Three Short Hikes in Death Valley

 

A drive through Death Valley, with three short hikes that explore the highs and lows (altitude-wise) of the area.

After hiking to Telescope Peak the previous day – the highest point at 11,049 ft (3,368m) above sea level – today’s a relatively easy day before I drive back to Las Vegas. I’ve picked three short hikes that take in some of the varied landscapes of the park:

  • Zabriskie Point where the Badlands Loop goes through gulches and along ridges, and provides a close view of some of the rock formations of Death Valley
  • Dante’s View, one of the highest points you can get to by car where two short walks provide sweeping views from the lowest to the highest points in Death Valley
  • Badwater, the lowest point of the US for a hike across the salt flats.

Starting at Beatty, outside the park, I start fairly early as the morning light is best for photography of the salt pans. There’s nice morning light and no traffic as the dead-straight road (Highway 374) heads for the Grapevine Mountains.

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Visibility is still a bit obscured by smoke from fires burning in California.

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It’s a surprisingly hilly place – there are multiple mountain ranges between the vast plains; Death Valley itself is bounded by the Panamint Mountains on one side and Amargosa Range on the other.

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Directly ahead of Highway 190 is the Amargosa Range runs which along most of the eastern side of California’s Death Valley, separating it from Nevada’s Amargosa Desert. Its highest peak at 8,738 feet (2,663 m) is Grapevine Peak.

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Zabriskie Point

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My first stop is Zabriskie Point, which is at the foothills of the Amargosa Range. There’s a very short walk to a popular lookout here, which provides a vantage point over the desolate landscape.

Looking west, across Death Valley, is the Panamint Range in the background. The jagged peak in the middle is Manly Peak, located half inside Death Valley National Park, and half inside the Manly Peak Wilderness area.

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To really experience the desert landscape, there’s two short, circular hikes that start here: the Golden Canyon Loop and the Badlands Loop.

I’m taking the shorter (2.7 miles / 4.3km) Badlands Loop, which gives you a great feeling for the dramatic landscape.

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The hike, sign-posted by frequent arrows and easy to follow, heads down a narrow gully carved by infrequent (but heavy) rain to Zabriskie Point Junction.

From Zabriskie Point Junction the trail follows a much broader gully, which is a major artery of Gower Gulch, in a south-westerly direction.

After about 1.3 miles there’s a junction, which is also the lowest point of the Badlands Loop. Continue straight ahead down Gower Gulch (and back via Golden Canyon) to form a longer circuit. Or head back up a narrower gully to complete the shorter Badlands Loop, which is what I do (I’m doing the circuit in an anti-clockwise direction).

From the junction the track ascends from Gower Gulch, following the ridges of the hills. Looking much like sand dunes, you can almost visualise the ancient lake bed being  folded and faulted into the irregular white hills that exist today.

This is the most spectacular part of the short loop: as the trail ascends along the ridges of the hills, you can see the rugged terrain, and the Panamint mountain range in the distance.

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You can also see the distinct difference between the lighter hills formed from alluvial material from the lake bed, which is rich in borax, and the darker peaks formed by lava from eruptions that occurred 3-5 million years ago. (Borax, also known as white gold, was mined in the region in the 1880s and some many mines shafts remain, including several abandoned Borax mines along the Badlands Loop.)

Towards the end of the Loop, I can see Zabriskie Point in the distance (top right of the photo below) and the gully that leads back to the starting point.

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Rather than following the marked track back, I head straight up one of the ridges that leads towards the lookout. It eventually becomes a rough track obviously used by others to reach the lookout point.

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From Zabriskie Point, I take – which is now starting to get a bit  busier – I take a last photo of the panoramic views.

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Dante’s View

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My next stop, a bit further along Highway 190, is Dante’s View. While not as high as Telescope Peak, it provides one of the best views over the white salts flats and most of the 110-mile long Death Valley. Getting there is half the fun, with Dante’s View Road rising steeply up from Highway 190 to the viewpoint.

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The views from the parking are pretty impressive, even without walking anywhere… but a couple of short trails provide even better vantage points. To the south-west of the car park, a trail leads down the ridge.

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The views from the trail take in the salt flats of Badwater at 282 feet (86m) below sea level and directly behind it (at the very top left of the photo) Telescope Peak at 11,049 ft (3,368m) above sea level.

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As you descend further down the ridge on the rough track, you can see further down the length of Death Valley to the north.

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It feels like you could continue down the ridge all the way to the salt flats… but we’re still 5,275 feet (1610m) above sea level.

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At the northern of the car park, another trail heads up the ridge – it goes for four miles up to Mt Perry (I only went about 0.3 miles).

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The outlook is pretty much the same as from the southern end of the carpark, although it’s more of a rocky and rugged environment. And there are no other people around. There are unimpeded views of the Badwater salt flats and the Panamint Ranges.

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The main benefit of hiking in this direction is that you also get the slightly less impressive view to the east, of the Greenwater Range.

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From here I need to back-track a little, heading back up past Zabriskie Point toward Furnace Creek, and then down Badwater Road. One of the main roads through Death Valley, Badwater Road follows the foothills of the Margarosa Mountains. The first section is almost dead straight and seems to go forever… many of Death Valley’s attractions are along this road, including Badwater.

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Badwater

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Probably the most popular attraction in Death Valley, Badwater is the lowest place in the USA, at 282 feet (86m) below sea level. A sign high up on the cliffs marks sea level, and reminds you how far down you are! (The highest point in the contiguous 48 states lies only 84.6 miles (136 km) to the northwest, and can be seen on a clear day from Telescope Peak and Dantes View – but not today due to the haze.)

Near the carpark and at the edge of the salts flats is a spring-fed pool – the accumulated salts of the surrounding basin make the water undrinkable. The name is thought to have come from an early explorer’s horse who refused to drink, thus giving rise to the name “bad water”.

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A long, white salty “finger” stretches out from the end of the boardwalk, providing access onto the salt flat. I later read that one should stay on the boardwalk to avoid crushinng the tiny Badwater snail – but there’s no signage requesting visitors to stay off the salt, and most people are venturing onto the salt flat. Looming high above Badwater are the Black Mountains, part of the Amargosa Range – Dante’s View where I’ve just come from is almost 6,000 feet above me.

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Continuous freeze–thaw and evaporation cycles have created the hexagonal honeycomb patterns of the salt pan, which stretch all the way into the distance to Panamint Mountains on the other side.

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I walk as far as I can. It’s about two miles to the far end of the salt pan, below the towering Panamint Range, where the smooth salty surface ends. A bit further on is Shorty’s Well on the opposite side of the salt pan, and the starting point for a very arduous hike from -282 feet up to the Telescope Peak summit at 11,049 feet!

From the salt pan I continue down Badwater Road, which winds around the edge of the salt flats and the foothills of the Black Mountains for a while, before becoming dead straight again. Towards the end of the Black Mountain range, the road bears east and crosses the mountains at Jubilee Pass, before leaving Death Valley National Park.

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I think I’ll be back – there are many more walks I’d like to do, and while I’ve always associated Death Valley with the salt pans, there’s a huge diversity of landscapes.

Location Anywhere in / around Death Valley – I found relatively inexpensive accommodation at Beatty, just outside the park.
Distance
  • Badlands Loop – 2.7m / 4.3km (a longer 4.3m loop can be also be done from here)
  • Dante’s View – 1.6m / 2.5km (can be extended up to 4 miles by going to Mt Perry)
  • Badwater salt flats – up to 4m / 6.4km if you go to the other side of the salt pan
Grade Easy. Minimal elevation gain for these hikes/=.
Season/s Avoid summer, when it’s too hot to hike
Maps National Geographic “Death Valley” 1:165,000
Resources
  • Hiking Death Valley National Park (Falcon Guide) book
  • Free Death Valley National Park brochure from ranger stations

Gibraltar Peak, Tidbinbilla

Gibraltar Peak (1,038m), a rocky outcrop with extensive views, is a circular walk in the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve that’s only 45min from the Canberra city centre.

One of the longer walks in the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve, not far from the centre of Canberra, Gibraltar Peak is the perfect early morning walk before a day of meetings. The start is well sign-posted about 5min drive from the Tidbinbilla Visitor Centre, starting from the Dalsetta carpark. The trail crosses a grassy plain on the opposite side of the road to the carpark, with regular track markers.

Given the acres of green grass, I probably shouldn’t have been surprised to see a mob of kangaroos, including one that bounded down the track in front of me. I haven’t seen this many ‘roos in one place for a long time!

The trail rises very gently at first, on a broad, sandy path through low heath. There’s some intepretative signage, explaining that the track is traversing the land of the Ngunnawal Aboriginal people. While the women and children stayed on the plain teaching, dancing and holding ceremonies, the men and older boys went higher into the mountains for initiation rituals into manhood.

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The trail gradually gets steeper with a few switchbacks, before reaching Eliza Saddle, Eucalypt trees including the Broad-leaved Peppermint at the lower levels are replaced by grass trees and granite boulders as the path gains altitude.

After 3.5km there’s a very solid viewing platform, with a broad vista out to the east towards Canberra.

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Soon after the viewing platform is reached, the narrow bush track reaches the Gibraltar Fire Trail, which provides an alternate route back.

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Gibraltar Peak is only about 300m further, on a rocky trail that rises steeply up the last of the peak. There are soon views to the east across as the trail follows the edge of the mountains…

…and crosses some huge granite slabs, with the top of Gibraltar Peak more like a giant boulder field than a mountain summit!

The views are impressive, combining sweeping views to the east with odd-shaped boulders in the foreground. The Telstra Tower on Black Mountain is visible in the distance

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The trail ends at the base of large boulders forming the summit of Gibraltar Peak. There’s a narrow cleft between two of the largest boulders, with some smaller boulders wedged in the gap that allow you to clamber to the very top. Which I don’t manage to do… I get half-way up, but don’t feel confident scrambling up the second boulder that requires some gymnastic-like moves. I suspect the view from the very top would be even more impressive.

The return part of the loop is easy – and rather boring. After a short uphill section, the Gibraltar Fire Trail gently descends back towards the starting point.

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Near the bottom of the fire trail is the Xanthorrhoea Loop, which passes a stand of grass overlooking the valley. Don’t bother! There were just as many grass trees along the Gilbraltar Peak track.

Just after the Xanthorrhoea Loop, the trail leaves the fire trail and crosses the grassy plain, with the Tidbinbilla Range in the background.

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Looking back, you can see the rocky Gibraltar Peak, which really doesn’t really look like a peak from here!

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From here it’s a pleasant stroll across the grassy meadow, eventually re-joining the same track that I took to go up the mountain. And the kangaroos are still out in force, farewelling me as a return to the car park.

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Location Start at Dalsetta carpark, Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve
Distance 7.7km return
Grade Easy. Total elevation gain of 350m
Season/s All year.
Maps Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve free guide (from visitor centre or download here)
GPS Route Routie GPS trail – view route and export to KML format.
Map-GibraltarPeak
Tidbinbilla map showing walking tracks; Gibraltar Peak track is highlighted in yellow

Mount Faito – Trail of the Angels (Sorrento)

A spectacular cable car ride and scenic walk on Mount Faito, only 10min by train from Pompei – and a great way to avoid the crowds!

Only a few stops on the local train from Pompeii, this short but incredibly scenic diversion is well worth taking a few hours to explore (thanks Dad for the suggestion!). Aside from the views, it’s a welcome diversion from the crowds of Rome and Pompeii. The best part of this walk is getting there via a cable car, which starts from the Castellammare Di Stabia train station on the Circumvesuviana line. Departing every 20 minutes, a ticket can be purchased from the rather nondescript train station.

There were only about 10 people making the trip up, and while I’ve read it’s a popular weekend escape from the heat for locals, on a week-day in late September it wasn’t at all busy.

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There’s great views on the ten-minute journey up, looking out over the Bay of Naples to Mt Vesuvius on the other side. Even without doing a walk at the top it would be worth the round-trip (there’s a small restaurant/cafe at the top).

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From the top of the cable car, there’s a path that leads down the mountain (so you could also walk up – or down – and catch the cable car one-way). Mount Faito is one of the peaks along the Lattari mountain chain, at the base of the Sorrento Peninsula. We find the path that continues up the mountain, which starts at the far end of a shaded picnic ground just above the cafe/restaurant.

It’s easy walking – the first part of the trail to the from the cable car to the Monastery of San Michele is called the “trail of the angel”, as it traces the route taken by the saints Catello and Antonino over 1000 years ago. The trail follows the edge of the mountain, and there are views over Salerno and the distant peaks Piano di Trebucchi.

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As the trail gradually ascends, it crosses some sections of rocky limestone and then a section of tall trees.

After about 40min walking, we reach Porta del Faito, a small clearing on the ridge with views over the Bay of Naples toward Vesuvius.

We admire the impressive views for a while, before turning back – it’s already 1pm and we need to meet the other half of the family at Pompeii. From here. it would be another 15-20min to the Monastery of San Michele and about an hour more to Monte San Michelle, the highest peak in the area. (Also called Il Molare, as it’s shaped like a molar!)

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We re-trace our steps back the cable car, enjoying the views a second time on our descent back to Castellammare Di Stabia train station. (On the way down, we see – and hear – explosions and smoke emanating from a building on a distant ridge, which seem to be fireworks exploding. We never managed to figure out what it was!)

Location A cable car (funicular) departs from the Castellammare Di Stabia station on the Circumvesuviana train line (there’s also a bus to the top or you can drive), in the Sorrento area. Can be combined with a day-trip to Pompeii from Rome.
Distance 1.8km to Porta del Faito (one-way), as walked.
Approx 4km (one way) to Monte San Michelle. Allow 2-3 hours.
Grade Easy. Total ascent 100m (as walked, to Porta del Faito). Approx 350m ascent to Monte San Michelle
Season/s All year. (Cable car closed December-March)
Resources Cable car (funicular) timetable
Map-Faito2015
Map of Monte Faito with route taken highlighted

Gorges, waterfalls and peaks of Tivoli

Tivoli (or Tibur in ancient Roman times) is home to a number of historic sites, including Villa Gregoriana (a complex of paths, waterfalls and grottoes) and is also the starting point for a walk up into the surrounding hills.

I’ve got a “free day” in Rome before the rest of the family arrives (they’ve already been in Europe for over a week)… a Google search for the best walks around Rome leads me to Tivoli. It’s less than an hour away, and seems to offer the opportunity for some short walks, as well as Villa Gregoriana with its waterfalls and grottoes. (There’s also Villa D’Este and Villa Adriana, both UNESCO World Heritage sites, which I don’t have time to visit.)

Villa Gregoriana

I make my way from the station to the famous Villa Gregoriana, about a 10-minute walk away. After disastrous floods in 1826 which destroyed almost all the homes in the oldest part of Tivoli, there was a public competition find way to deviate the course of the Aniene river and prevent future floods. The project was authorised and financed by Pope Gregory XVI. Following the diversion of the river the Villa Gregoriana park was created using the old river bed of the Aniene.

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The best project for diverting the river was judged to be that of Clemente Folchi, who proposed a digging a tunnel through Monte Catillo. A short diversion from the main path through Villa Gregoriana leads to the exit of the twin 300-metre tunnels, known as the Cunicoli Gregoriani (Gregorian Tunnels). They vary from 10 metres in width at the entrance to 7.20m at the exit.

The massive project to divert the river moved the course of the Aniene, and shifted the falling point of the water away from the residential area. Even during a relatively dry period, the flow of water is pretty impressive.

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Slightly further down the main route are the remains the Villa of the Roman patrician Manlius Vopiscus. The villa was built in limestone, and the ruins that can be seen formed the foundations of the residence. A flood in 105BC destroyed part of the town, and swept away the villa.

As the main path descends into the valley, there’s a view of the lower falls. Perched above the river is the acropolis of ancient Tibur, located on an isolated rock opposite the waterfalls. Built in the 1st century AD, the site had two temples perched on the edge of the precipice.

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Another side path leads to a viewpoint overlooking the Great Waterfall; along the path are small caves and grottoes that are common in the porous travertine limestone.

There are a views of the river from along the narrow path. It looks very placid (the green colour being from the limestone) and it’s hard to imagine how the Aniene vally was referred to as the “valley of hell”, before the river was diverted.

It’s an impressive view of the artificial waterfall as the river emerges from the two tunnels from the viewpoint, with the water falling 105m into the valley below.

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After this diversion to the waterfall lookout, the main path descends to the Ponte Lupo clearing, at the base of the falls. Prior to the river’s diversion, the Ariene river formed a small lake here.

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Below the Ponte Lupo clearing, a natural bridge is formed when the river goes underground and into a tunnel. Called the “Mermaid’s Grotto” by the Swiss landscape artist Louis Ducron (at the end of the 18th century), the underground passage is thought to have been formed in the huge flood of 105AD.

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The path then climbs up the opposite of the valley, splitting into two routes. The more scenic option starts with a tunnel carved into the cliff, with side openings offering views of the underlying chasm  (Miollis tunnel). A very short diversion to the Nymphaeum viewpoint, an artificial cave looking out over valley below.

Another diversion leads to Neptune’s Grotto, carved out by the river centuries ago.

Due to the unusual geological composition of non-compact travertine (also known as calcareous tufa), which is highly porous, the grotto has many stalagmite-like formations.

Re-tracing my steps, I backtrack to see what the alternate route to the top is like – it’s much less impressive, but boasts views over the Aniene Valley. Directly opposed is the convent of Sant’ Antonio (thought to be built on the ruins of the Villa of Horace), and you can just make out a train that’s coming into Tivoli from Rome.

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The route finishes at the Temple of Vesta and Tiburnus. There are ten surviving Corinthian columns of the Temple of Vesta, which includes a frieze at the top with festoons and bucrania. In the distance, above the town, I can see a large cross on a hill which is my next destination…

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Monte Catillo

From the temples at the exit of Villa Gregoriana, I walk back through the town, in the vague direction of the large cross on top of the hill…   After following the main road (Via Quintilio Vaso) uphill for a few hundred metres, there’s a steep and narrow road (Don Strada Nello Del Raso) that heads past of a block of units. It seems promising, so I can continue upwards, with some nice views of the town.

A little further there’s a foot-track off the road, and even some signage that would help if I actually knew where I was heading… I continue with a bit more confidence, as I do have a map that shows a “330” trail, which corresponds with the sign at the start of the trail.

Even from the start of trail, there’s some nice views of Tivoli and the Temple of Vesta below.

While the views are great and I’m clearly on a path that’s going somewhere, what’s a bit perplexing is that I seem to be heading past Monte Catillo and its prominent cross, and there’s no been no obvious turn-off to the rocky peak (I’ve also seen references to the cross being on Monte Della Croce, which is just below Monte Catillo).

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I continue along the track… what I don’t expect to find in what seems to be the middle of nowhere is a soccer field!

I’m now well above the cross, so I veer off the marked route and head directly towards it, down the ridge. It’s a bit rocky but it’s not difficult walking and takes about 15min to reach the base of the cross. There’s panoramic views over Tivoli, with the railway station on the left and historic town directly ahead.

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I can see the track I’ve been on snaking up the hill – but there’s no plaque or information about why such a large cross has been put here.

There’s no obvious track down from here (I thought maybe I’d missed the track to the peak), but it’s pretty easy to find a route back down to the main track. There does seem to be a side-track up to the cross, but it’s not obvious and not sign-posted.

I’ve still got a bit of time, so I re-trace my steps up the hill, past the soccer field and onwards… As the trail rises, there’s increasingly expansive views over Tivoli and beyond.

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The track swings to the north, and after being fairly exposed it enters a forest consisting of cork oaks. There’s a few side-trails here, but the main one continues up and over Monte Giorgio. As you climb further up there’s a view to the east of the village of Bivio San Polo below and Castel Madama in the distance.

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The track passes a gate as it keeps heading up the ridge, and about 500m after the gate I seem to be at about the the highest point, with the track now continuing north along the ridge.

I turn back as the track starts to descend slightly, as I have a train back to Rome I need to catch. I enjoy one final vista of Tivoli and the surrounding countryside before re-tracing my steps.

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It looked like a longer circuit would be very feasible, and I discover later a useful blog post which describes a longer circuit, including the route I’ve taken.

Location Tivoli is easily reached by train from Roma Termini (central station). Villa Gregoriana is  450min walk from the railway station and the start of Route 330 is 800m from the station.
Distance Approx 11km (Villa Gregoriana and the Monte Catillo walk)
Grade Moderate (approx 500m total ascent)
Season/s All year (may be snow on Monte Catillo in winter)
Maps Free map “Riserva naturale Monte Catillo” (1:100K) – I got this from Villa Gregoriana
GPS Route Google Maps GPS trail – view route and export to GPX format.
Resources RomeTheSecondTime blog has a useful post describing a circular route from Tivoli

Meander Falls and Split Rock Circuit (Western Tiers)

One of Tasmania’s 60 Great Short Walks, the hike to Meander Falls can be done as a circular walk, taking in a variety of terrain and a number of smaller (but equally impressive) falls by taking the Split Rock Track back.

The plan was to do an overnight walk to the Walls of Jerusalem. But with the weather forecast predicting rain and snow, I decided to leave the backpack in Sydney and stick to a couple of day walks instead. Meander Falls was my pick for the first day, being fairly close to Walls of Jerusalem National Park (as I’m still doing a Walls of Jerusalem hike the following day) as the weather seemed much better to the east. It’s a fairly late start – about 10:45am – when I reach the well sign-posted start of the walk.

The track follows the Meander River upstream, ascending fairly steadily but not steeply at the start, and crossing some side streams.

The track is not always obvious – I veer off a couple of times before realising my error – but there’s frequent orange triangles marking the correct route. The track is sometimes above the Meander River, which can be glimpsed through the thick forest cover below..

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…at other times the track is close to the river, and there are a few boggy sections where some care is needed to avoid wet feet.

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There’s a very steep section after about 3km, before the first glimpse of Meander Falls in the distance. The forest also changes subtly from here, being a bit more open than the semi-rainforest I’ve been walking through along the lower reaches of the Meander River.

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The falls get more impressive as you get closer, falling 130 metres over two tiers. The last

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As the track nears Meander Falls it becomes somewhat indistinct, but it’s easy to find a way down the slope to the base of the falls. It’s an impressive sight and I regret not taking my DSLR and a wide angle lens, as I can barely fit the entire waterfall into the photo. I’m the only person here and I enjoy the serenity of the waterfall and the clear pools at the botton… Although not for too long, as it gets cold pretty quickly once I stop moving!

I re-trace my steps, but only for about 300m, as I’m going back via the Split Rock Track (also referred to as the Cleft Rock Track) to make this a circular walk. The  Split Rock Track is a bit rougher but still easy to follow, as it descends and crosses the Meander River.

It’s not entirely clear where the track goes as it climbs up from the river to a massive scree slope. But once on the scree, a series of cairns provides an indication of the route that climbs the slope.

Looking back, Meander Falls can be seen again in the distance.

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Once the top of the scree field is reached, the track traverses thick heath, with a few boggy sections and oversize puddles for good measure… my topographical map suggests that there is a side-track to the top of Meander Crag, so I make this detour hoping to get some good photos from the top.

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There isn’t a track – at least not one that I can find. I manage to bush-bash to the base of the rocky summit, and climb up some of the way before it starts getting very steep. And very windy. There’s nice views over the Meander Conservation Area with Huntsman Lake in the distance, from halfway up the mini-mountain.

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After descending back to the Split Rock Track, I continue through the low heath before crossing another smaller scree field.

The track then enters into taller forest again, and descends quite steeply on a rough track. Rough as in lots of tree roots, uneven terrain and steep and slippery sections – but the trail is easy to follow.

There’s numerous small cascades, streams and sections of rainforest that make it pleasant walking.

As the trail descends, it goes through an enormous cleft in the rock – I can see where the track’s name is derived from!

At the bottom of this enormous split rocks there’s a waterfall, which is quite picturesque with the water cascading in front of a large and mossy overhang. According to my map, they don’t have a name…

…but I’ve also realised when looking at the map that I’ve made a small but annoying error: I’ve continued down the main Split Rock Track, and missed a turn-off to an alternate trail that goes past a number of falls. There’s another track that goes along the front of the waterfall and heads back up the hill. I feel compelled to head back up the hill to see what the other waterfalls I’ve missed look like. The track crosses another creek and small cascades, and I’m almost surprised I haven’t attracted any leeches (at least, not yet!).

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The next falls – which are marked on the map – are the Shower Cave Falls.  While the drop is not huge, there’s a fair amount of water cascading over the rock face, surrounded by ferns and towering trees above.

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Continuing up the narrow track through the heavily wooded forest, it’s not far until the next named waterfall.

Split Rock Falls is even more impressive than the last one. It’s possible to walk behind the falls which spill over a large overhang, and the rocks around the base are weathered and pock-marked by the constant falling water. This would be a good spot for a picnic – I encounter a small group of people I et earlier who are having a break on the far side of the falls.

There are a couple more huge caves and overhangs on way back up to the main track – a few of these you could easily camp under (although the walk is not really long enough to warrant an overnight trip).

I rejoin the “main track” about 30min later. The junction is incorrectly placed on the topographical map, and there is a sign – but it’s lying on the ground and is slightly confusing. If you’re coming back via Split / Cleft Rock trails you definitely should take the “waterfall way” – look for the junction at 41.72463, 146.53076 (or Quamby Bluff GR 610 811).

Once back on the main track I re-trace my steps back down through Split Rock (or maybe it’s Cleft Rock?). The track descends fairly steeply through tall trees, past a few more overhangs and along sections of rainforest.

Eventually the track meets the Meander River, where a suspension bridge takes you back across to the starting point, finishing a 50m or so down the road from the main track I took up.

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It’s been a great walk – no pun intended! The terrain’s been quite varied, there’s been a bit of route-finding to keep things interesting and the Split Rock Track back takes you past some very picturesque cacades and rock formations. Would be a fantastic walk to do in winter when Meander Falls sometimes freezes, with the right gear.

Route Summary
0.0km  Start at carpark (606m asl)
4.0km Junction with Split Rock Track (continue straight ahead for Meander Falls)
4.5km Meander Falls (1,060m asl)
5.0km Split Rock Track
5.6km Approx location of side-track to Meander Crag
7.6km Junction with alternate track via waterfalls
9.3km Waterfall track rejoins main Split Rock Track
10.6km Return to Carpark
Actual distance walked longer due to some side-trip and back-tracking.
Location 30km south-west of Deloraine. C167 from Deloraine to Meander, then follow signs to Meander Forest Reserve. Last few kilometres of road is unsealed and rough, but OK for 2WD vehicles.
Distance 12.3km circuit as walked (approx 9km to falls and back on main track)
Grade Moderate. Total elevation gain of 810m. Track is rough or non-existent in sections.
Season/s All year but may be snow/ice conditions in winter.
Maps
  • 4637 Breona (1:25,000)
  • 4638 Quamby Bluff (1:25,000)
GPS Route Routie GPS trail – view route and export to KML format.
Resources
  • Parks & Wildlife Service 60 Great Short Walks – Meander Falls

Glow Worm Tunnel via Pagoda Track

One of the shorter access routes to the Glow Worm Tunnel, passing through the spectacular pagoda-like rock formations on the way.

It’s been over three years since my last visit to the Glow Worm Tunnel, which I hiked with friends via the much longer track from Newnes after camping nearby. This time it’s a day-trip I’m leading with our local Cub pack, reaching the Glow Worm Tunnel via the shorter Old Coach Road and Pagoda Track.

At the the car park on Old Coach Road, there’s a log book. It’s a good time to explain to the Cubs that map-reading skills are important to make sure you’re at the right starting point! As one of the entries shows, there is an alternate carpark at the end of Glow Worm Tunnel Road, which is even closer to the tunnel than our start point.

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The walking track is the continuation of Old Coach Road, which is closed to traffic as is descends into the valley. There aren’t many flowers along the track even though it’s Spring – but the wattles are out in force!

After less than 500m there’s views from the track of the surrounding  pagodas, and

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A bit further on, and the pagodas are on both sides of the track, proving too much of a temptation for the Cubs!

The pagodas are the result of vertical cracks forming in a very thick layer of sandstone, which break along these joints into roughly rectangular blocks. Water erodes the rock more quickly than in the centre of the sandstone blocks, so the top of each block becomes a dome shape. Differences in the texture of the sandstone causes some layers to wear more quickly than others, generating the terraced appearance of the domes.

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It’s a pretty spectacular landscape!

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It’s pretty impressive from above too…

We finally drag the Cubs away from their Pagoda rock-climbing and continue down Old Coach Road. The road continues descending, passing a gate as it nears the bottom of the valley.

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Just after the gate, Old Coach Road joins the Pagoda Track, a narrower bush track. There’s a few huge caves and overhangs, and a hollowed-out tree that provides some more distractions for the Cubs as we descend the last section of track to the bottom of the valley. After about one kilometre the Pagoda Track meets the shorter track that leads from the carpark at the end of Glow Worm Tunnel Road, which is the shortest route to the tunnel.

The landscape changes along the valley floor, with towering eucalypts, ferns and patches or rainforest as we neat the tunnel entrance.

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Finally we arrive at the Glow Worm Tunnel entrance, half-hidden by ferns, and put on our head-torches for the last part of our walk through the tunnel.

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We all see the glow-worms once our torches are off, and our eyes adjust to the dark. The tunnel is quite busy today – and the Cubs were much more impressed with climbing the rock pagodas on the way down than the tunnel itself!

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We make our way back the same way, for a late BBQ lunch at the car park. The tunnel itself was much busier than my last visit, with most people accessing it via the Glow Worm Tunnel car park (1km), rather then the 3km route from the carpark at Old Coach Route. It’s also disappointing to see quite a few people behaving like dickheads – bringing their dog (which is prohibited in national parks, and clearly stated on the signs) and one person even smoking a cigarette as they walked through the tunnel. If you can, visit during the week or get here early.

Location Access from the top – as described above
Leave the Bells Line of Road at Clarence (Zig Zag Railway), and follow the gravel road through Newnes State Forest for 34kms. 

  • Park at the Glow Worm Tunnel parking area (1km each way) located 3km past the junction of the Glow Worm Tunnel Road and the Old Coach Road
  • Continue down Old Coach Road to the carpark (3km each way). This is what we did. Note: if using Google Maps, the carpark is not marked, but is at the intersection of Old Coach Road and the Tigersnake Canyon Track (-33.246764, 150.236225)

Access from the bottom (long walk) – refer previous blog post
Newnes is situated at the end of Wolgan Road, accessed via a turnoff from the Castlereagh Highway. (Head west from Lithgow for about 11km to a junction leading to Mudgee, then right onto the Castlereagh Highway; from here it’s another 5min until you reach Wolgan Road on your right).

Distance 6.8km return as walked
Grade Easy (215m ascent)
Season/s All year round
Maps
  • 89314S Ben Bullen (walk is well sign-posted)
  • Zig Zag Public School students created a cool guide to the Glow Worm Tunnel walks – download PDF
GPS Route Routie GPS trail – view route and export to KML format.
Notes
  • Bring torches (ideally a head torch) for the tunnel – but don’t shine the light onto the glow worms (and switch off torches to see the worms!)
  • To take photos, you’ll obviously need a tripod (try an exposure of 30sec / F4 at ISO1250 to capture the glow worms)
Map-GlowWormTunnel
Map showing route taken (Glow Worm Tunnel via Old Coach Road and Pagoda Track)

West Rim trail (Zion National Park)

The West Rim trail is one one of the longer day walks in Zion National Park, descending from Lava Point along the Horse Pasture Plateau to the floor of Zion Canyon.

The West Rim trail is the main objective of my visit to Zion National Park, after driving through the park from Bryce Canyon and taking the short but scenic Canyon Overlook trail yesterday.  I’d booked an early-morning shuttle up to the trailhead at Lava Point a few weeks ago, which would get me to the start of the track by about 8am. Although my guidebook suggested it was one of the most popular backpacking trails in Zion, there was just one couple who were taking the shuttle to Lava Point, and doing the walk over two days.

The track is well-sign posted as it heads across the Horse Pasture Plateau, past a turn-off to Wildcat Canyon (Lava Point to West Rim is part of a much longer multi-day walk, starting at Lee Pass on the western side of Zion National Park). It’s easy and pleasant walking along the plateau.

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In stark contrast to my hike at Bryce Canyon the previous days, there’s a plethora of flowering plants along the trail. The sego lily, native to a number of western states, is also the state flower of Utah. Very common and almost out of place along the verdant path is the Engelmann prickly pear. The most impressive are the white flowers of the yucca baccata, one of the most common yucca of the southwest.

After a few kilometres, there’s the first glimpses in the distance of some of the more dramatic cliffs and formations of Zion National Park to the east.

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Quite unexpectedly, a lookout provides a view to the west down the Left Fork, with the South Guardian Angel peak directly ahead. After a somewhat dull start (in terms of scenery!) the Zion landscape starts to reveal itself…

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After this tantalizing glimpse of the Zion peaks, the track continues down the middle of Horse Pasture Plateau, still descending gradually. It’s a very easy hike so far!

After four miles (6.4km) Potato Hollow is reached, one of the camping sites along the track. The track climbs briefly from here over a small ridge, from which there are views over the grassy meadow of Potato Hollow and the surrounding hills.

From the ridge above Potato Hollow, the track turns south, drops into a small valley before climbing up to another ridge. There are great views along the trail – apparently the result of a fire caused by lightning in 1980 that burnt most of the trees.

At the top of this last ridge is the junction with Telephone Canyon Trail, which is a slightly shorter route (it rejoins the main West Rim Trail 1.8 miles further on). There’s really no option though – the main West Rim Trail follows the edge of the escarpment and offers spectacular views. It’s worth the extra 1.4 miles!

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The views are fantastic along the entire section of this track, changing subtly as different mountains come into view. The earlier views (above) take in the white cliffs along the Right Fork of the North Creek and South Guardian Angel. As the track continues, Heaps Canyon can be seen, the Mountain of the Sun and Twin Brothers peaks in the distance, and the flat-topped Mount Majestic and Cathedral Mountain.

There’s an abundance of flowers along the trail, keeping the local bees and insects happy!

Shortly before re-joining the Telephone Canyon Trail, the West Rim Trail bears north-west as it rounds the southern tip of the plateau.

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As the trail continues to descend, it passes another couple of camping sites and a spring, which is right at the edge of the cliffs above Telephone Canyon (bottom right). The water is just a trickle and really needs filtration, so I just take a quick photo of the valley below and continue down West Rim Trail…

Not long after the spring and junction with the Telephone Canyon Trail, the trail starts to descend with vigour… We’re heading more or less straight down into the Behunin Canyon below.

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The track descends steeply through multiple switch-backs down the sheer sandstone cliff, before reaching the head of the valley below.

At the bottom there’s some patches of welcome shades from the tall trees – spruce and Douglas firs grow here, rarely found at such low elevations (I read this later!) but able to thrive due to the shade provided by the surrounding cliffs.

Unfortunately the shade doesn’t last long, and the track soon leaves the forest as it descends around the base of Mount Majestic before reaching a very solid bridge at the base of a side-canyon.

The track then starts to climb, as it passes the base of Cathedral Mountain (bottom left) and traverses a rocky outcrop. This section of track is quite undulating and hot in the midday sun.

I’m relieved to see Scout Lookout below, as the track descends down the steep ridge, with Angels Landing rising high above it.

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There’s impressive views for the last half a mile, down to the base of Angels Landing.

From Scouts Landing, there’s two options: continue down to the base of the valley, or follow the chains up to Angels Landing, along a narrow ridge that looks impossible to traverse.

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I head towards Angels Landing – it seems a fitting end to the day. Although there are hundreds of people with the same idea, and many look like they probably shouldn’t be here…

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The views down into the Zion valley are spectacular, even from the base of Angels Landing.

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I turn back well before the top – I’ve been once before, when I left very late in the day and had the trail almost to myself. Unlike today, where there’s a queue to the top. Trying to pass people who were already struggling well before the peak isn’t my idea of a fun afternoon! So, it’s down Walter’s Wiggles, the incredible set of switch-backs that goes to the bottom of the valley.

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It’s an impressive feat of engineering, named after Zion National Park’s first superintendent Walter Ruesch, who in 1926 constructed the trail to Angels Landing.

I’m glad I’m going down and not up; it’s still pretty warm and there’s not much space on the track down.

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Emerald Pools

After reaching the Virgin River (and having a quick swim to cool off), it’s still only mid-afternoon so I extend my hike by visiting The Grotto and Emerald Pools. (Interestingly, more people have died on the Emerald Pools trail than on the Angel Falls trail.) The Kayenta Trail follows the river downstream from The Grotto, where the West Rim Trail ends.

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It’s a relatively easy “extension” : although the trail undulates a little, there’s no steep sections.

The trail is pretty busy, being one of the more popular short hikes in Zion, as I make my way to the Middle Emerald Pools. There’s a bit of a flow, but nothing spectacular, and a few kid are swimming or wading in the small pool.

A little further on, the Lower Emerald Pools are a bit more impressive, with the trail passing under a long overhang.

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Water drips over the top – something in between a “drip” and “cascade” – and falls into the pools below the cliffs.

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From here it’s a paved path back to Zion Lodge, where there’s another bridge over the Virgin River.

Zion Lodge is a hive of activity, and I’m not too unhappy to catch a shuttle bus back my car which is parked at Springdale. I’ve enjoyed the walk, especially the middle bit, where the scenery is spectacular and I’ve encountered just a handful of people. Unfortunately, finishing at Angels Landing in peak season is a bit of a let-down after the serenity of the rest of the walk… it would be perfect to have done the walk in the opposite direction, getting to Angels Landing before the crowds. But getting a shuttle back from Lava Point would be pretty much impossible. Still, I’m not complaining – Zion National Park for the second time has not disappointed with its incredible scenery.

Location Starts at Lava Point and finishes at The Grotto (trailhead) or Zion Lodge. Shuttles can be booked from Springdale to Lava Point.
Distance Approx 14.5 miles (24km). 18 miles (29.7km) as walked with Emerald Pools, finishing at Zion Lodge
Grade Moderate (615m elevation gain / 1500m elevation loss)
Season/s Spring to Autumn (snowbound in winter)
Maps National Geographic “Zion Canyon” topographic map
GPS Route Garmin GPS trail – view route and export to GPX format.
Resources Hiking Zion and Bryce Canyon (Erik Molvar & Tamara Martin)

 

Canyon Overlook (Zion National Park)

A short but scenic walk just off the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway, which ends with an impressive view over lower Zion Canyon.

It’s my second visit to Zion National Park: I have a day here, after enjoying the jaw-dropping scenery at Bryce Canyon. Leaving Bryce in the late afternoon, I’ve got just enough time for a short walk on the way to Springdale, where I’m staying overnight. I’ve got an early start on the following day for the West Rim walk.

Coming from the east, I need to cross the national park via the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway. Completed in 1930, it’s an impressive ten-mile stretch of road as it winds past and through rock formation in the park. Near the middle are two tunnels carved through the rock. The second one is 1.1 miles long, with a number of windows along it’s length providing a glimpse of the valley below. Just before the second tunnel is a steep track down from the carpark into Pine Creek, a narrow slot canyon. I explore the first hundred metres or so, before there’s a steep drop. This is the first of six rappels in a strenuous but fairly short canyoneering route.

On the opposite of the road to Pine Creek is the start of the Canyon Overlook trail. The trail heads up a series of stone stairs, rising quickly above the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway and the start of the second and longest tunnel.

The trail then follows the upper walls of the Pine Creek Canyon, at times passing some overhangs.

As the trail progresses you can see down into Pine Creek canyon – far below I can see the small group of canyoners that I’d met half an hour earlier commencing their descent into the canyon.

A bit further on there’s a large overhang that could almost be described as a cave. Directly opposite is the East Temple, rising above Pine Creek.

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A few hundred metres past this overhang is the lookout or overlook. High above the lower Zion Canyon, there’s an impressive view of the Streaked Wall, and the Beehives at the far end of the valley. You can see the switchbacks of the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway below the west end of the Mount Carmel Tunnel. Directly below the overlook is the Great Arch which is recessed into the cliff underneath us.

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After enjoying the view, the sky starts to look threatening and I make a hasty retreat… it’s a fairly quick return back to the car, and there’s only a few drops of rain despite the dark sky. After driving through the Mount Carmel Tunnel, there’s a great view back from the side of the road of the Great Arch. Directly above the Great Arch is the Overlook.

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It’s a scenic drive through a set of switch-backs, as the road descends steeply down to the Virgin River at the bottom of the canyon.

I make one last stop when I reach the parking area along the Virgin River, and go for a short walk down to the river.

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Munching on the lush vegetation bordering the river is a deer, who lets me get fairly close before taking off.

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The Zion Canyon Scenic Drive follows the Virgin River upstream to Zion Lodge to where it ends at the Temple of Sinawava, providing access to most of the popular walks. Between April and October it’s closes to public cars (unless you’re staying at Zion Lodge) and is serviced by a shuttle. I’m staying just outside the park in Springdale, so I continue for another couple of miles down the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway.

Location Canyon Overlook Trailhead and parking lot is just to the east of the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel
Distance Approx 2km (1.2 miles) from carpark
Grade Easy. Total elevation gain of 50m
Season/s All year
Maps National Geographic “Zion Canyon
GPS Route Garmin GPS trail – view route and export to GPX format.
Resources Hiking Zion and Bryce Canyon (Erik Molvar & Tamara Martin)
zion national park hiking map Unique Joe s Guide to Zion National Park Canyon Overlook Trail Hiking Guide
Map showing Canyon Overlook route. Source: Joe’s Guide to Zion National Park Canyon Overlook Trail

 

Bryce Canyon – the top trails!

An extended Bryce Canyon hike that incorporates the Navajo Loop Trail, Peekaboo Loop, Queens Garden Loop and Fairyland Loop to take in the most spectacular sections of the canyon in one day.

I’ve managed to fly in a few days early for a conference, so I’ve got two full hiking days that I’ve split between Bryce Canyon and my second visit to Zion National Park. My general intent is to try and squeeze as many walks as I can combine into one day at Bryce Canyon…

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The Highlights

  • You can’t really go wrong about where to watch the sunset – although Sunset Point is the most spectacular (get there early to get a parking spot or catch the shuttle bus). Or if you want to avoid the crowds, you’ll have Paria View more or less to yourself…
  • Navajo Loop Trail is the best walk if you’re limited for time or not up for a longer walk – even better, combine the Navajo Loop Trail and Queens Garden Trail (2.9 miles / 4.6kms) which captures some of the most impressive vistas. And start as early as you can to beat the crowds on the Queens Garden Trail.
  • Fairyland Loop is perhaps the best of both worlds – not as spectacular as Navajo Loop Trail, but a more contemplative experience without the crowds with a variety of rock formations
  • You could easily spend a few days here – but equally I felt a full day was sufficient (or two days to spread out a few walks). Just make sure you get there in time for at least one sunset! And get up early to avoid the crowds.

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First impressions

I arrive at the spectacular Bryce Canyon late in the afternoon after a 5-hour drive from Las Vegas airport – a bit too late to start any hikes, but just in time to catch the sunset. I make my way to Bryce Point, which offers one of the most scenic vistas of the full Bryce amphitheatre. There’s a large viewing platform with 180-degree views, and a few of the hiking trails start from here. You see sort of what’s in the photo below, but it’s one of those places where a photograph doesn’t do justice to the incredible landscape.

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After admiring the spectacular views from here, I drive a short distance to Paria View. There’s a short walk to this more remote lookout, which faces west and catches the last rays of the setting sun. It’s also much less busy than Bryce Point – I see less than five people for the hour I’m here.

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The views are not as spectacular as Bryce Point, but still pretty impressive as the colours change with with setting sun.

I’ve got just enough time to get to Sunset Point before it’s darkIt’s quite a change after  Paria View – from enjoying an almost deserted lookout, I’m now sharing the view from Sunset Point with hundreds of people, both at the lookout and on the very popular Navajo Loop Trail below.

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Not that the number of people is surprising – this is the most spectacular sunset vantage point, with the hoodoos almost glowing red against the darkening sky.

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I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s hike. ‘Though while some places make you work hard to earn the view, Bryce feels almost the opposite. I could sit here all day and watch the changing colours of the almost surreal landscape, without making any effort.

The Hike

I get up early – to catch the sunrise, avoid the crowds and allow plenty of time for an extended circuit that combines four of the most popular Bryce Canyon trails.

Navajo Loop (1 mile / 1.6km)

Starting at Sunset Point, which is roughly in the middle of my extended hike, I take the Navajo Loop track which descends to the floor of Bryce Canyon.

Being the most popular track, I figure that by starting here early I’ll avoid most of the crowds… I’m not the first person – there’s a line of photographers and tripods facing the rising sun – but no crowds and no problem getting a parking spot. From the start of the walk you can see Thor’s Hammer, an example of a tent rock or fairy chimney (bottom right photo – it’s the tall, narrow pinnacle with an even narrower neck, supporting a large hammerhead-like rock on the left-hand side of the photo).

I head down the left-hand (eastern) trail, which descends steeply via a series of switch-backs. Towering above are hoodoo formations and some Douglas fir trees, which seem out of place in this environment.

Near the bottom is the Twin Bridges formation, just off the track and with warning signs advising of instability. Maybe next time I visit it will be the Single Bridge formation?

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It’s just under a mile to the junction with the trail that connects the Navajo Loop to the Peekaboo Loop Trail. (You can also continue back to the top via the Navajo Loop Trail, which is a 1.4mile / 2.2km circuit in total.)

Peekaboo Loop Trail (4 miles / 6.4km)

From the start of the Peekaboo Trail, Silent City can be seen to the north just below Sunset Point where I started the walk – it’s an extraordinarily high concentration of hoodoos. (I’m doing the circuit in an anti-clockwise direction, which is the opposite to the direction you’re supposed to walk. It’s still pretty early in the day and I figure I won’t encounter many people on the trail.)

Another impressive formation is The Cathedral, a large butte that stands behind several large hoodoos.

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The Peekaboo Trail then winds past numerous hoodoos, and there are views of the Wall of Windows to the south, a long, thin ridge containing several natural arches.

Just over a mile into the Peekaboo Trail, there’s a faint but obvious track that heads off to the left (east) – it might be an older route that’s no longer used. This small detour offers a great view of the hoodoos around the track, and you can see Peekaboo Trail itself winding along the valley.

The trail then goes through a tunnel cut into the ridge

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After the tunnel, the trail descends steeply via a set of switch-backs: in the distance, to the south, is Paria View.

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The trail follows a series of washes. I spot a mule deer just above the path – about the only wildlife I see all day.  Just after my mule encounter, I reach the trail that connects the Peekaboo Trail with Bryce Point.

I continue along the Peekaboo Trail (I could also have gone up to Bryce Point and then taken the Rim Trail back to Sunset Point). I’m happy, in hindsight, with the decision to continue along the Peekaboo Trail. The trail swings around to the north and heads towards a cluster of hoodoos.

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Another artificial tunnel creating an arch provides another nice photo opportunity, as the trail ascends gradually up the valley.

The trail is more exposed here, with hoodoos on both sides of the wide valley.

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Looking back, the arch cut into the rock can be seen, with hoodoos above and Bryce Point in the background.

The final stretch of the Peekaboo Loop Trail back to the Navajo Loop junction is fantastic walking, with hoodoos and pink limestone formations on both sides of the trail

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It’s taken just under 2.5 hours to cover the 8km, down to the canyon floor via the Navajo Loop Trail and around the Peekaboo Trail to the start of the Queen’s Garden Trail.

Queen’s Garden Trail (2 miles / 3.1km)

Another trail, another tunnel… the Queen’s Garden Trail starts (or ends) with a tunnel cut into the rock, before following a long row of hoodoos that are right next to the trail.

It’s less than a mile to Queens Garden (0.8 miles / 1.3km), where there’s a short trail that leads to the Queen Victoria formation. Which I think is the one below 🙂

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I’m beginning to get a big hoodoo-ed out by now, although the Queen’s Garden lookout is pretty impressive. It’s now about 9am, and while I saw about three people on the Peekaboo Loop trail, the Queens Garden Trail is much busier. There’s about ten people at the viewing area, so I don’t venture up some of the side trails that would offer a better view – but are all signposted with “closed” signs.

The trail starts to ascend gradually from here; I’m now sharing the trail with a few more people.

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There’s three tunnels along the Queens Garden trail between the valley and Sunrise Point. The first tunnel marks the start of (another) very scenic and high-hoodoo section!

The trail now heads straight up towards a number of tall hoodoos, before it follows the base of the formations.

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Then through the second tunnel, where the trail starts to get steeper and switchbacks between hoodoos.

As the trail gains altitude there’s some nice views to the east, towards the Aquarius Plateau to the east

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As the trail nears the top, there’s also a nice view of the Queens Garden Trail below and the formations of the “Queens’ Garden” to the west.

The views as the Queens Garden Trail nears Sunrise Point are truly impressive, and I’m stopping frequently to take photo (and possibly because it is now getting a bit warm in the sun!) There’s views a long way out to the south and south-east, and huge drop-offs from the trail to the valley below.

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Fairyland Trail (9 miles / 14.5km)

From Sunrise Point the trail follows the top of the ridge for a short distance (500m) before reaching the Fairyland Loop. I decide, for no particular reason, to do the loop in an anti-clockwise direction, and set-off down from the ridge and towards Tower Bridge.

The trail descends gradually but constantly – if you’re only doing this hike start early as the first few miles is very exposed (I’m going downhill, so it’s not too bad). I’m pleasantly surprised that despite being a far less popular walk (partly due to its length) the scenery along the descent to Tower Bridge is no less spectacular than any of the other walks. And even though it’s mid-morning, I only see a handful of people on the walk (many of them on their way back, as they started much earlier.)

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To the south is the Chinese Wall (or China Wall), another prominent formation, which is considered to be one of the best examples in the Bryce Canyon of the evolution of walls into fins, windows and hoodoos.

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The Fairyland trail descends relentlessly – I’m glad I’m heading down to the valley. Seeing the track endlessly snaking up the hill would have been a bit disheartening! I’ve also seen the formation below described as the Chinese Wall – it’s a very long row of hoodoos that the trail follows the base of.

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After about 1.5 miles (2.5km) from the start of the trail is the the turn-off for Tower Bridge, another feature of this walk. The side-track to the viewing area below Tower Bridge is only about 200 yards / 180m. On any other walk it would be amazing. After five hours of walking almost non-stop through hoodoos it’s still impressive, but somehow I seemed to have reached a point of rock-formation-exhaustion!

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The Fairyland Loop track is fairly exposed for most of it’s length as it winds around some large formations. There’s another view of  Tower Bridge from above, where you can see more clearly the natural arch formed by the extreme weathering in Bryce Canyon.

Another prominent formation that can be seen from different angles along the track is the Boat Mesa (below). This huge formation is in the middle of Fairyland Loop Trail.

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I haven’t seen much wildlife, but when I find a stunted tree near the track that offers a little shade for a lunch break, I see a Steller’s Jay. It’s a conspicuous bird with bold black-and-blue colouring, and the only crested jay of the western states. A bit further on I spot an Arizona Thistle Flower, a North American species of thistle in the sunflower family.

The trail ascends for the last 1.5 miles – although fairly gradually, and with plenty of rock formations to distract you from the climb.

It gets a bit steeper as the trail nears Fairyland Point on the ridge, but never as steep as the other trails into the valley, like the Najavo Loop trail. An impressive row of hoodoos  faces the trail on the opposite side of Fairyland Canyon.

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Just before reaching Fairyland Point, there’s a nice view of the Sinking Ship formation in the distance.

I reach Fairyland Point at the top of the ridge at about 2pm, with just the final stretch along the top of the canyon to get back to the car.

Fairyland Point to Sunset Point – Rim Trail (3 miles / 5km)

It’s uphill from Fairyland Point to Sunset Point, especially the first mile, but fairly gradual. The Rim Trail follows the edge of the escarpment, so there’s great views over the canyon below.

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It’s a constantly changing landscape of rock formations as far as the eye can see.

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Just before the Rim Trail meets the start of the Fairyland Loop track, I make a small and unplanned diversion to the North Campground General Store for a cold drink. It’s now just half a mile before I’m back at Sunset Point. The car park’s now full and the lookout crowded. It’s time to leave…

It’s been a long day of hiking, through the most incredible landscape. In hindsight I’m happy with the route I took, although I would have changed it slightly to do Queens Garden Loop first to avoid the crowds, then the Peekaboo Trail. Even better would be to visit during a less popular time of year – I hope one day I can do the same hike again in winter!

Location You could start from Sunrise Point or Sunset Point. I started at Sunset Point (plenty of parking if you get here early and a shuttle-bus stop) and took the well sign-posted Navajo Loop Trail
Distance 26.8km (16.5 miles) as walked (combining four separate trails)
Grade Moderate/Hard. Total elevation gain of 1,015m elevation gain
Season/s Most of the year (May-Sep is peak season), Some trails may be closed or hard to navigate in winter
Maps
  • “Exploring Bryce Canyon” map from Visitor Centre is sufficient for most hikes
  • National Geographic “Bryce Canyon NP” (1:20K & 1:40K) is best
GPS Route Garmin GPS trail – view route and export to GPX format.
Resources Hiking Zion and Bryce Canyon (Erik Molvar & Tamara Martin)
Map-BryceCanyon
Map showing Bryce Canyon route (yellow)

Drawing Room Rocks

Drawing Room Rocks is a natural rock feature near Berry on the edge of the Illawarra escarpment, offering extensive views over Kangaroo Valley and Berry.

The walk to Drawing Room Rocks (in the Barren Grounds Nature Reserve) is relatively short – and offers a lot of reward for relatively little effort, with sweeping views over the mountains to the south and the ocean to the east. Of the shorter walks in the area, I’d argue Drawing Room Rocks is one of the best walks in the Shoalhaven area! Apparently the walk is not actively promoted due to “access and safety concerns”, although it’s the first in my “Best Walks of the Shoalhaven” book and is in walking distance of our accommodation on the outskirts of Berry.

While my hiking book (and a number of Web sites) state the walk is 4.5km return, part of this distance includes a section of unsealed road that is open to traffic. Parking is limited near the trackhead, but there was ample parking on the Easter weekend when I visited. From the start of the walking track, it’s only 1.4km to the Drawing Room Rocks plateau.

 

 

The well-worn track rises constantly but is never very steep, as the track goes from semi-rainforest to more open eucalypt forest. About half-way up there are a couple of indistinct tracks to the left and right, that provide  the first views to the east and west.

 

 

As the track nears the top, it passes a section of thick banksia scrub, with exposed roots in the sandy soil. The last section of track goes through thick hakea and tea trees, before ending at Drawing Room Rocks.

 

 

The track abruptly ends at a wide rock platform, from which there are sweeping views east to the ocean and west towards Kangaroo Valley. Directly ahead (below) is Broughton Head,  a long, cliff-lined sandstone mesa that’s part of the Rodway Nature Reserve.

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A short distance away at the edge of the rock platform are the features that give Drawing Room Rocks their name – the result of weathering that give the rocks an appearance of flat table tops and chairs. The softer Hawkesbury sandstone has been eroded by wind and rain, while the broad tops which consist of a harder and more resistant mineral layer have remained.

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When I arrive, about an hour before sunset, I’ve got the rock platform almost to myself There’s just Richard and Amy, also keen photographers, who share the view with me as the sun begins to set.

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Shortly before dark, a small throng of people arrive: Drawing Room Rocks is clearly a popular spot for locals. There’s wine, beers and more cheese than the local deli laid out on the rocks, as people settle in to watch the sun set. And it’s hard to think of a better spot to be!

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I head back just after sunset – I’ve got a torch but the track is uneven. And dinner is waiting… It’s a quick 20min walk back down to the car and an even quicker drive to my accommodation for the weekend at Drawing Rooms of Berry.

Location Take Brogers Creek Road (7km north of Berry) and then after 100m turn right into an unsealed road. The trackhead is signposted at the end of this road, next to a gate that leads to a private residence. There’s some parking spots just before the track.
Distance 2.8km return from the start of the walking track.
Grade Easy. Total elevation gain 190m.
Season/s All year. Great vantage point for sunrise or sunset.
Maps Kangaroo Valley 9028-4S
GPS Route Routie GPS trail. View route and export to KML format.
Resources “Best Walks of the Shoalhaven” book, p.12