I had never heard of Katoomba before a train I was on sailed through it and everyone except my friend Heather and I got off. This meant one of two things; it was either a hideous tourist hangout, or a brilliant tourist attraction. Either way, something went on beyond that tiny station, and I was intrigued. It turns out, Katoomba is home to the best Blue Mountains day hike there is – the best easily accessible one, that is anyway.
Heather and I were supposed to be on a bike ride in the Blue Mountains, but due to my excesses in cake eating and wine drinking, I was a little unfit for the 5 day trip. Instead, we did a 3 day cycle ride to Jenolan Caves, then caught the train back to Katoomba and became tourists for 24 hours.
Katoomba is just a 2 hour train ride from Sydney Central Station, but seems a whole world away. Nestled in the heart of the Blue Mountains, it’s the launch pad for bush trekking and natural sites in the area. From here, you can hike, bike and get lost for days, weeks or months on end, which is what many of the early settlers did when first arriving in Australia (not all of them survived). Nowadays, it is a civilised hub for tourists, filled with outdoor stores, coffee shops, bars, hostels, hotels and attractions. The reason so many people visit Katoomba is the ease of access to the unimaginable beauty of the Blue Mountains and the famous rock formations that make it a must-see destination.
Start your day with brekkie in one of the many cafes that line the unimaginatively named main road, Katoomba Street. It’s a great thoroughfare that has everything you could ever want – and not want –along it. Spend a little time perusing the shops (there are great outdoor stores here), and then hot foot it to the main reason you’re this far out in the sticks – the epic Blue Mountains.
Echo Point is where the best views of the Three Sisters are, and also the starting point for several trails. There are multiple viewing platforms – check out all of them before making your way to the gift shop. Apart from souvenirs, there’s an excellent tourist information point in here, with helpful staff and tons of maps, leaflets and guides. There’s a toilet here too, so make use of it before setting off on the hike.
The Best Blue Mountains Day Hike
To one side of the gift shop is the Three Sisters Walking Track. Along this path little statues of animals from the area adorn rocks – keep an eye out for the real deal, who also stroll around! Connecting the track to the First Sister is the Honeymoon Bridge. If you have vertigo, don’t cross it! Otherwise, it makes for fantastic photos.
Next, take the Giant Stairway a whopping 998 steps down to the Jamison Valley. Using a mixture of steel staircases and steps carved into the 300 metre cliff faces themselves, this isn’t a stroll for the faint-hearted. A commemorative stone archway mentions in passing ‘Steps Cut by Ranger McKay’ who is the man who started it all. Using rudimentary tools, ropes and a lot of hard graft, he and his team completed this incredible feat of engineering in 1932 with the aim of attracting tourists to the area. Guess what – it worked.
Once at the bottom of the steps, you have a few options for the return trip. You could clamber back the way you came – but it’s far better to explore the valley floor and take a different route up. The easiest way is to turn right at the bottom of the Staircase and wind around the base of the Three Sisters along the Federal Pass, which eventually leads you to the Scenic World Railway. The Railway holds the title of steepest passenger railway in the world, with a staggering 52° incline, but fancy seating allows you to experience the ride at 64° if you’re feeling especially bold or brave. Pay a one-way fare (or if you have bought a day pass from earlier excursions, you can use this) and take the easy route up, celebrating with a cup of tea or something stronger when you get there.
If that sounds like too much of a picnic, challenge yourself with the Furber Steps, a little further along from Scenic World. There are 996 of these, and they are steep, but coming down the Giant’s and up the Furber is better than the other way round. This trip is tough. Although it is only around 4km, due to the steepness and terrain allow yourself a good 3 hours to do it.
Make sure you’re prepared for a jaunt in the Jamison Valley. Take plenty of water, snacks and sunscreen, and tell someone your plan.
If you’ve taken the Scenic World Railway return route, you’ll now find yourself in a tourist hub. If you can’t beat ’em – join ’em. Gawp at the awe-inspiring surroundings and look over at where you’ve just hiked from, the Three Sisters formation far off in the distance.
Reward yourself with something to eat at the Eats270 (dramatic views) or Terrace Café (still dramatic but not as high).
If you’re feeling flush, treat yourself to a Scenic World Pass, which gives you access to the Railway, Skyway, Cableway and Walkway. All of these are at varying degrees of dizzying heights.
No money? No matter! Admire the steam powered clock in the car park (it’s more interesting than it sounds!) and then either walk back in to Katoomba or catch the bus. If you want to make the hike a loop, you can take Scenic World’s Skyway to the East Station and then bus or walk back to Echo Point.
After an exhausting day, head back to Katoomba’s main strip and grab dinner in one of the restaurants. There’s loads of eateries serving up all kinds of fare – from modern Australian to French, Indian and Thai. Take your pick before getting a well-deserved rest in a hotel or hostel or returning on the train to Sydney.
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For a hike in the Australian bush, you want good, sturdy footwear. The ground is uneven and there are all sorts of creepy crawlies – and snakes – which you’ll want protection from. Having a high ankle boot gives you this, and these Salomon boots are also waterproof and come both in women’s and men’s versions. (If you’re a male, click the link and search for the men’s version).
In the heat of the Australian sun, long sleeve shirts are great for protecting your shoulders and arms from getting burned. The Columbia Silver Ridge shirt is made of high performance wicking fabric and has built in sun protection. Other shirts worth considering are the Kathmandu Kangsar shirt which has ‘buzzGUARD’ – a built in insect repellent to keep the biters at bay and the White Sierra Gobi Desert long sleeve shirt. All these come in men’s and women’s versions.
For day hikes, it’s hard to beat a Camelbak Fourteener. With a built in 3 litre hydration system and drink tube, this pack makes hikes on the trail as hands free as it gets. You can concentrate on the hike ahead instead of faffing around searching for unruly water bottles in your bag. Whenever you’re thirsty, just sip on the tube et voila! Fresh water. The bag also has ample room for those other essentials – snacks, waterproofs, camera etc – and is padded and comfortable.
A Buff is a piece of multifunctional headwear that can be used in a variety of ways. For example, as a neck scarf, hat or bandana. It’s handy in the heat for sun protection, and great in the cold for extra warmth. I always carry one with me on my travels as it is so useful! Buff make loads of different variations in materials and colours. There are ones with built in UV sun protection, ones made from merino wool, and of course, the original.
You Can Do It!
- This hike is classified as Grade 4 by the Australian Walking Track Grading System. This definition means: ‘Bushwalking experience recommended. Tracks may be long, rough and very steep. Directional signage may be limited.’
- Weather can change quickly in the mountains. Take gear for all conditions.
- Make sure you have plenty of water, food and sunscreen.
- Keep an eye out for Australia’s famous and deadly critters.
- Tell someone where you are going so they know where to look if you don’t return!
- Katoomba is 2 hours on the train from Sydney. If you do this trip on a Sunday, you’ll get it for the bargain fare of $2 each way.
Top free attractions
Echo Point for the Three Sisters Lookout
Honeymoon Bridge for amazing photographs
Incredible hiking opportunities in the Jamison Valley
Top paid attractions
As we were camping, Heather and I made some of our meals at the campsite. However, we decided we should be ‘proper tourists’ and had churros and coffee at Terrace Café at Scenic World. We had a celebratory ‘we survived!’ dinner out on our last night, where we went to a Thai Restaurant, but there are so many places to choose from it won’t be hard to find something to satiate your appetite. Keep in mind some restaurants are bring your own. If you end up in one of these, head to Aldi or LiquorLand in town for a cheap bottle of something. We particularly liked Bunamagoo Estate Shiraz, which we initially bought for the name, but the contents were pretty awesome too!
If you don’t want to do this all in one day, there are tons of places to stay. We paid for a pitch at Katoomba Falls Tourist Park. It has decent facilities including a shared kitchen, bbq’s and an outdoor seating area. There are also showers, toilets, a communal living room and charging points for electricals, but the highlight is the close proximity to both Scenic World and Echo Point.
Katoomba is a hub for outdoor activities and adrenaline pursuits. There are loads of hotels, hostels and camping grounds in the area. You can use my TRVL site to find your perfect accommodation. I get a small commission when people book accommodation through this site, so would appreciate it if you do!
Refer to my Ultimate Hiking Kit List Checklist for help you with your packing.
Sydney Trains – the Blue Mountains line goes to Katoomba. Time your trip so that you take the train on a Sunday – the fare is only $2 each way which is a bargain!
Best Blue Mountains Day Hike Gallery