The best West Head bushwalks

A multitude of short walks 90min north of Sydney, from secluded beaches to rocky outcrops with views over Pittwater and Cowan Creek.

West Head, part of Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park and only 90min from Sydney, is one of my favourite destinations for short hikes, or to find a beach that won’t be crowded even on a summer weekend. There are about 20 bushwalking trails, most of them starting on West Head Road and all well sign-posted: below are the best of them!

For a complete guide to ALL the West Head picnic areas and bushwalks have a look at Guide to West Head Bushwalks; there’s also Guide to Ku-ring-gai Chase NP that covers 50+ bushwalks as well as swimming holes and mountain bike tracks,

Best Swimming

Best Views

Best Adventure walks


Best swimming

All the West Head beaches require a walk to reach them… but that also means you’ll avoid the crowds and often have a secluded beach to yourself. Here are three of the best swimming spots…

Flint and Steel Beach

This beach is the pick for swimming – even on summer weekends it doesn’t get too busy and there’s lots of shade around the beach. The walk down is about 1km from the carpark and is mostly in the shade. Depending on the wind and swell, there’s sometimes enough surf for body-surfing, but it’s always safe to swim even for younger children.


The rocky headland at the western end has some interesting rockpools and is a popular fishing spot. Behind the beach, the grassy area attracts wallabies that can often be seen grazing. (You can also go to Flint & Steel Bay – this is a rougher track that ends at White Horse Bay, and while you can also swim here it’s fairly rock and not as nice.)


Location Left-hand (west) side of West Head Road, just before end of road
Distance Approx 2km return to the beach
Grade Easy. Total ascent of 130m
Resources Wildwalks track notes for loop walk

West Head Beach

The easiest beach to access is West Head Beach, a short (but fairly steep) 400m walk down from West Head Lookout. The sheltered beach on Pittwater, opposite the Barrenjoey Peninsula, is best at low tide. There’s rarely any waves making it perfect for swimming.


The beach is surrounded by eucalyptus forest, and offers plenty of shade. At one end of West Head Beach a large sandstone overhang provides shelter from sun (or rain).


West Head Beach and the track down to the beach forms part of a great circuit you can do – the 4.3km Resolute Loop Trail goes past Resolute Beach, as well as Aboriginal rock art and engravings and a WWII observation post.

Location Park at the end of West Head Road (West Head Lookout)
Distance 800m return (20min).
Grade Easy. Total ascent of 100m
Resources Weekend Notes

Upper Gledhill Falls

This swimming hole is becoming more popular – probably because it has featured in many articles on secret swimming holes, including Wild Swimming Australia. Just below McCarrs Creek Road is a series of cascades…


…which flow over a wide rock slab into a deep pool below. At one end of the pool is the waterfall (Upper Gledhill Falls), and next to it a small sandy beach. Forest and fern-covered rocks surround the 10m-wide pool. On a hot day, it’s a great spot for a swim.


Location Near the junction of McCarrs Creek Road and West Head Road. There are 2-3 car parking spots near the start of the short walking track on  McCarrs Creek Road, or park at the start of West Head Road
Distance 200m. 20m total ascent.
Grade Easy. A bit of scrambling required.
Resources Wild Swimming Holes – Upper Gledhill Falls

Best views

Almost all the West Head bushwalks offer a view, either over Cowan Creek and the Hawkesbury River to the west of the peninsula, Pittwater to the east or Broken Bay and Lion Island to the north. But some of the vantage points offer better views than others – and sometimes the shortest walks have the best views!

West Head Lookout

It’s not actually a bushwalk… but the best views are from the end of West Head Road at the lookout, near the carpark. The downside is that you’ll be sharing the view with a few other people, unlike the next couple of walks!


From the paved lookout area there are panoramic and almost-360-degree views over Pittwater, Broken Bay, the Barrenjoey peninsula, Palm Beach and the Central Coast. Sunset is a great time to admire the view – but make sure you’re leave enough time to drive out before the gates are locked (8:30pm during daylight savings and otherwise 6pm).


Location Park at the end of West Head Road (West Head Lookout)
Distance N/A – carpark located here
Grade N/A
Resources National Parks West Head Lookout overview

Koolewong Track

This is a great example of a short walk offering the best view… The Koolewong Track is only 1.1km return (or a 1.2m loop), and offers great views both from a bench at the of the trail, and a number of rocky outcrops nearby.


For the best views, carefully continue around the front of the fenced lookout area, to a rocky platform near the edge of the cliff. From here you can enjoy unobstructed views toward Patonga and the Hawkesbury River to the west and north-west and Lion Island to the north-east.

Location Start opposite Resolute Picnic area near the end of West Head Road
Distance 1.1km return or 1.2km loop
Grade Easy. 60m total ascent.
Resources Detailed Hiking the World blog post
Wildwalks track notes

Birnie Lookout

You can reach Birnie Lookout via the Towlers Bay Track (firetrail) and then a rough bush track, returning the same way. Or continue down to the water at Lovett Bay and return via the Towlers Bay Track. The destination is a spectacular viewpoint that’s perched over Lovett Bay and Pittwater, with Barrenjoey Peninsula and the Pacific Ocean in the distance.


Near the lookout is an overhang or cave that has been sculpted by the wind, resulting in an incredible honeycomb appearance.

Location Near the start of West Head Road; right-hand (east) side
Distance 4km return (1-2 hours). 6.5km loop via Towlers Bay Track (2-3 hours)
Grade Easy. 65m total ascent  (225km if doing loop walk)
Resources Walk description for Towlers Bay Loop via Birnie Lookout

Bairne Trail

This is a longer track that follows a ridge-line on the eastern side of the West Head Peninsula. It’s not the most exciting walk along the maintenance trail – but it’s an easy walk and rewards at the end with views across Pittwater to Scotland Island and beyond, from a rock platform above a high cliff.


After following the Bairne Track for about 2.6km from the start, take the right fork and follow the firetrail for another 900m. It descends gradually until reaching a lookout above the cliff-line.


(The track to the left eventually becomes the Soldiers Point Track, leading another lookout with some filtered views over Pittwater. From this lookout there is a steep walking trail down to Coasters Retreat.)

Location Right-hand (east) side of West Head Road, about half-way
Distance 7km return
Grade Easy. Total ascent of 120m
Resources National Parks web site.

Other walks to consider

  • Topham Track – 5km return. Easy. Like the Bairne Track it’s a pretty boring firetrail – but continue past the end of track for a cave and nice views over Cowan Waters, Jerusalem Bay and America Bay.
  • Willunga Trail – 1.5km return. Easy. A short walk up to highest point in the park, with extensive views over West Head toward Pittwater and as far as the city of Sydney to the south.

Best adventurous walks

Despite most West Head bushwalks being relatively short and many of them following wide firetrails, there are some more adventurous options. These include off-track routes along the coastline and a more challenging bushwalking trails.

West Head Army Track

The West Head Army Track makes a short but fun adventure, following the original wartime track down to WWII embankments. Opened in 2016, the newly formed track initially zig-zags down the steep slope, before reaching a set of steel stairs. The first of the WWII structures is the two-storey Observation Post, from which there are views out across Broken Bay and Lion Island.


At the end of the West Head Army Track are more buildings that can be explored, including two covered concrete gun casings and an ammunition magazine cut into the cliff.


If you’re looking for a bit more adventure – and have enough time – continue off-track along the coastline to Flannel Flower Beach. A short but challenging route along the rocky shore takes you to a narrow sliver of sand backed by a 5m sandstone bluff. Low tide makes progress much easier, and at high tide there isn’t much of a beach!


Location Park at the end of West Head Road (West Head Lookout)
Distance 1.3km return. (30-45min) to end of West Head Army Track
Flannel Flower Beach is about 1km return from end of Army Track.
Grade Easy. Total ascent of 105m.
Hard to Flannel Flower Beach as there’s no track. Allow 2 hours.
Resources Hiking the World Army Track and Flannel Flower Beach posts
National Parks West Head Army Track
4HResearch Web site explains history of the West Head Battery

Hungry Beach

Another off-track walk to a remote beach: Hungry Beach is on the Hawkesbury River on the western side of West Head. It’s a nice beach, surrounded by forest and with lots of shade. Above the beach is an old World War II bunker that you can explore, and there are nice views from this old WWII structure.


Hungry Beach is accessed via an established but sometimes rough trail to Flint and Steel Bay and Whitehorse Beach. From here follow the shore, over and between a few boulders and around a small headland – low tide makes this walk much easier. Even at low tide, the walk will involve some scrambling around obstacles over rocks.

Location Start at Flint and Steel trailhead near the end of West Head Road
Distance 3.6km return. Allow 2-3 hours.
Grade Moderate. Partly off-track.
Resources Detailed Hiking the World blog post

Bairne to Basin loop

A half (or even full) day walk, combining the Bairne and Basin tracks creates a 12km circular walk. There’s a slight catch: The Basin (a narrow inlet off Pittwater) is between the two tracks. At low tide you could wade across the narrow inlet, but at high tide you’d need to swim. Or catch the ferry that connects make the crossing on a regular basis… It makes an interesting walk with some nice views, some steep and challenging tracks and the potential for a swim at a couple of spots.


Start the circuit via the Bairne Trail, as the ferry only operates in one direction and one of the tracks is hard to find if you’re coming from The Basin. The Bairne Track, a wide fire trail, eventually becomes the Soldiers Point Track and continues to Soldiers Point. You then take a narrow and sometimes steep walking track down the spur to Coasters Retreat, a small Pittwater community of 50 houses by the water (this track would be a bit tricky to find going in the other direction, as it starts behind a row of houses and is not sign-posted). From Coasters Hollow you can wade/swim across to The Basin near the shark net – or catch a regular ferry across!

The Basin campground is a nice spot, with picnic facilities and beaches for swimming. Unfortunately the walk up The Basin Trail is not so nice – it’s a partly-paved maintenance road used by NPWS to service the campground – and detracts from the walk a little. There are some Aboriginal rock engravings near the end of the walk which are worth making a very short detour to see.


  1. Hello, this is a great resource – thanks!

    With the Bairne Track, I know you said you didn’t go via Soldiers Point but I’m keen to take up your suggestion to link up this walk to the Basin Track.

    Do you know if you can get from the lookout to the Coasters Retreat village? It would be great if we could get the ferry from Bennets/Bonnie Doon to the Basin and get back to West Head Road along the Basin track.


  2. Hi Oliver, that’s awesome that you managed to get out there in this weather! This makes me think I should definitely use the Bairne Track to get to the Basin. Will try to pop down to Towler’s Bay for a better view, but then double back to Soldiers Point to get to the Basin. Thanks so much!

    Liked by 1 person

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