Mount Tennent, Namadgi NP

A 30min drive from Canberra, Mount Tennent is a great half-day walk that incorporates part of the Australian Alps Walking Track and offers expansive views from the summit.  

On the recommendation from a colleague and with a morning free of meetings during a recent Canberra trip, I make the short drive to Namadgi National Park for the walk up to the Mount Tennent summit. (It’s been 13 years since my last ACT walk, a more challenging 3-day, off-track walk also in Namadgi National Park.) Leaving the car at the Namadgi Visitor Centre, I quickly find the start of the well sign-posted walk.

The track I’m on is the start – or end – of the classic Australian Alpine Walking Track (AAWT), which continues for 650km through four national parks to Victoria… The first section of the track also forms part of the short “Woodland Discovery Trail” and is relatively flat as it heads towards the hills in the distance. There hasn’t been much rain anywhere in the region for a while: the waterhole has a tiny puddle of muddy water and the ground is very dry.

After about 600m the track crosses Boboyan Road, with the Walk Register located on the opposite side of the road. I could have started the walk here; there’s enough parking for a few cars. The track is still fairly flat as it follows the base of some small-ish hills, with the “scar” caused by a landslide visible on the front of the mountain that happened in March 2012.

After about a kilometre the track starts climbing, although not too steeply – it’s just enough of a gradient that I shed my jacket on a chilly winter morning. The Cypress Pine Lookout is reached after 1.6km from the road and offers nice views east towards the Gudgenby River and NSW/ACT border.

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The track now climbs fairly consistently through the dry landscape. I don’t see any wildlife – just a couple of people jogging past me up the mountain at a rapid pace.

After about 4.5km the landscape changes to Snow gum woodland and it finally feels like I’m in an alpine area! At the 4.8km mark there’s an intersection: the Australian Alpine Walking Track continues to the right. I turn left towards Mt Tennent.

The next 1.4km is fairly flat, and is very pleasant walking through tall snow gums. After 6km the track reaches a large, grassy area. After seeing only two joggers in the last two hours, I’m surprised to see a large group of people sprawled on the grass with big packs. As I get closer, I see it’s a school group. They’re debating whether it’s cheating to leave their packs here for the final section up the Mount Tennent summit. From this grassy plain, a fire trail covers the final 1.2km to the top.

Finally I’m at the top of Mount Tennent (elevation 1375m asl), sharing the 360-degree views with a huge radio mast and another Outward Bound school group who are near the end of a 5-day camping trip in Namadgi National Park.

You can see a long way in every direction from the summit… to the west is the Bimberi Wilderness and Namadgi National Park. There’s a light dusting of snow on Mt Bimberi, the highest mountain in ACT.

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To the south-east is the Gudgenby River and Valley, and in the distance the Tinderry Nature Reserve which is characterised by huge granite monoliths and dominated by Tinderry and Tinderry Twin peaks.

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And to the north-east is the outskirts of Canberra.

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It’s back the same way, after my fairly brief stop at the top. On the way back, just before reaching the Namadgi Visitor Centre, I have a quick look at Gudgenby-in-a-box. It’s an 1845 slab hut originally sited in nearby Gudgenby, that was dismantled and stored in a container – hence the name.  Rebuilt within an interpretive shelter, there’s audio and visuals that describe the the living conditions and stories of early settlers. It’s well done and worth a visit.

It’s slightly quicker down than up, and I’m back at the car in just over 3.5 hours. I’ve enjoyed the walk – the only downside after some very pleasant walking along a bush track through alpine forest is the last 2km that’s on a firetrail. But the views make up for it!

Location Start at Namadgi National Park Visitors Centre (access via Tharwa)
Distance 14.7km return (13.5km if you start from Boboyan Road)
Grade Easy/Moderate. Total elevation gain of 820m
Season/s All year. A great winter walk! Can get hot in summer.
Maps
GPS Route Garmin GPS trail – view route and export to KML format.
Resources
Mt-Tennent-map
Topographical map showing approx route – track has changed slightly from this. Source: http://mntviews.blogspot.com

Passage Peak and Escape Beach, Hamilton Island

A combination of trails on Hamilton Island in the Whitsundays that combines sunrise from Passage Peak, a stop at the remote Escape Beach and views from the Resort Lookout.

It’s an early morning start to catch the sunrise from Passage Peak. I set off from the Hamilton Island Resort Lookout Trail entrance, torch in hand, at 6am. The narrow but well-constructed trail ascends steadily from the resort towards Saddle Junction. There are views from the track toward Whitsunday Island and Whitsunday Peak to the east.

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After a kilometre the walking trail meets a maintenance / 4WD road that follows the ridge, and shortly afterwards there’s a small detour along the road to the Flat Top Hill Lookout. Although it’s still a bit dark, there are views over Hamilton Island resort and Catseye Bay.

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With the sky starting to lighten I fear I’ve started the walk a bit late (shouldn’t have hit the snooze button three times on my ‘phone before finally getting out of bed!). I push on towards Saddle Junction: from here there’s just under a kilometre to go, but it’s the steepest part of the walk. I can see my destination ahead – what looks like a small hill in the distance.

There’s more views from the trail to the north-west as it climbs up towards Passage Peak.

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The last 200m is quite steep, but I make it just in time to see the sun rising above the ocean, behind Haslewood Island.

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There’s 360-degree views from the top of Passage Peak – the highest point on Hamilton (although it’s only 234m above sea level).

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To the south-east is Perseverance Island, the closest one to Hamilton Island, and in the distance Pentecost Island and Lindeman Island.

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To the west is Catseye Bay and Hamilton Island Resort, and just behind the resort is Dent Island (home of the Hamilton Island Golf Club), with Long Island and the mainland in the distance. You can also see the maintenance road that goes along the ridge to the end of Hamilton Island.

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I spend ten minutes or so on at the lookout, before heading back – it’s much quicker going down 🙂

I’m only re-tracing my steps for 200m, back to South East Head Junction. From here I’m taking the long way back, via South East Head and Escape Beach. The first few hundred metres is a wide maintenance track, and then I turn onto a narrow walking trail that roughly follows the coast south.

Halfway along the trail, there’s an abrupt change from light forest to a sea of grass trees (these are quite common on the sandy and infertile soil of ridges on Whitsunday islands).

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A sulphur-crested cockatoo is enjoying the large flowering spike of the grass trees.

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The trail is getting closer to the coast as it nears South East head, with Perseverance Island just across the narrow channel.

The trail rounds the headland, with South East Head jutting out into the ocean. The track is still fairly exposed here, although it’s only 7:30am so it’s pleasant walking even without shade.

The track drops into a small valley, crossing a small stream before ascending very gradually through a section of forest. Soon Escape Beach is visible below the trail.

There’s a very obvious (but not sign-posted) track down to the secluded Escape Beach. At this time of the day there’s no-one here – and I suggest there’s a good chance of having the beach to yourself for most of the day. It’s not particularly picturesque at low tide – high tide would be the best time to visit.

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From Escape Beach the walking track ascends gently up to Saddle Junction, which will complete the circuit of South East Head.

From Saddle Junction I’m re-tracing my steps along the walking track to Resort Lookout Junction. Except now it’s daylight, while two hours ago I was walking up the same track by torch-light.

Once I reach the Resort Lookout Junction, I take the left fork towards the Resort
Lookout – this part of my route is on a graded maintenance road (also used by ATV tours) and it not particularly nice walking. It adds about 4km to the walk, but I want to go back via one more lookout…

…Resort Lookout is a huge cleared area, that’s above the Hamilton Island airport and is also used for weather monitoring equipment. There’s a picnic table here, but it’s not a particularly nice place. The views are pretty good though, if you walk around the edge of the large lookout area. The lookout is almost directly above the resort and Reef View towers.

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In the opposite direction is the mainland.

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The quickest way back to the resort would be to return to Resort Lookout Junction and take the trail down to the Resort Trail Entrance. In hindsight, I should have done that… but instead I follow the maintenance road to Palm Valley. I’m heading away from Passage Peak, at the other end of the island, and towards the airport.

The trail leaves the park near the southern end of the runway, on Palm Valley Way. From here it’s about 2km along the road, past the Hamilton Island Airport and past the marina back to the resort. It means I’ve done a second big circuit rather than returning the same way from the Resort Lookout – but the walk from the last lookout to the resort isn’t particularly nice walking.

Location Starts at Resort Trail Entrance near the Hamilton Island resort. Return to same location or Palm Valley Way near Hamilton Island airport.
Distance 13.9km as walked (combining three separate walks)
Grade Easy/Moderate. Total elevation gain of 550m
Season/s All year. Temperatures most pleasant in winter.
Maps Resort Walking Trail Map is useful. Walks are well sign-posted
GPS Route Routie GPS trail – view route and export to KML format.
Resources

Chance Bay, Whitsunday Islands National Park

Chance Bay, a secluded bay in the Whitsunday Islands National Park is a short walk from the popular Whitehaven Beach.

Located on Whitsunday Island in the Great Barrier Reef, Whitehaven Beach is considered one of the world’s most unspoiled and beautiful beaches and was named ‘number one beach in Australia’ by TripAdvisor in their Travellers’ Choice Beaches Awards. Getting there is a 30min boat ride from Hamilton Island – slightly longer today due to several stops to watch whales breaching on both sides of the boat.

The 7km-long Whitehaven Beach is stunning – white sand and crystal-clear sand. We moor at the southern end, near a few other commercial boats.

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The walk to Chance Bay (and Solway Circuit) starts near the very southern end of Whitehaven Beach, and is well sign-posted.

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Guarded by a monitor lizard, the recently wood-chipped path heads gradually up and away from the beach. Although it’s still mid-afternoon, the forest provides shade along most of the trail.

It’s easy walking and only 500m before the turn-off to Chance Bay (on the other side of the headland) is reached. I take this trail and head up to the lookout on the way back – if there’s time. I’ve got about 90min before our boat leaves, and according to the information I found on-line it’s a 7.2km return walk.

The sandy trail is pretty flat and and remains shaded as it traverses a mix of eucalypt, hoop pine and grass tree forest.

As I’ve discovered a few times with Queensland trails, the signage is grossly incorrect – not sure if it’s incompetence or an attempt to discourage people from doing the walk. I reach Chance Bay in just under half an hour, with my GPS measuring the distance as 2.3km (a rather large discrepancy from the signage and on-line information that has the distance as 3.6km each way). The small beach has the same white silica sand as Whitehaven Beach – without the crowds. I’ve seen a handful of people heading the other way, and when I reach Chance Bay I have the entire beach to myself.

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In the distance is Pentecost Island, the Lindeman Group and Cape Conway directly ahead.

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I’ve got time for a quick swim here, before heading back up the trail.

When I reach the main trail again, I turn right, to continue to the end of the trail and the Solway Lookout. The lookout is part of the Solway Circuit, a circular walk, but from April 2018 – June 2019 part of the circuit is closed due to construction activity. Although the lookout elevation is only about 50m, there’s views over Solway Passage, Pentecost and Haslewood islands and Cape Conway.

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From the lookout, it’s a short 700m back to Whitehaven Beach, and then back onto our boat for the return trip to Hamilton Island.

Location Whitehaven Beach can be reached by boat or seaplane from Airlie Beach or Hamilton Island, in the Whitsunday Islands. (Closest major airports are Proserpine on the mainland, and on Hamilton Island. Both have direct flights from Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney.)
Distance Return distance to Chance Bay and Solway Lookout is 5.1km
(Ignore the signs – distances shown are incorrect.)
Grade Easy. Total elevation gain of 100m
Season/s All year. Temperatures most pleasant in winter.
Maps None required.
GPS Route Routie GPS trail – view route and export to KML format.
Resources About Whitsunday Islands Web page with details of walks

Mele Cascades, Port Vila

One of the highest rated attractions in Port Vila, Mele Cascades is an easy walk along a series of swimming holes to an impressive 35m waterfall.

About ten kilometres from Port Vila (Vanuatu) is the Mele Cascades. It’s more of a stroll than a hike, but there’s lots of clear swimming holes to stop at and the waterfall at the end is impressive. Avoid at all costs visiting when there’s a cruise ship in town, otherwise there’s a good chance you’ll have the place to yourself if you go early or late in the day.

You’ll need to pay an entry fee near the start (2,000 VT or about USD$18 per person). You can also pay a bit more to get a guide, or join a slightly more expensive guided tour from Port Vila. There’s a cafe, picnic area and an artificial beach near the start of the walk.

There’s immediately a small pool and some small cascades next to the path. There was a a decent flow of water: I’d heard that for many months earlier in the year the river had been virtually dry.

You can swim in any of the pools, which are all very inviting – some of the lower ones are a bit rocky and harder to access.

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Once you leave the building at the bottom, it does feel a little more like a bush track – although ones with stairs for the steeper sections!

After the initial up to a low ridge, there’s a wide but unmarked track that leads to a lookout – it’s only a hundred metres or so from the main track.

There’s a nice view to the south over Mele Bay, and a large grassy area that would be suitable for a picnic.

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From here the walk gets a bit more interesting, as the trail crosses the river a couple of times. Unless you’re wearing sandals, now’s the time to take shoes off…

While generally following the river quite closely, at times the track goes through rainforest-like sections. Evergreen, the new owners of Mele Cascades since late 2017, have added many native plants along the path.

Along this last section is another nice pool, just below a small set of cascades.

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For the last section, as you near the foot of the falls, the river flows over the stone stairs and you can hear the falls not far ahead.

There’s another photogenic and inviting pool just blow the main falls.

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A last set of steps up the river…

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…and you’re at the base of the falls, which tumble about 35m into another swimming hole.

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It’s the same way back down the river. Except when I reach the concrete stairs down the last steep section, I take an alternate path to the right. This is a more natural bush track, that winds down the steep slope back to the Mele Cascades entrance.

You could do the walk in under an hour – I’ve taken two hours with many photo stops, and if you’re going for a swim in one of the many pools you could easily spend half a day here. It’s a bit expensive when you consider you’re just paying for access to a short walk, but the cascades and waterfall are well worth a visit.

Location Mele Cascades is about 12km north-west of Port Vila (250 VT by mini-bus or around 2,000 VT by taxi)
Distance About 4km return including side-trip to lookout
Grade Easy. Total elevation gain of 150m.
Season/s All year. Mele Cascade is open 8:30am-5pm daily.
Maps None required.

 

Mount Barney

A tough ascent of Mount Barney East (1,351m), one of the highest mountains in Queensland’s “scenic rim”, about two hours from Brisbane and the Gold Coast.

It’s my first solo overnight walk since hiking the 3-day Thorsborne Trail (also in Queensland) back in 2006… I could have done Mount Barney as a day walk with an early start. But as I’m flying up from Sydney and don’t arrive at Mount Barney National Park until 8pm, it makes more sense to camp at the base of the mountain and get an early start the following morning.

It’s pitch black when I arrive at the Yellowpinch carpark and trackhead, but even by the light of my head-torch the first thing you notice is the warning signs. Be prepared. Make sure you’re equipped. Why don’t you consider another walk… Someone at the Parks office must have have had their annual bonus paid on the basis of how many people they could discourage from undertaking this hike. The mountain is known for rapid weather changes and there’s been a few bushwalker rescues by the local SES. But I can’t help feeling that a bit more effort could have been spent on having the various routes to the top shown on the topographical map, if safety is a concern. I’ve got both a printed and an on-line topographical map, and not one of the three summit routes is shown.

The other striking thing is the stars – being a completely clear night and far away from any towns, the night sky is incredible.

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Three Routes to the Mt Barney Summit

There’s many ways to get to the top of Mount Barney – all of them being fairly rough. The warning signs outline the two “official” routes, but makes no mention of one of the most popular routes to the top.

  • South East Ridge (SER) – one of the official summit tracks and also one of the longest routes. The signage suggests not to descend using this route due to some steep scrambles.
  • South East Ridge – an alternate and popular route; it’s the most direct and steepest.  No official signage at the start of the trail. I went up this way.
  • South Ridge (SR) aka Peasants Ridge – the second “official” route which is slightly longer. It’s the only route that provides camping sites close to the summit (Rum Jungle and Old Hut sites). I came down this way.

Although I didn’t do all three routes, both the South East “Unofficial” and South Route were of similar difficulty (in terms of both navigation and rock scrambling). I met a group who had gone up and back down using the South East Route (SER) and they didn’t experience any difficulties. If you’re planning to camp near the top, then the South Route would be the best option; otherwise going up the South East “Unofficial” track is the (arguably) quickest way to the top! (It’s feasible but not officially allowed to camp on the summit – there’s plenty of space but the ground is very rocky and covered with vegetation – and it can get very cold and windy!)

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Distances of camping sites and Mt Barney summit trailheads from Yellowpinch Reserve

South East Ridge – going up

I’ve camped at Cronan Creek 9 (booked and paid for online the previous day – see link at bottom of post): it’s one of two official camping spots along an old forestry road that follows the valley,  providing access to all the summit trails. I leave the warmth of my tent around 6:30am, and continue down the firetrail.

About 500m further I pass Cronan Creek 10, an equally nice camping spot – both are situated close to Cronan Creek, which had a decent flow of water (there had been some rain over the previous days).

It’s only about 15min to the start of South East Route; I knew what I was looking for from previous online research – a tree with arrows scratched into it, next to a fallen log – although there is no official signage here. The track is narrow but easy to follow, as it immediately starts climbing through tall forest.

One of the advantages of the South East Ridge route is you get nice views along the trail to the east and west: below is the view looking south towards Mount Ernest (964m), another peak in the Mount Barney National Park.

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About half-way up there’s two markers with “SER”: nice to know I’m on the track, but a little baffling as this is the “unofficial” South East Ridge track that isn’t meant to exist… there are two of these markers close together.

As the trail follows the ridge up, it gets rockier and the trees more stunted… to the left (east?) the trail often passes closes to the edge of the ridge, with steep drop-offs to the valley.

About two thirds of the way up is the only time that I think I may have lost the track… there’s a rocky outcrop that looks a bit daunting, but is actually fairly easy to traverse. A nice view again from the top of the outcrop…

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After clambering over the outcrop, the track then drops slightly into a small gully, before climbing up what I hope is the summit (I’m now at about 1,100m asl). It initially seems there’s no obvious trail on the other side of the outcrop, but after a bit of searching I find a trail that continues up the next ridge!

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There are frequent views out to the south, and as you gain altitude Mt Lindesay (1175m) starts becoming visible behind Mt Ernest.

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There’s one tricky section where a rope would come in handy – it doesn’t look too difficult in the photo (below) and there’s no exposure – but it takes some effort to get up one large boulder. After a few attempt, I wedge my feet into a narrow crack and haul myself up the rock. I wouldn’t have liked to do this with a heavy pack!

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Although the views are generally to the south, there are a few vantage points where you can look out the north east, with Mt Maroon (967m) to the north – this is another peak that has a trail to the summit.

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I’m now at around 1200m, and there’s a final ridge to climb to what I hope is the summit – it looks impossibly steep. But the track winds up the steep ridge, between rocks and along a few sections where you’re pulling yourself up with the help of exposed tree roots.

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Finally I think I’ve reached the summit… but it’s a false summit. The Mount Barney East peak is tantalizingly close, but first I need to drop down slightly into a saddle and back up the peak.

I’ve got the summit to myself: s group of four hikers is behind me, and I meet a family who have just finished lunch and head off down the South Ridge track.  The views are pretty impressive.

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To the south Mt Lindesay is clearly visible behind Mt Ernest, which has a long ridge line.

To the north west is a glimpse of Lake Maroon and the Main Range National Park.

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South Ridge – going down

After a short break at the top, I decide to descend South Ridge, and continue along the scrubby summit ridge. Directly ahead of me across a saddle is Mount Barney West (a few metres higher than Mount Barney East, at 1353m).

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I’m heading for Rum Jungle, an area of dense forest in the saddle between Mount Barney East and Mount Barney West.

It’s a fairly steep descent with no obvious path – most of the time I’m trying to walk on top of the large sections of rock, and avoiding the thick scrub. I’m aiming for a small clearing at the bottom – the Old Huts site, where there used to be a few huts (nothing remains there now). From here there are occasional markers, which helps as the track from Old Hut site, which crosses a small creek, is hard to find. This would be a nice camping spot, with a short but steep hike up to the summit.

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Here I lose the track – or rather, take the wrong track which leads to nowhere – before backtracking and finding a faint trail to Rum Jungle. This is another nice camp site, very shaded and I’ve read prone to leeches if it’s been raining.

I make a small diversion up Mount Barney West, which provides a nice view back to the Mount Barney East summit. I don’t have the energy to scramble to the top of this peak…!

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The start of the track from Rum Jungle down South Ridge is not obvious… but once you’re on it, there are orange “SR” markers at regular intervals. There are a lot less views from this track – although you do get occasional views to the south.

It’s a lot less steep than the South East Ridge track, but a bit longer… it feels like the descent take forever as it descends through light forest and the occasional rocky section. Looking the GPS track afterwards, it’s about 3km up via the South East Ridge track and 5km down via the South Ridge track,

In contrast to the South East Ridge track, with its tricky slab near the top, the South Ridge has a couple of steep bits near the bottom. The first one is a long and steep section, which is not difficult, but would be more challenging if wet. Shortly after there’s a big rock that requires me to precariously cling to the rock and some handy grasses growing out of the rock… the group behind me takes one look at me stuck halfway down, and finds an easy way around the rock!

From here it’s another easy 1.5km or so back to the main firetrail, through tall forest and a few sections of rainforest.

Unlike the South East Ridge trailhead, this one is well-marked.

It’s starting to feel late in the day, even though it’s only about 3pm – sunset is around 5:30pm. I’ve got time to explore a bit more, so rather than heading back to the car at Yellowpinch, I continue up the firetrail to have a look at Conan Creek Falls. It’s easy walking, although slightly uphill (you gain about 100m), and the firetrail crosses the creek a couple of times (all of the crossing can be rock-hopped without getting wet feet!).

I reach the sign-posted track down to Cronan Creek about 2.6km from the South Ridge trail head. It’s then only 100m down to the creek. I think it’s worth the walk – there’s no-one else here, and if it was a few degrees warmer I would have gone for a quick swim.

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Now it’s straight back to the Yellowpinch car park, via my camp site where I need to pack up my tent and collect overnight backpack. It’s about 5km down the firetrail to the national park boundary, where a weir crosses Logan River.

The last 2km passes through light forest and farmland – it seems the firetrail is actually on private land. The mountain directly ahead is not Mount Barney – it’s a much lower peak.

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There are glimpses of Mount Barney East to the west, rising above the forest.

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A bit further (about a kilometre before the car park)  is the well-marked start of the “official” South East Ridge track, with Mount Barney in the background.

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From here it’s another 20min or so back to the car. I’m back just after 4pm, and with plenty of time to get my evening flight back to Sydney. A great walk that I’d do again… but with time to catch sunrise/sunset from the peak.

Location Start at Yellowpinch car park, about 100km from Brisbane or the Gold Coast. Do not enter “Mount Barney” into Apple or Google Maps or you’ll end up at the wrong place!
Distance Approx 1-4km to start of summit trail (depending on which one).
3km ascent via South East Ridge (unofficial) or 5km via South Ridge.
Approx 22km as walked (3km Day 1 / 19km Day 2)
Grade Hard. Total elevation gain 1,100m. Some difficult sections of rock and some trails are distinct but unmarked
Season/s All year. Winter is definitely the best time. Avoid walking in the middle of the day in summer.
Maps
  • 1:25K Mt Lindesay topographical map
  • Create a bespoke topographical map which can be downloaded as an image or PDF at QTopo
  • Mount Barney National Park map PDF download – not much use for navigation
GPS Route Routie GPS trail. View route and export to KML format.
Resources
  • “Secrets of the Scenic Rim” by Robert Rankin has detailed notes of many walks in the area, including Mount Barney
  • “Take a Walk in South East Queensland” by John & Lyn Daley
  • Camp sites must be booked and a small fee applies – you can do this on-line via the Queensland National Parks Booking Service. You’ll be able to print a Camping Tag to attach to your tent.

 

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

Fitzroy Falls East to West Rim

Fitzroy Falls East to West Rim is one of the shorter but more scenic walks in Kangaroo Valley. The full walk traverses the east and west rims of the Yarrunga Creek gorge, with spectacular views over the valley and of Fitzroy Falls from both escarpments.

If you’ve got two cars – or you can get dropped off at one end as I was – you can do the “east rim” of the Fitzroy Falls as a one-way walk. Which I’d recommend, as the east rim of Fitzroy Falls is definitely the less spectacular side. The start of the walk is not particularly easy to find as doing the east rim as a one-way walk is not recommended, but there is 4WD track from Nowra Road that joins the East Rim track (it’s about 300m from the main road).

From here there is a well-marked track that follows the top of the escarpment, with a number of lookouts over the Yarrunga Creek gorge. The first lookout, Yarrunga Lookout, offers broad views over Morton National Park to the south-west, with Mt Carrialoo and the more rounded Mt Moollattoo to the left and Bundanoon in the distance. To the other direction (looking north-east) is Fitzroy Falls, which is at the end of the Yarrunga Creek gorge – but is not yet visible!

A bit further along the track is Valley View Lookout, with views over the Yarrunga Creek gorge again.

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The next viewpoint is the Lamond Lookout, which offers similar views over the valley. Shortly after this lookout is the Warrawong Lookout, and the start of the Janet Cosh Wildflower Walk (named in honour of a local plant collector). I’ve walked 2.5km from the start of the walk, with another 1.2k to the Fitzroy Falls Visitor Centre. As well as a view over the narrowing gorge, there’s the first sighting of Fitzroy Falls, at the head of the valley.

 

The walk so far has been through eucalypt forest and fairly flat, as it closely follows the edge of the escarpment. So it’s a pleasant change when it drops into the lush Ferny Gully, passing a stand of tree ferns below a tall rainforest canopy, and crossing a couple of small creeks.

The last lookout before the end of the east rim trail is the May Lookout, perched over the edge of the gorge.

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Shortly after this last East Rim lookout, the track crosses Yarrunga Creek, and becomes the West Rim track. A short distance from here is the Fitzroy Falls Visitor Centre, which has lots of information on the areas and a cafe. The West Rim is far more impressive than the East Rim, and would be the best option if you haven’t got time for the full walk. It’s also much more trafficked, and not so pleasant on a busy Easter weekend!

Heading west along the track, which is now more a boardwalk than a bushwalk, the first lookout is reached after 200m.

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Cantilevered 80m above the valley floor, the metal platform provides a view to the base of the falls as well as down the length of the Yarrunga Creek valley.

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A couple of hundred metres further, Jersey Lookout provides a view back to the head of the valley and to Fitzroy Falls, with part of the lower falls visible.

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A gradual uphill section leads to the next viewpoint, Richardson Lookout.

There’s a couple more viewpoints, before the track crosses a side-creek, just before The Grotto. Even with the Easter crowds, this section of the walk is fantastic – it would be even better on a day with no-else around!

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A  short detour off the main track is The Grotto, an overhang with coachwood and water gums in front of a small cascade. Despite it being a busy day, I have the serene grotto to myself for a few minutes.

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Fitzroy Falls to The Grotto is the most scenic section of the walk; continuing another 900m takes you past Starkeys Lookout and to the final viewpoint, Renown Lookout. The last view points

From here, it’s back the same way to the Fitzroy Falls Visitor Centre; if you’re doing a car shuffle you can save about 500m by finishing on a fire trail near Glen Road (but it’s hardly worth it). It’s an easy but nice walk, especially after heavy rain when Fitzroy Falls is in full swing!

Location Start at Fitzroy Falls Visitor Centre or at the end of the East Rim track, on Nowra Road (Kangaroo Valley, about 3 hours south-west of Sydney)
Distance 8.1km in total (East Rim one-way and West Rim as a return walk)
Grade Easy. Total elevation gain 270m
Season/s All year. Falls more impressive after heavy rain.
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.72 (Walk 14)
fitzroy_falls_area_map
Map showing East and West Rim trails, Fitzroy Falls

The Window

A long and fairly tedious walk – but rewarded by the view from the Window, a canyon that cuts through the Chisos mountain rim 

This is another walk that’s probably very busy at certain times of the year, but as I set out an hour before sunset there’s no-one else around. Although late in the day, I was looking for a trail that might provide a good sunset vantage point. The trail starts at the Basin car park – although you can also start at the Basin Campground (making it a slightly shorter route).

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The well-made trail soon starts descending, with the destination visible in the distance: the V-shaped gap at the of the valley (to the immediate left of the gap is Carter Peak, and to the right is Vernon Bailey Peak).  There’s no marked track to the top of Vernon Bailey Peak, but you can hike to the top and the views are said to be among the best in Big Bend.

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Catching the last of the sun’s rays is Pulliam Peak (or Pulliam Bluff) – one of the two main peaks making up the northwestern rim of the Basin along with Vernon Bailey Peak.

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The trail is fairly exposed for the first mile as it crosses the middle of the Basin, until it reaches Oak Creek. It then enters a forest of pines, oaks and juniper.

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The trail follows Oak Creek, and after 2.3 miles (3.7km) there’s a junction with the Oak Springs Trail. This trail leads to a look-out, and continues down toward Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive – The Window can also be reached via this track, which I’ve read is a more scenic route (but a 4WD is recommended to reach the trailhead). Just after this junction the trail enters a rock canyon, carved by Oak Creek. The creek is the only drainage point for the entire Basin, so while rainfall is low, when there is a storm considerable water is funnelled through the canyon.

 

Near the end of the canyon there are stone steps carved into the rocks, and Oak Creek is crossed several times.

 

The Window marks the end of the canyon: a narrow crevice carved by Oak Creek, with a sheer, vertical drop to the desert floor below. The canyon floor is smooth and slippery, so caution is needed.

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Facing almost directly west, it’s not a bad spot to photograph the sunset, with the “window” framing distant Chisos mountains.

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I stay here for half an hour or so, as the sky gets gradually more orange…  there’s no-one else here, and the photos don’t really do justice to the view and serenity.

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Eventually I need to get going – not so much as it’s starting to get dark (I have a head-torch), but because I’m getting pretty hungry, and I’ve got a 2.8 mile hike back out I need to do before the restaurant closes…

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Location The Basin car park (or the Basin campground, which makes the hike slightly shorter)
Distance 8.95km (5.5 miles) return
Grade Easy. 290m ascent on a well-built trail.
Season/s All year round. Avoid after/during storms
Maps The Basin topographical map.
Also “Big Bend” Trails Illustrated topographical map.
GPS route Routie GPS trail. View route and export to KML format.
Resources Hiking Big Bend National Park (Laurence Parent), p.62
BigBend-Window
Route to the Window from the Basin. Source: “Hiking Big Bend National Park” book