Note: Parts of the National Pass and Valley of the Waters trails have been closed since 2017 after major landslides. Hopefully these tracks will re-open; reports suggest that the tracks are still in good condition.
The Hippocrene and Vera Falls Loop is a spectacular bushwalk, which combines some of the best lookouts and waterfalls of the Blue Mountains. From the start of the walk at the end of Falls Road (or the Wentworth Falls Picnic Area) you initially won’t be on your own – part of this loop is very popular, even on weekdays (the short Undercliff-Overcliff loop is a much shorter and easier version of this walk). The well-maintained trail descends gently from the road towards Jamison Creek.
Down the National Pass to Slacks Stairs
Just after Queens Cascade is a junction with the Rocket Point Circuit, and the start of the National Pass Track, which is carved into the side of a vertical cliff face.
The National Pass was opened in 1908, after taking two years to construct created between 1906 and 1907 using picks, shovels, crowbars and dynamite, and underwent major restoration works in 2002. The track has over 1,800 cut stone steps and stepping stones.
The remarkable National Pass stone staircase, at about 100 metres high and Australia’s tallest outdoor staircase, allowed ladies in long dresses and extravagant hats to reach the bottom of Wentworth Falls. The staircase and its associated access track to the Valley of the Waters took four local Irish immigrants about 18 months to construct.Jim Smith, The Blue Mountains walking tracks heritage study
The Grand Stairway descends steeply down the cliff, offering some spectacular views down the Jamison Valley and the cliffs on the opposite side.
At the bottom of the Grand Stairway is the middle of Wentworth Falls; the National Pass crosses Jamison Creek below the impressive waterfall before entering a rainforest-like forest.
The well-constructed (or well-restored) National Pass Track ascends the valley on the opposite side of Jamison Creek, through shaded rainforest. There some glimpses of the top of Wentworth Falls though the trees.
While not as dramatic as the Grand Stairway, this section of the National Pass is still an impressive feat of engineering as it follows a ledge in the cliff-line.
Just before Slacks Stairs is a great view of the upper and lower drop of Wentworth Falls – you can see why it’s the highest Blue Mountains waterfall, with a total dtrop of 187m.
Wentworth Pass and Slacks Stairs
The National Pass soon reaches a junction with the Wentworth Pass; while the National Pass continues along the cliff-line (providing an alternative and easier route), the Wentworth Pass Track continues to descend towards the bottom of the valley.
Most of the almost vertical descent is via the Slacks Stairs, built in the 1930s to link the National Pass and Wentworth Pass. The stairs are named after Isaac Platt Slack, a Parramatta real estate agent and Auctioneer, who was also Chairman of the Wentworth Falls Group of the Blue Mountains Sights Reserve Trust.
The Wentworth Pass reaches the base of Wentworth Falls, where on a warmer day you might enjoy a swim… but it’s not a warm day, and the temperature at the bottom of the valley is a lot cooler than it is at the top.
Hippocrene Falls Track and Vera Falls Track
At the base of the falls is another junction, and another alternative loop. You can return via the Wentworth Falls Track, or continue along the longer and less distinct Hippocrene Falls Track and Vera Falls Track, which is where I’m headed. Altough the track is initially very obvious, a sign does warn you’re entering a Remote Area and an Unmarked route.
It’s a very pleasant walk through semi-rainforest along Jamisons Creek, and the track is mostly obvious. Despite being an “unmarked route” it’s interesting to ocassionally encounter a few stone steps, and there’s the odd arrow or informal marker where the track is more indistinct.
It’s about a kilometre before the Hippocrene Falls Track reaches the Hippocrene Falls. I head directly down to the picturesque waterfall, where the pool at the base would be very inviting for a swim on a warm day, and enjoy a short break here. I then head downstream and a short distance up the bank of the creek to pick up the track again.
The track now becomes fairly indistinct (I appreciate the very infrequent ribbon) and the going gets a lot slower as the route crosses Den Fenella Creek, and passes the juncture of Jamison Creek (which I’ve been following from Wentworth Falls) and Valley of the Waters Creek. What’s a bit disconcerting is that I’ve been walking downstream for the last couple of hours, but I’m now suddenly walking upstream. The Valley of the Waters Creek flows into Jamison Creek, and the Vera Falls Track (as it’s now called) follows it upstream.
It all looks pretty obvious on the topo map, but on the ground it’s not at all obvious that I’ve reached the very bottom of the valley, or where the two creeks meet.
Continuing along what it sometimes a track and sometimes not, I reach the base of Vera Falls – sometimes called the sister falls to Hippocrene Falls (it’s formed by the same band of rock) – which is also quite a picturesque waterfall.
It’s a short back-track to find the trail that ascends out of the valley – it’s a pretty distinct track, which soon reaches a junction with a side-track to the top of Vera Falls (it’s a also a good track, but it’s narrow with a rather steep drop on one side).
It’s worth the detour, with the top of the falls offering a great view of Kedumba Walls on the opposite side of the valley and small cascades along Valley of the Waters Creek.
Once back on Vera Falls Track, it’s a constant but gradual ascent out of the valley.
The track has a few official (NPWS) markers and is very distinct – but has the occasional obstacle as reminder that this is a route, and not a trail. Just after a small cascade along Valley of the Waters Creek, there’s a creek crossing with a scramble up the other side that I don’t manage to neogiate without getting a wet foot.
It’s only mid-afternoon, but feels much later with almost no sun reaching the track as it continues to ascend under tall Coachwood forest. After passing the historic Roberts Pass track (an alternative but long exit route which takes you up tothe Fairmont Resort), a marker denotes the end of the Vera Falls Track.
Valley of the Waters Track
I’m now on the Valley of the Waters Track, which continues up to the junction with the Wentworth Pass track.
The next section is very scenic, and slow-going as I stop to take many photos. The track follows the Valley of the Waters Creek very closely, passing a series of small waterfalls – Red Rock Falls, Brittania Falls and Flat Rock Falls.
The track passes the junction with the National Pass after a long series of stone steps.
The scenery gets even more spectacular, with the Valley of the Waters Track crossing the Valley of the Waters Creek again just below the small Lodore Falls. Soon after this cascade, the track ascends next to the breathtaking Sylvia Falls.
Just as I think the scenery can’t get any more spectacular, the Valley of the Waters Track reaches a beautiful pool at the base of Empress Falls (named Queen Victoria, who was also the Empress of India).
Another series of stones steps follows the waterfall all the way to the top, where there is a view through the trees of the top of the falls.
The track now follows Isobel Creek (which flows into Valley of the Waters Creek), crossing the creek below a small waterfall before meeting the Nature Track. (The Nature Track passes another few waterfalls, but I’ve been waterfall-ed out for today, so I’m heading back via the Overcliff Track.)
The track passes under a wide overhang and then up a set of metal stairs to reach the top of the cliffs.
From the Empress Lookout there’s a view down into the narrow valley towards Empress Falls, and the cliffs of the escarpment in the distance.
Soon after the Empress Lookout, the Valley of the Waters Track meets the Overcliff Track, which follows the top of the cliff-line back to the car (you can also take the shorter and less scenic Shortcut Track). A short detour down to the edge of the cliff leads to the Queen Victoria Lookout.
The passes the Lyrebird Lookout as it follows the top of the cliffs.
Next is Breakfast Point Lookout, which offers similar views over the Jamison Valley as the last couple of lookouts, before the Overcliff Track reaches the junction with Den Fenella Track. (If you have the time, the Den Fenella Track descends to the Den Fenella Falls and the Den Fenella Lookout.)
The Overcliff Track ascends gently back to Jamisons Lookout, and the Wentworth Falls Picnic Area, to complete the Hippocrene and Vera Falls Loop.
While the Hippocrene and Vera Falls Loop can appear much shorter when drawn on a map, it’s a 12-15km walk (depending on the side-trips taken) with some sections where route-finding is required. Allow at least 5-6 hours for this bushwalk.
Getting to the Hippocrene and Vera Falls
You can start the Hippocrene and Vera Falls Loop from the Wentworth Falls Picnic Area (which is at the end of Sir H Burrell Drive), or the end of Falls Road. The loop works in either direction: going clockwise (as described) means a very steep descent involving hundreds of steps and a few ladders, and a (comparatively) longer but much less steep ascent. The Wentworth Falls Picnic Area is about 3.2km from Wentworth Falls village and station.
Although there are a few loops you can do from Wentworth Falls, the Hippocrene and Vera Falls Loop is one of the most challenging, and while some of the tracks are always fairly busy you’ll avoid the crowds on the more remote Vera Falls Track and Hippocrene Falls Track.