Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park is one of the best national parks, not only in Sydney, but in all of New South Wales (NSW). That’s what Beck and I think anyway. Ku-ring-gai is not short of gorgeous hikes, epic lookouts, stunning waterfalls and well, that’s all anyone could ever want right?

Ku-ring-gai as a whole is located in a beautiful coastal setting, situated on the northern edges of Sydney. West Head is probably the most well known area of Ku-ring-gai. Despite there being more known attractions, there is an equal number of spots that are barely known. So, if you follow our guide, you and your hiking buddies will be checking out much quieter parts, even on the busiest of weekends.

This day trip can be enjoyed all year round, given the usual fabulous Sydney weather. So set your alarm early, because, with the number of activities you can squeeze into a day trip at West Head Ku-Ring-Chase National Park, you’ll want some hours up your sleeve.

Beck walks on Resolute Beach in, West Head Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park with a calm bay to her left, with bushland and an island in the distance, with a cloudy sky above.
Beck enjoying Resolute Beach.

West Head Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park | Day Trip Guide

If you have a full day to explore West Head and don’t mind a busy itinerary, this guide will help you figure out all that you can explore. We kicked things off pretty early with a sunrise and had this day wrapped up by mid-late afternoon. But, of course, you might need an even longer day, or you may want to split these activities over a weekend. We’re not here to judge, just go for it!

Without stating the obvious, this guide covers the West Head area of Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park. There are other beautiful areas of Ku-ring-gai Chase with other fantastic and even longer hikes. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to check out the Bobbin Head area or even Cowan Creek, which is more or less situated on the southern outskirts of the Central Coast.

So for more details on these areas, check out Cat and Joe’s excellent blog post which includes the best hikes of Bobbin Head and Cowan Creek. Their blog Walk My World has a whole bunch of useful information on many hikes in and around Sydney.

For other epic hiking options close to Sydney, read our Royal National Coast Track, Cronulla to Kurnell or Maroubra to La Perouse guides.

Dan walks down a winding staircase that opens out onto West Head Beach in the Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park. The ocean is calm, a headland with a lighthouse protrudes in the distance and the sky is mostly cloudy.
Dan heading down to West Head Beach.

* The hikes in this guide are graded by NSW National Parks using the Australian Walking Track Grading System. If the trail has no official grading, difficulty is rated by *Travel Made Me Do It.

Other Highlights of West Head Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park

1. West Head Lookout

Visiting the West Head lookout any time of day is spectacular. Once you’ve found parking at the lookout, you’re only a minute’s walk away from this spectacular view of Barrenjoey’s headland and lighthouse across the bay. It’s one of the most popular attractions of West Head Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park. So you’ll want to avoid visiting during peak times on the weekend. We were lucky to catch the sunrise here with only the single cyclist around for the occasion.

Sunrise at West Head Lookout, Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park. A sun pokes out above the horizon line to create a spectacular sunrise. The sun is reflected strongly in the water and the sky is mostly cloudy. A headland protrudes the distant scene.
Sunrise at West Head lookout.

So you might be thinking, isn’t Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park closed for sunrise? Well, that’s what it says on the website. According to the NSW National Parks, “gates to West Head are closed from 8.30pm to 6am during daylight savings periods, and from 6pm to 6am the rest of the year”. It also says, “Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park is open sunrise to sunset”. For this reason, we can’t advise that you go to West Head lookout specifically for sunrise as the gate might be closed.

However, we visited mid-October 2020, arrived just in time for sunrise and didn’t encounter any gates. I mean, technically, it is open for sunrise! But regardless of whether you arrive for sunrise or not, we do recommend visiting here early if you want to fit in the rest of the day’s itinerary.

So after enjoying the West Head lookout, have some breaky and let the hiking begin!

2. West Head Army Track

  • Type: Out & Back
  • Distance: 1.4km
  • Time: 45 minutes
  • Accumulated elevation gain: 85m
  • Difficulty: Grade 4
  • Trailhead: West Head Lookout

Next on the agenda is the West Head Army Track. It’s quite a new track, only opening in 2016. Starting from the West Head lookout, it steeply makes its way down to West Head Battery; a series of defence fortifications built during World War II. Its purpose was to protect Pittwater, the Hawkesbury River and northern Sydney. Given how new the track is, it’s in great condition and is well signposted.

The steep track consists of portions of embedded wooden stairs. They quickly meander their way down to a near-vertical winding metal step ladder. Descending the step ladder is good fun and feels adventurous. There is an old observation post waiting for you near the bottom.

The views of Hawkesbury River from West Head Battery. The gun casing creates a fantastic rectangular shaped lookout of the calm river and cloudy sky. Neck is positioned to the right of the lookout.
The views of Hawkesbury River from West Head Battery.

Continuing on, a rougher track begins where you’ll eventually arrive at a T-intersection. It passes a closed gun casing. In order to explore one of the accessible gun casings, head left at that intersection. Once you enter the gun casing fortification, you’ll be met with a gorgeous silhouette of the Hawkesbury River. It’s amazing to see these wartimes fortifications still standing. Following this, we retraced our steps back to the start. However, according to Hiking the World, there’s an ammunition magazine to explore as well. So check out their guide to find out more.

SIDE NOTE: A heads up for any other hikers keen to get an early start here. Late spring brings about an obvious increase in temperature which spiders absolutely love. So expect a few cobwebs to the face in return for starting the day early. Although this is usual in Australia, the northern areas of Sydney seem to be a haven for spiders. So expect plenty of them around Ku-ring-gai Chase in late spring and summer.

3. Mackerel Beach & Resolute Beach Walk

(includes Red Hands Cave) + Koolewang Track

  • Type: Loop + (Koolewang) Out & Back
  • Distance: 6.5km
  • Time: 1.5 hours
  • Accumulated elevation gain: 213m
  • Difficulty: *Moderate
  • Trailhead: West Head lookout

Next on the speed hiking list is our combined Mackerel Beach and Resolute Beach Walk with some extra addons. For convenience sake, and for a longer hike with more to see, we joined a few different tracks together.

Simply put, we completed the 4.4km Aboriginal Heritage Walk loop, but added on a small out and back walk to Great Mackerel Beach, plus added on the Koolewang Track. By adding on these two extra bits, you’ll hike an extra 2km. It’s absolutely worth it. Follow along below for all of the details.

WHAT IS SPEED HIKING? Hiking at a quicker than usual walking speed. It’s not always possible given a trail’s terrain and attractions. But if there’s a chance to hit the gas, we will, in order to have a good workout and fit more into our day. For the West Head Army Track, we couldn’t speed hike the whole thing as there were steep step ladders and we also took our time to explore the battery.

A rough map of the highlights and direction of the modified Mackerel and Resolute Beach walk.
A rough map, taken from NSW National Parks Maps and edited, of the highlights and direction of the modified Mackerel and Resolute Beach walk.

West Head Beach

From West Head lookout, follow signs for West Head Beach and/or Resolute Beach. You’ll wind your way through some stunning coastal bushland and begin to hear the cascading of water as it runs down rocky platforms situated to the side of the track. As you descend the leaf littered track, you’ll arrive at a steep meandering wooden staircase leading to West Head Beach. This is just one of the hidden beaches that you’ll experience on this particular hike.

West Head Beach at Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park. A beach with many a footstep in the sand is brightened even on a considerably cloudy day. A headland with a lighthouse is located far from the shoreline.
West Head Beach

Much of the small beach is covered in a collection of uniquely sized rocks. They stick their way out from the sand, and some from the depths of the calm blue ocean. From West Head Beach, you’ll have some of the best views of Barrenjoey’s headland and lighthouse. After a photo or two, head back up the stairs and continue on the loop track for the next secluded beach.

Exiting West Head Beach in Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park. Dan walks up a winding staircase that open out onto the beach. The ocean is calm, a headland with a lighthouse protrudes in the distance and the sky is mostly cloudy.
Dan hikes away from West Head Beach.

Resolute Beach

In comparison to West Head Head Beach, Resolute Beach has a larger stretch of sand. So there is more space to wander without the need to weave and dodge rocks. The beach is well protected by the surrounding bushland. It creates a serene bay. Again, it’s another stunning viewpoint of Barrenjoey’s headland and lighthouse. Visiting early makes for challenging photography as the sun is low and shines directly at you.

Resolute Beach with Barrenjoey Headland and Lighthouse in the distance. Beck, facing away from the camera, walks on a beach with a calm bay to her right, with bushland and an island in the distance, with a cloudy sky above.
Resolute Beach with Barrenjoey Headland and Lighthouse in the distance.

So with that in mind, forget the camera, go and explore the beautifully crafted beach. You’ll surely have a sense of serenity as you walk along the ocean’s shore. But with a lot of hiking left in the day, don’t get too tired with all of the tiring sand walking. If you’re thinking of staying a bit longer for a swim, that’s cool too. After all, Resolute Beach is easily one of the most stunning small beaches in Sydney, let alone West Head Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park.

Great Mackerel Beach

Following another steep hike up away from the beach, this time, ascending from Resolute Beach, you’ll stay along the coast in order to reach Great Mackerel Beach. The Aboriginal Heritage Walk will loop you back inland shortly after Resolute Beach. So make sure you stay on the coastal path adjacent to the water. The track becomes more challenging as it becomes rougher, and gives way to a few larger boulders. They require a bit of agility to walk around or over. Whatever floats your boat!

Once you pass Third Head, you’ll begin to see a larger stretch of sand, much bigger than that of West Head and Resolute Beach. Getting down onto the beach requires the most difficult manoeuvre on this entire walk. It’s a slippery array of fallen trees and thick roots that you’ll need to negotiate and climb over to reach the sand. Getting down there is quite an achievement, and if you arrive early enough, you may have it to yourselves. There are many green mossy rocks and another large fallen tree that provide the best seat in the house.

Out of the three beaches, admittedly, Resolute Beach was our favourite. It’s jam-packed with beauty and charm, whilst its moderate size means it’s not too cramped if it’s busy. But it’s not large enough to hold too many people.

Great Mackerel Beach is certainly still worth the visit though. So when you’ve soaked it all in, make your way back to the Aboriginal Heritage loop to continue.

Beck making her way down onto Great Mackerel Beach. Standing oat the end of fallen trees, she looks out to the white sand that precede the ocean, as well as the bushland surrounding it and the cloudy sky positioned above it.
Beck making her way down onto Great Mackerel Beach.

Koolewang Track

As the track bends its way inland, the ambience and surrounding landscape aren’t quite as special. You’ll emerge from dense coastal forest to quite an exposed management trail. So this section is not as exciting. Because of this, we recommend getting your speed hiking on! So before you know it, you’ll arrive at the junction for the Red Hands Cave. You should pass this though, so you add on the Koolewang Track. Therefore, we suggest that you continue to the Resolute Picnic Area, cross the road, to arrive at the Koolewang Track.

There are actually two entrances, but it doesn’t matter which one you choose. But if you want a bit of variety, it makes sense to enter the track to your left initially. Once you have completed the (mostly) out and back trail, you can exit the other entrance (which would have been initially to your right, from the Resolute Picnic Area). But either way, the Koolewang Track is a small, roughly 800m return walk, through drier bushland, that takes you towards the Hawkesbury River.

Without there being an official lookout, you’ll have impeded views of the river. Admittedly, this track is nothing too extraordinary, but it’s still nice enough to add on, if you’re keen for a longer hike.

The beautiful but impeded views of Hawkesbury River from the Koolewang Track. Much bushland in the foreground frames the calm river in the background. Beyond, green coastal land and a partly cloudy sky dominate.
The beautiful but impeded views of Hawkesbury River from the Koolewang Track.

Red Hands Cave

Once you have finished the Koolewang Track, head back through the Resolute Picnic Area and back to the turnoff for the Red Hands Cave that you passed before. FYI there are public toilets at the Resolute Picnic Area. Given it’s a long day out at West Head Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, we recommend using them!

Recommencing the Aboriginal Heritage loop brings you back to some denser, lusher coastal forest which is quite picturesque. Before long, you’ll reach the Red Hands Cave. It’s quite fascinating and tremendous to be able to enjoy these Aboriginal rock paintings. It was similar to the Hands on Rock we were lucky enough to see at the Goulburn River National Park. There’s actually rock art and engravings all throughout Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park – over 800 to be exact. We’ll detail some more later in this itinerary.

Red Hands Cave, West Head Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park. A single handprint positioned centrally, is covered by a red colour, which is truly outstanding on the cave.
Red Hands Cave, West Head Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park.

But for now, once you’ve enjoyed the rock art, make your way back to West Head lookout for the next adventure!

4. Flint & Steel Beach

  • Type: Out & Back
  • Distance: 1.2km
  • Time: 45 minutes
  • Accumulated elevation gain: 140m
  • Difficulty: *Moderate
  • Trailhead: Flint & Steel Beach Car Park

The car park for Flint and Steel Beach is surprisingly large, with enough space for more than a dozen cars. But the car park is unsealed and rougher the deeper you drive into it, so for those with a 2WD, try to find a park as close to the road as possible. The hike down to Flint and Steel Beach is a straightforward one. It pierces through the bushland, winding and descending its way down to the secluded beach. Yes, another hidden beach, and perhaps even lesser known than the previous ones you’ve already seen today. How good is West Head Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park?

The track itself provides stunning views of the surrounding Hawkesbury River and Lion Island. There are some decent photo opportunities on the way, as you are still at a decent vantage point in the early and middle stage of the hike.

Views of Lion Island on the way to Flint and Steel Beach. Dan stands on a rock with a rucksack looking at far distant island and coastal line. The calm ocean is far below and framed nicely by surrounding bushland.
Views of Lion Island on the way to Flint and Steel Beach.

The final descent to the beach is a fairly steep but good quality wooden staircase, filled with bushland litter. It takes you onto the highest of the levelled flat rock platforms leading to the beach. Exploring the small beach by walking along the rock platforms will help you feel truly immersed. Is it better than Resolute Beach though? That one is too hard to answer, but you can let us know which is your favourite!

Flint and Steel Beach, West Head Ku-Ring Gai Chase National Park. A mostly cloudy sky parades above Dan as he walks across that some flat rock platforms at the water's edge. The ocean is calm.
Flint and Steel Beach, West Head Ku-ring gai Chase National Park

Extended Flint & Steel Beach Hike

For an extended walk, it’s possible to complete a loop, rather than an out and back. This would involve walking to White Horse Beach at Flint and Steel Bay from Flint and Steel Beach and returning to the car park via a different trail. Read WildWalks for more information.

5. The Basin Trail

Aboriginal Art Engravings

  • Type: Out & Back
  • Distance: 500m
  • Time: 30 minutes
  • Accumulated elevation gain: Nil
  • Difficulty: Very Easy
  • Trailhead: Basin Trail Track Head

Admittedly, Beck and I didn’t complete the entire Basin Trail. It would have been necessary if we were going to be camping at the Basin Campground. But we were heading up the coast to explore the Barrington Tops National Park the next day. So we decided not to stay in West Head Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park overnight.

The reason we still did part of the Basin Trail was to see more Aboriginal rock engravings. The Basin Aboriginal art site is another example of the rich cultural history of the Indigenous people living in this area. Rock engravings found here are some of the best, if not the best, in the area. You’ll see outlines of animals and humans, interacting in a way that helps tell a story.

They’re best viewed in the early morning or late afternoon so that the shadows bring out the somewhat faint engravings. We visited just before midday and could make out the engravings just fine.

Even if you’re not planning to camp overnight at the Basin, there is still a nice picnic area there, with plenty of kangaroos and a chance for a swim. But you’d have to complete the entire trail. So if that’s your plan, you might struggle to fit in the rest of today’s itinerary. But if you live locally, we’re sure you’ll have another chance to explore more of West Head Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park if you can’t squeeze in the rest of today’s itinerary.

Rock engravings on the Basin Trail. An outline of a human is faint but still obvious on the flat rock.
Rock engravings on the Basin Trail.

6. America Bay Walking Track

  • Type: Out & Back
  • Distance: 2km
  • Time: 1 hour
  • Accumulated elevation gain: 37m
  • Difficulty: Grade 3
  • Trailhead: America Bay Walking Track Trailhead (West Head Road)

For those keen to crack on, make the short walk back to the car and head to the America Bay Track car park just down the road. There’s only a tiny car park at the trailhead of America Bay Track, with enough space for probably half a dozen cars. Similar to the Koolewang Track, there are a couple of entrances that merge towards the same track, so it doesn’t matter where you start. Most people will notice the signpost to the right of the car park and will start from there.

It’s a narrow track so you may have to clear the way for groups of people on a busy day. The surrounding bushland is fairly low to the ground, with plenty of stunning vegetation to enjoy in spring. Be mindful that the track can get fairly muddy if there’s been some rainfall. Also contributing to this is the lovely red bedded small creek running adjacent to the track, particularly nearing the end of the trail. You’ll pass over the creek once, which helps form the America Bay Falls.

America Bay Waterfall pours off the edge of a cliff face, surrounded by trees and soaks the rocks underneath.
America Bay Waterfall

America Bay Falls

The America Bay Waterfall at the end of this track is one of our favourite waterfalls in Sydney. It even made our Top 10 Waterfalls in Sydney list. Not only is there a stunning waterfall, but you’ll be treated to the most exquisite views of America Bay. Best of all, the hike is a mostly flat and easy 2km return trail. So it’s a huge reward for such minimal effort.

I’d been here a few times before. So I had a great sense of nostalgia returning here to enjoy the pretty waterfall and extraordinary views of America Bay. Hopefully, you enjoy it enough to head back here another few times in the future!

Be careful when viewing the waterfall. There used to be quite a rough and steep track taking you down to America Bay. From there, it was possible to scramble over some rocks and get to the base of America Bay Falls. But that track is now closed and access to the base of the falls is forbidden.

To get the best views of the waterfall, you must be extremely careful when negotiating the rock platforms at the end of this trail. As you descend some of the rock platforms, veer to the left hand side, and you’ll be able to look back at the waterfall from there. But this is getting close to the edge of the cliff face, so keep a safe distance from the edge.

The stunning America Bay, splitting the coastal bushland below. In the foreground a creek stream, feeding the hidden waterfall, and a cloudy sky parades in the background.
America Bay

7. Topham Walking Track

  • Type: Out & Back
  • Distance: 4km
  • Time: 1.5 hours
  • Accumulated elevation gain: 90m
  • Difficulty: Grade 4
  • Trailhead: Topham Walking Track Trailhead (West Head Road)

Admittedly, the Topham Track, as a whole, is not the most exciting of trails in West Head Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park. But the ending, with a bit of extra exploration, will reward you with one of the best lookouts in the entire national park. That is to say, that following NSW National Park’s exact trail map would mean missing out on this spectacular lookout at the end. The management trail, which is rather uninspiring other than some nice wildflowers in spring, leads you to a dead-end without any real views of the surrounding bays.

Topham Walking Track, West Head Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park. Beck stands silhouetted by a cave opening and has gorgeous views of bushland and bay.
The secret cave at the end of the Topham Walking Track.

Topham Walking Track Secret Cave Lookout

Luckily, we had done some research before going and knew of a secret cave lookout near the end, not indicated on any formal trail maps. Without checking out the epic lookout, we would have been disappointed by the lack of a reward at the end. Of course, bushwalking is not without its enjoyment. But Beck and I believe that the best hikes usually provide you with an inspiring attraction or lookout, at some point of a hike, to help you further enjoy the surrounding landscape.

A rough estimate of the location of the secret cave at the end of the Topham Walking Track.
A rough estimate of the location of the secret cave at the end of the Topham Walking Track.

So make sure to familiarise yourself with this map before going. Without being 100% accurate, this hidden cave is roughly north-west of the proposed finish of the trail. Essentially, once you reach the trail’s end, continue straight another 50 meters or so. There’s a rough track leading you through the dense bushland. You’ll then arrive at a natural end. To the left at an approximately 45-degree angle, you’ll notice a rocky outcrop. This is where the cave is located. So head left, and be careful around the edges of the rock platforms. You’ll need to bush bash just for a minute or so, before arriving at the epic cave lookout.

The open cave provides fantastic framed views of the spectacular bays beyond you. In summer, the cave provides a welcome spot of shade in an otherwise exposed hike. We hope you can find and enjoy the cave lookout. One thing we don’t know is its name. If anyone knows the name of this cave, please let us know in the comments below.

8. Towlers Bay Circuit

  • Type: Loop
  • Distance: 7km
  • Time: 2 hours
  • Accumulated elevation gain: 220m
  • Difficulty: *Moderate
  • Trailhead: Towlers Bay Circuit Trailhead

So are you keeping up with the itinerary? If you have conquered the Topham Walking Track, we recommend some lunch before tackling the modified Towlers Bay Circuit. This is the hardest trail of the day. That’s because this modified circuit has a bit off bush bashing through faintly marked trails and requires a bit more concentration regarding navigation.

Of course, for those up for a bit more of a relaxed walk, this is possible. For this option, you will also start at the Towlers Bay Circuit trailhead car park on West Head Road. Follow the Towlers Bay Track, but instead of turning off for Birnie Lookout, you’ll continue straight towards Morning Bay. You’ll then complete a loop around Lovett Bay, and then return the same way back. This will still provide you with beautiful views of Pitwatter, as seen below.

Views over Pittwater from the Towlers Bay Circuit. Beck stands on a flat rock platform far above the water. The sky is clear and the distant coastal line and ocean is framed nicely by surrounding bushland.
Views over Pittwater from the Towlers Bay Circuit

However, for those up for a bit more adventure – follow the map below, so that you can enjoy Birnie Lookout. This viewpoint provides arguably the best lookout of all of West Head Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park. Although not formally acknowledged by NSW National Parks, we wonder whether it’s an abandoned lookout and trail leading there. Mostly because of a faint, but obvious trail to get there. Plus, the presence of a park bench at the lookout suggests it was once a proper viewpoint.

A rough map for the Towlers Bay Circuit including the Birnie Lookout.
A rough map for the Towlers Bay Circuit including the Birnie Lookout.

Either way, the trail leading to Birnie Lookout is not closed or discouraged. But rather, it’s not maintained or formally recognised. So expect a rough bash as you head right at Towlers Bay Track, after about 1.4km, to find this epic lookout.

Birnie Lookout and a secret cave

You’ll need to concentrate as you steer away from Towlers Bay Track to reach this lookout. Expect to be slowed down as you negotiate unkept branches. After 500 meters or so, you’ll arrive at somewhat of a junction. This is where it gets a bit confusing. Essentially, the trail continues steeply downwards in an eventual zig-zag fashion. This is where you’ll need to continue after seeing the lookout and secret cave. So remember this spot. From here, the actual lookout and cave aren’t too far away, maybe 50-100 metres to your right.

Dan stands by a table and corresponding long bench on the opposite side inside a cave with two main openings either end and some smaller openings in the cave's roof.
A table and chair found in a cave near the Birnie Lookout.

Basically, follow the faint trail away from the downward path and continue weaving through some bush. You’ll first pass the incredible cave with a park bench and table to your right. It has two large openings either side and a natural window atop. This would have been a worthwhile detour in its own right. But continue a little further on the faint trail and you’ll see an exposed opening. It then becomes quite obvious, as you peer into the open space and notice the spectacular water views to your left. This is Birnie Lookout!

Birnie Lookout provides epic views of Pittwater. Dan sits on a rock, overlooking the serene bays filled with boats and yachts that slither its way through dense bushland out to the ocean.
Birnie Lookout provides epic views of Pittwater.

You can enjoy the views from the old wooden bench, or from the rocky outcrop that juts out, just in front of it. The sweeping views of Pittwater, filled with the yachts and boats of the locals, are absolutely breathtaking. With the surrounding bushland and the Pacific Ocean beyond, you’ll have the best seat in the house to enjoy West Head Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park.

The Bizarre Midsection of Towlers Bay Circuit

So the adventure isn’t over yet. Once you’ve finished checking out Birnie Lookout and the cave, head back to the junction you previously met. You’ll descend a steep traversing trail. What begins as drier bushland, soon becomes rainforest-like terrain. Before long, you’ll have reached the bottom, by the side of Lovett Bay. Once you reach the T-Intersection, make sure you go left, so that you’re walking with the bay to your right.

Towlers Bay Circuit, West Head Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park. Beck walks along a narrow trail covered in leaf litter among tropical plants.
Towlers Bay Circuit

What’s next is the strangest part of the hike. You’ll begin walking in what appears to be people’s backyards. Well, that’s because you are. A community does live here, but the path is apparently public. Regardless, it’s a bit odd. Anyway, you’ll eventually pass the Lovett Bay Boatshed and Lovett Wharf, which is normal enough. But then again, you’ll feel like you’re really intruding into someone’s backyard as you try to navigate back to the Towlers Bay Track.

Thankfully, we were assured by some locals to head up the concrete set of steps. We were convinced we had to stay bay side of the properties to avoid wandering into someone’s backyard. But once we were up those stairs, and walked through what appeared to be someone’s back lawn, you’ll reconnect with the actual track and be on your merry way. From here, you’ll have more lovely views of Pittwater before you head back to the car.

2021 UPDATE: We have been alerted to the fact that the concrete set of steps has been closed off. So instead, after passing the Boatshed and Wharf, you’ll need to follow a section to the left, that leads you onto a road, behind the houses, that reconnects you onto the trail.

9. Upper Gledhill Falls

Last but not least is Upper Gledhill Falls. It’s such a tiny hike down to the falls, that it’s barely classified as a hike. Using Google Maps, you can easily find the falls and the corresponding small car park. Simply walk towards the creek. You’ll be able to hear the sound of the water thrashing against the rocks. Once you step down off the road into some bushland, there’s essentially two options.

A small but pretty waterfall splashes and crashes onto rocks beneath, before emptying into a turquoise coloured pool.
Upper Gledhill Falls

You can chuck a right and head around the long way. This path slowly descends and then hooks back to the left, where you’ll negotiate rock along the creek to reach the waterfall. The other option is the quicker but muddier choice. It involves heading left instead and climbing down some slippery and steep rocks. So be careful. It’s quite muddy here, even in the drier months. Perhaps the destruction of the natural environment is a good reason to go the long way. But if this guilt trip didn’t work, do know, that going left, will have you at the falls in no time.

It’s a popular swimming hole that can look quite crowded with just a few people there, given how small it is. You can even stand behind and under the waterfall. But again, it’s mighty slippery so be cautious. Upper Gledhill Falls is a serene waterfall that is very much underrated.

STORY TIME: Having grown up in Sydney, it was West Head Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park which I had explored the most. Even so, Beck and I were blessed to discover a whole bunch of different trails, tracks and lookouts I hadn’t experienced before. Beck had only seen the bare minimum here over the preceding smokey bushfire riddled summer.

West Head Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park Recap

In hindsight, the only other addition we would have made to this otherwise perfect West Head Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park itinerary would have been the Elvina Track. We could have possibly squeezed this in after the Towlers Bay Circuit. There is a lovely small cascade waterfall at the end of this track. However, this itinerary is already jam-packed and has enough to keep you entertained for the day. So if you follow the itinerary above, we guarantee you an epic day trip, full of glorious hikes and lesser known lookouts.

Of course, there are many other walks to do in West Head (Bairne Track, Waratah Track, Willunga Trig, Salvation Loop and Wallaroo walking tracks). But these will have to wait another day for us. We expect these hikes and accompanying lookouts won’t be quite as epic as what we explored, but nevertheless, let us know if you think we’re wrong!

Beck, facing towards the camera, walks on a beach with a calm bay to her left, with bushland and an island in the distance, with a cloudy sky above.
Resolute Beach

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 other states. You can usually find cheap flights with Jetstar or Tiger Airways.

Getting to/from West Head Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park

West Head Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park is just a stone’s throw away from Sydney. Plus, it’s right at the doorstep for those living in the Central Coast. From Sydney, it’s a 1-2 hour drive depending on where you’re based. From the Central Coast or Newcastle, it’s approximately 1-2 hours as well.

To explore West Head Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, you’ll need a car. There are no public transport options for accessing West Head. In comparison, the Bobbin Head and Cowan Creek parts of Ku-ring-gai can be accessed by trains.

So 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. The roads in West Head are sealed and of great quality. A 2WD will suffice. Feel free to use our directions below.

Accommodation

As we mentioned, we shot off up the north coast after this day trip so we didn’t stay in West Head Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park. If you plan to stay here, your options are limited regarding camping as there is only one campground in the entire national park. That’s the Basin Campground that we mentioned before. Don’t get us wrong, the campground sounds lovely with its kangaroos, decent facilities, water activities and chance to go for a swim. But at around $35AUD/night, we thought that was a bit steep for camping.

You’ll be needing to walk the one-way 2.8km track from West Head Road car park to get to and from the campground. That’s why NSW National Parks recommend you get the ferry. If you’re arriving by ferry from Palm Beach, it’s suggested that you drop your camping gear at the ferry wharf. Make sure to leave your car in the seasonal car park at the Careel Bay Sporting Fields, then catch the 199 bus back to the wharf. Apparently, the 199 bus runs every 15 minutes and is just a 5 minute ride.

Otherwise, if you’re not keen to camp, but you’d stay somewhere nearby, consider the nearby northern beaches. When searching for accommodation, we always compare Booking.com and Airbnb.

Local Supplies

To get the most out of the day, bring a packed breakfast and lunch plus plenty of water and snacks. West Head is fairly remote so there aren’t any shops there. Our go-to grocery stores when travelling in Australia are Aldi and Woolworths. They will cover all the basic requirements.

Total Costs

  • Accommodation (Basin Campground): $35AUD/night ($27USD)
  • Petrol: $20AUD/person ($15USD)
  • Food: $10AUD/person ($7USD)

= $55AUD/person ($41USD)

If you can day trip from Sydney, Central Coast or Newcastle, then never mind the 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.

With much surrounding bushland, a small secluded beach can be made out, whilst a large headland protrudes in the distance.
Views of Resolute Beach.

Five Hiking Gear Essentials for Ku-ring-gai Chase 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.

Trail Navigation

Trail navigation is challenging on the Towlers Bay Circuit in particular. So consider downloading an online map before you set out. We recommend using our Wikiloc for GPS guided directions if you want to thoroughly check out Birnie Lookout and the secret cave.

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.

Bonus Tips

  • Make it a weekend trip: there’s much to see in West Head Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park. Although a day trip should do the trick, if you want to complete this itinerary at a more leisurely pace, spend a weekend here. Otherwise, a weekend would allow you to do some of the other hikes in West Head not covered by this itinerary.
  • West Head Army Track has plenty of spiders: we found plenty of spiders throughout the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park. However, there seemed to be a particular concentration of golben orb weaving spiders on the West Head Army Track. You’ve been warned!
  • Bring your swimmers: if you’re keen for a swim to break up the hiking, there’s plenty of opportunities. You could swim at any one of the hidden beaches or even at Upper Gledhill Falls.

Is there anything we’ve missed in our West Head Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park itinerary? Let us know below in the comments section below.


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