Carnarvon Gorge is on Bidjara and Karingal Country. I acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of this special area and their deep connection to Country, and pay my respects to their Elders past and present.
Before moving to Queensland in 2013, I’d never even heard of Carnarvon Gorge.
So imagine my surprise when I encountered lots of interstate, and what’s more, international visitors who knew all about it. To be fair though, some Queenslanders I’ve asked about Carnarvon Gorge hadn’t heard about it either.
We’ve been to Carnarvon Gorge a couple of times. It makes a great destination as part of any Central Queensland road trip.
VISITING CARNARVON GORGE: KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
Carnarvon Gorge is one of four (accessible) sections of Carnarvon National Park in the Central Queensland highlands. With its towering white sandstone cliffs, gorgeous lush vegetation, creeks, abundant wildlife, and stunningly preserved Aboriginal rock art, it’s probably the most spectacular section of the four.
Carnarvon Gorge is a landscape with significant cultural history and connection to the land for the Aboriginal Traditional Custodians, the local Bidjara and Karingal groups.
We’ve done a fair few bushwalks here, and I still think this is one of the best hikes in Australia.
HOW TO GET TO CARNARVON GORGE
Carnarvon Gorge is about 720km west of Brisbane, located between Roma and Emerald, so it’s a fair trek from the east coast. If you’re not averse to hours of driving, you can make it to the gorge within a day but it’ll be a long day.
The gorge itself is easy to find as it’s well signposted from Carnarvon Highway. Head north from Roma (or south from Emerald) towards Injune along Carnarvon Highway, and turn off west onto Wyseby Road. This road eventually turns into Carnarvon Gorge Road and ends at the national park visitor area.
BEST TIME TO VISIT CARNARVON GORGE
In a nutshell, do not choose summer. It will be stinking hot in the gorge, and Carnarvon Creek may also run a bit high(er), making creek crossings more of a challenge, and maybe even impossible. Summer will be the wet season with rain a much more likely occurrence.
Late autumn and winter is best. Any time from May to September would be fantastic with temperatures usually heating up a bit more by September.
We’ve visited in June and July, which I found absolutely perfect as the days were warm, sunny and dry (around 25-27°C). The nights, however, can get a bit cold so be prepared for drops in temperature down to 0°C.
HOW MUCH TIME TO PLAN FOR YOUR VISIT
At a minimum, plan to have at least 2-3 days at Carnarvon Gorge to experience all that this spectacular part of Queensland has to offer.
There are a few options to tackling the gorge and the various walking trails. You can either do an overnight hike into the gorge and explore all the side trips along the way, or you could divvy up the hikes and spread them out over a couple of days.
We’ve done both, and have hiked into the gorge and camped at Big Bend for a night but have also hiked in and out in a day. If you opt to stay at Big Bend overnight, you’ll have parts of the gorge all to yourself in the morning, which is amazing.
STAYING AT CARNARVON GORGE
During school holidays (except for the summer ones), you can camp directly in the national park. At other times, you’ve got the choice of Takarakka Bush Resort or Sandstone Park. Takarakka also offers cabins and safari tents if camping isn’t exactly your thing.
Another option is to hike part of the Carnarvon Great Walk and go as far as Big Bend Camping Area. The Big Bend campsite is walk-in only, and the first camping spot for anyone doing the Carnarvon Great Walk (5-7 days). The campsite is very basic with only a pit toilet but you don’t really need much for an overnight hike anyway. If you choose do this option, you’ll need to pre-book your camping permit.
For a bit more luxury, you could stay at the Carnarvon Gorge Wilderness Lodge.
READ MORE: A Quick Carnarvon Gorge Camping Guide
CARNARVON GORGE WALKS
There are so many sights to see at Carnarvon Gorge that you’ll need at least three full days.
The main attraction is the Main Gorge Walking Track with its various stunning side tracks. There are also a few other short walks like the Warrumbah Creek Gorge Walk or the Nature Walk.
DECIDE HOW MUCH TIME YOU HAVE
How much time do you have and what’s most important to you? To walk to the end of Carnarvon Gorge? To see some of the side attractions? To climb onto the bluff and look into the gorge? To do some short trails in and outside the gorge?
Most people walk as far as the Art Gallery (10.8km return + side trips) in a day. You could then spend another day going straight to Boowinda Gorge or Big Bend (19.4km return) and back out again.
If you have more time and energy, climb up to Boolimba Bluff and/or do some of the short hikes outside the main gorge.
If you decide to walk the entire length of the gorge, be prepared for a long day hike, including having snacks/lunch and sufficient water. It’s a 20km hike and 0.5l is not enough water. Don’t forget sunscreen, a hat, etc. on warmer/hot days.
There’s a toilet at the Moss Garden turnoff and then another one at Big Bend.
I also suggest starting early as the gorge is beautiful in the early hours of the morning. The sun creeps slowly into the gorge, casting it in amazing soft light and the birds will sing their little hearts out. By lunchtime the sandstone is bright and the lushness of the ferns and trees seems pale in comparison.
Since Carnarvon Creek sneaks its way into the gorge, be ready for plenty of creek crossings. There are about 18 crossings if you hike all the way to Big Bend. You will likely have to hop from rock to rock, and depending on water levels you may need to take off your shoes.
Hiking poles will help if you’re a bit unsteady on your feet.
Some of the side tracks also have creek crossings with yet more rock hopping involved.
On our first trip, I managed to not get wet on the way to Big Bend but didn’t juggle my balance quite so well on the way back. Thank goodness it was a nice, warm day and my feet were boiling in my hiking boots anyway.
The Main Gorge Walking Track starts at the Carnarvon Gorge Visitor Centre. From there, the Big Bend Camping Area is almost 10km into the gorge, and the end of the easily accessible gorge.
There are seven side tracks along the Main Gorge Walking Track that take you to special places. They’re all worth checking out, each one offers something unique and special.
The trail into the gorge basically follows Carnarvon Creek. Initially the track is moderately uphill but then flattens out after the first two kilometres. Some of the side trips also involve a bit of a gradient.
1. BOOLIMBA BLUFF (2.2KM ONE-WAY)
The turnoff for Boolimba Bluff is about one kilometre into the gorge, making this into a 6.4km hike. This side trip is best tackled separately and not as part of a larger gorge walk (unless, of course, you’re 21 and suffer from an abundant surplus of energy…).
It’s an uphill track, with stairs and ladders involved (elevation gain ~200m) that lead out of the gorge and onto a bluff. At the end, you’ll get views from the bluff over Carnarvon Gorge.
It’s supposed to be great for sunrise with light streaming into the gorge but we went up for sunset as this worked better with our plans.
2. MOSS GARDEN (230M ONE-WAY)
The Moss Garden is the second side track of the Main Gorge Walking Track, and a very quick one. The turnoff is about three kilometres into the gorge.
At the end, you’ll find a gorgeous, icy pool with an intimate, tranquil waterfall, dripping moss and lots of ferns. A beautiful spot.
If you need toilets, you’ll find some at the turnoff to the Moss Garden.
3. AMPHITHEATRE (630M ONE-WAY)
The Amphitheatre is a 60m deep chamber inside the walls of the gorge. Eerie atmosphere and amazing acoustics! We heard a couple sing in harmony in there once, it sent shivers down my spine it was so glorious. This is a special place.
I loved having to climb the stairs into the narrow gorge to get to the Amphitheatre. I thought that was so cool!
4. WARD’S CANYON (270M ONE-WAY)
From the Amphitheatre, it’s only another 900 metres to the start of the walk to Ward’s Canyon. From the start of the gorge walk, it’s 4.3km to here.
Though a bit of a steep side track, the walk takes you to a beautiful, little gorge where I fell in love with the ochre-reddish water of the little creek running through it.
5. ART GALLERY (340M ONE-WAY)
From Ward’s Canyon, it’s not far (about 800m) to walk to the next side track. The first time we visited, this was one of the sites I’d been looking forward to the most: Aboriginal rock art at the Art Gallery (Bidjara and Karingbal People).
There are some 2,000 engravings, stencils and free-hand paintings along a 62m sandstone wall. Impressive.
It’s much easier to see the rock art when it’s overcast or early in the morning before the bright sun casts shadows all over the rock face.
The Art Gallery feels like a truly special place. There’s a boardwalk installed so that people are reminded to treat this place with respect.
READ MORE: Incredible Aboriginal Rock Art in Queensland
Most people make it as far as the Art Gallery in a day as it’s about 5.4km (10.8km return) to here from the start of the Main Gorge Walking Track.
If you’re reasonably fit, hiking into the gorge and doing these last four side tracks would be quite doable. Keep in mind that you’ll also want to spend some time at each site so it’s not just a matter of hiking 11km.
From the Art Gallery, the track becomes narrower and is mostly single-file. You’ll have another 4km on your hands before getting to the last side track, and from there to the Big Bend camping area.
6. CATHEDRAL CAVE (15M ONE-WAY)
Cathedral Cave is another stunning Aboriginal rock art site. It’s a massive overhang that allows you to contemplate the art in a panoramic sense.
Once you’ve made it this far, you don’t meet that many people anymore.
On our first hike, it was already late in the afternoon and so we had the entire rock art site to ourselves.
7. BOOWINDA GORGE (~1KM IN TO EXPLORE THE GORGE)
Boowinda Gorge is the last side track along the Main Gorge Walking Track, and only another 80 metres along from Cathedral Cave.
Since we wanted to climb out of the gorge and onto Battleship Spur, we left this trail to the next morning after our night camping at Big Bend.
Being 9.2km from the visitor centre means that not as many people explore it so the chances are pretty high that you get to wander through it all by yourself, especially if you’re there early in the morning.
This is also where you continue on the Great Carnarvon Walk, a multi-day hike that I keep contemplating doing at some point.
The first kilometre into the gorge is the most spectacular as it’s very narrow and flanked by towering, moss-covered sandstone cliffs. The trek is slow-going though as Boowinda Gorge is rocky ground, and you’re basically rock and boulder-hopping the entire time. This becomes pretty tiring after a while. Walking on a dirt track afterwards never felt so good!
If you’re up for it, I highly recommend the climb out of the gorge as you’ll be rewarded with sprawling views over Carnarvon National Park. The climb out of Boowinda Gorge onto the escarpment is steep and potentially slippery.
We’d dumped our packs at the start of Boowinda Gorge, and I was very happy not to have to carry it out of the gorge as my balance would have been all over the place otherwise.
EXTENSION: BATTLESHIP SPUR
Battleship Spur is a lookout back towards Carnarvon Gorge that we were quite keen to see.
However, we never made it to Battleship Spur in the end, mostly because we had basically no information beyond “climb out of Boowinda Gorge”. Other information ran to the tune of “It’s half hour from the start of Boowinda Gorge, I think??” or “No, it’s an hour and half, maybe??” or “No, it’s half hour once you’ve scrambled out of the gorge!”.
To reach Battleship Spur, you hike through Boowinda Gorge for about 1km. Keep a lookout for an orange marker on your right where you’ll follow a very narrow, steep track out of the gorge. This is more of a rock scramble than a track so don’t expect anything fully formed.
Once you’re out of the gorge, the track picks up and you’ll just follow along until you hit a turnoff. Watch for orange markers to help you navigate, the track here is very small and can become indistinguishable.
At the turnoff, the left one will take you further along the Great Carnarvon Walk while the track on the right goes out to Battleship Spur. Eventually.
We probably walked for a good hour or so once we’d climbed out of Boowinda Gorge but as the track is entirely uphill, we decided to turn around at some point since we had no idea whether we’d missed a turnoff or what.
In hindsight, we know that we got pretty close to it and should have kept going until the path forked to the left and right. At the time, we just couldn’t tell as there’s no distance indicated anywhere and you’re walking through relatively dense vegetation.
Having a topographic map for the Great Walk would obviously have helped us enormously.
Regardless whether you’ll make it to Battleship Spur or not, you’ll be able to enjoy some magnificent views over the escarpment and gorge.
From Boowinda Gorge it’s not far to Big Bend (420m).
As I mentioned, camping at Big Bend is pretty basic but when you arrive late in the afternoon and set off again early morning, it doesn’t really matter.
One last impression from Big Bend though… I found these amazing orange fungi things on a fallen tree trunk. As I was crouching on the tree trunk trying to get nice and close to the fungi, I was totally oblivious to other creatures in my purview.
Only found this little friend afterwards when I was looking through my photos, haha!
Beyond the Main Gorge Walking Track, there are a couple of other trails you could hit.
Sadly, the track to Baloon Cave remains closed after the boardwalk caught fire and destroyed much of the rock art there earlier this year. But here’s a quick overview of the hiking trails you could do.
NATURE TRAIL (1.5KM CIRCUIT)
The trail starts at the visitor centre and loops back around Carnarvon Creek for an easy stroll. It’s not particularly amazing but we’ve used it as an alternative end to coming out of the gorge.
MICKEY CREEK (3KM RETURN)
The trail starts at the Mickey Creek carpark and takes you into Mickey Creek Gorge. It’s a fairly easy stroll but Mickey Creek isn’t all that exciting even if you scramble past the formed track.
WARRUMBAH CREEK GORGE (3.4KM RETURN)
The walk to Warrumbah Creek Gorge also starts at the Mickey Creek carpark and follows the same trail for much of it. It branches off to the right just before you get to Mickey Creek.
The formed track ends soon after the turnoff but keep going past the sign, it gets interesting from there. You can climb down the gorge for a fair bit, if you’re not too claustrophobic or there isn’t too much debris from floods.
We followed the gorge for ages, jumping across puddles and climbing up logs, until we found ourselves at a deep rockpool and turned around.
ROCK POOL (0.4KM RETURN)
This is a very quick track starting at the Rock Pool carpark to a small rock pool area. It’s not very long and not very spectacular (once you’ve seen the main gorge).
You could also walk from the visitor centre / camping area along Carnarvon Creek, which might make this walk much more interesting (3.6km return).
Carnarvon Gorge is an amazing part of the larger Carnarvon National Park. It’s a long way so plan a few days to explore all the walks, have time for a picnic or just to watch some birds and wildlife around Carnarvon Creek.
The Aboriginal history and cultural artefacts here are fascinating with fantastic examples of indigenous rock art.
Hiking into the gorge and camping at Big Bend is definitely an experience, and even though we haven’t yet made it to Battleship Spur, I’d recommend the climb out of the Boowinda Gorge to anyone who feels they’ve got the energy to do so.
If you’re not keen to carry camping gear into the gorge, spend 2-3 days doing hikes in and out, and you’ll still have a brilliant time!
For details on what to expect at Carnarvon Gorge, walking tracks, how to get there, etc., check out Queensland Parks & Wildlife Service. Or download the Queensland Park’s Carnarvon Gorge Guide (PDF), which includes a map of the area.
If you’re not sure about the various camping options at Carnarvon Gorge, read my quick camping guide to Carnarvon Gorge.
MORE POSTS ON EXPLORING CARNARVON NATIONAL PARK
I’ve written a few posts on Carnarvon National Park so if you’re as excited as I am about this part of Queensland, you may want to check them out.
- A guide to exploring Mount Moffatt
- Mount Moffatt camping guide
- A quick Carnarvon Gorge camping guide