Spying the vividly shaped formations of the Warrumbungles against the skyline, you’ll be in no doubt as to your impending arrival. The remnants of an ancient shield volcano, the left over peaks and troughs create a truly excellent landscape for exploration, and boy is there plenty to explore. Regarded as one of the best hikes in NSW, there’s really no better trail than the Grand High Tops Circuit, and better still, the extended version.
The Grand High Tops Circuit is by far the most popular and well known of all trails in the Warrumbungles, and for good reason. The stunning scenery, breathtaking vantage points and pure sense of accomplishment upon reaching Lugh’s Throne make this hike pretty special.
The trail to the top is spectacularly maintained and, in parts, paved to perfection. Like a yellow brick road, it can lead even the most novice of walkers to the summit. However, don’t get too comfortable. The sharpness of the ascent, the leg-burning stair cased sections and, on our occasion, the searing sun transforms this hike into a real heart-pumping trek.
Tackling Grand High Top, Bluff Mountain & Mount Exmouth
The rewards upon reaching the summit of Lugh’s Throne are tenfold. The 360 views are superb and the sense of accomplishment is beyond satisfying. However, like us, you might not feel quite done with the hiking playground surrounding you. It’s quite common to add Bluff Mountain onto the Grand High Tops Circuit since you have to pass the trailhead anyway. That being said, if you’re up for pushing yourself, this guide is for you.
Just short of 40km’s is our extended Grand High Tops Circuit. This stellar hike essentially encompasses no less than six separate trails! It’s a fantastic day hike (yes, it’s most certainly doable) taking around 9 hours to complete. Every peak as good as the last, every view as drool-worthy as the next, and every effort justified with each step taken – get ready for an absolute corker of a day.
Now, I understand what you might be thinking, but don’t be put off by such a huge amount of K’s to complete in a day, oh, and also the fact there are 3 peaks to summit. You can do it! But, you’ll need to be sensible as to whether this is within your capabilities, it is of course a challenge. That being said, this is by far one of the greatest long-distance day hikes that Dan and I have been lucky enough to complete, and we know you’ll love it too.
- Type: Loop
- Distance: 38.8km
- Time: 9 hours
- Accumulated elevation gain: 960m
- Difficulty: Hard
- Trailhead: Pincham car park
So you’re keen to give this a crack, eh. YES! Great choice. Obviously, a hike like this isn’t for the faint-hearted, and hiking 3 mountains plus numerous other lookouts during one hike is going to hurt. I should know! But believe me, when I say, this hike is SO good! With views of the iconic Breadknife, Belougery Spire and Bluff Mountain, it’s a feast for the eyes every step of the way. And the distractions are more than welcome as the climbs are steep and tough.
Here, we’ll detail each leg of the hike, all notable points of interest and, importantly, what gear to pack to ensure you are prepared and ready to get the most out of your day. Enjoy, hikers.
Goulds Circuit (Machor Tor & Febar Tor)
The hike begins from Pincham car park, and follows the Grand High Tops track along Spirey Creek. The trail has a quaint woodland feel, and in spring, when the flora is in full bloom, feels quite magical. After around 1.5km, you’ll reach a small turnoff, left, for Gould’s Circuit, from where you can reach Febar Tor and Macha Tor.
The trail here feels much narrower and overgrown in comparison to the well-walked and maintained Grand High Tops track – almost like searching for a secret lookout. Heightened, for us, by the fact, that no other hikers seemed to be turning onto this short loop. It would seem that we’d have this short 3km section to ourselves.
First up is Febar Tor. The smaller of two lookouts on this loop, the rocky scramble necessary to access the viewpoint is fun and offers a fantastic first look at those big players to come.
Another 800m further along the track is Macha Tor. This peak is slightly taller than Febar Tor and is a more difficult scramble up, feeling near-vertical in sections. Still, the views from the top platform are mesmerising. The Breadknife and Crater Bluff feature heavily on the horizon line, looking fiercely difficult to scale, yet managing to conjure the excitement of rising to the challenge.
After scrambling back down, continue along Gould’s Circuit trail to join back up with the Grand High Tops track. A couple of km’s before reaching Lugh’s Throne, which sits at the top of Grand High Tops, you’ll find a small offshoot to the left for Spirey View lookout. It’s just 100m or so of extra trail, so you may as well check it out. What’re a few extra metres, eh?
Spirey View offers a closer vantage point of Belougery Spire and the Breadknife than previously seen from Gould’s Circuit. Dan and I began to get a real sense of the grandeur surrounding us as we became more and more immersed within these wonderfully shaped and ever-looming rock formations.
Grand High Tops
Now, onwards to the main event. Grand High Tops, as previously mentioned, is by far the most popular hike in the Warrumbungles. You should expect the hike up to be fairly busy in parts, with a lot of weary legs stopping for rest bite on various steep sections. If you enjoy a speed hike, as we do, and you’re keen to motor up, you’ll find this section tough going and a real leg burner.
What is speed hiking? Speed hiking is hiking a trail quicker than your average pace, relative to your normal speed of course. This enables you to cover a greater distance in the time you have, plus, get a bit more of a work out too. The end result? Seeing and fitting more into an itinerary and utilising the time you have.
Be sure to get plenty of water down you during this section. Its steepness is a challenge, but the rewards from the summit views outweigh any discomfort. Just below the final ascent up to Lugh’s Throne, you’ll have an opportunity to check out Breadknife Gap.
Experiencing the incredible scale of this flat, sharply jutting rock is amazing. You’ll feel like a tiny crumb on the edge of the rock’s serrated edge. There’s a fantastic ‘gap’ in the rock face offering a window-like cutout through to the volcanic landscape beyond.
After the last push up to Lugh’s Throne and Grand High Tops, the gratifying views suddenly come into focus. From feeling like a small speck, walking amongst these giant rock creations from below, now you’ll have a chance to enjoy them from above. With clear vantage points down over the Breadknife and Belougery Spire, take a moment to rest (seriously, do) and admire the beauty of mother nature in all her glory. This place is sure to take your breath away.
From Grand High Tops, it’s easy to see just why this hike rates so highly. The Warrumbungle National Park is nothing short of any hiker’s fantasy. Good news for us, there’s even more to come.
Continue along the Grand High Tops Circuit to descend down to Dow’s Camp. From here you should keep left to continue on to Bluff Mountain. However, should you decide Grand High Tops was enough for the day, you can continue along the track, right, towards Ogma Camp, and then take the West Spirey Track back to Pincham car park.
The sharp descent from Lugh’s Throne offers a great look at what’s to come. Ahead, you’ll see the burly mound of Bluff Mountain rising like a sleeping giant. Dan and I had heard, from a few accounts, that the hike to Bluff’s summit was tough going. At a 200m climb, and after the exertion of Grand High Tops, I can now say we tend to agree – stick with it though.
The route up the mountain follows a gradual switchback of steady incline, which doesn’t let up until you reach the open summit. The treetops are a welcome sight indicating the difficult stretch is almost over. The exposed, rugged bluff is windy and harsh, yet feels relieving after the climb. The effects soon wear off though and so I recommend wind jackets at the ready.
The views are breathtaking. They more than justify your efforts in getting there. From Bluff Mountain, you’ll have some of the best views of Bluff Pyramid, Grand High Tops and the Breadknife. We were so lucky to have such glorious weather, and the views really did seem endless.
Keen to explore more, and complete the whole hike as we’d set out, we made a speedy descent along the same route we’d just taken up. At the bottom, rejoin the Grand High Tops trail and continue on to Ogma Camp.
Cathedral & Arch
Another off-shoot trail along this corker of a hike is the Cathedral & Arch. At just a 1km out and back, it’s an easy add on. The rock formations along the track are some of the most unusual we saw in the entire national park. On the hillside are rock groupings, resembling the ruins of an old Cathedral. Their tube-like structures standing proudly on the sharply sloping grassy hillside.
The trail is quite up and down, which, by this stage, may feel hard on the legs. The landscape is more than interesting enough to offer a distraction though. Completing Grand High Tops is really the only way to see Cathedral & Arch, so this little trail feels like a high five from nature for your perseverance!
Further exploration of this trail leads you to a brilliant arch formation at the end of the track. Amazingly, the arch has a lone tree stood atop. The views through the arch gaze back towards the Grand high Tops Track from where you detoured. To the right are excellent views of Bluff Mountain, looming large in the background, you’ll be left wondering how you ever managed to scale such a monolith.
Retrace your steps along this same track to re-join with the main trail and continue on to Mount Exmouth, the last peak of the hike.
At around 18km in, fatigue will be hot on your heels and the thought of scaling another peak may potentially feel like one hill too many. However, if it helps, Mount Exmouth was every bit as fantastic to hike as the other summits, with its ‘secret garden’ at the top particularly special. So, dig deep and push on.
Upon reaching Danu camp, the trail continues along to Burbie Canyon or left, up to Mount Exmouth. It’s a small opening along a grassy trail that ascends almost immediately. Fuel up and give it all you’ve got.
SIDE NOTE: Truth be told, I was not excited to meet the trailhead for Mount Exmouth. My legs were tired, I was feeling the effects of the blistering sun (perhaps that’s just being a Brit though) and the thought of scaling another mountain after 18km and two previous peaks was a real struggle to comprehend. I was in need of a boost. Luckily for me, Dan whipped out the bag of Wine Gums I’d recently received from back home (a British sweet/ lolly if you’re Aussie). After scoffing a mouthful, waiting for the sugar hit to race through, and then watch as Dan enticed my first steps by rustling the bag like a breadcrumb trail, we set off. My re-energised state had me suddenly ready to meet the challenge. I genuinely don’t think anything else would have worked. The lesson there – always pack emergency sweet things for your hiking buddy.
The trail to Mount Exmouth summit was extremely quiet. The only other people we saw on the hike were a couple of rangers on their way back down from carrying out some works at the top. Otherwise, Mount Exmouth was ours – it couldn’t have been more perfect.
Mount Exmouth Summit
The summit of Mount Exmouth feels quite different to the other peaks along the hike. For that reason alone, we recommend you find the energy, and will, to add this onto the hike. The top is a smallish flat plateau, with a feel of stumbling across a secret garden. The unusual tree shapes, inviting grassy patches to relax on and stellar lookouts instil a real desire to stay put and camp out for the night. Sadly, this is not a thing.
From here, there are phenomenal views over the cluster of mountains and lookouts you’ve just accomplished. With a brief rest in the mid-afternoon sun, I was most content. To descend, take the same track back down.
After descending Mount Exmouth, it’s easy to think all the hard work is over, given the fact there are no more mountains to climb. To an extent, that’s true. However, there’s still much distance to cover yet, and as we all know, often the final stages are the hardest.
The Burbie Canyon track, beginning from the base of Mount Exmouth, is a fairly uninspiring management trail. The ground is up and down with loose rocks making the trail quite uneven. We found it tricky to speed hike. This section can feel fairly laborious and hard going. However, when the trail does eventually reach Burbie Canyon, the mundane management trail is soon transformed into a blissful meadow, filled with the pleasant sound of trickling water, blooming flowers and fabulous local wildlife.
SIDE NOTE: Be sure to keep an eye out for peregrine falcons and the rare turquoise parrots. Oh, and of course, plenty of Kangaroos.
This is a truly delightful, not to mention easy, stroll through an awesome sandstone canyon. The trail squeezes between the towering walls and along a small creek. We visited in spring and so the abundance of wildflowers made this walk all the more enjoyable. It made for such a great end to all the epic sightseeing along this fantastic hike.
I’ll be honest with you, after exiting Burbie Canyon, the final 4km of this hike are a real struggle. It’s pure road walking, slightly uphill and fairly uninspiring. The most notable attraction is gauging how close Belougery Split Rock is to the roadside. Mentally, it feels nice to have a marker to aim for though. Soon enough, you’ll be rounding back into Pincham car park, and boy will you feel good. Well, once you’ve sat down and whipped the hiking boots off.
By the end of this hike, you’ll have ticked off SIX worthwhile trails in the park. Perfect if you’re short on time or, better still, up for something really challenging.
Grand High Tops Extended Circuit Recap
Exhilarating, rewarding and one of the best ways to enjoy the Warrumbungles in a day, the extended Grand High Tops Circuit has it all. Pack smartly, take it at a good pace and set little goals along the way. You’re bound to love the challenge of this hike as much as we did.
Please see below more details on accommodation, getting to/from the Warrumbungle National Park and total costings.
Getting to & from the Warrumbungle National Park
At a 6–7 hour drive from Sydney, the Warrumbungle National Park is quite the distance to travel, especially for just one hike, however epic that hike may be. We highly suggest visiting as part of a wider Aussie road trip, or at least a weekend trip. We travelled to the Warrumbungles after a quick stop in Mudgee, and then headed on to Pilliga State Park and Mount Kaputar National Park afterwards. Closer still is to travel from Coonabarabran, which is just 70km away.
For more epic hikes nearby, check out Discover the Best of Mount Kaputar National Park and Pilliga State Forest (coming soon) posts.
Whether coming from Sydney or closer, the best way for hiking and navigating the Warrumbungle National Park is by car. The roads are perfectly accessible for 2WDs, campers and caravans also. If you don’t have access to your own set of wheels, we recommend and typically use RentalCars.com
If you’re travelling to Australia from overseas, we recommend using Skyscanner to search for the cheapest flights. When flying abroad, we always get the ball rolling with a Skyscanner search. Also, if you’re based in the UK or US, you should sign up to Jack’s Flight Club for the best flight deal alert service. By simply subscribing to the free weekly newsletter or buying premium membership, you could save lots of money with international travel.
You’ll need a parks pass to enter and park in Warrumbungle National Park. Make sure to organise one before hand at NSW National Parks website, you can click here.
Accommodation in Warrumbungle National Park
There’s a wealth of camping accommodation options in the Warrumbungles. Seriously, loads. However, we can highly recommend Camp Blackman as the perfect base, should you be lucky enough to spend more than just the one day here. Dan and I were thrilled to camp here for a few nights, so we really got to see all that this national park has to offer.
For more information on accommodation, see our full Warrumbungles blog post (coming soon).
Local Supplies for Warrumbungle National Park
The nearest town to Warrumbungle National Park is Coonabarabran. Here, you’ll find Woolworths, along with fuel stations and accommodation options should you not be wanting to camp in the Warrumbungles.
Total Costs for the Extended Grand High Tops Circuit
- Food: $10AUD/person ($7USD)
= $10AUD/person ($7USD) + fuel costs to get there.
- Accommodation: $16.40AUD/unpowered site ($12.50USD) | $33.83AUD/powered site ($25.75USD) to stay at Camp Blackman. Other campsites available.
- Fuel: dependent on where you travel from.
Five Hiking Gear Essentials for the Grand High Tops Extended Circuit
These are our five hiking gear essentials for the Grand High Tops Extended Circuit. For a more comprehensive packing list, check out the Ultimate Packing Checklist. It’s a great general summary of everything you’d need for a trip. For even more information check out our 66 Travel Accessories That You Must Travel With. We go in-depth into what hiking and camping gear we use. There, you’ll find specific recommendations for all the products we love.
- Merrell Moab 2 Mid Goretex hiking boots – comfy, waterproof, breathable and lightweight- yep! With so many hours of hiking, these tick all the boxes to get your feet through.
- Long sleeved shirt (or base layer) – start this hike early to ensure you can fit it all in! A good base layer works wonders in those early hours before the sun really gets going.
- The North Face Venture 2 waterproof/windproof jacket – again, the exposure out on any summit can be cold and windy and so I was pleased to be protected by a good quality jacket.
- Osprey Skarab 30L Day Backpack – you’ll be needing a rucksack that comfortably holds 2–3 of water, food and additional layers. This Osprey backpack literally comes everywhere with me.
- Nikon D3400 Digital SLR Camera – PLENTY of photo ops on this hike. Plus, you’ll be wanting to document those efforts, looking more and more exhausted as the day goes on 😉
Although the extended High Tops Circuit is not difficult to follow, you may still want to have access to maps. To be fully prepared, consider downloading a GPS guided map before you set out. We recommend Wikiloc or AllTrails.
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.
For a great overview map of the trail and other Warrumbungle hikes, be sure to check out National Parks NSW, link here.
- Spring: Some of the walking trails are further enhanced by the arrival of spring flowers – so time your visit.
- Pack thoughtfully: We can’t stress enough the importance of being fully prepared for a hike of this length and difficulty. Make sure you pack at least 3L of water, high energy snacks, full sun protection and a selection of layers for any weather eventuality. Also, be sure to read up on the trail beforehand.
- Busy route: As I’ve previously mentioned, The Grand High Tops Circuit is the most popular hike in the Warrumbungles, so get an early start to avoid the crowds… and to ensure a parking spot at Pincham.
Let us know in the comments below if you managed to tackle this monster trail, we’d love to hear how you got on. Bookmark it for quick reference as you go.
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