Filled with stunning natural attractions, the Macquarie Pass National Park is an underrated haven in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales (NSW). It’s actually a relatively small national park with just a few hikes on offer. But all of the trails have magnificent waterfalls and cascades. This is owing to the river and creeks weaving their way through the scenic forest. Clover Falls is perhaps the most outstanding of the Macquarie Pass waterfalls.
Reaching the trailheads to explore these waterfalls is pretty straightforward. But finding Clover Falls on the Clover Hill Trail isn’t easy! On the same trail, is Mulangong Falls. It’s another difficult to reach waterfall. So if you and your speed hiking buddies are keen to roll up your sleeves and find these waterfalls, follow this guide. We’ll detail how to reach these waterfalls and reveal some of the other best Macquarie Pass waterfalls.
Macquarie Pass Waterfalls Guide
Macquarie Pass National Park is surprisingly close to Sydney. So there’s no excuse for the Sydneysiders who haven’t visited yet! Other than the spectacular waterfalls, the trails leading to them are equally special. A picturesque forest floor with gorgeous trees, plants, ferns, moss-covered rocks and natural stepping stones along the creeks. What more could you want when escaping the hustle and bustle of the city?
It is possible to see all of the major Macquarie Pass waterfalls in just a day. So use this guide as a day trip itinerary if you like. Otherwise, feel free to explore all of the different trails leading to these epic waterfalls as you please, perhaps over a few separate trips!
For even more mesmerising waterfalls in and around Sydney, check out our Top 10 Waterfalls list, Southern Highlands Weekend Guide and Mittagong hiking and waterfalls day trip itinerary.
1. Clover Hill Trail
- Type: Out & Back
- Distance: 9.75km
- Time: 3.25 hours
- Accumulated elevation gain: 347m
- Difficulty: Hard
- Trailhead: Clover Hill Trailhead
One of the most adventurous and fun trails in the Macquarie Pass National Park is the Clover Hill Trail. It’s luscious green surrounds will have you feeling like you’ve transcended into a sub-tropical rainforest. On top of that, are some sensational waterfalls such as Rainbow Falls, Mulangong Falls and Clover Falls.
Rainbow Falls is easy to find, as it’s located at the end of the official trail. However, finding Mulangong and Clover Falls requires extra exploration. Given there is no actual trail after Rainbow Falls, nor any consistent or reliable markings, it’s very difficult to find Mulangong and Clover Falls. In theory, it’s easy enough. Just follow the river stream and that’s where the waterfalls will be located. But it’s not that straightforward.
Simply following the river stream is near impossible because of the large boulders and natural obstacles. It means you have to hike away from the river at times, but not too far away, as you’ll then just be merely heading into the dense forest and away from the waterfalls.
The trick is to find, any old path, that stays as close to the river as possible, when possible. This helped us to continue to follow the river stream, somewhat adjacently, within the dense forest, to eventually find Mulangong and Clover Falls. Feel free to follow our GPS directions for more guidance.
SIDE NOTE: As you can see from our GPS directions, we got lost quite a few times. Admittedly, there was a lot of trial and error involved. But that’s half the fun!
Extra Tips for the Clover Hill Trail
Whilst trying to find Mulangong and Clover Falls, you’ll find lots of different trails leading back to the rivulet. A lot of them are false trails that merely lead to different parts of the river stream, without going to a specific waterfall. Of course, they all offer a unique perspective of other cascades along the river stream. But a lot of them will steer you off-path, if your main goal is to find Mulangong and Clover Falls.
Also, it’s common practice in off-trail hiking in Australia, to find ribbons tied to trees to help guide you. We had read elsewhere online that ribbons would be present on this trail to help us find the extra waterfalls. However, the ribbons were few and far between.
So basically, don’t rely on or plan to follow any ribbons. You’ll just have to practice patience and persistence, understanding that you’re likely to make some mistakes finding Mulangong and Clover Falls. Stay calm, retrace your steps, work with your hiking buddies and you’ll figure it out.
Of course, off-path hiking is generally reserved for experienced hikers and bushwalkers. If you’re lacking experience, perhaps just hike to Rainbow Falls on this occasion. If you’re very keen to see Mulangong and Clover Falls, try and find an experienced hiker to go with. Alternatively, consider hiking some easier trails first to increase your experience. Consider hiking in the nearby Southern Highlands and Kiama before taking on more challenging trails.
The first of the Macquarie Pass waterfalls to see on the Clover Hill Trail is Rainbow Falls. To get to these falls and eventually find the others, head to the Clover Hill trailhead. Using Google Maps, follow directions to Clover Hill Road and you’ll be taken to a small car park. It’s unsealed and rough so be careful with a 2WD. There’s probably enough space for a dozen cars. It can fill easily on the weekends so make sure to do this hike early!
Macquarie Pass is located fairly close to some suburban areas. So it’s surprising how quickly you’ll feel immersed in thick forest terrain. It’s easy to speed hike through the initial sections of this trail as it’s wide, very gently undulating and has stable terrain. You’ll pass a creek after 1km or so, and from then, your surrounding landscape becomes even more lush and green.
Nearing the end of the trail, is a narrow side-trail to your right, leading away from an exposed grassy area. It takes you towards the rivulet, down a slippery muddy path, towards Rainbow Falls. It’s easy to spot, as it’s the first set of cascades you’ll see along the river stream. Be careful when approaching the waterfall because the surrounding rock platforms are very slippery.
Rainbow Falls includes a number of streams, converging beautifully together. For this reason, they’re difficult to photograph, as there is so much to capture. Once you’ve enjoyed Rainbow Falls, it’s time to find the elusive Mulangong and Clover Falls. This is where the real hard work begins!
With Rainbow Falls to your left, continue upwards on a muddy path away from the waterfall. After only 50 metres or so, you’ll cross the rivulet, and continue hiking with the river stream to your right. As mentioned, walking along or immediately by the river isn’t possible. But as you hike into the dense forest, try and stay as close to the river stream as possible. It should always be in sight.
Further upstream from Rainbow Falls is a series of cascades leading to Mulangong Falls. We took some of the false side-trails incorrectly initially. However, you could say that we were happy to have gone the wrong way! We saw a pretty set of cascades with a colossal boulder amazingly balanced on a rock platform. Luckily, it’s easy enough to retrace your steps back into the adjacent forest if you do incorrectly follow a trail to a random section of the river stream.
It’s difficult to explain exactly how to get to Mulangong Falls. But essentially, after a few of the false side-trails, there will eventually be a correct side-trail that leads you to it. This waterfall is much bigger than the other cascades so it’s obvious to recognise. After losing our way in the forest a couple of times, it was a relief to find the first significant waterfall after Rainbow Falls. Mulangong Falls is truly one of the best Macquarie Pass waterfalls.
Once you have re-joined your chosen path through the dense forest, continue further upstream to find Clover Falls. Mulangong Falls is seriously impressive, but Clover Falls is even better. Finding it takes excellent navigation, hard work and composure. But it’s absolutely worth it. At the end of the unmarked trail, is a spectacular waterfall and a pristine turquoise swimming hole. It’s truly a slice of paradise. Given how difficult it is to reach, you may even be lucky enough to have it all to yourselves.
It’s actually possible to walk around the rim of the swimming hole to your left and approach behind the waterfall. Proceed with caution though as it obviously gets quite slippery. For that reason, I didn’t go directly behind it. But getting closer to this majestic single drop waterfall, at least, helped me appreciate its power. It’s possibly the best of the Macquarie Pass waterfalls. But even just the experience and hardship in finding Clover Falls, made this waterfall and trail, truly memorable.
SIDE NOTE: You’ll find that NSW National Parks quotes the Clover Hill Trail as 6km. But realistically, if you explore all of the extra waterfalls at the end, you’ll hike closer to 10km with the inevitable trial and error.
2. Jump Rock Trail
- Type: Return
- Distance: 4km
- Time: 1.5-2 hours
- Accumulated elevation gain: 74m
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Trailhead: Macquarie Pass National Park Cascades Picnic Area
Travel Made Me Do It have personally rated this trail
PLEASE NOTE THAT AS OF MID 2020, THE JUMP ROCK TRAIL IS CLOSED. Hopefully, it will re-open at some point. Instead, consider doing the other hikes mentioned in this guide. For the latest information, check NSW National Park Macquaire Pass local alerts.
Let’s hope that the Jump Rock Trail is back open when you’re wanting to visit. Similar to the Clover Hill Trail, there is a small car park at its trailhead which is also bumpy and unsealed. We’d expect just over a dozen cars to be able to pack it out. Actually, in summer, it’s a popular place for locals to swim and escape the heat. So again, get here early as it’ll fill quickly on weekends.
Alternatively, there is a large car park just opposite this smaller car park. It’s actually the car park for the Cascades Waterfall Trail. So inevitably, you could use either car park for either hiking trail!
Starting roadside, the Jump Rock Trail quickly takes you into more dense forest typical of Macquarie Pass. Almost immediately the trail narrows with odd rocks and tree stumps creating a sometimes unstable terrain. Technically, this trail becomes even more challenging as it meanders its way up the forest and slightly away and adjacent to the river stream, which is always to your left.
Eventually, you have steep and muddy trails, with fairly high vertical drops to your left. You’ll also be hiking up small slippery hills whilst dodging and weaving trees and vines. We imagine that these trails have since deteriorated further, creating an increased risk of unstable surfaces and landslide. This means your chance of slipping down are higher and so your injury risk is greater. So we respect NSW National Park’s decision to close the track.
Jump Rock Cascades
Despite being closed, there’s no denying the beautiful set of cascades that can be found at the end of the trail. Essentially, the trail steers you back down towards the river stream. With some further scrambling and exploration, you’ll soon arrive at the serene cascades. They gently and smoothly glide over a series of fairly levelled rock platforms. The resultant stream creates a soft but persistent flow only ever disturbed by the chatter of the local birdlife and perhaps the banter from your fellow hikers.
Arriving early morning is a great way to beat the crowds but is also better for photography. Without too much light penetrating through the forest, it’s easier to use a slow shutter speed to capture the cascades. The Jump Rock Cascades are certainly up there with the best of the Macquaire Pass waterfalls. Of course, we are not condoning that you go, as of early 2021, given it’s closed. But you can always add this trail to your bucket list for when it eventually re-opens.
3. Cascades Falls Trail
- Type: Return
- Distance: 2km
- Time: 1.75 hours
- Accumulated elevation gain: 52m
- Difficulty: Grade 3
- Trailhead: Macquarie Pass National Park Cascades Picnic Area
The Cascades Trail is much simpler and straightforward, leading to a small but pretty waterfall. Honestly speaking, it probably ranks last in terms of the Macquaire Pass waterfalls discussed in this guide. But there are some amazing trees and other natural attractions to enjoy on this trail. Besides, you’ll be able to speed hike this trail and tick another waterfall off your list in no time.
WHAT IS SPEED HIKING? It’s not rocket science! You basically hike at a quicker speed than your usual walking speed. Beck and I enjoy speed hiking on many different types of trails. However, speed hiking isn’t always appropriate or safe. The challenging forest landscape and terrain along the end of the Clover Hill Trail and during the Jump Rock Trail meant speed hiking wasn’t possible.
After walking across the field that makes up the Cascades Falls Picnic Area, you’ll venture into the forest once again. You’ll then be walking through a very familiar landscape as the other trails. Overall, the trail is fairly flat with no challenging or technical sections.
The trail is likely the most walked trail in the Macquarie Pass National Park because of its ease and accessibility. But take nothing away from its beauty. Keep an eye out for an amazing woody vine about halfway towards the waterfall.
Although speed hiking is possible, there are narrow sections of the trail near the end approaching the waterfall. So if it’s busy you may need to save your speed hiking for other trails of the Southern Highlands. Once you reach the waterfall, there are many rocks surrounding the swimming pool that act as great natural seats. It’ll give you a quick breather and moment to enjoy this small but charming waterfall. Even the smaller of the Macquarie Pass waterfalls will leave you feeling blissful and re-invigorated.
Macquarie Pass National Park Waterfalls Guide Recap
The Macquarie Pass waterfalls are some of the best around Sydney. Following this guide, you’ll know how to find all of them. Hiking the Clover Hill Trail, you’ll easily find Rainbow Falls but need a bit more persistence to find Mulangong and Clover Falls. The Jump Rock Trail leads you to some stunning cascades. But you’ll need to check if the track is open. Finally, the Cascades Falls Trail is the simplest of the trails leading to Cascades Falls.
Getting to Sydney
Flights: Of course, you’ll need to fly to Sydney to do this trip from abroad. If you’re travelling to Sydney from overseas, use 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 on international travel. If you’re interstate, subscribe to I Want That Flight for the best flight deal alerts to and from Melbourne. You can usually find cheap flights with Jetstar or Tiger Airways.
Getting to/from Macquarie Pass National Park
As mentioned, Macquarie Pass National Park falls just outside southern Sydney, within the Southern Highlands area. For Sydneysiders, depending on where you’re living, you can expect a 30 minute – 2 hour journey.
To explore Macquarie Pass National Park, you’ll need a car. There are no public transport options for accessing the trailheads of any of these hikes. If you need a car, use RentalCars.com. It’s a fantastic search engine for finding the cheapest car hire. It’s what we use to hire cars in Australia. Some of the car parks for these trails are unsealed, rough and bumpy. But a 2WD should suffice.
For accommodation options around Macquarie Pass National Park, please refer to our Southern Highlands Guide. We camped in Moss Vale and can recommend that. But if you’re not into camping, unfortunately, other accommodation options in the Southern Highlands aren’t cheap. We always compare Booking.com and Airbnb when looking for the best-valued accommodation.
- Petrol: $15AUD/person ($12USD)
- Food: $5AUD/person ($4USD)
= $20AUD/person ($16USD)
If you can day trip from Sydney like we did, there won’t be any accommodation costs. But you’ll need to ensure you pay for a day’s pass if you don’t have an NSW National Parks Annual Pass. You’ll undoubtedly make your money back from a one or two year pass are if you explore NSW national parks regularly.
Five Hiking Gear Essentials for Macquarie Pass National Park
For a more comprehensive packing list, please 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.
- Merrell Moab 2 Mid Goretex hiking boots – the traction on these boots are great for the muddy sections on the Jump Rock Trail
- Osprey Skarab 30L Day Backpack – this backpack is just right for speed hiking wherever, whenever.
- Columbia Silver Ridge Convertible Trousers – a light pair of trousers, great for bushwalking in the heat.
- Patagonia Torentshell 3L Jacket – a fantastic waterproof jacket – works well as your outer layer in wet conditions.
- The North Face TKA Glacier snap fleece jacket – in winter, it can get REALLY cold around Macquarie Pass, so make sure to pack a warm jacket!
Trail navigation is very difficult at the end of the Clover Hill Trail and also the Jump Rock Trail. We recommend using our Wikiloc for GPS guided directions if you want a bit of help, particularly for seeing Mulangong and Clover Falls.
For those not so prepared, if you’re needing navigation help during the hike and don’t have any phone reception, consider using Maps.me. Although you need to have at least downloaded the map of the general area beforehand.
- Give yourself plenty of time to see Mulangong and Clover Fall: it’s normal to get lost when trying to find these waterfalls. So don’t put yourself under any time pressure to see them.
- Start early: with small car parks and narrow trails, you’ll have more fun if you start early to avoid the crowds.
- Expect misty valleys and roads: it’s common to have mist, fog and adverse weather around Macquarie Pass. The roads leading to these trailheads can be windy and hairy so take it easy around the bends, particularly when visibility is poor.
Were you able to find the elusive Clover Falls? Tell us your success stories in the comments section below.
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