central Coast (NOW CLOSED)
- The Pink Caves Close Due to Deaths: Here’s What Happened
- Caves Beach NSW: An Epic Beach To Visit (And Get Married At)
- Lake Macquarie Walks Guide
Are there any other great Hat Head National Park walks? Please let us know in the comments below.
We acknowledge and respect the First Nations people as the Traditional Custodians of the land/water that we visited and recognise that sovereignty was never ceded.