Blue Mountains, New South Wales – The Ultimate Guide

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The Blue Mountains is a UNESCO World Heritage-listed region of New South Wales about 2 hours drive west of Sydney.

This smaller section of the much larger Great Dividing Range of mountains which stretches the entire length of the east coast of Australia is best known for its natural wonders. Especially its stunning limestone cliffs, prehistoric eucalyptus forests and waterfalls.

So, with an abundance of natural attractions, the Blue Mountains is one of the most popular day trips out of Sydney and often a weekend getaway. However, you could also spend a couple of weeks to really properly explore all that the region has to discover.

The Best Things To Do In The Blue Mountains

The Three Sisters/Echo Point Lookout

The Three Sisters - Blue Mountains, New South Wales

Easily the most famous and recognisable landmark of the Blue Mountains region, The Three Sisters in Katoomba is a must-visit on any trip to the area.

Best viewed from Echo Point lookout, these iconic sandstone formations each are over 900m tall with cultural significance to the local Aboriginal tribes.

While the specifics of the local legend of the creation of the Three Sisters does vary depending on which version you are told, in essence, the story is that the three sisters, Meehni, Wimlah and Gunnedoo, of the local Katoomba tribe turned into stone for their own protection by a tribal elder. However, that elder was unable to turn them back afterwards.

You can certainly find out more about the different creation stories when you get there and see The Three Sisters for yourself.

Pro Tip: If you want a great photo of The Three Sisters from Echo Point, the lookout is west of the rock formation so later in the day, particularly late afternoon you’ll get the best light where the rocks aren’t in shadow. They are also typically lit up until about 11pm if you would like to see them a bit later in your trip.

It’s also worth noting that Echo Point get very busy with tourists, particularly on the weekends. So if you would like a more peaceful experience, try to get there first thing in the morning or in the late afternoon.

Beyond just looking at The Three Sisters, you can also walk down to the rock formation following the short Three Sisters Walk for more stunning views out over the Blue Mountains.

Echo Point Lookout as seen from Honeymoon Bridge
Echo Point Lookout as seen from Honeymoon Bridge

If you are feeling a little more adventurous you can take the first part of the Giant Stairway down to Honeymoon Bridge, which connects to the first sister.

You have the time, especially if you are spending the whole day in Katoomba, you can continue to follow the very narrow stairway all the way down to the floor of the Jamison Valley for even more stunning views and a special appreciation of the scale of the sandstone cliffs that dominate the Blue Mountains region.

Don’t stress however, you don’t have to climb back to the top, you can follow the trail through the valley to Scenic World and take the Scenic Railway back up the mountain. But we’ll get to Scenic World shortly.

Pro Tip: The Giant Stairway is a strenuous hike, even if it is all downhill. It’s a very narrow stairway that can be very tricky to climb. You will need proper footwear and water. If you aren’t confident in your ability to take the hike there are other far easier hikes in and around the Blue Mountains.

If hiking into the valley isn’t for you, but you still want to see more stunning views along the stunning cliff tops, then I would also recommend following the Prince Henry Cliff Walk.

This trail interlinks Scenic World (which we’ll get to shortly) with the Leura Cascades and Gordon Falls via Echo Point Lookout. Showcasing some of the most stunning views that the Blue Mountains views have to offer.

Wentworth Falls

Wentworth Falls - Blue Mountains, New South Wales

The Blue Mountains are home to a number of waterfalls, but the best known is the stunning Wentworth Falls.

One of the first iconic stops on the drive from Sydney along the Great Western Highway, Wentworth Falls 187 meter waterfall with a number of lookouts to appreciate the sheer scale of the landscape.

However to really appreciate the falls you really need to hike one of the trails. The shorter option is the Wentworth Falls track which will take you to the top of the falls where you can see the top cascades of the Jamison Creek which feed the waterfall.

The path is well laid out and maintained, with a fence along the dangerous sections so as to keep people from accidentally wandering along the slippery rocks to the edge. The walk should take you a little over an hour for the return trip back to the Wentworth Falls carpark and picnic area.

If you are feeling properly fit and adventurous, then you can continue further along the National Pass track to the bottom of the waterfall. From there you can connect with the Wentworth Pass track for a slightly less strenuous hike back to the carpark.

It’s not just Wentworth Falls that is the attraction of this hike, there are a number of amazing lookouts and a couple of other waterfalls that you will discover along the way.

Just keep in mind you will need several hours to complete this hike, but the view from the bottom is stunning and tranquil as very few people are willing to put in the effort to get all the way to the bottom.

Scenic World

Scenic World - Blue Mountains, New South Wales

Scenic World is the premier tourist attraction in the Blue Mountains.

Located in Katoomba, a short drive from Echo Point, Scenic World offers the least strenuous ways to enjoy the sights of the region including a few unique ways to see iconic The Three Sisters.

The best-known attraction is the Scenic Railway. Officially the steepest passenger railway in the world, the track descends 310 metres the taking passengers all the way down to the floor of the Jamison Valley.

The railway was originally built to service a coal mine in the valley but was later converted to a tourist operation in 1945. Don’t stress, it’s been updated a few times since then! And you can enjoy some stunning views out of the trains glass roof (yes, you read that correctly), on the journey down (or up).

While the scenic railway is the best known of the attractions, Scenic World also operates the Scenic Cable Car and the Scenic Skyway both of which offer their own stunning views and are all covered under one ticket.

The Scenic Railway and Scenic Cable Car are interlinked by the Scenic Walkway (as well as a couple of other longer trails through the National Park) at the bottom of the valley so you can take one to the bottom, explore the forest before making the trip back to the top.

If you are spending the day on Katoomba, make sure you also take the Round walking track, which conveniently starts at Scenic World’s carpark (although part of the national park, so no entry fee is required), to also check out Katoomba Falls.

Katoomba Falls is an often overlooked waterfall as it is hidden away between Echo Point and Scenic World, but it’s another stunning example of a cascade waterfall, and a different way to explore the forests of the Jamison Valley if you find the entry fee of Scenic World a bit too pricey.

If you are short on time, you could just solely do the Scenic Skyway cable car service that offers great uninterrupted views over the valley and out towards The Three Sisters and Katoomba Falls.

Zig Zag Railway

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the Zig Zag Railway near Lithgow in this post.

In recent years this iconic attraction in the Blue Mountains has been ravaged by two bushfires (2013 & 2019) and a flood, but a group of local volunteers have been working hard behind the scenes to repair the damage and bring back the tourist service.

Due to re-open in 2022, this heritage railway line originally opened in 1869 and served as a unique solution to provide train services through this otherwise insurmountable climb and descent on the western side of the Blue Mountains.

The railway line served as part of the main passenger and cargo service between Sydney and Western New South Wales for a little over 40 years until it was bypassed by a series of tunnels to allow larger trains to service the regions.

A testament to the engineering feat that created the Zig Zag Railway, the line was preserved long after the commercial services stop and was reopened for scenic tourist services, offering stunning views out over the valley. Something well worth experiencing for yourself when the service resumes.

Govetts Leap

Govett's Leap - Blue Mountains, New South Wales

If you want to explore the natural wonders of the Blue Mountains, but not deal with the crowds that tend to flock to The Three Sisters and Wentworth Falls, Govetts Leap is your best bet.

Just as stunning, at least in my opinion, Govetts Leap is still quite a popular lookout, but doesn’t attract the masses that some of the other viewpoints and waterfalls around the Blue Mountains tend to attract. But that doesn’t mean it’s any less impressive.

You will find Govetts Leap Lookout in the township of Blackheath. And as such it offers a different view from the lookouts around Katoomba instead, overlooking the Grose Valley.

The first waterfall you see from the lookout is the one most commonly known as Govetts Leap but is also one of a number of waterfalls throughout the Blue Mountains referred to as Bridal Veil Waterfall. Confusing, I know.

Beyond the view, there are a number of hiking trails that all commence from the carpark of the lookout. I would strongly recommend following the Cliff Top Track to at least Barrow Lookout for a different view over both the valley and the waterfall.

You can also use Govetts Leap as a starting point to a hike to a number of other noteworthy lookouts around the Blue Mountains, including both Pulpit Rock and Evans Lookout, as well as heading down into the Grose Valley if you are prepared enough.

You can find out more about the hikes and other waterfalls in the area by visiting the Blue Mountains Heritage Centre which is conveniently located about 500m from the lookout.

Glow Worm Tunnel/Newnes

What do you get when you combine a disused railway tunnel and bioluminescent larvae? The Glow Worm Tunnel in Newnes.

Just outside of Lithgow, Newnes Glow Worm Tunnel is probably the best known, and most easily accessible, attraction of the now-abandoned oil shale mining site in the Wolgan Valley.

Now part of the Wollemi National Park on the western edge of the Blue Mountains, this protected site has an interesting history in addition to the stunning natural phenomenon of the local glow-worm residents.

The easiest way to see the glow worms for yourself is to take the Glow Worm Tunnel walking track, which follows the old railway line down to the tunnel, in what is a relatively easy 2km roundtrip hike.

The Glow Worm Tunnel track starts (at least for the least strenuous walk) from the carpark on the aptly named Glow Worm Tunnel Road. A roughly hour-long drive along mostly gravel road. But you will find a number of stunning viewpoints along the way.

That’s not the only route to the Glow Worm Tunnel, but it certainly is the easiest. If you are looking for a more adventurous hike to the tunnel, there is another hike starting from Wolgan Road following Old Coach Road. Although this route isn’t as well signposted.

However, the tunnel isn’t the only attraction. You can also explore the ruins of the former mining town of Newnes. Also accessible from Wolgan Road you can follow the Newnes Industrial Ruins walk through the remains of the historic village.

It’s also worth noting you should be able to access Glow Worm Tunnel Road most of the time with a regular 2WD car, after heavy rains the gravel road might only be suitable for 4WD cars. Access to the car park for the Newnes Industrial Ruins walk is 4WD only (it includes a shallow river crossing).

Newnes is also a popular spot within the Blue Mountains to camp if you would like to spend a few days hiking the many trails in the Wolgan Valley. If camping isn’t your style there are plenty of accommodation options that we’ll get to later in this blog post.

Catalina Park

Catalina Park - Katoomba, Blue Mountains

Speaking of abandoned places, did you know that the Blue Mountains is home to an abandoned race track?

Catalina Park in Katoomba has an interesting and somewhat obscure story which I’ve properly delved into in this blog post.

Needless to say, if anything in that blog post grabs your interest, make sure you drop in and explore the site while you are in the Blue Mountains.

Ruined Castle

One of the most rewarding day hikes that the Blue Mountains has to offer is the Ruined Castle walking track.

Second only to The Three Sisters, Ruined Castle is one of the most recognisable landmarks of the Jamison Valley.

Not only is this rock formation impressive in its own right… But after you climb to the top the views out over the rest of the valley (out towards both Wentworth Falls and Katoomba) are truly stunning.

The walk itself isn’t particularly strenuous, be there are a couple of steep climbs, including scrambling over the rocks of Ruined Castle to get to the top for the best views, which does require some level of fitness.

You will need to give yourself a minimum of 3 to 4 hours to complete the hike along the Ruined Castle walking track. However with the views and the number of historic mining artifacts that line the route to also explore, it’s best you give yourself a bit more buffer to complete the round trip.

The trail begins at the Golden Stairs before descending into Jamison Valley. The whole route is very well signposted so you shouldn’t have too many issues with completing the trek, even if you aren’t a seasoned hiker.

You can find the start of the Ruined Castle walking track at the Golden Stairs lookout where you can park your car. Via the Narrow Neck Plateau Trail (a gravel road easily accessible to most cars).

If you are feeling even more adventurous, you could continue to follow the signs to Mount Solitary. However, this is definitely a harder and more remote trail, much better suited as a multi-day hike.

Just keep in mind, with all these hikes throughout the Blue Mountains, make sure you are properly prepared with water, snacks, and anything else you might need before you go.

Jenolan Caves

Jenolan Caves - Blue Mountains, New South Wales

While the Jenolan Caves might not immediately come to mind when you think of the Blue Mountains, they do reside in the greater Blue Mountains area just over an hours drive to the south of Katoomba.

If you are planning on spending more than just a day in the Blue Mountains, then you should absolutely include the Jenolan Caves as part of a trip. And if not, you could definitely visit the caves as a separate day trip out of Sydney.

Discovered by European settlers in 1840, the Jenolan Caves have a long history prior to that the local with the indigenous population. All of which you can discover more about when you get there.

The caves were opened as a tourist attraction in 1872, however the area was still being explored with new caves still being discovered into the early 1900s. 

Jenolan Caves are now protected as part of the UNESCO World Heritage listing covering the entire Blue Mountains region, but you can still explore the site with one of several guided tours.

The tours do change from time to time, but popular caves include the Lucas Cave, Orient Cave and Imperial Cave all of which are well worth exploring and well set up for most fitness levels. They do have some steep climbs, but all with stairs with handrails.

Regardless of which tour you take, you will get to witness a variety of natural crystal formations that are truly stunning to see first-hand. The water flowing through the sandstone caves mean that these formations are constantly changing and growing so it’s never the same even if you have visited or seen some photos before.

If that all sounds a bit tame, Jenolan Caves do also offer a few more immersive experiences as well for the extremely adventurous.

Jenolan Cave House

However, the caves themselves aren’t the only attraction. The historic Jenolan Cave House built back in 1898 is an attraction in its own right. Not only home to the ticket office for the cave tours, the building also offers accommodation the local restaurant options for those enjoying the caves.

You can also get some fresh air with a number of hikes around the Jenolan Cave complex. Of particular note, make sure you take the famous Blue Lake trail.

The Blue Lake is part of the river system that passes through the mountains, in fact, you will no doubt see an underground section of the river inside one of the caves. The water picks up minerals, the same ones that create the unique crystal structures inside the caves, on its journey through the mountains to create this amazing milky aqua colour of the water.

Pro Tip: Jenolan Caves Road, the only way into and out of the caves, is extremely twisty and narrow in sections. You will need patience for the drive down to the caves during peak times. Also, keep in mind that due to the narrow nature of the road the north (the way you most likely will drive into the caves) does close to outbound traffic for an hour to allow the tourist busses to come in.

If that does happen you can follow Jenolan Caves Road in the other direction towards Edith and then Oberon to continue your journey.

The Best Time Of Year To Visit The Blue Mountains

When is a good time to go to the Blue Mountains? Any time really. The Blue Mountains is one of those year-round destinations with plenty to offer no matter the weather.

In the peak of summer, when it’s hot and sunny the waterfalls tend to be very popular. If it’s raining you can visit Jenolan Caves.

The Blue Mountains can get quite hot in the summer, and while it’s not a common occurrence, it has snowed in the Blue Mountains during the winter.

Those who are more active and want to hike all of the trails should probably avoid the peak of summer. And also keep an eye out for other extreme weather. (Although this is very rare).

For those avid hikers out there. The Blue Mountains has trails worth exploring at any point during the year. Just watch out for the extremes of the weather (heat, rain, bushfires, etc), especially if you are planning on doing a multi-day hike.

Where Are The Blue Mountains

The Blue Mountains region is actually quite a large area to the west of Sydney.

While most people might associate the Blue Mountains with Katoomba which is roughly a 1.5-hour drive from Sydney, the region is quite widespread.

Depending on who you ask, the Blue Mountains area (including its National Park) can stretch as far as Emu Plains in the east out to Lithgow in the west.

To the south, the Blue Mountains National Park includes Oberon and Jenolan Caves all the way down to the Wombeyan Caves. While to the north, Mount Wilson marks the separation with the Wollemi National Park which people can also often include as part of the region.

How To Get To And From The Blue Mountains

How To Get To And From The Blue Mountains

Driving to and from the Blue Mountains will give you the most options when you get there.

The drive from Sydney to the Blue Mountains is relatively straightforward by following either the Great Western Highway nearly the entire route or the M4 Motorway until it turns into the Great Western Highway with plenty of scenic stops along the way and you climb through (and over) the mountains.

Bells Line of Road from Richmond to Lithgow offers an alternate route.

That said, driving isn’t the only way to get to the Blue Mountains, and if you are planning on spending all of your time in one town, like Katoomba, then you might be able to get away without a car. But you will be doing a lot of walking!

Sydney Trains service the Blue Mountains with the conveniently named Blue Mountains train line.

The rail service links the city with towns throughout the Blue Mountains including Blaxland, Wentworth Falls, Katoomba, Blackheath (just to name a few) before the service ends at Lithgow.

Several tour companies also offer day trip services out of Sydney.

How To Get Around The Blue Mountains

As I just mentioned, having a car is the easiest way to get around the Blue Mountains and opens up so many more opportunities to explore all that the region has to offer.

However, if you are an avid hiker, or just don’t mind walking a lot, you should be able to get around towns like Katoomba without a car. It will just limit how much you can see. That said there are several hiking trails through the Blue Mountains National Park interlink towns but those are often part of multiday hikes.

That said if the prospect of driving around is a little too daunting. Or you are just looking for an easy option to see the highlights of the Blue Mountains without too much planning, there are the Blue Mountains Explorer hop-on/hop-off bus services that operate tours predominantly through Katoomba.

Best Accommodation Options In The Blue Mountains

Best Accommodation Options In The Blue Mountains

The Blue Mountains have the full spectrum of accommodation options, so you shouldn’t have any issues in finding somewhere to stay.

On the extreme end, there are plenty of free camping options throughout the national parks. While the Blue Mountains is also home to the most lavish, luxurious hidden away resort in Australia – the One and Only Wolgan Valley.

In between those, you will plenty of various options scattered all over the region.

Noteworthy Options

Before I get into the town specific options, I thought I’d make mention of some of the more noteworthy accommodation options that really should be on the top of your list. Especially if your trip to the Blue Mountains is for a special occasion.

I just made mention of the Emirates One&Only Wolgan Valley resort. Made up entirely of private villas, this hidden away luxury resort in the Blue Mountains is the ultimate weekend getaway from the “real world”.

The resort offers a number of experiences, some of which are included in your stay. Definitely take advantage of the guided nature and wildlife walks, in between relaxing at the onsite spa or in your villa’s private pool.

Another very noteworthy accommodation option to mention is the Hydro Majestic Blue Mountains. This iconic hotel is a sight to behold as you drive along the Great Western Highway through the Blue Mountains.

The ultimate in luxury when it originally opened in 1904, the Hydro Majestic still maintains its unique appeal with elegantly refurbished art-deco inspired rooms with stunning views out over the Megalong Valley.

Katoomba/Leura

When looking for somewhere to stay in the Blue Mountains, Katoomba is probably the first place that comes to mind and with good reason.

Katoomba, and the neighbouring Leura, is the central tourist hub of the Blue Mountains with the most instantly recognizable attraction The Three Sister. So it’s no wonder this is where you will find the greatest concentration of hotels and resorts as well.

If your a looking to make your trip to the Katoomba truly indulgent, the Fairmont Resort & Spa Blue Mountains MGallery by Sofitel (which is actually in Leura) should be at the top of your list. The resort is not only situated with stunning views out over the Jamison Valley but has a range of activities including a day spa, two pools and five on-site restaurants.

Lilianfels Blue Mountains Resort & Spa is also a good alternative top tier experience in Katoomba with its own day spa and pool, but only two restaurants. While Hotel Mountain Heritage Blue Mountains offers stunning views in heritage styled rooms.

For people more like myself, where accommodation is just somewhere to get some sleep while exploring a destination. I’ve got a few cheaper, yet still comfortable options for you as well.

If you are planning a longer stay, a week or so, then the apartment-style option of Leisure Inn Spires is your best bet.

For a shorter stay, then either the Alpine Motor Inn or the 3 Sisters Motel are both very good comfortable options. While backpackers might want to check out the Blue Mountains YHA for both private and dorm-style rooms.

Lithgow

Lithgow is a great alternative when looking at accommodation options in the Blue Mountains.

Located at the junction of two of the major routes through the mountains, the Great Western Highway and Bells Line of Road, Lithgow is a great spot to base yourself overnight if you are looking to explore several lookouts and trails along both routes.

Also if you plan to spend most of your time either exploring Newnes and/or the Zig Zag Railway.

With that in mind, the Zig Zag Motel & Apartments is my pick of the options in Lithgow, the onsite restaurant makes for a great and convenient place to relax after a big day of exploring.

Lithgow Workies Club Motel and Lithgow Park Side Motor Inn are also good alternatives.

Blackheath

In between Katoomba and Lithgow, Blackheath also offers some good accommodation options to consider.

If you are looking to spend most of your time in the Blue Mountains hiking and exploring the lookouts of Grose Valley but not want to have to concern yourself with camping, then Blackheath is the ideal spot for you to stay.

High Mountains Motor Inn is the most modern option in Blackheath, with clean comfortable rooms ideal for a short stay.

For a really short overnight stay, the rustic New Ivanhoe Hotel or Gardners Inn Hotel have their own unique appeal. Just pay a little bit extra to get a room with a private bathroom.

If you are travelling as a larger group or with family there are a number of cottages and holiday houses available in Blackheath as well, but I can’t provide a recommendation on those as I haven’t stayed in any of those.

Oberon

If the main purpose of your trip to the Blue Mountains is to visit the Jenolan Caves, but the Cave House is outside of your price range, then I would suggest that you have a look at staying in Oberon.

While not technically part of the Blue Mountains, Oberon is the closest town to Jenolan Caves and offers something very different. Especially if you are planning on visiting the Blue Mountains during the winter as it does often snow in Oberon.

There is a mix of accommodation options in Oberon but I would suggest either Highlands Motor Inn or Jenolan Caravan Park.

Where To Find Food In The Blue Mountains/What To Do In The Evenings

A night out in the Blue Mountains can be as simple as a quick pub meal and a couple of drinks, or an extravagant 5-course fine dining experience. It really depends on what you are looking for and where you are staying. One of the appeals of some of the accommodation options outlined earlier in this post is the onsite restaurants.

Katoomba/Leura

As with accommodation, Katoomba is well set up for the tourist market and offers the most options. You’ll find a number of casual and fine dining restaurants along near the entire length of Katoomba Street through the centre of town.

If you would like to appreciate some of the grand tourist histories of the area, check out The Grand Dining Room at The Carrington Hotel.

The neighbouring Leura also features a number of boutique bars and restaurants. All of which you can find with a quick stroll along the Leura Mall.

Didn’t get enough walking in during the day? You can get in another hike after dark with the Katoomba Falls night walk. It’s the same trail you can take during the day, it’s just lit up until 11pm. It’s also worth noting that the Three Sisters are also lit up until about 10:30pm each night.

Blue Mountains, New South Wales

Feel free to share this post with your friends and if you’d like some more general travel tips, I’ve got you covered over here. 

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Photo of author

By Rhys Vandersyde

Traveller, Photographer, Content Creator - I've spent the last 20 years actively seeking out new destinations and new adventures. Find out more about me here: vandersyde.com.au
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