You probably already heard that Grand Canyon Walk in the Blue Mountains is one of the most beautiful walks near Sydney. It is certainly the most iconic walk in the Blue Mountains. For me, it ties with the Wentworth Pass hike – both are stunning, unusual and hard walks. Hard just means that you have to climb a lot of sandstone steps (more than a thousand). You don’t need any special navigation skills for these walks.
So what is so special about the Grand Canyon Walk, Blue Mountains?
It’s all about the primeval lost world on the floor of the canyon. Imagine walking through narrow chasms dominated by ancient ferns, crossing a gurgling creek peppered with moss-covered rocks, past towering canyon walls and fairy waterfalls. Everything about this striking scenery feels ancient.
Walking slightly above the canyon floor on another section of the trail, you make your way under mamoth sandstone overhangs, behind waterfalls and through a pitch black rockfall tunnel. Grand Canyon walk in the Blue Mountains is a feast for the senses and an adventure that you won’t forget anytime soon.
Grand Canyon Walk at a Glance
Distance: 6.3 kilometres loop
Ascent: 350 meters
Decent: 350 meters
Grade: Hard – steep ascent and descent, multiple creek crossings
Time to complete: 3 – 4hrs (depending on your pace and the number of rest stops)
Tip: Keep in mind, Blackheath is about 10 degrees cooler than Sydney, and the Grand Canyon is cooler still. It is a welcome reprieve in Summer, but you need to bring enough layers to stay warm in the cooler months.
How to get to Grand Canyon Walk, Blue Mountains
Grand Canyon walking track is a circuit, but it doesn’t start and end at exactly the same point. You can walk this track either in a clockwise direction starting at Evans Lookout and finishing at Neats Glen or in an anti-clockwise direction starting at Neats Glen car park and finishing at Evans Lookout.
There are three car parks along Evans Lookout road in this order: Neates Glen, Grand Canyon and Evans Lookout. It is a 750-meter walk between Neates Glen and Evans Lookout carpark. The Grand Canyon carpark is located between the other two, so if you park there, you’ll have a short walk to the start of the track and another short walk to your car from the end of the track.
Public Transport: You can also reach the Grand Canyon Walk by public transport. Catch a train from Central to Katoomba and then bus 698 from Katoomba Street (the main street in Katoomba). The bus takes you to St Andrews Avenue, 1.5 km from Neates Glen car park (20-minute walk).
As you walk around the car parks, keep an eye out for some parrots. This is the only place I’ve seen Gang Gang cockatoos near Sydney. There are also the superbly bright Crimson rosellas and the cheeky Sulphur-crested cockatoos around.
Where should you start Grand Canyon walk?
The walk is equally beautiful in both directions. The climb seems to be steeper at Evans Lookout, so I prefer to start at the lookout and climb out of the canyon at Neates Glen end of the track. But if the steepness of the climb doesn’t concern you, starting at Neates Glen means that you end the walk on a high note – at the jaw-dropping Evans Lookout. The choice is yours.
Starting Grand Canyon Walk at Evans Lookout
Even after seeing a fair share of lookouts in the Blue Mountains, I find Evans Lookout breathtaking. Of course, to be fair, the majority of the most popular Blue Mountains lookouts in Katoomba, Leura and Wentworth Falls offer views of Jamison Valley, while in Blackheath, you are looking out (and walking into) Grose Valley. And since it’s a different valley, it obviously looks different, which makes it more interesting. It is also quite a wide lookout that lets you see the valley from slightly different angles.
Descending into the Grand Canyon
Once you are ready to start the walk, follow the sign to Grand Canyon walk and begin the steep descent along the series of sandstone steps.
From the start, the trail runs through a dramatic pass in the rock and continues downhill via sets of wooden and stone steps. It passes through a gap in the cliffs and across wooden bridges, descending ever deeper into the canyon.
As you walk along, you’ll see some burnt areas from 2020’s horrific fires in the area. It’s fascinating to see the new life emerging from the charred tree trunks – vines, young shoots, grasses and herbs – the forest is starting to heal.
I am not sure whether it is because this walk is one of the most popular walks in the Blue Mountains or because it happened not to suffer too much from the fires and then the floods, but the Grand Canyon walk is one of very few walks in Grose Valley that is currently open to the public.
You reach the floor of the canyon quite suddenly. The trail narrows and dips alongside a cliff wall and you sense a whiff of cold humid air on approach. You begin to feel that you are entering an age-old realm that has been concealed by the walls of the canyon for eons.
The Canyon Floor
Soon you find yourself in a narrowing chasm, in the world of ancient ferns, dim light, and trickling water. You have reached the floor of the canyon. The walls of the cliffs are so high here, that you can barely see where they end.
From this low perspective, you get a keener sense of the mammoth scale of the landscape around you than you do from the clifftop lookout. I thought of the millions of years that it took nature to carve out this canyon, and my daily worries simply dissipated in the face of such vastness.
This is my favourite stretch of the Grand Canyon walk. The trail winds alongside Greaves creek, crossing it every so often over stepping stones and moss-covered boulders. This rainforest is the remnant of Gondwana vegetation that dominated Australia 100 million years ago.
By the way, if you are a keen adventurer, you may wish to visit Grand Canyon at night, when the canyon walls light up with thousands of tiny lights produced by glow worms. Grand Canyon is one of the best glow worm sites in Blue Mountains.
This enclosed passage is a treasure chest of hidden nooks and crannies, tiny waterfalls, picturesque pools, fallen tree trunks and concealed gullies. I love getting lost in this wonderland, discovering new picturesque spots to photograph. The trail is never the same, so there are always plenty of new surprises to discover.
For photography, a cloudy day is the best. It evens out the light between the darker gullies and the lighter treetops. Yet even when the day starts out cloudy, it often brightens up as it goes along. So to find photogenic spots, you may have to go slightly off-trail to discover shaded streams and gullies.
Beauchamp Falls side-trail
This side trail is currently closed due to damage by fires and floods.
At one of the creek crossings, there is a sign pointing towards Beauchamp Falls via Rodriguez Pass. This is a worthwhile detour to see the lovely Beauchamp falls.
The trail is quite challenging with steep sections and some bouldering sections, but it is quite short and adds an extra sense of adventure to the Grand Canyon walk.
Ledge Walk above Grand Canyon
Eventually, the trail starts to climb higher and you leave the canyon floor behind. But you are not done with the creek yet, you are just going to be walking slightly above it.
The trail doesn’t climb very high, it levels out just above the canyon and continues following the creek along a rock ledge. You can see that the trail had been carved out of the rock wall – it’s so narrow that a railing had to be installed to prevent people from tumbling down into the canyon.
A lot of the time you’ll be walking along the wall of the canyon under great rocky overhangs, including the well-known Rotunda – a particularly wide overhang.
Once you walk past the sign that says “only abseilers beyond this point”, the trail gets interesting again. You can see the creek below through the gaps in vegetation and some of these views are incredibly picturesque. And if you are walking in the afternoon you may see the walls of the canyon reflected in the creek.
This part of the trail is covered in ferns of all shapes and colours. I love ferns, they remind me of an ancient world when the earth was inhabited by the dinosaurs.
Towards the end of this section of the trail, you come to a lovely waterfall. There are some flat rocks infront of it where you can have a break from walking and enjoy the beautiful scenery around you.
The trail then runs behind the waterfall, so you’ll probably feel the spray on your face as you walk past it.
Shortly after the waterfall, you come to a pitch-black cave – the trail runs right into the darkness. The darkness, however, only lasts a couple of steps and almost straight away you see the light at the end of the tunnel. This tunnel was created by a rockfall at some time in the past and it adds another element of adventure to an already adventurous walk.
Climbing out to Neats Glen
Shortly after going through the tunnel, the trail turns sharply and starts to climb out of the canyon. If you brought lunch or a snack, now would be a good time to have it – you are going to need an energy boost.
Follow the signs to Neates Glen and climb, climb, climb. Just as you think you have reached the top of the escarpment, you round a bend in the trail and there are more steps.
The views of the monolithic sandstone walls provide a pleasant distraction from your burning legs and straining lungs and eventually you emerge at Neates Glen carpark. And immediately you begin to regret that the trail ended. And promise yourself that you will be back.
How was the Grand Canyon trail built?
NSW National Parks work continuously on improving the trail to make it safer and better signposted. But the original Grand Canyon walking track first opened to the public in 1906. To put this in perspective, it was before the Communist Revolution in Russia, before the fall of the Ottoman Empire and certainly before the days when helicopters would deposit pre-processed sandstone blocks along the trail. This very steep trail was built with nothing more than shovels, crowbars, and dynamite.
At the time, most people thought that such a track couldn’t be built. We owe the pleasure of walking this magical trail to the vision and enthusiasm of Tomas Rodrigues who first came to Blackheath as the railway station master in 1889. Thanks to his efforts, this remarkable track and an even more challenging Rodriguez Pass were built despite all the engineering challenges.
Stay overnight in Blackheath
Why not make a weekend of it and stay overnight in Blackheath. There are some exceptional boutique lodges available in the area so you can rest in luxury and take another walk the following morning. The highly-rated Federation Gardens & Possums Hideaway is one of the most conveniently located lodges on Evans Lookout Road.