There are a few different starting points for the Ruined Castle bushwalk – which I think is one of the best bushwalks around Sydney. The shortest route is to commence at Glenraphael Drive and take the Golden Stairs down to the Federal Pass track. Conversely, starting at the Three Sisters and taking the Giant Stairway down into the Jamison Valley extends the walk by a few kilometres.
My normal starting point is near Scenic World. While the Scenic Railway (the steepest passenger railway in the world) offers the quickest route down, the Furber Steps provides one of the most picturesque descents into the Jamison Valley, with a number of side-tracks and lookouts. The track heads steeply down from the Prince Henry Cliff Walk, behind the Scenic World wheelhouse. Near the top of the Furber Steps, the Three Sisters can be seen in the distance from Vanimans Lookout.
There are no less than eight lookouts on the way down; offering differing perspectives of the Jamison Valley and Katoomba cliff line, with Katoomba Falls on the left.
In the distance is the long plateau of Mount Solitary, on the other side of the Jamison Valley (it’s the only mountain in the Jamison Valley).
From the bottom of the Furber Steps, we follow the Federal Pass along the Jamison Valley, soon reaching the bottom terminus of the Scenic Railway; after the relative solitude of the walk down the Furber Steps, it’s always a little confronting to meet a crowd of people!
A circular section of boardwalk has been constructed to cater for Scenic Railway and Scenic Skyway visitors. Signage along the boardwalk explains the history of the shale mines that were in operation from around 1880 to 1895 and then again from 1925 to 1945. Fortunately, this highly populated section of boardwalk comes to an end fairly soon, marked by a large sign that states “you will die a lonely death if you continue” in Chinese and Japanese.
Actually, I’m not really sure exactly what it says, but the general intent is to caution tourists that they are entering a remote area. Despite the ominous sign, the Federal Pass track is well marked as it continues along the valley, passing more remnants of the old shale mining operation (there’s a section of steel rope across the track, and abandoned steel buckets, from a failed “flying fox” that was built to carry shale to the Scenic Railway). Towering above the track is the Malaita Wall, a popular abseling and rock climbing destination, where on a weekend you’ll invariably see some climbers on the sheer sandstone cliff.
After a couple of kilometres, the Federal Pass curves around Malaita Point and crosses an eroded slope of scree and boulders where the previously well-marked track is replaced by steel pegs. A landslide in 1931, caused by coal mining behind the cliff, resulted in massive sandstone blocks sliding into the valley floor – over 80 years later the damage is still visible, although the scarring of the cliff face is less obvious.
After carefully traversing the landslide area, it’s easy walking again with only the occasional fallen tree slowing progress along the old mining track (it originally catered for horse-drawn vehicles hauling coal, but is much narrower now). This section of the Federal Pass is mostly through rainforest, with thick vines hanging down from towering coachwood and sassafrass trees. Lyrebirds can often be spotted scratching in the rich soil.
After about three kilometres the track to the Golden Stairs is reached on the right, and a kilometre beyond this junction the vegetation gets less dense. There’s some campsites along the track – some of these were clearings made for coal mining huts. There’s one section through low ferns and tall eucalypts where the call of bell-birds is almost deafening!
Another 1.5km further – just under six kilometres from the junction of the Federal Pass and Furber Steps – there’s a signpost on the right that marks the narrow and steep track up to Ruined Castle. The sign warns of the track being in poor condition and a “steep and hard climb”. If you’ve made it this far, you should be OK! Although the going does gets a bit tougher from here: the track is steep, and a bit slippery in places, and after the cool and shade of the valley the trees are much more sparse and offer minimal shade.
The good news is that it’s a relatively short track (about 700m), and the altitude gain is only about 80m – although it feels like a lot more! It doesn’t take too long before the massive boulders of Ruined Castle can be seen in the distance. A natural rock formation, Ruined Castle (arguably) offers some of the best views in the Blue Mountains. While the height of the rock outcrop is only a hundred metres or so above the valley on a small ridge, it’s located in the middle of the Jamison Valley, and is surrounded by cliffs.
Clambering up onto the rocky pillars of Ruined Castle yields unobstructed 360-degree views: to the north and west is Narrow Neck and Castle Head, while directly ahead to the south is Mt Solitary.
From here, you can return the same way – or continue along the ridge and back down to the Federal Pass a bit further south. There’s a few options you can take for the return route:
- Re-trace your steps, ascending via the Furber Steps
- Take the Scenic Railway up (but don’t miss the last train!)
- Ascend the Golden Staircase and follow Glenraphael Drive back to Scenic World.
Ruined Castle route options
- The shortest route to Ruined Castle is from the parking area on Glenraphael Drive, descending the Golden Stairs to reach Federal Pass. This makes it about 8km return.
- Start at Scenic World and take the Scenic Railway to avoid the steep descent and ascent into the Jamison Valley (although the route will some involve some scrambling across the landslide beneath Malaita Point)
- Extend the walk by starting at Echo Point, descending via the Three Sisters Track at Echo Point (to Ruined Castle) and then continuing along the Jamison Valley past the bottom of the Scenic Railway. This makes it a 21km return walk, with 1,100m of elevation gain
- Continuing via Ruined Castle to Mt Solitary (and beyond!)
When to visit Ruined Castle
Although it gets fairly cold in winter, you can do this bushwalk at any time of the year. It’s best to avoid rainy days, both because there are some steep sections and scrambling over rocks, and to avoid leeches along the valley. As most of the walk is along the bottom of Jamison Valley, it’s still fairly pleasant on a hot day. In winter, it will get dark very early in the valley.
Accommodation near Ruined Castle
The Ruined Castle bushwalk can easily be done as a day trip from Sydney (but make sure you get an early start). There’s lots of accommodation in Katoomba, if you want to get an early start or spend a few days exploring other bushwalks in the Blue Mountains.
More information on Ruined Castle
- Google Street View Trekker
- National Parks (NPWS) – Ruined Castle walking
- Wildwalks – Scenic Railway to Ruined Castle
- Stuart Veechi, Best Blue Mountains Bushwalks (3rd edition)
- John & Lyn Daly, Take a Walk in the Blue Mountains” (p.102) – ebook
- Williams and Scannell, The Blue Mountains on Foot (p.28) – out of print