The challenge has been set: what is the “best” Blue Mountains walk, to showcase the beauty of the area to my two international guests (cousins Alice and Eliane) from Switzerland. Ruined Castle is on the short list, one of my favourite walks. As is Wentworth Falls and Valley of the Waters. But after consultation with a colleague who’d just come back from the Blue Mountains, the winner is Neates Glen to Pulpit Rock via the Grand Canyon. It combines some of the most picturesque rainforest and canyon environments with sweeping views… and we can extend the walk with more classic Blue Mountains views from Evans Lookout to Pulpit Rock.
We’re at the start of the Grand Canyon Walking Track at Neates Glen and on our way just before 11am. The track descends immediately, with the vegetation quickly changing from eucalyptus forest to dense rainforest.
It’s pleasant walking down into the Grand Canyon, past ferns and under mossy overhangs. The shaded track is still wet (but not muddy, being a well-constructed path) from recent rain.
We soon cross Greaves Creek, as the Grand Canyon track descends through Neates Glen.
The track then flattens for a short section, as passes under a large sandstone overhang, with Greaves Creek to the left.
Another short descent and we’re at the “Rotunda“, a huge sandstone overhang formed by the creek carving out the cliff, which was an Aboriginal shelter. A short track leads up the creek, beyond the cave. Although quite close to the start of the walk at Neates Glen (we’re only about 1.5kms in) this would make a great camp site, with lot of space undercover as well as a large flat area in front of the cave.
Then it’s through a short tunnel, formed by a rock fall many years ago.
Just beyond the tunnel, the path passes behind a small but picturesque waterfall, which cascades over a fern and moss-covered cliff.
The track now enters the narrowest and deepest part of the Grand Canyon, following a claystone ledge well above the canyon floor. A sign warns not to enter the canyon, which is a viable route for canyoners (with access being via an abseil).
This is, perhaps, the most spectacular part of the Grand Canyon walk as the track goes through the narrow canyon, often under deep overhangs and past trees clinging precariously to the edge of the steep drop.
As the canyon widens a little, the Grand Canyon track descends a bit more until it meets Greaves Creek. Even though it’s around midday, almost no direct sunlight makes it to the bottom of the canyon. There’s some beautiful pools, surrounded by ferns – perhaps ideal for a swim in summer, although it always stays fairly cool in the depths of the canyon.
There’s perhaps too many photos and not enough text in this article… but the pictures tell a better story! Where the track crosses Greaves Creek along a row of symmetrical stepping stones, we reach the signposted Rodriguez Pass Walking Track (which heads down the Grose Valley). We’ve only done 3.6km up to here, but I’ve taken more photos than I normally would in a day.
The bad news is that just after the Rodriguez Pass, we reach the lowest point of the walk (815m)… and it’s now all uphill as we climb out of the Grand Canyon. The good news is that compared to most other Blue Mountains bushwalks that drop down off the escarpment, there’s only about a 200m climb out of the canyon. So it’s a relatively painless ascent!
As we get close to the top of the cliff, with the vegetation starting to change back to drier, eucalyptus forest, a lyrebird graces us with his presence. A generally elusive bird, it forages near the path and ignores us.
There’s a filtered view of distant cliffs as we gain altitude, and as we reach the top of the cliff we enjoy the first “classic” Blue Mountain views from Evans Lookout and the nearby Valley View Lookout. Below is Govetts Creek, with the Grose Valley stretching into the distance.
Evans Lookout is the end of the Grand Canyon Walking Track.. can you finish the loop walk here (following the Evans Lookout road back to the start). We continue our bushwalk along the Cliff Top Track, to enjoy some more stunning valley views…
Approx 14km one-way from Neates Glen to Pulpit Rock [4-5 hours]
Grand Canyon loop: 6.3km
Evans Lookout to Govetts Leap (Cliff Top Track): 3.2km (one-way)
Govetts Leap to Pulpit Rock Lookout (Pulpit Rock Track): 3.8km (one-way)
4.8km Blackheath station to Neates Glen carpark GRAND CANYON TRACK 0.0km Start of Grand Canyon Track at Neates Glen (Blackheath) 1.5km Rotunda (large rock overhang) 3.6km Junction with track to Rodriguez Pass Track 5.5km Evans Lookout [car access] CLIFF TOP TRACK 7.8km Barrow Lookout 8.3km Govetts Leap Lookout [car access] PULPIT ROCK TRACK 8.5km Laws Lookout 8.7km Horseshoe Falls Lookout 8.9km Horseshoe Falls 10.2km Boyd Lookout 12.5km Pulpit Rock Lookout [car access] 6.9km Pulpit Rock Road to Blackheath Station
Some tips and secrets for the best Grand Canyon experience
The Grand Canyon Track is one of the most popular bushwalks in the Blue Mountains – it gets an estimated 200,000 bushwalkers annually. A one-way system (requiring you to enter the Grand Canyon at Evans Lookout and exit at Neates Glen) was trialled over the 2020/21 summer holidays, and may become standard in peak periods. So start either very early in the day – or fairly late – to avoid the crowds. If starting late in the day, make you bring a head-torch, or allow enough time to compete the walk before dark.
Unless the Grand Canyon walk is designated as one-way, I’d start at Neates Glen, so you’re finishing the walk with the sweeping views from Evans Lookout. From Evans Lookout, you have a few options:
- Return via the road to complete the loop (6.3km)
- Continue along the Cliff Top Track to Govett’s Leap Lookout, to enjoy some or more spectacular views (taxi or walk to station from here)
- Extend the walk even further along the cliff to finish at the iconic Pulpit Rock Lookout (taxi or a long walk to the station from here).
One of the secrets of the Grand Canyon is that within the canyon are thousands of glow worms. As you descend into the canyon after dark, you’ll see the walls covered with tiny lights. Unless the walk has been designated as one-way, start at Evans Lookout a few hours before dark, and aim to be near the Neates Glen end around sunset. Make sure you have some warm clothes while you’re waiting for the sun to set and the canyon to get dark. And make sure you have at least one good quality torch (preferably a head-torch) and spare batteries for each person.
Check the National Park Grand Canyon track alerts page before setting out, as the walking track is closed from time to time due to flooding, bushfires or track maintenance.
More info on the Grand Canyon in the Blue Mountains
- National Parks (NPWS) – Grand Canyon
- Wildwalks Grand Canyon Track
- Bushwalking NSW – Grand Canyon loop
- Blue Mountains Gazette – Grand Canyon at Blackheath goes one way