Climbing the Wells Cave Track to reach Sugarloaf Peak in the Cathedral Ranges State Park (AKA the Cathedral Range State Park) is a phenomenal experience. But, attempting the Wells Cave Track isn’t for the faint-hearted. It’s a seriously difficult rock scramble, set aside for experienced hikers and brave souls. As part of the premier day hike of the Cathedral Ranges State Park – the Southern Circuit, the Wells Cave Track is an optional route to reach the top of Sugarloaf Peak. In this guide, we’ll thoroughly review reaching Sugarloaf Peak via the epic Wells Cave Track. On top of that, we’ll talk about trail alternatives, how to get there, safety and camping options at Cathedral Range State Park.
FYI – the Cathedral Ranges hike described in this guide is also known as the Sugarloaf Mountain hike, Sugarloaf Peak hike, Sugarloaf Mountain hiking trail, Sugarloaf Peak trail and Sugarloaf Summit trail.
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Sugarloaf Peak via the Wells Cave Track (The Cathedral Ranges Southern Circuit)
Anyway, reaching Sugarloaf Peak via the Wells Cave Track is one of the most epic trails in all of Victoria. It’s not merely the sensational views from Sugarloaf Peak, in the Cathedral Ranges, that make this trail Victoria’s best day hike. It’s the adventure of tackling the awesome Wells Cave Track. Essentially, the track is not at all a walking trail. It’s in fact, a rock scramble. At some points, a near-vertical rock climb. Despite the difficulty of this route option, it’s a truly memorable part of completing the Southern Circuit.
Sure, there is an easier route to reach Sugarloaf Peak – the Canyon Track (more details on this track option below). But, it’s the accomplishment of completing the Wells Cave Track that makes the views all the sweeter. Doing so guarantees that your summit of Sugarloaf Peak in the Cathedral Ranges State Park remains an unforgettable experience.
In this guide, we’ll discuss the trail alternative and varied trailheads for completing the Southern Circuit and thereby reaching Sugarloaf Peak. Additionally, we’ll recount the magnificence and outrageousness of this entire Cathedral Ranges hike from start to finish. So, you’ll know exactly what’s in store.
Also, due to the Cathedral Ranges State Park’s relative closeness to Melbourne, many hikers conquer this hike as a day trip from Melbourne. But, there are great camping options at the Cathedral Range State Park too. So, we’ll look at both accommodation and camping options later in the guide.
Sugarloaf Peak Quick Overview (Distance Covered and Elevation Gain)
- Type: Loop
- Distance: 11.8km
- Time: 4–5 hours
- Accumulated elevation gain: 710m
- Difficulty: Grade 5
- Trailhead: Cooks Mill Car Park
- Map: Wikiloc
Sugarloaf Peak Trail Options
Sugarloaf Peak offers the best views in the Cathedral Ranges State Park. Of course, we recommend taking the Wells Cave Track to reach Sugarloaf Peak. That’s because the effort and hardship involved add to the sense of achievement in reaching the pinnacle. Plus, in your adrenaline-filled state, the feelings conjured when taking in the dramatic scenery are further elevated.
But, there are trail alternatives and varied trailheads to reach Sugarloaf Peak. It all depends on which direction you follow the trail, where you start and what trail options you choose. We won’t go through every single option in great detail. We’ll thoroughly review doing the Southern Circuit completed in the following way.
- Starting at the Cook Mills Car Park
- Going in a clockwise direction
- Choosing the Wells Cave Track option
The main difference in completing the Southern Circuit is ascending the Canyon Track (Grade 4) to reach Sugarloaf Peak instead of Wells Cave. For inexperienced hikers, this may be a better option as it’s safer and easier. Alternatively, completing the trail anti-clockwise means reaching Sugarloaf Peak from the Razorback Track. This is also a suitable option.
But, under no circumstance is it safe to descend the Wells Cave Track. So choosing the anti-clockwise direction option forfeits your chance of completing the Wells Cave Track. That’s why we recommend doing the trail clockwise.
In regards to the starting location, there’s no rhyme or reason for starting at the Cook Mills Car Park. You could also start from the Sugarloaf Saddle Carpark and Day Visitor Area or Jawbone Car Park. These other car parks fall along the loop trail.
If you’re camping at Cathedral Ranges, your campsite location may dictate where you start. But for day trippers, the Cook Mills Campground is a popular trailhead as it has the largest car park. Plus, starting there gives you a chance to settle into some decent hiking, before tackling the monster that is the Wells Cave Track.
Sugarloaf Peak via the Wells Cave Track: The Highlights
Below is an in-depth recount of reaching Sugarloaf Peak via the Wells Cave Track with the added South Jawbone Peak trail.
Tweed Spur Track
Let the fun begin! Find yourself a spot at the spacious Cooks Mill Car Park. There are drop toilets here for your convenience. The recommended time for this Cathedral Ranges hike is 4 to 5 hours, with only one other official toilet stop en route, so make use of them before you set off.
There is no defined trail to begin. Rather, you’ll head in a southerly direction following signs to Tweed Spur Track. After 5–10 minutes of frolicking through the state park’s quaint and flat bush surroundings, you’ll arrive at the 4WD track. It appears to be one that’s seasonally closed to 4×4 vehicles. So for a lot of the year, you’ll only find hikers using the track.
Admittedly, the gentle ascent of this rocky and uneven track is fairly uninspiring. You’ll be wondering when the really juicy trails begin. But it’s a good way to get the speed hiking started. The slight incline is enough for you to work up a sweat. So by the time you have reached the first genuine walking trail of the day, you’d have adequately warmed up and will be ready to hit the ground running!
WHAT’S SPEED HIKING? It’s hiking at a faster-than-usual pace for a good workout. Beck and I are speed hiking enthusiasts. Of course, we didn’t speed hike on the Wells Cave Track or Razorback Track. But, we did enjoy speed hiking on the Tweed Spur Track, Messmate Track, South Jawbone Peak trail and the Jawbone Creek Track.
After about 1km on the Tweed Spur Track, you’ll arrive at the Messmate Track to your right. The terrain immediately changes to that of a bushwalk. A fairly well maintained trail meanders its way through the thick Messmate Forest. Only the occasional fallen tree will interrupt your flow. Unexpectedly the incline of the trail intensifies, with fairly steep and narrow sections. You’ll notice a gradual increase in physical demand. Surprisingly, a significant amount of elevation is gained over 2–3km on this track.
As you make your way through the trail, you will begin to catch glimpses of the stunning Cathedral Ranges. Within small gaps in the bush are sneak previews to what is ahead. Inspiring and incredible sprawling green mountain ranges. Next stop is the gateway to the incredible Sugarloaf Peak to be ascended via the Wells Cave Track. That is the Sugarloaf Saddle Day Visitor Area.
After being immersed in nature, you will emerge from the forest into a car park. It’s a bit disappointing to be abruptly thrown back into the sights of civilisation after feeling far removed on the Messmate Track. But with that comes one welcome sight. A restroom stop. Take advantage as you’ll not have another opportunity until returning to Cooks Mill. A nervous wee prior to tackling the outrageous Wells Cave Track won’t go astray! There’s a picnic area there as well. So fuel up and rehydrate before attempting the Wells Cave Track as it’s an exhausting endeavour.
Wells Cave Track (Don’t Mind the Squeeze)
The wait is finally over. Time to tackle this wicked track you’ve heard all about. The Sugarloaf Peak Canyon Track veers to the left, while the Wells Cave Track heads to the right. The initial section of the Wells Cave Track isn’t so hard. You’ll begin peering above the forest, steadily hiking up some rocky terrain. But the rocks start to get bigger and soon enough, you’ll be faced with a seemingly impassable trail. The hiking stops and the rock scrambling begins. There is no sign postage from this point. Only small orange markers painted on rocks to guide you. Keep a close eye on these to stay on track.
Once you begin slowly and carefully scrambling the rock faces, your confidence will grow. Plus, you’ll start naturally filling with adrenaline to sharpen your focus. The scramble will take you over varied rock terrain. Some large and exposed areas to crawl on. But sometimes you’ll be laterally steered by zig-zag narrow corridors. You’ll squeeze through tiny gaps where rocks have split and boulders have fallen, creating cave-like formations.
After negotiating rock for some time, you’ll have climbed a great deal before you even realise. It’s that flight or fight response, to reach the safest point as quickly as possible, but within reason. If you take a moment to take in your surroundings, the forest will be surprisingly far below you. The epic scenery awaiting you near and at Sugarloaf Peak starts to take shape.
The Final Hurdle
But you’ll need to retain your focus, as the hardest rock scrambling is reserved for the final few pushes. To reach Sugarloaf Peak, the final section consists of near vertical cliff face and limited options for climbing it. Be sure to test out the stability of the rocks before attempting any manoeuvres. Rock scrambling safety 101.
As you near the top of the Wells Cave Track, Sugarloaf Peak will almost magically appear. With a sharp increase in focus and physical demand to reach the top, you’ll feel fatigued. Take breaks as necessary to regain your energy. Soon enough though, you’ll emerge from your final rock scramble onto Sugarloaf Peak. It’s a relief to stand on a relatively large and flat rock platform after all of the rock scrambling. The Sugarloaf Peak is the highest point of the walk.
FYI – the height of Sugarloaf Mountain is approx. 960 metres above sea level.
Once you’ve caught your breath, make your way over the small bushy rocks. On the other side are some of the best views you’ll see, not just in Victoria, but in all of Australia. The Cathedral Ranges seen atop Sugarloaf Peak is an absolute spectacle. Splendid green-topped forest trees splay generously over the ranges. The mountain tops and valleys below are surrounded by countryside. In stark contrast, a spine of rugged, rough and jagged rocks follow downward along the ridge. This is the Razorback. Although a fun part of the trail, the beauty of the Razorback really comes to life when viewed from Sugarloaf Peak.
To capture the beauty of your surroundings, advance down and away from Sugarloaf Peak slightly to improve visibility of the Razorback. The sun will likely interfere with photography opportunities. But for talented photographers, use it to your advantage. Stunning sun soaked skies may add further beauty to already near-perfect scenery.
The Razorback Track
After some well-earned lunch, make your way down the Razorback Track. Although not as steep and scary as the Wells Cave Track, you’ll still need to retain your attention. It’s easy to drop your guard after the relief of scaling the Wells Cave Track. But if anything, portions of the Razorback Track are even more challenging. There are consistently technical and steep downward sections that require caution and care. It’s also normal to feel a temptation to rush with the adrenaline streaming in your veins. So take it slow. No rush.
The Razorback Track is also marked with small orange paint here and there. This helps greatly with guidance. Even though following the ridge’s descent is straightforward in theory, it’s still easy to lose your bearings. This is because there are random trail offshoots just adjacent to the rocky Razorback. Whether to follow tracks just adjacent to the Razorback or just merely scramble down the rocks is tricky to know. But as long as you’re safe and heading in a consistent direction along the ridge, it’s hard to go wrong.
As you begin to scramble down the Razorback, your views of the surrounding Cathedral Ranges begin to disappear. The imposing Razorback rock formations begin to block the sight of your glorious scenery. After an hour or so, you’ll have returned to the forest floor. Not before a few false starts though. The seemingly long and arduous rock scramble descent seems to come to an end as a forest floor trail begins. But soon enough there are more rocks to scramble. You’ll eventually reach a final stage of the Razorback Track, purely on the forest floor, heading to the Farmyard.
Adding the South Jawbone Trail to your Southern Circuit adventure is optional. But you will not regret this small add on. After what you have just conquered, it’s a relatively small effort for a big reward. Only a moderately steep 300 metre trail separates you from more epic scenery of the Cathedral Ranges. The terrain is fairly rocky and the track is quite narrow. With its proximity to the Farmyard Camping Area, expect more people on this trail. Some people complete this trail in the Cathedral Ranges State Park as a one-off hike. So safe to say you’ll be tad smellier and sweater than they are!
Before you know it, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the scenery on offer. With all the effort that went into scaling the Wells Cave Track to reach Sugarloaf Peak, you’ll feel relieved that not too much tough work is needed to reach this lookout.
Views back to Sugarloaf Peak and the Razorback are the standout features. Admittedly, it’s impossible to beat the views from Sugarloaf Peak. But even South Jawbone Peak has a unique ability to extend you further into and closer to the mountain ranges. Spend half an hour or so to reach this additional vantage point. You’ll have an added appreciation of what you have just accomplished by looking back at the mountain tops.
Jawbone Creek Track and Saint Bernards Track
The home stretch! From the Farmyard Camping area, follow signage to the Jawbone Creek Track. You’ll walk briefly on the grassy campground, followed by increasingly dried bushwalking terrain, before reaching a long set of human-made steps. After all of the tricky and technical hiking, you’ll be happy to see such a simple trail to follow. This trail meanders through the forest, winding along the calming flow of the Jawbone Creek. It’s one of the more tranquil components of this Cathedral Ranges hike.
FYI – before reaching the steps, it’s possible to add another side trail excursion, this time to North Jawbone Peak. Personally, we were satisfied with climbing South Jawbone Peak.
After descending so many steps on the Jawbone Creek Trail, you’ll finish with a tedious staircase to climb to reach Jawbone Car Park. From here, follow the Saint Bernard Track to take you back to Cooks Mill. This track winds its way slightly downhill through more forest landscape. There seems to be fewer trees here than throughout the dense Messmate Track.
Honestly speaking, this track is fairly uninspiring to finish. But compared to the absolute mesmerising scenes on display from Sugarloaf Peak, you won’t be surprised that the finish lacks a punch. But we shouldn’t complain, as this final track allows the continuation and completion of the larger loop to Cooks Mill. Other than some muddy sections, the trail is well maintained. Eventually, you’ll reach sight of the Cooks Mill Car Park as you emerge from the forest.
Sugarloaf Peak via Wells Cave Track Recap
It’s been an absolute pleasure to write this piece about reaching Sugarloaf Peak via the incredible Wells Cave Track. Whichever way you reach Sugarloaf Peak, with agreeable weather, you are guaranteed mindblowing views of the sweeping green Cathedral Mountain Ranges. But, the added sense of achievement from conquering the demanding Wells Cave Track certainly elevates this Cathedral Ranges hike to something really special. We hope this guide will help you determine whether it’s safe for you to complete the route, with consideration of hiking experience and track conditions.
Completing the Southern Circuit via the Wells Cave Track has the potential to be one of the most epic day trips from Melbourne. For all of the day trippers, find more information below on how to get there, accommodation, gear recommendations and total costs. We’ll also cover camping options if you spend the night at the Cathedral Ranges State Park.
How to Get to the Cathedral Ranges State Park
The Cathedral Ranges State Park is situated between the towns of Buxton and Taggerty northeast of Melbourne. You’re looking at a 1.5–2 hour drive depending on where you’re based in Melbourne. Most likely, you’ll take the Maroondah Highway. From there, turn right on Cathedral Lane. Then, turn right on Little River Road. Turn right at the end of the road and you’ll arrive at the Cooks Mill Campground, where you can start this Cathedral Ranges hike from.
You definitely need a car to get to the Cathedral Ranges State Park. Using RentalCars.com is a good place to start if you need to hire one. Public transport options from Melbourne to the Cathedral Ranges seem to be non-existent.
Accommodation in Melbourne
If you’re day trippin’ from Melbourne and need a place to stay, we recommend being located north or east of the Melbourne CBD. That’s because these areas are far closer to the Cathedral Ranges than much of Melbourne. Departing from the north or east of Melbourne ensures a shorter drive compared with departing from more centrally, southern or western Melbourne suburbs. Healesville is on the northeast outskirts of Melbourne, located next to Yarra Ranges National Park and near Cathedral Ranges State Park. The highly-rated Healesville Apartments would be an ideal base to do the Sugarloaf Peak hike.
Now, let’s look at your camping options at the Cathedral Ranges State Park below.
Cathedral Ranges Camping Options
Of course, the Cathedral Ranges State Park is a stunning area with many other hikes and activities to enjoy. Check out Parks Victoria for more information on the many other trails.
If you want to explore more of the Cathedral Ranges, camping is a good option to maximise your time. There is the popular Cooks Mill Campground, which is the location in the Cathedral Ranges State Park, where most people start the Sugarloaf Peak hike. Because of this, the Cook Mills Campground is a great choice for camping in the Cathedral Ranges. Otherwise, there is the nearby Neds Gully Campground – another decent camping spot in the Cathedral Ranges.
Another option for camping in the Cathedral Ranges is The Farmyard Camping Area. It’s an area you will walk through during your hike to Sugarloaf Peak. Unlike the other camping areas in the Cathedral Ranges, this one doesn’t need to be booked in advance as it’s a walk-in campground. Because the Farmyard is a few kilometres away from its nearest car park, the Jawbone Car Park, your effort to set up camp here will be rewarded with a quieter and more peaceful campground. But with that comes more basic facilities.
For more information on these camping areas in the Cathedral Ranges, click here.
FYI – if you’re wanting to camp; but, would like more than basic facilities, we recommend camping at the nearby BIG4 Taggerty Holiday Park, which is near the Cathedral Ranges State Park.
More About the Cathedral Ranges State Park
Did you know that the Cathedral Ranges was declared a State Park in 1979? It’s also listed in the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas. Under the care of Parks Victoria, the area combines recreation with conservation, hopefully leading to the maintenance of such beautiful land for years to come. Continual care of the land also relates to the knowledge and wisdom provided by the Taungurung Traditional Owners.
Below, you’ll find the most frequently asked questions about Sugarloaf Peak and the Wells Cave Track. Most of the questions are about safety. By reading through these FAQs, you’ll know whether you should or shouldn’t complete the hardcore Wells Cave Track. This ensures you make an informed decision, which will help guarantee safety.
Where Is Sugarloaf Peak?
Sugarloaf Peak is located in the Cathedral Ranges State Park in Victoria, Australia.
Is the Wells Cave Track Safe?
It really boils down to experience, track conditions and the Cathedral Ranges weather. We will help you decide whether it’s safe for you to attempt by answering some specific safety-related questions below.
If you give yourself the green light, what awaits you is an absolute rip-snorter of a hike and one of the most epic day trips from Melbourne!
What Hiking Experience (Skill Level) Is Required For the Wells Cave Track?
If you are an inexperienced hiker, give the Wells Cave Track a miss. The Wells Cave Track is very technical terrain. It involves negotiating steep and narrow sections of rock and cliff face. You will need to complete rock climbing-type manoeuvres in order to scramble up sections of near-vertical cliff face, exposed ledges and outcropped rocks. All this while you squeeze in and out of tiny caves and corridors.
Without much practice in rock scrambling, you place yourself in dangerous and vulnerable positions. Although you may have the physical capacity to complete the trail, you may lack the confidence and assertiveness that comes with previous experience.
If you fall into this category, don’t give up altogether on doing the Wells Cave Track. You probably just need some time to conquer some other less hardcore rock scrambling hiking. From Melbourne, there are several trails in the fairly nearby Otway National Park that would be good for practice. Consider completing trails like the Erskine Falls Circuit (guide coming soon) which have easier rock scrambling and river crossings. Bear in mind, this trail is still difficult, intense and requires hiking expertise. But it won’t be at such dizzying heights.
If you are a very inexperienced hiker, than consider giving the Southern Circuit a miss altogether. Even the Canyon Track is a Grade 4 trail that requires some rock scrambling experience. Also, the Razorback Track, following the Wells Cave Track, is also a difficult affair with technical components. So you may need to build up your hiking repertoire before tackling the Southern Circuit.
Additionally, if you’re afraid of heights or experience panic, stress, dizziness or vertigo around heights, don’t attempt this trail.
What About Track Conditions and Cathedral Ranges Weather?
Although common sense, the Wells Cave Track shouldn’t be completed if it’s wet. This means during or after rainfall. The rock scrambling involved in doing the Wells Cave Track is hard enough when it’s dry. When slippery, your ability to grip rocks becomes near impossible. In turn, making the trail dangerous. So to avoid disaster or accident, do not attempt on a slippery track.
Even on a dry and sunny day, we found that due to rainfall the preceding days, portions of the Razorback Track were still very slippery. You’ll be descending the Razorback after completing the Wells Cave Track when following the trail clockwise. The Wells Cave Track is exposed to the morning sun, so it can usually dry off, on a dry day, even if it has rained the day before. But sections of the Razorback Track are covered in shade from its own large and rugged rock formations. So it can still be slippery a day or two after rainfall. Luckily, I only had a bruised shin from slipping down one rock on the Razorback Track. But it could have been worse.
So ideally, attempt the Southern Circuit after a period of dry weather. Easier said than done in Victoria! But safety is king. Even after a period of dry weather, if the Wells Cave Track is still damp, consider doing the Canyon Track instead to reach Sugarloaf Peak. Moreover, caution must be taken particularly on the Razorback Track section if completed after rainfall. Obviously on a rainy day, do not complete any of the Southern Circuit.
Can You Take Dogs to Cathedral Ranges?
Dogs and other pets are not permitted in the park. Of course, assistance dogs are welcome in Parks Victoria parks and reserves.
Getting to Melbourne
Flights: Of course, you’ll need to fly to Melbourne to do this trip from abroad. If you’re travelling to Melbourne 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.
Hiking Gear Essentials For the Cathedral Ranges State 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 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.
Bring a packed lunch and plenty of water and snacks. Despite the Southern Circuit only being 11.8km (with the South Jawbone Trail extension), the significant Sugarloaf Peak elevation and Wells Cave Track rock scrambling make this an exhausting affair. You’ll want to have plenty of fuel on you to keep you going.
Trail navigation is necessary for the Southern Circuit. Initially, you may need help finding your way from Cooks Mill to the Tweed Spur Track. The Messmate Track, Jawbone Creek Trail, South Jawbone Peak Trail and Saint Bernards Track are very straightforward to follow. But, the Wells Cave Track and the Razorback Track can be difficult to navigate. There are markers to steer you on these harder to navigate tracks. Plus, your hands will be in full use scrambling the Wells Cave Track. But every so often, particularly on the Razorback Track, having the safety net of a GPS-guided map will be helpful. So, consider downloading a GPS-guided map before you set out. We recommend using our Wikiloc for GPS-guided directions.
- Day backpack: given the difficulty of the Wells Cave Track, it’s not recommended to have a large backpack. Too large a backpack makes passing narrow corridors and cave openings more challenging. You made need to feed your backpack through before you can proceed. Plus, a heavy and bulky backpack will disturb your centre of gravity and balance when scarmbling.
- Be honest with yourself: Are you experienced enough to do the Wells Cave Track? Is the track dry? There have been many accidents and rescues here because people were either inexperienced or chose to do this Cathedral Ranges hike on a wet track. Don’t be a goose.
- Don’t hike alone: For any Grade 5 hike, don’t go alone. If a trail is rated Grade 5, there is a higher level of risk involved. So it makes sense to have someone with you if the worst-case scenario eventuates.
- Camping at the Cathedral Ranges: the Sugarloaf Peak hike is a fairly demanding affair. To maximise your time exploring the Cathedral Ranges State Park, camping there totally makes sense. After resting from the Sugarloaf Peak hike, you can easily explore other trails from any of the mentioned camping areas in this guide.
Make sure to bookmark this page as a reference for completing this trail in the future and camping in the Cathedral Ranges.