Mount McLeod is a lesser known peak in Mount Buffalo National Park. Located in the most remote part of the park on the North Buffalo Plateau, it’s the perfect way to enjoy the rocky, rugged landscape with absolutely no one else around. While the Mount McLeod hike from Reservoir Road can easily be completed in a day, it also offers the only real overnight hike in the whole national park.
I decided that I’d enjoy a night out in the wild and camp at the Mount McLeod Camping Area to soak in the summit at sunset. I was the only one camping out there in the middle of February, and had the incredible place to myself.
The Mount McLeod overnight hike is nothing challenging, and in fact, I highly recommend it to any beginners for a first time backpacking adventure. However, even for seasoned hikers like myself, it’s never a bad idea to camp out for the night and enjoy the alpine region in a more intimate way.
This guide to the Mount McLeod hike will have everything you need to know, including trail notes from my experience.
Quick facts about the Mt McLeod Hike
- Distance: 17.6km
- Time to complete: 1-2 days
- Total ascent: 432m
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Start/end: Reservoir Road Picnic Area, Mount Buffalo National Park
- Campgrounds: Mount McLeod Camping Area
- Fees: There are camping fees for Mount McLeod Camping Area which is $7.10 per site
- Respect: This part of the High Country is the Traditional Home of the Taungurung People
- Nearest town: Porepunkah is 30km away or the larger town of Bright is 38km away
When to complete the hike
You can complete the Mount McLeod hike at any time of the year. However, Mount Buffalo does receive snow fall in the winter, and this affects the North Buffalo Plateau and Mount McLeod.
It’s best to complete this hike in the summer season or green season which runs from November to April. This is when the weather is at its warmest and most stable, with incredible views from the summit. I did the hike in February and it was absolutely perfect weather.
However, you can technically do this hike all year round. It’s open even during winter, although if you wanted to do it then it would be a longer hike as Reservoir Road is usually closed. You would have to start from the main Buffalo Road. You’d also likely be hiking through some snow, so it’s best to be experienced in winter alpine conditions if you wanted to attempt this.
How to get to Mount Buffalo National Park
Mt Buffalo is around 325 kilometres north east of Melbourne, which is a three-and-a-half-hour drive. It’s proximity to the town of Bright, makes it a really popular place for people to visit. However, very few make the effort to camp up at Buffalo, so the hiking trails are generally pretty quiet even in summer.
If you’re exploring the beautiful town of Bright, here are a couple of places to stay:
Ashwood Cottages | Two minutes from Bright town centre, this one-bedroom quirky cottage is the perfect getaway for two. They also offer free bike rental. Check their availability here.
The Stelvio Villas | This luxurious and modern villa is right in the middle of Bright. It can sleep up to five guests making it great for groups. Check their availability here.
Otherwise, the main campground at Mount Buffalo National Park is Lake Catani Campground. If you want to explore more of the national park before or after your Mount McLeod hike, this is the only place to stay. Located on the central plateau, it has 49 campsites for all different setups including caravans, campervans, and tents. You must book and pay for your site prior to arrival through the Parks Victoria website here.
Where to park
The hike starts on Reservoir Road which is a dirt road near the Park Office. If you’re driving up the mountain on Mount Buffalo Road, it’ll be on your right with only a small wooden sign for it. If you follow this to the end, you’ll find Reservoir Picnic Area.
This picnic area has a small car park (pictured above) where you can leave your car for the night. The start of the walk is just back down the road a bit at the management track (pictured below).
Day 1: Reservoir Road to Mount McLeod Camping Area
- Distance: 7.7km (to the camping area)
- Time: 2.5 hours
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Total Ascent: 330m
I started the hike around mid-morning, in no real hurry to cover the 8 or so kilometres to camp. I parked my van and then headed back down the road to the management track and official start of the Mount McLeod Walking Track.
The whole trail is a fire break and management track, although it seemed seldom used when I ambled along it. It takes you through beautiful forest and wild scrub the whole way, until it opens up onto snow plains at the camping area.
After beginning the walk, you’ll see the turn off for Mollisons Galleries Track on your left, which is a nice day hike. Not long after that you’ll see another trail on your right which is the Mount McLeod Shortcut Track. This is a walking trail that diverts off the management track and rejoins it further along. I decided not to take it and instead just continued to walk along the management track. In actual fact, I don’t think the “shortcut track” is much shorter in distance, but it does cut off a decent hill and is a bit flatter.
I continued along the management track, which is covered in foliage. It’s relatively flat for the first 2km, but then takes you down a steep descent to a gully. This gully is a lush green spot, but this does mean the grass is really long and is the only part of the track which was overgrown. I watched for snakes here but didn’t see any.
The track then starts to ascend gradually, and you’ll see the walking trail/shortcut track meet back up with the main track on your right. The final 4km is quite undulating. It’s nothing too difficult but it was nice to finally come out of the forest and onto the swampy snow plains.
This was clearly the camping area, marked by a wooden sign on your right. You’ll see where other people have pitched their tent, but I found a nice spot straight ahead in a little alcove under some trees.
I relaxed for most of the afternoon reading, until I decided to head up to the Mount McLeod summit for sunset.
Mount McLeod Summit hike
- Distance: 2.4km return (to/from the camping area)
- Time: 1 hour
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Total ascent: 138m
The trail to the summit continues across the snow plains and up past the toilet. It becomes a skinny trail here as it starts to climb up through the trees and then eventually over the rocks and boulders of the summit.
The trail is not overly difficult, but the last half you will be doing some light scrambling up the rocks to get to the top. It’s not very well marked but you can see where other people have gone, so just pay attention as you go.
The rocky summit has plenty of different vantage points, looking over Mount Buffalo National Park and down into the Buckland Valley.
I enjoyed the changing colours of the sky and the dark shadows over the landscape. As soon as the sun disappeared though, I headed back down to make it to my tent before complete darkness.
Day 2: Mount McLeod Camping Area to Reservoir Road
- Distance: 7.7km (from camp back to the car park)
- Time: 2.5 hours
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Total ascent: 288m
The next morning I woke to relatively warm air and clear skies again. As usual, I took it slow and packed my tent up by around 9.30am. I had been the only one camping out there for the night, and it was my first time solo camping with no one else around, so it was a great experience.
I headed back along the Mount McLeod Walking Track again, which seemed to look different from the reverse direction. Before I’d even made the halfway mark, I spotted a copperhead snake snoozing in the foliage on the track. I waited a good 10 minutes but he wouldn’t move no matter how much noise I made. So, I had no other option but to tip toe around it. Luckily the track is wide!
After crossing the overgrown gully again, I forgot how steep the hill was on the other side. I huffed and puffed my way up the very steep track until it finally flattened out and rambled down to the car park again. All in all a great overnight hike that I highly recommend to beginners or anyone hoping to wild camp alone for the night.
Camping at Mount McLeod
As one of only two remote hike-in only campgrounds at Mount Buffalo National Park, Mount McLeod Camping Area is very basic. The area is just a flat section amongst snow plains nestled below Mount McLeod summit. You’ll see where people have previously camped with only 5 campsites permitted per night, but there are no designated spots.
There is a pit toilet, although it’s a bit of a walk from the camping area around on the summit trail. Otherwise, there are no other facilities. You must book and pay to camp at Mount McLeod. It’s $7.10 per site per night. You can book online at Parks Vic website here.
You can collect water from a natural spring (pictured below), which is around 100m back on the track before you get to camp. As you’re approaching the camping area, you’ll hear running water. If you look to the right you’ll see where people have got down to this water source coming from a pipe. It’s not signposted or marked though, but you should be able to find it. It generally runs all year round, but I carried enough water with me for the 24 hours just in case.
Essential information for the overnight hike to Mount McLeod
The Mount McLeod hike is as safe as you can get in the alpine region. The trail is on a wide management track so you can’t really get lost even with minimal navigation skills.
Snakes are very common throughout summer in Mount Buffalo National Park. I did see a snake (pictured below) on the trail coming back the second day. Just ensure that you give it plenty of room and it will leave you alone.
Fires are not allowed all year round while wild camping in the park. You’ll need to carry a JetBoil or similar hiking stove to cook your food. Check out my post on how to plan your food for hiking for ideas.
There is limited phone reception on this trail. I did have some Optus reception at the camping area, but not much. I did have good signal on Mt McLeod summit though.
What to pack for an overnight hike in the alpine region
Sleeping bag | You’ll want a good sleeping bag for the High Country, one that will keep you warm no matter the temperature and be lightweight enough to pack easily in your backpack. Sea to Summit is one of the best brands on the market and you can’t go wrong with their Spark III bag.
Backpack | A 65L pack is usually a good option for multi-day hikes, especially in the Alpine region when you’re going to be carrying warm gear.
Hiking boots | I’m a bit old fashioned when it comes to my footwear and I can’t hike without my hi-cut boots. I’ve been wearing Keen Targhee boots for over a year now and I’m super happy with how they go on all adventures.
PLB | Any hiker, especially a solo hiker, should carry a Personal Location Beacon. For the cost, these small devices can save your life anywhere, anytime. If you don’t want to buy one, you can hire one from any Macpac store, find out more here.
Power bank | I rely on my phone (maybe too much) while I’m hiking. From Maps.Me to recording videos to listening to music, I can recommend the BioLite power bank which will easily last days off the grid.
Tent | Try to keep your tent below 2kg as this can quickly become your heaviest piece of gear. I currently have the Big Agnes Copperspur 2-person tent, and it’s been my go-to for all my alpine hiking adventures.
Down jacket | You should be prepared for any weather on alpine adventures, so a down jacket is a must to ensure you keep warm. Mountain Designs Ascend range is lightweight, warm and water repellent, so it’s perfect for the High Country.
Other multi-day hikes in the alpine region
If you’re looking for more multi-day hikes in the alpine region of Victoria, check out these:
- A Complete Guide to the Falls to Hotham Crossing
- Three Day Hike at Hotham via Mt Feathertop and Dibbins Hut
- Three Day Hike at Falls Creek via Mount Jaithmathang and Cope Hut