One of my favourite half-day Blue Mountains walks: classic Blue Mountains vistas, pleasant walking through rainforest and 360 degree views from Ruined Castle.
There are a few different starting points for this walk: 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 look-outs. 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 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).
Hand-carved with a hammer and a chisel in 1908, the Furber Steps is named after land surveyor Thomas Furber, who secured a government grant to conserve the area. Many of the original steps remain, while some sections of steel steps makes the descent (or ascent) a bit easier… there’s supposedly about 1,000 steps – although I’ve personally never counted them!
Near the valley floor, there’s a short side-track to Vera’s Grotto, where a waterfall is formed by Witches Leap Creek falling over a 20m cliff. The Furber Steps trail passes under a wide overhang, before reaching the Federal Pass track at the base of the valley.
From here, 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).
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 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 Federal Pass a bit further south.
|Location||Start/finish at Scenic World (Corner Violet Street & Cliff Drive). Free parking. Alternate start point are Echo Point (parking fees apply) and Golden Staircase trackhead on Glenraphael Drive (graded dirt road; limited free parking at trackhead).|
|Distance||14km return (6.6km starting via Golden Staircase is shortest option)|
|Grade||Moderate. 960m total ascent.|
|Season/s||All year round|