There’s something very calming about getting back to nature, and in the Blue Mountains you won’t need to travel far to get immersed in our heritage listed Blue Mountains National Park, this blog series, we’re going to take you walking the Blue Mountains. From short walks of a couple of hundred metres through to full length days walks of kilometres, you’ll find out about many of the bush walks and trails over the next couple of weeks.
This week, we’re going to start off in Katoomba with the 1.1km Witches Leap Circuit and the 7.9km return walk to the Ruined Castle.
Witches Leap Circuit
While short, the Witches Leap Circuit walk is a grade 4 track so it can be a little difficult in places. The track starts near Scenic World, just a short drive from your Blue Mountains accommodation at Mountain Whispers. First stop we are heading to is Vaniman’s Lookout.
From Scenic World, you’ll need to follow the signs to the Prince Henry Cliff Walk. You’ll soon come to a wooden footbridge, which you’ll need to follow. At the end of the footbridge you’ll find an intersection with the Prince Henry Cliff Walk; continue straight through the peaceful bush track, making your way down the hill and along the wooden steps. At the signed intersection, turn right, and follow the signs to the bottom of the Scenic Railway down steep wooden steps. Once you hit the bottom of the steps, you’ll be at the intersection for Vanimans Lookout.
The first stop on today’s short walk, Vaniman’s Lookout is a narrow strip on the edge of the cliff opposite Reids Plateau. Named after Chester Vaniman in 1905, the view looks directly over to the Three Sisters. In the 1900’s this lookout was considered to be one of the best viewing spots for the Three Sisters and it’s still a great stop today.
Once you’ve finished taking in the views, your next stop will be Juliets Balcony – only about 350m away. From Vaniman’s Lookout, follow the bush track that heads away from the bottom of the stairs. You’ll find yourself winding around the side of the hill and down some metal stairs. At the bottom, you’ll come across the unsigned intersection of the Katoomba Falls Round Walk and the Juliets Balcony Track. To reach Juliets Balcony, you’ll need to veer right at the intersection and up a small set of wooden steps, and then wind your way up to the raised rock platform along the bush track. It’s a very short walk from the intersection, so you won’t miss it.
Offering more amazing views across the valley, Juliets Balcony is located near Orphan Rock and sits under the Scenic Skyway. Your views will stretch the Kedumba Valley from Katoomba Falls to the Three Sisters. Once you arrive, you’ll see why this lookout has been named Juliets Balcony.
The next part of the walk is going to take you down to Witches Leap Creek and then up to the Katoomba Falls Kiosk, which is a great place to stop for coffee, morning tea or lunch.
Once you’re ready to head off from Juliets Balcony, follow the set of wooden steps that take you down the side of the hills. Keep going until you come to the intersection of the Round Walk and the Furber Steps. At this intersection, keep going straight following the signs to the Caravan Park along the track. You’ll find yourself at Witches Leap Creek and a small wooden bridge. Take the steps that zigzag up to the intersection of Witches Leap Lookout.
Here you’ll need to veer right and head up the wooden steps, past a large rock overhang. There is a small rest area here if you feel like you need to stop or want to simply breathe in the mountain air. Continue along to the top of the hill and turn left at the intersection of the Prince Henry Cliff Walk and Reids Plateau loop walk.
To get to the Katoomba Kiosk, keep the Katoomba Falls track on your left and the picnic area on your right, and head up some concrete stairs. You’ll come out at a park near the Katoomba Kiosk. Stop for breakfast, lunch, coffee, morning tea or Devonshire tea.
Once you’ve rested the body, its time to head back to the start. Follow the Scenic Railway sign and wind along the side of the hill back through the forest. At the intersection, turn right following the unsigned bush track. You’ll shortly find yourself at the intersection of the Scenic World Footbridge. Continue walking along the wooden footbridge through to the Scenic World entrance.
Ruined Castle Walk
If you feel like a longer walk, the Ruined Castle is another Grade 4 track, but this time it’s a 7.9km return walk. It should take you around five hours, but allow time to take in the views along the way – you certainly don’t want to rush and miss anything.
This walk starts from the Golden Stairs Car park on Glenraphael Drive, and follows the Golden Stairs/To Federal Pass sign, downhill along a narrow track. As you start this first section of the walk, you’ll get glimpses towards the Three Sisters and Malaita Point. Watch where you’re going here as you’ll be walking down some steep sections of the track that have been eroded in some parts. The first stop you’ll come to is a rock platform named Botting’s Lookout.
From the lookout you’ll get some lovely views over the Jamison Valley, and the cliffs including Malaita Point and the Golden Stairs. The lookout was names after a pioneer trail-maker in the Katoomba district – Walter Botting. The next main stop, Miners Campsite, is around 2.4km away and does follow some eroded tracks, so it’s a good idea to keep an eye on where you’re walking.
Once you’re ready to head off, walk downhill along the track through a gully, and then under a small overhang. You’ll find yourself walking down a series of metal and stone staircases, before meeting an intersection with the Federal Pass. At the intersection, turn right to follow the Federal Pass – Ruined Castle sign, keeping the valley to your left.
At this point, you’ll be following an old horse-drawn coal tram route through a tall rainforest for about 1.3km. Keep your ears out for the lyrebirds, and keep your camera on the ready for some amazing photos amongst the trees. The forest will open up, and you’ll find yourself walking through some open forest. Not too far away you’ll pass a small campsite; around 700m along the track you’ll find a second, larger campsite.
This area used to be the home for miners in the area. Today, the short stone wall is pretty much all that is left of the campsite and with no water or facilities, you can only imagine how tough life was for the miners of the past. This is a lovely spot in the rainforest to stop and take a rest, and just marvel at the beauty of the area.
When you’re ready to move on, about 140m – 200m down the track you’ll come across a large flat area and then a smaller campsite. Another 100m away you’ll find a clearing at a three-way intersection. Just a short walk up to the left is a large basic campsite with old fire areas.
At the intersection you’ll start to follow the Ruined Castle sign uphill and along an eroded track. Ensure you are carrying plenty of water, as you won’t find much, if any along the next section of the trail. The trail will start to get steeper as it climbs the main ridge line, before turning to follow a rocky track. It won’t be long before you find yourself near the base of the summit of Ruined Castle.
This last section of the track from Ruined Castle to Northern Ruined Castle campsite is quite a tough walk and is recommended for only the experienced bush walkers. The track follows the ridge line gently down hill before becoming much steeper; you’ll find that you’ll be swapping from flatter to steeper track regularly along this section of the trail. When you come to the Ruined Castle arrow sign, turn left and follow the Katoomba sign with the main valley to your right. As you find yourself passing campsites and an old small coal mine you’ll almost be at the end of this tougher section.
At the next intersection, continue straight along the main track, through the forest. Only a short distance away you’ll come back to a three-way intersection with a sign pointing back to Mount Solitary. Turn left to rejoin the main walking track and then head back the same way you came to get back to your car.
This is a lovely walk but you will need to be prepared. After your walk, head back to Mountain Whispers and take a well deserved soak in the spa with a glass of wine.
Book your Blue Mountains accommodation at Mountain Whispers either online or by calling 1300 721 321