Only 50 minutes drive south of central Sydney, the Royal National Park‘s rugged coastline intersects with dozens of bushwalking trails, making it a favourite playground for locals.
Experienced and up for a challenge? At 26 kilometres, the Coast Track between Bundeena and Otford takes in the park’s highlights, including soaring rock formations, scenic rockpools, towering waterfalls, dense rainforests and ocean views (make sure to keep an eye out for migrating whales between May and October).
If you’re looking for a short but equally scenic walk for the family, try the Glow Worm Tunnel trail in Wollemi National Park, which is only a 2- and a half-hours drive west of Sydney at Lithgow, just beyond the Blue Mountains. Although steep in parts, the two-kilometre return trail passes through a forest before arriving at its centrepiece: a 400-metre historic rail tunnel, where thousands of tiny glow worms sparkle on the walls.
Wolgan Valley Eco Tours runs a half-day, 9-kilometre guided option if you’d like a longer adventure with an expert guide.
You could spend years hiking the Blue Mountains National Park, an hour’s drive west of the city, and still find new swoon-worthy vantage points — it’s UNESCO World Heritage-listed wilderness sprawls over 2,700 square kilometres.
For a great introduction, explore the Katoomba region. A favourite is the Govetts Leap To Evans Lookout walk. This six-kilometre return walk passes through dense, windswept heathland; you’ll see she-oaks, banksias and stunted mallee scrub.
It’s also a great area for birdwatching, so keep your eyes peeled for yellow-tailed black cockatoos and king parrots.
The heath comes alive with colourful displays of wildflowers in spring, attracting nectar-loving birds such as the white-naped honeyeater.
The Great North Walk spans 260-kilometres between Sydney and Newcastle and takes up to 18 days. But you don’t need to do it all in one go — mixing and matching a series of single- or multi-day walks is a great way to experience its diversity at your own pace.
The trail starts at Macquarie Place in the city centre, crosses Sydney Harbour by ferry, then passes through several national parks and state forests, and alongside Lake Macquarie, before finishing at Queens Wharf in Newcastle. Not sure where to start? Sign up for a guided three-day hike with Life’s An Adventure or visit the Great North Walk website to choose your trails.
For some of the state’s most spectacular coastal vistas, explore the Forest Walk to Sublime Point Track along the Illawarra Escarpment, south of Sydney. The track starts at Coalcliff — about an hour by train from Central Station — and meanders through upland swamps and blackbutt forest with panoramic views of Wollongong and beyond.
Fourteen thigh-burning kilometres later, you’ll arrive at pretty Austinmer, where you can cool off at the patrolled beach before boarding the train back to the city. With its steep and laddered sections, this is a challenging trail only for the experienced, but its stunning views make it well worth the effort.
Step back in time in World Heritage-listed Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, just 40 minutes drive north of the city centre, where forested bush trails afford epic views over the Hawkesbury River, Pittwater and Barrenjoey Head.
At least 800 sacred Aboriginal art sites can be found within the park. The Aboriginal Heritage Walk, a 4.4-kilometre loop, is an excellent introduction to rock art and engravings, including the impressive Red Hands Cave. To learn more about these sacred sites and the Guringai Aboriginal people who created them, book a walk with Guringai Aboriginal Tours.