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A guide to Gibraltar Range & Washpool National Parks

Gibraltar Range and Washpool National Parks are on Bundjalung, Gumbaynggirr and Ngarrabul Country.  I acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of this area and their connection to Country, and pay my respects to their Elders past and present.

Gibraltar Range and Washpool National Parks are roughly a 6-hour drive from the Sunshine Coast. That’s just about as far as I want to go for a long weekend of camping and hiking.

Both national parks are part of the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia: World heritage national parks that protect thousands of special plants and animal species. Bird life in any of the Gondwana Rainforests is usually utterly nuts! I love it.


GIBRALTAR RANGE AND WASHPOOL NATIONAL PARKS: KNOW BEFORE YOU GO

Gibraltar Range and Washpool are adjacent national parks and run on both sides of the Gwydir Highway between Grafton and Glen Innes. Because they’re so close, it makes sense to explore them together.

Even though neither national park will wow you with incredible sights, breathtaking rock formations, cliffs or beautiful rainforests, the walks we did were really enjoyable and very pleasant with some good lookouts thrown in.

The bird life here is terrific, and there are creeks, rockholes and a few waterfalls to enjoy.

Ideally, spend about 4-5 days camping here.

This gave us plenty of time to explore both Gibraltar Range and Washpool National Park, and do the Old Grafton-Glen Innes Road scenic drive (which, admittedly, wasn’t that scenic).

HOW TO GET TO GIBRALTAR RANGE AND WASHPOOL

Gibraltar Range and Washpool are located on both sides of the Gwydir Highway in northern New South Wales. The area is about 3.5 hours southwest of Byron Bay or just over 2 hours northwest of Coffs Harbour.

From Brisbane, it’s about a 400km drive.

Coming from Queensland, we took the M1/A1 (Pacific Highway) along the coast down to Grafton, which seemed to take ages as most of the Pacific Highway is single-lane in NSW. From Grafton, it’s another 100km west along the Gwydir Highway.

On our way back home, we decided to go inland and avoid the never-ending roadworks along the A1, and headed towards Glen Innes and then north through Stanthorpe and Warwick on the New English Highway.

Didn’t seem much quicker but I got to eat gluten-free apple pie at Suttons north of Stanthorpe, one of our obligatory stops if we come up the New England Highway. So, happy days! ­čÖé

Gluten-free apple pie at Suttons, Stanthorpe
Gluten-free apple pie with home-made ice cream, always a treat for me

In terms of accessing the national parks, you can’t miss them from the Gwydir Highway as there are really big signs along the road.

All campgrounds and walking tracks are accessed via gravel roads, which were fine for 2WD vehicles in January 2019. Wet conditions, of course, change things.

WHEN TO VISIT GIBRALTAR RANGE AND WASHPOOL

Since the national parks are at about 1,000m above sea level, camping here is still quite pleasant even over the summer.

Of course, it’s hot during the day (low-mid 30┬░C) but the nights were cool and I could sleep easily. Just leave most of your hiking for the early morning or late afternoon, and take a swim during the day. That worked quite well for us (though it also meant that we didn’t have enough time to squeeze all the walks in).

Even in summer, the ranges were foggy in the early morning but the fog dissipated by about 7:30am. In winter, I’d imagine you would deal with a lot more fog and wetter conditions, not the mention much colder temperatures (may drop below 0┬░C).

Foggy views at Raspberry Lookout: This was around 5:30am and we were hoping to catch the sunrise, which was impossible with the fog swirls everywhere. Still, the fog was quite impressive, too.

March-April is probably a great time to visit as it’ll be cool enough to do all the walks during the day but not yet so cold that you’ll freeze some part of your body off.

WHERE TO CAMP

We spent four nights camping at Mulligans Campground in Gibraltar Range, which is a rare treat with the inviting Dandahra Creek and swimming hole nearby.

In addition to pre-booking your site and paying the camping fees, you also need to pay a daily parks entry fee ($8 per vehicle). If you camp there for a few days, it’s actually cheaper to get an annual NSW Parks pass. The Country Parks Pass covers all parks in NSW where you have to pay entry fees (except for Kosciuszko), and is the one we always buy.

There are four camping areas across both national parks, some nicer than others.

We stayed at Mulligans Campground in Gibraltar Range National Park, and thoroughly enjoyed having our own site. Mulligans has flush toilets and showers, while the other ones only offer drop toilets but also fewer people.

Remember to camp resonsibly.

READ MORE: Camping guide to Gibraltar Range and Washpool National Parks

If you don’t want to camp, NSW National Parks operates a hut, Gibraltar House, at Gibraltar Range that offers accommodation for up to 7 people. It’s directly on the road and the NSW Park’s equipment depot appears to be right behind the hut. But… it looks cozy enough and is probably a great option for a winter escape!

CULTURAL HERITAGE: MULLIGANS HUT

This area is the traditional home of the Bundjalung, Gumbaynggirr and Ngoorabul peoples, and also has remnants of early settler history.

Mulligans Hut near Mulligans Campground bears witness to a time when early entrepreneur Bill Mulligan was keen to build a hydro-electric scheme at the beginning of the 20th century.

The weir structure at Murrumbooee Cascades and also at the swimming hole at Dandahra Creek were built to promote the scheme but which ultimately never took off.

Mulligans Hut, still in amazing condition

5 SHORT WALKING TRAILS IN GIBRALTAR RANGE AND WASHPOOL NATIONAL PARKS

Most of the walking trails in Gibraltar Range are on Mulligans Drive, which also leads to Mulligans Campground and Picnic Area. There are also a couple of short walks near the Boundary Falls Campground on the north side of the Gwydir Highway.

Take Coachwood Drive (off the Gwydir Highway) to get to the walks in Washpool National Park.

1. MURRUMBOOEE CASCADES WALKS | GIBRALTAR RANGE

BASIC TRAIL INFO

Distance: 6km return with some elevation gain (on the return)
Difficulty: Easy-Moderate (in hot weather)
Time: 2.5 hours
Trailhead: Mulligans Hut (Mulligans Picnic Area)

The Murrumbooee Cascades Walk is a relatively easy walk to a series of cascades and remnants of a weir that dates back to the 1920s.

Starting at Mulligans Hut, you’ll find the Barra Nulla Cascades some 120m after the start of the walk. We poked around for a while and then continued on to the actual destination.

The trail is initially quite flat but then meanders steadily downhill, which you really only notice once you walk back up again.

It’s a good walk to do on a warm day as most of the walk is through rainforest so there’s plenty of shade. It’s not particularly pretty rainforest but we could hear lots of whip birds along the way.

We probably spent a good half hour scrambling around the creek bed at the end, exploring the cascades and the old remnants of the weir.

All in all it took us about 2.5 hours to do the 6km return walk but includes almost an hour hanging around the Murrumbooee Cascades spot.

2. THE NEEDLES WALK | GIBRALTAR RANGE

BASIC TRAIL INFO

Distance: 6km return with some elevation gain
Difficulty: Moderate
Time: 2.5 hours
Trailhead: Mulligans Hut (Mulligans Picnic Area)

Like the Murrumbooee Cascades Walk, The Needles Walk starts at Mulligans Hut past the picnic area but at the opposite end.

Cross the little bridge across Dandahra Creek and follow the wide track until you get to a T-junction. Turn right and from there the trail will get narrower before climbing up a bit.

Eventually you’ll get to a rocky outcrop from where you can see granite columns, The Needles, rising in the distance.

Most of the walk is shady and either through dry forest or rainforest, making this a good option when it’s a bit warmer and sunny.

There are no views along the way and we found the track itself rather boring but the views at the end make up for it a bit.

You could combine this walk with the Tree Fern Forest Walk, which would mean a 12km hike altogether. We left late in the afternoon (since it was hot) so didn’t have time (or the inclination) to do a longer loop. Others we met also said that the Fern Tree Forest Walk is quite exposed and I wasn’t particularly keen on that.

3. LYREBIRD FALLS WALK | GIBRALTAR RANGE

BASIC TRAIL INFO

Distance: 2.2km return
Difficulty: Easy-Moderate
Time: 1.5 hours
Trailhead: Boundary Falls Picnic Area

To do the Lyrebird Falls Walk, you’ll need to drive to the Boundary Falls picnic area on the north side of Gibraltar Range National Park.

We did this walk the day we left Gibraltar as we were going via Glen Innes anyway and Boundary Falls is on the way.

In nutshell, it’s an easy walk along wide track to a lookout point into a valley and Lyrebird Falls.

Early morning along Lyrebird Falls Track

At the height of summer, the waterfall wasn’t gushing but a mere trickle, and the views themselves were rather limiting.

We actually did this walk twice, on the same day (!), as the entire valley was shrouded in fog on our first attempt at 6:30am. An hour later, we had clear blue skies but still obstructed views because of vegetation. But even without the trees in the way, the views wouldn’t be breathtaking (according to NSW National Parks, they are…).

Plus, you can only make Lyrebird Falls out in the distance.

On the positive side, we did actually see lyrebirds crouching around the underbrush. Definitely more exciting than the views at the end.

4. BOUNDARY FALLS WALK | GIBRALTAR RANGE

BASIC TRAIL INFO

Distance: 400m return with some elevation gain
Difficulty: Moderate (because of stairs)
Time: 0.5 hours
Trailhead: Boundary Falls Picnic Area

The walk to Boundary Falls starts from the same picnic area as Lyrebird Falls.

It’s a really short walk down some steps to a small rockpool and, in summer, trickling Boundary Falls. If you’re already at the picnic area, it’s probably worth checking out. Otherwise, I’d say you’re not missing much.

Gibraltar Range National Park
Foggy Boundary Falls

5. WASHPOOL WALK CIRCUIT | WASHPOOL

BASIC TRAIL INFO

Distance: 8.5km loop with some elevation gain
Difficulty: Easy-Moderate
Time: 3.5 hours (we took 3 hours including plenty of photo stops)
Trailhead: Coombadjha Campground, Washpool National Park

Aside from Murrumbooee Cascades, the Washpool Walk circuit was another walk I really enjoyed.

This one is in Washpool National Park at the end of Coachwood Drive. It’s easy to find, just park at the tiny Coombadjha carpark.

The hike starts along Cedar Creek and then climbs up out of the rainforest and into dry sclerophyll forest. From there you meander through forest (with more incline than I had expected) and eventually drop down to Coombadjha Creek, where you could go for a refreshing dip if there was enough water.

Definitely take the detour to Summit Falls, they’re quite pretty.

READ MORE: Hiking the Washpool Walk Circuit

MORE WALKS IN THE NATIONAL PARKS

Since we camped at Gibraltar Range during mid-January, temperatures were in the low to mid-30s during the day.

I don’t deal well heat so we didn’t tick off all the walks as we’re known to do. Instead, we lounged around during the day, went swimming in nearby Dandahra Creek, and stuck to early morning or late afternoon for hiking.

But if you’re there at a different time of the year or don’t mind the heat so much, here are a few other walks you could do:

  • Tree Fern Forest Walk (moderate 8km loop, 3 hours; from Mulligans Hut Picnic Area) – relatively exposed and could be combined with The Needles Walk
  • Dandahra Falls Walk (difficult 5km return, 3.5 hours; from Mulligans Hut Picnic Area) – steep track to a waterfall, closed when we were there or we may have attempted it
  • Anvil Rock Walk (moderate 4km return, 1.5 hours; off Mulligans Drive) – could be combined with Dandahra Crags Walk to make a bigger loop
  • Dandahra Crags Walk (moderate 6km return, 2.5 hours; off Mulligans Drive) – I’ve since seen photos and this walk looks rather spectacular with its rock formations at the end so I’d definitely add that to my list for next time; could combine it with Anvil Rock since they both start from the same trailhead
  • Duffer Falls (moderate 7km return, 3 hours; from Boundary Creek picnic area, along the overnight hike) – to a lookout where the small Duffer Falls cascades over the cliff
  • Coombadjha Walk (easy 0.8km loop; from Coombadjha Campground or Coachwood picnic area) – if you don’t want to do the Washpool Circuit, this is a short loop to a small swimming hole that takes you along Coombadjha Creek
  • World Heritage Walk (moderate 45km circuit, 3-5 days) – overnight hike that loops through Washpool and Gibraltar Range, includes a mix of road, management tracks and walking trails
Gibraltar Range National Park

LOOKOUTS IN GIBRALTAR RANGE AND WASHPOOL

If you’ve done enough hiking, there are also a few lookouts to enjoy where there’s almost no walking involved.

I quite enjoyed Raspberry Lookout, which is along the Gwydir Highway towards Glen Innes (not far from the Gibraltar Range National Park boundary). You literally don’t need to get out of your car but obviously the views are nicer if you do.

Granite Lookout (at 1,065m) is in Washpool National Park.

The trailhead is at the Granite Picnic Area, just off the Gwydir Highway. It’s a quick 0.4km walk to a rocky outcrop and a happily situated bench from where you can enjoy the views into the valley.

I expect  you also have great views from Dandahra Crags and Anvil Rock since they’re both at over 1,000m.


SUMMING UP

Mulligans Campground at Gibraltar Range is easily one of my favourite spots for a summer camping break. Though hot, it was peaceful and relaxing, and the bird life in the morning was terrific. The swimming hole here is gorgeous and inviting enough even for me.

There are plenty of short and longer walks that suit all fitness levels. I only wish we’d had an extra day so that we could have hiked out to Dandahra Crags and Anvil Rock.

The main challenge at Gibraltar Range and Washpool really is to work out where you want to camp and where exactly the walks are that you want to do. Ideally, spend 4-5 days at Gibraltar Range and/or Washpool so that you can explore the various parts of both national parks.

MORE INFORMATION

For more details, including current alerts and park closures due to bush fires or other weather conditions, check the NSW National Parks website: Gibraltar Range National Park and Washpool National Park.

Check out the map below for more details on the locations for the camping areas and hiking trails.


MORE POSTS ON GIBRALTAR RANGE AND WASHPOOL NATIONAL PARKS

I’ve got more details and photos of the Washpool Walk Circuit (8.5km) in Washpool National Park here. And if you can’t decide where to camp, here’s my overview of the different camping options in both national parks.


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Guide to Gibraltar Range and Washpool National Park

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