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 arguably the most picturesque rainforest with some classic Blue Mountains views along the cliff-line from Evans Lookout to Pulpit Rock.
Grand Canyon Walking Track (Neates Glen to Evans Lookout)
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, and from here you would normally complete the circuit, following the road and some short sections of bushwalking trails back to the Neates Glen carpark. But no, that would too easy… we’re now continuing our journey along the top of the cliff.
Cliff Top Track and Pulpit Rock Track (Evans Lookout to Pulpit Rock)
The Cliff Top walking track follows the edge of the cliff between Evans Lookout and Govetts Leap: it offers “some of the most breath taking scenic views in all of the Blue Mountains” and is considered one of the top Blue Mountains bushwalks in its own right. So it’s the perfect addition to the rainforest landscape of the Grand Canyon.
It’s a completely different landscape on top of the cliff, with some taller eucalyptus forest in sections as well as heathland with she-oaks, banksias and stunted mallee scrub. We don’t see any yellow-tailed black cockatoos which are prevalent in this area, but we’re are greeted by a crimson rosella near the carpark.
The track follows the edge of the escarpment quite closely, with there’s frequent views of into the valley and of the nearby cliffs.
The well-made track is relatively flat and it’s easy walking – but it does descend a little to Barrow Lookout, named after 19th century surveyor Isaac Le Pipre Barrow. A platform provides nice views down Govetts gorge. To the left of the lookout you can see Bridal Veil Falls (Govetts Leap Brook), and below are the “Govetts hanging gardens” – a mat of vegetation fed by water seeping through the rock.
Down a little further and the path crosses Govetts Leap Brook, just before it plunges off the cliff. We have a late lunch near here, on a shaded rock next to the track. One of the (only) downsides of this walk is there’s dense bush one side of the track, and a 500m drop on the other…!
From Govetts Leap Brook it’s a gentle up towards Govetts Leap Lookout, another popular Blue Mountains vantage point. It’s a huge viewing area (but gets busy on weekends) and looks straight down Govetts Gorge, with Explorers Wall on the other side.
We continue from here to Pulpit Rock via Horseshoe Falls on the Pulpit Rock Track. The track still follows the cliff, with occasional views through the trees over the valley, and there’s a few muddy sections.
The first lookout – Laws Lookout – is soon reached, which offers similar views as from Govetts Leap over Govetts Gorge. There’s an upper and lower lookout: the lower viewing platform juts out like the bow of a ship.
Another few hundred metres on is Horseshoe Falls Lookout. As well as views across the Grose Valley. you can just see Horseshoe Falls to the left.
We decide to head back from here (rather continuing another 3km to Pulpit Rock as originally planned) so we have time to visit the Three Sisters on the way home. We catch a taxi from Govetts Leap back from our car: 13 CABS Katoomba (13 2227) were quick to pick us up. (I called from Govetts Leap and had OK service with Telstra – but you might want to pre-book to be safe!).
The Pulpit Rock Track had a few lookouts that we missed, including Boyd Lookout (which looks over the Grose Valley and has a great view of Pulpit Rock). Once back at our car, we drove to Pulpit Rock, which is one of the most impressive lookouts in the Blue Mountains.
There’s multiple tiers, each offering a slightly different – and impressive – perspective of the Grose Valley, Mount Banks and Mount Hays.
The last viewing platform, accessed by a steel flight of metal stairs, is perched over Govetts Gorge on the tip of Pulpit Rock.
Was a great walk, and one I’d highly recommend if you want to get the best of the Blue Mounains in one day, from a spectacular canyon to some of the most scenic lookouts.
9.3km one-way (Neates Glen to Horseshoe Falls Lookout). 4 hours.
Grand Canyon loop: 6.3km
Evans Lookout to Govetts Leap: 3.2km (one-way)
Govetts Leap to Pulpit Rock Lookout: 3.8km (one-way)
4.8km Blackheath station to Neates Glen carpark 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] 7.8km Barrow Lookout 8.3km Govetts Leap Lookout [car access] 8.5km Laws Lookout 8.7km Horseshoe Falls Lookout 8.8km Horseshoe Falls 10.0km Boyd Lookout 12.1km 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. It also means if you have time and energy left, you can continue the walk along the Cliff Top Track.
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
- NPWS Grand Canyon and Cliff Top Track information
- Wildwalks Grand Canyon Track, Cliff Top Track and Pulpit Rock Track
- Bushwalking NSW – Grand Canyon loop
- Blue Mountains Gazette – Grand Canyon at Blackheath goes one way
Molly · October 11, 2020 at 12:52 am
Always a pleasure reading these gorgeous trip reports. That’s a crimson rosella not a king parrot though.
oliverd :-) · October 11, 2020 at 9:28 am
Thank you for the feedback, and appreciate the correction (have updated).