As the northernmost reach of the Australian Alps, Namadgi National Park had been a place on my radar for quite some time. However, despite being one of the most accessible national parks from a capital city, few outside of the ACT have heard of Namadgi.
The beautiful wilderness area covers 106,095 hectares south-west of Canberra and is less than an hour’s drive from the CBD. There are over 170 kilometres of walking trails, a variety of campgrounds and beautiful viewpoints to explore within the park boundary.
Whether you have a day or weekend or longer, Namadgi National Park is the perfect escape into the alpine region in the Australian Capital Territory. I recently spent a weekend hiking and camping in the park and I’m already planning my return trip. If you’re looking to get out of the city, this weekend itinerary will help you explore some beautiful parts of Namadgi National Park.
About Namadgi National Park
Namadgi National Park is the northernmost extent of the vast Australian Alps region, connected to Kosciuszko National Park in New South Wales and the Alpine National Park in Victoria. Being just 40 km south of Canberra, Namadgi is one of the most accessible parts of the alpine region in Australia.
Namadgi is the original name of the ranges as given by the traditional custodians, Ngunnawal people. There are many significant sites within the park boundary related to their culture and tradition, including Yankee Hat Rock Art.
The park is perfect for anyone looking to spend some time in the outdoors. There’s plenty of walking and mountain biking trails, bouldering, fishing spots and campgrounds to explore.
It’s also the start or end of the Australian Alps Walking Track, the incredible 650km long distance walking trail that crosses the mountains down to Walhalla in Victoria.
When To Visit
You can technically visit Namadgi National Park all year round. However, it does see significant snowfall over the colder winter months which means some roads and trails will be closed.
However, it has a much shorter snow season than other parts of the Alps, so walking, biking and camping is generally possible from September until May or June.
I visited in April and it was perfect walking weather with cooler temperatures. But be prepared for freezing nights, with temperatures plummeting once the sun disappears.
How to Get There
Namadgi National Park is less than an hour’s drive southwest of Canberra. Most of the main roads in the park are sealed, although there are some dirt roads as well to more remote corners.
Canberra to Namadgi Visitor Centre: 34 km or half an hour’s drive
Canberra to Gibraltar Falls: 44 km or 45 minute drive
Where To Stay
The national park has some great campgrounds within and around the boundary, with varying degrees of comfort and facilities. Bookings are essential and can be done online before you get there (phone reception is limited in the park).
On weekends, expect most of the campgrounds to be very busy and booked in advance, so get in early.
Namadgi National Park Camping
Cotter Campground: The main campground close to the park, Cotter Campground is a large area on the banks of the Cotter River. This caters for all camping styles from camper trailers up to caravans. It’s also the most comfortable of the camps with potable water, hot showers, flushing toilets, dishwashing area, shelters and barbeques available.
Blue Range Recreation Area: Outside of the national park boundary to the north, this is a peaceful bush camp catering for a range of options including tents, camper trailers and small vans.
Honeysuckle Campground: Inside the national park, this peaceful site is close to some great walking trails and rock climbing options. There’s also the option for an overnight hike on the Australian Alps Walking Track or to Orroral Valley. It’s accessible for tents and a few vans or camper trailers.
Woods Reserve: A great located on the banks of the Gibralter Creek, this is a peaceful bush camp for tent camping and vans with good facilities, including toilets and showers.
Orroral Campground: A nice base for exploring the pretty Ororal Valley, the campground is perfect for tent camping with only a bit of room for vans or caravans.
Mount Clear Campground: A remote campground to the southern end of the park, it’s only accessible for tent-based camping and has basic facilities.
Note: Hikers are also permitted to camp in more remote areas with no facilities, but you must ensure that you follow leave no trace principles. I would recommend asking at the Namadgi Visitor Centre for recommended camping locations if you plan on doing an overnight hike in the park.
Check Out: Ottie Merino Hiking Clothing Made In Melbourne
My Weekend in Namadgi National Park
I recently spent a weekend in Namadgi National Park earlier this year and it was such a fun and memorable time. I thoroughly enjoyed exploring the northern part of the Australian Alps, and although you could easily spend more than a weekend, if that’s all the time you have, then this is how I recommend you spend it.
I was on the road early and headed to the national park from Yass, north of Canberra. I drove past Cotter Campground and then headed for Corin Road to explore the popular central area of the park.
My first stop was at the Square Rock Walk carpark on Corin Road to head off on this great short hike. The moderate trail is the perfect introduction into Namadgi National Park, as it winds its way through snow gum and alpine ash woodlands.
It does climb quite gradually up to a stack of granite boulders on the top of hill, known as Square Rock Lookout. You’ll have to climb up a metal ladder to reach the top of the boulders at 1400 metres above sea level. From the rock ledge you can admire views across the national park.
There’s plenty of room to explore more of the boulder strewn hilltop with some people climbing up and over some of the other rocks. It’s definitely the perfect place to find a nice spot and enjoy some time looking at the view or have a picnic lunch.
You can return to the carpark the same way.
Square Rock Hike Summary
Distance: 9.5 km return
Time: 2.5 hours
Then, I drove back down the road and headed for Woods Reserve Campground. This is where I’d booked to camp the night, so I picked my spot and set up my van.
In the afternoon I headed off on the Gibraltar Falls walk from the campground. While you can drive to the top of the falls easily enough, I wanted more of a challenge and tackled the steep hike up from the campground instead.
You’ll find the start of the walk at the top of the campground, where there’s a trail leading you across the creek. From there, it’s a pretty straight forward hike up on a formed track with formed stairs to the top of the waterfall.
It’s an easier walk across the top of the falls and then down to the lookout past the carpark. The view of the falls is beautiful from here as it tumbles down into the valley below.
You can return to the carpark and campground the same way.
Gibraltar Falls Hike Summary (from Woods Reserve)
Distance: 2.5 km return
Time: 1 hour
I camped at Woods Reserve Campground, which is a very peaceful bush camp. There’s plenty of room for tent camping, and a few spots for campervans and camper trailers. There wasn’t a lot of flat parking for vans, and when it’s busy it’s best to get in early.
The toilet block also had hot showers on a timer, which were a nice way to warm up and get clean after my day hiking. The temperature dropped dramatically overnight, but it was a beautiful clear sky with vivid stars.
I left camp and drove through Tharwa, the only little village near the national park. I then wanted to stop at the Namadgi Visitor Centre to have a look around. It was special to see the start/end of the Australian Alps Walking Track, something I have aspirations to complete one day soon.
The rangers there are extremely helpful and willing to answer any questions you have about the park. I was able to ask about potential overnight hikes and remote camping for my next visit.
I then headed off on the well-known Mount Tennent Hike. This is a popular day hike for Canberra residents and the trail was definitely busier than the Square Rock Hike.
From the Visitor Centre, you want to head southwest and cross over Naas Road. From there, the trail is a pretty relentless steep climb on a well-formed track. It’s worth stopping at the Cypress Pine Lookout on the way for a short break before continuing.
There’s some well-formed rock steps cut into the trail as you climb above the treeline. The views really started to open up as well, which made it all worthwhile. Once you start to get closer to the summit, the trail becomes more gradual.
The hike used to take the Mount Tennent Fire Trail to the top, but now there’s a well-made cliff trail that takes hikers around and up though the trees for the last part. This is definitely worth taking instead, so keep an eye out for the turn-off.
The summit has a communications tower on it, but the real benefit is being able to see the expansive views across Canberra and the surrounding alpine region.
Return down the same way to the car park.
While I only saw a handful of people on this trail mid-week in winter, you should definitely expect much more of a crowd on a weekend in warmer weather. Be aware of trail runners, walking groups and others as the trail is skinny in parts.
Mount Tennent Hike Summary
Distance: 14 km return
Time: 4-5 hours
Once I got back to my van in the car park it was already mid-afternoon. It was time to leave the national park and head off towards Canberra. I drove back through the city and then continued my road trip by heading down to the South Coast of New South Wales for a few weeks exploring this incredible part of Australia’s coastline.