Fortress Ridge is one of the lesser-known trails in the Blue Mountain – but it provides access to a number of interesting places and a range of easy and harder routes… This bushwalk heads out to the end of the ridge (easy), and then down to Fortress Creek Falls (moderate/hard). You can also head out to Fortress Rock and Doctor Dark’s Cave. Or if you have time, combine both into one 13km bushwalk.
I’ve done this walk a few times: the first time on hot day when visibility was limited by smoke from bushfires to the north of Sydney, and another on a warm but clear day when you could appreciate the views! All of the routes start from the Fortress Ridge firetrail on the Mount Hay Road.
After 600m there’s a junction, where you need to veer right (the main firetrail bears left, towards Fortress Rock).
I continue straight ahead, with the firetrail becoming a little overgrown before eventually turning into a narrow walking track. There are some views from here over the Grose Valley – which are far more impressive on a clear day!
A bit further on, the trail splits into two (they soon re-join), with the right-hand track going up to a small sandstone outcrop that has a nice view back over the trail towards the start of the walk.
The trail undulates over a few hills as it follows the wide ridge… wearing long pants or gaiters is not a bad idea – it’s the first time in years I’ve bushwalked in shorts, and my legs looked like I’d shaved them with a cheese grater by the time I finished the hike! (The second trip a few years later was not so bad – the trail is getting more traffic!)
The views get better as the trail progresses along Fortress Ridge.
At the end of Fortress Ridge is an open rock platform, with a spectacular panorama over the Grose Valley.
It’s even more spectacular on a clear day…
Immediately in front of Fortress Ridge looms Lockleys Pylon, in the distance is Mount Banks and below is Govett’s Creek, which flows into the Grose River.
Down to Fortress Creek Falls
I made the mistake last time of trying to continue down the end of the ridge get to Fortress Creek – and while I could see a track below, there was a bit of scramble down that I didn’t feel comfortable doing without some rope. This time, I spot the track a few hundred metres before the end of the ridge. It’s a fairly distinct trail, which is used as the exit track for the Fortress Creek Canyon – but is increasingly used by bushwalkers to access the end of Fortress Creek. The track is initially fairly level, as it follows the base of a low cliff.
As the track descends, it offers some more spectacular views over Govett Gorge.
The track soon starts to get much steeper as it descends towards Fortress Canyon. It’s mostly easy to to follow, but you need some basic route-finding skills (the AllTrails GPX route is fairly accurate). Once you reach the bottom it gets a bit tricky – there’s no obvious route, but once you find the creek you just need to follow it a short distance downstream. There’s one spot where you need to wade throgh some shallow water, and duck under two large boulders.
The destination will be obvious once you reach it: a series of small rockpools in the creek, just before it plunges over the cliff into Govett Gorge. There’s also a spectacular view (yes, another one!) towards Lockleys Pylon and the Grose Valley.
If the area above the Fortress Creek Falls is busy, as you head back up the track there’s another spot you can easily access the creek, by following the base of the tall canyon wall. You’ll reach the creek at end of a narrow canyon,
This is a much nicer spot to enjoy a swim, and experience a small part of the Fortress Creek Canyon.
Fortress Canyon entry track
On the walk back, I explore one of the access tracks that is used by canyoners to reach the start of the Fortress Canyon route. The fairly distinct trail is easy to follow down to the creek, and despite a prolonged dry spell, the creek was still flowing – but the upper stretches of Foetress Creek are overgrown. I thought I might follow the creek a short distance upstream and take another access track back. But it was just too much effort to get through the thick scrub that filled the narrow gully.
Going the other direction (downstream) was a bit easier, and a nice overhang surrounded by ferns that made a nice spot for a break, before heading back up to the main track. (It is possible to continue down Fortress Creek and return via the Fortress Ridge track, but at least one abseil is required and a wetsuit recommended as there are some long swims.)
The one downside to this walk is that Fortress Creek Falls has made onto the Instagram circuit, so expect a few people here on weekends – go during the week if you can.
0.0km Fortress Ridge carpark (Mt Hays Road) 0.7km Junction with firetrail to Fortress Rock; continue straight 1.5km First access track to Fortress Creek 2.0km Second access track to Fortress Creek 4.0km End of Fortress Ridge 4.2km Turn left onto Fortress Creek access track 4.8km Fortress Creek Falls 5.6km Fortress Ridge trail 7.2km Optional side trip: Take second access track down to Fortress Creek +2km 9.1km Return to Fortress Ridge carpark
Getting to Fortress Ridge
The Fortress Ridge trailhead is about 8.7km along Mount Hay Road (from the Great Western Highway at Leura), and about 1.3km before the Lockleys Pylon trailhead. Most of Mount Hay Road is unsealed but it’s usually suitable for any vehicle – if there’s been a big storm the road can get in pretty bad condition and a 4WD/SUV is recommended. There’s a small parking area (but not much signage) at the start of the firetrail, which can get full especially on weekends (in which case park on the shoulder of the road). It’s about a 25min drive from Katoomba and 1:45min from Sydney.
More information on Fortress Ridge
- Wildwalks track notes for Fortress Ridge Trail
- Hiking Scenery Fortress Ridge Track has some photos taken on a clear day!
- OzUltimate Fortress Canyon describes a route which follows Fortress Creek and requires one or two abseils
- Veechi Stuart, Blue Mountains Best Bushwalks has the shorter walk to Fortress Rock
Edward Hathway · November 23, 2019 at 9:44 pm
I’ve seen that side trip and wondered where it went. Now I know 😃. If you haven’t been to Venus Tor before I can recommend that walk. Starts at the end of Mt Hay Road and is an extension of the climb to Mt Hay.
oliverd :-) · November 24, 2019 at 2:18 am
I happened to see your blog post on Venur Tor… thanks… it is now now on my To Do list! But going to wait for a clear day!