Leven Canyon is a 250-metre deep ravine in north-west Tasmania. It is Tasmania’s deepest limestone gulch, which is a narrow and steep-sided ravine marking the course of a river or a stream. The river that carved Leven Canyon is the wild Leven River that begins on the western slopes of 1,339-meter-high Black Bluff and runs to the idyllic coastline of the Bass Strait 56 km away.
The best way to explore the wild beauty of Leven Canyon is by taking the Leven Canyon walk. This short walk is one of the lesser-known Tasmania’s Great Short Walks, with stunning views of the ravine and Leven River from two lookouts.
Technically, there are three separate walks: Fern Walk & Edge Lookout (30 min return), Cruickshanks Lookout (20 min return) and Circuit Walk (45 min loop) that combines the two via the Forest Stairs into a 1.9km circuit.
The circuit walk can be down in either direction. However, most people prefer to walk down the 697 steps on the Forest Stairs and take this walk in a counterclockwise direction, starting at Cruickshanks lookout. This way, you still have to climb up via the steep section of the Edge lookout walk, but it’s shorter and doesn’t have steps.
At the end of the day, the entire circuit is quite short, so it’s not that big a deal which way you climb. We did the walk in a clockwise direction taking the Forest Stairs at a measured pace. But if you’d rather avoid the stairs entirely, you can visit the lookouts one at a time, returning to the car park between the two walks.
And if you only want to visit one lookout, here’s the difference: the path to Cruikshanks lookout is flatter, and the view is more expansive. At the Edge lookout, the canyon is narrower, and it feels wilder, plus you get to walk through the Fern Glade.
Leven Canyon Cirquit at a Glance
- Distance: 1.9 km loop
- Grade: 3 because of the steep ascent
- Walking time: 45 min
- Start & Finish: Leven Canyon picnic area
- Amenities: spacious car park, toilets, shelter, picnic tables, BBQ
- Getting there: Leven canyon is located along Leven Canyon Rd, off Loongana Rd. 41 km from Ulverstone, 56 km from Devonport
Fern Walk & Edge Lookout
Heading towards the Edge lookout, the trail started as the very atmospheric Fern Walk. The path meandered downhill among giant tree ferns, some of which were up to 5 meters high and 159 years old. In this patch of wet forest, tree trunks are wrapped in thick coats of moss and the ground is carpeted by a lush blanket of mother shield fern with various lichen and fungi, adding colour to the forest’s dark green.
The descent becomes progressively steeper as you walk along. In the steepest sections, there is a rope railing installed along the path. It’s nothing dramatic on the way down, but climbing this trail up will take some effort.
About halfway along you come to a junction with the Forest Stairs track on your right. Walk past it, for now, continuing to the Edge lookout.
From the junction, it’s only a few more minutes to the Edge lookout. You’ll notice the vegetation change as wet forest with its ferns, mosses, and short trees gives way to plants from the sunnier, dry cliff edge
The Edge lookout juts out from the canyon’s edge above the meandering Leven River below. As soon as you step out from the shelter of the forest onto the exposed lookout platform, you’ll be battered by the strong westerly winds. So make sure to hold on to any loose items like hats or lens caps.
The canyon is quite narrow in this section, and the towering bulk of the 1,339 meters high Black Bluff mountain on the other side dominates the view. It is the regions first peak to get a dusting of snow each winter due to its exposure to westerly winds. The view from the Edge lookout is incredibly dramatic, with forested limestone cliffs of Loongana Range rising sharply from the river valley hundreds of meters below.
Once you can tear yourself away from the lookout, re-trace your steps to the intersection with the Forest Stairs trail and cross over the bridge.
The stairs start straight away, all 697 of them. But the trail and the steps are well maintained, and there is a rope railing provided along the trail if you need to push yourself up now and then.
The ascent is broken up by a series of wooden benches with their seats doubling up as signboards, counting down the number of steps you’ve already covered and how many are left until the next bench.
The forest in this section is lovely, with a few massive tree trunks lying by the side of the trail here and there. It’s a wetter forest than at the canyon’s edge, so you will see plenty of fungi and mossy tree stumps.
While the view from the Edge lookout was narrow and dramatic, the panorama of Cruikshanks lookout is epic and expansive. At 275 meters, the drop down to Leven River is even more dizzying here, and the rugged mountains of Loongana Range seem to stretch on forever.
The Black Bluff is as imposing as it was at the Edge lookout, but it’s slightly further away, set within the context of the surrounding landscape. We scanned the sky for eagles and other birds of prey, but it must’ve been too windy for them to ride the thermal currents. But we did spot a pademelon on the walk back to the car park.
Leven Canyon Reserve is part of a critical ‘ribbon of refuge’ – a corridor of protected wildlife habitat that stretches from the Bass Strait to Cradle Mountain. It is home to a plethora of wildlife including the two threatened carnivores: the Tasmanian devil and Spotted-tailed quoll, as well as dusky antechinus and Tasmanian pademelon. The birdlife in this part of Tasmania is rich and diverse from the magnificent Wedge-tailed eagles to the gorgeous Pink robin. Many Tasmanian endemic bird species can also be seen on Leven Canyon trails, particularly Yellow wattlebirds and Green rosellas.
The elusive carnivores are difficult to spot in the wild, but if you are keen to see wild Tassie devils and spotted quolls, spend a couple of nights in the nearby Mountain Valley Log Cabins. We had some incredible encounters with wildlife there.
The walk from Cruikshanks Lookout back to the car park is a pleasant stroll through the forest over welcomed flat terrain.
What to see around Leven Canyon
To the south, the canyon is surrounded by more forest, while to the north, the landscape changes to the rolling hills of pastures and farmland. There are a few interesting spots to check out while you are in the area – the caves, a wildlife park and a waterfall.
Gunns Plains Caves
An easy 20-minute drive from the canyon, the underground Gunns Plains Caves are a dazzling labyrinth of calcite shawls and flowstones, with a small colony of glowworms hidden in one of the nooks. Guided cave tours are run daily at 10 am, 11 am, 12 pm, 1.30 pm, 2.30 pm and 3.30 pm. But if you arrive a little later than the advertised start time, like we did, drop by the reception area – the tour might still be waiting for more participants.
A 10-minute drive from the Caves, Preston Falls is a lovely 25-meter waterfall that plunges of a cliff into the forested gorge. It is reached by a 5-min easy walk from the signposted pull-in bay on Raymond Road. The trail runs through wet blackwood forest, across a small bridge over the creek that feeds the falls, so you can see the very top of the falls as well as a good side view.
Wings Wildlife Park
On the opposite side of Gunns Plains Road, Wings Wildlife Park is one of the most popular wildlife parks in Tasmania. It offers a variety of animal encounters and presentations. The admission fee is $28 for adults and $15 for children. There is also an excellent cafe at the park that you can eat at whether you visit the wildlife park or not.
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