Beginner’s guide to hiking in Brisbane
Calling all wanna-be hikers. Want to switch off from your 21st century life and learn to appreciate nature in its purest form? Sure you do.
If we read between the lines, we suspect you just want to share your “made it to the peak!” and “look at that waterfall!” photos on social media to show all your friends how #awesome you are. (No judgement – so long as you use #brisbaneanyday too.)
To help pull together this guide we chatted with fellow Instagrammer, GP, army reservist and hiking enthusiast Nam Tram (aka @namt79). Using his many years of experience leading groups and hiking solo through South East Queensland, he’s kindly shared his advice on where to begin hiking, starting with the Scenic Rim area.
“This isn't a comprehensive list but certainly a good start for those who want a small taste of hiking in the Scenic Rim.”
Start with these hikes
Elabana and Box Log Falls in Lamington National Park (O'Reilly's/Green Mountains)
Box Log Falls
10.9km return. Allow 5 hours
The Elabana Falls track branches off the Main Border Track 3.2km from the entrance. Walk the four-hour journey in a clockwise direction.
Nam says: Two of the most photographed waterfalls in Lamington. To get across to view Elabana Falls, a very short and easy scramble followed by a bit of balancing across the rocks in the waterway flowing from the falls is required, but well worth it for the amazing views. Box Log Falls is a short distance down from Elabana and has a mysterious feel about it as it is hidden inside a dark canyon. On a sunny day the falls will be illuminated inside the canyon by sunlight piercing through the rainforest canopy, giving an extra-special lighting effect. At both falls look out for the gorgeous but snappy Blue Lamington Spiny Crayfish who are hidden inside the waterways, but often come out searching for food, especially after rain.
Morans: 6.2km return, allow 2 hours. Python Rock: 4.9km return. Allow about 1.5 hrs
In the Green Mountains section of Lamington National Park, start these easy walks about 1km from the O’Reilly’s car park at the end of the road. Both trails can be done in half a day.
Nam says: Python Rock looks over the amazing escarpments of Castle Crag and The Lost World. The walk to Moran’s Falls Lookout views this large-drop waterfall from the escarpment. A little distance down from the viewing platform you can walk to the head of the falls, where keen photographers can often be found catching the final rays of sun in a memorable scene overlooking Moran’s Valley.
Caves Circuit in Lamington (Binna Burra)
5km return. Allow 2-3 hours
The rock formations on this track were built up by the Mt Warning volcano. Pass through eucalypt forest and woodland, keeping an eye out for koalas on the way. The Kweebani caves were carved out by wind and rain.
Nam says: This short circuit has an amazing range of attractions, from beautiful rainforest to stunning lookouts across the Coomera River and adjacent mountain ranges to remarkable caves of historical significance to the indigenous folk who once inhabited the area. It is important to know that to complete the circuit the hiker must incorporate part of the road heading up the main car park in Binna Burra from the Visitor Information Centre, which can be hot under the sun during summer, so bring extra water. There is also a short-cut through shady forest that avoids part of the road and is easy to navigate.
12km return. Allow 4 hours
Start just south of the information centre and walk clockwise finishing up at Binna Burra, walking back down the road. For the ultimate day, take this trail but return via the Caves Circuit (adds an extra 1.6km). There is also the option to divert 3km via the Lower Ballunjul Falls.
Nam says: This walk offers great views of Egg Rock, Turtle Rock and the amazing valleys looking towards Numinbah. In spring, the forest along this walk is sprinkled with the colours of beautiful native flowers of all types, and the distinctive chimes of the bellbirds inhabiting the forest.
13km return. Allow 4.5 hours
Although Mt Cordeaux is graded a 4, most of the walk is easy - apart from a steep, rocky part near the top. Here you’ll be treated to southern views of Main Range National Park, taking in Moogerah Pearks, Mt Barney and the Mistake Mountains. The return walk to Mt Cordeaux takes just 2.5 hours return, but Nam suggests extending it with the walk to Bare Rock. The track for Bare Rock turns off just before the Mt Cordeaux Lookout.
Nam says: The lookout beneath the summit of Mt Cordeaux offers one of the best views across the Scenic Rim and isn’t hard by bushwalking standards. On a clear day you can see Ipswich and Brisbane and the Moogerah Peaks and all the way to Mt Barney. A longer track heading to Bare Rock will reward the hiker with further views of the northern section of Main Range looking towards the steep Ramparts and Mt Castle. It is large rocky slab that will cater for a larger group, and an excellent spot for a winter lunch. In spring you will find the mountainside crowded with the amazing red flowers of the Giant Spear Lilies and white flowers of the numerous native orchards which grow on the rocky cliff-faces.
Mt Mitchell at Main Range (at Cunninghams Gap)
10.2km return. Allow 3 hours.
This 1175m-high double volcanic peak is known as Cooyinnirra to the local Aboriginal people. The walk also takes off from the Cunningham Highway car park, departing from the southern side. The walk requires some scrambling towards the end.
Nam says: The walk to the summit of Mt Mitchell is an interesting rainforest trek, culminating in the skinny ledge that offers exceptional panoramic views across the Scenic Rim. A great place to check the interesting profile of the Main Range escarpment to the south.
2km return. Allow 40 minutes' walking time
At the lookout, admire Spring Creek plunge over the 40m-high cliff face known as Queen Mary Falls. Continue on down to the waterfall base to catch it from both angles. Be careful on the causeway as it can be slippery.
Nam says: One of the most beautiful waterfalls in the Great South East that incorporates a circuit to the foot of the falls and then crossing the head of the falls. Care must be taken after heavy rain, and the walk to the foot of the falls may be closed if National Parks have deemed it too dangerous, but the circuit is open most of the year. Watch for the numerous friendly kookaburras that inhabit the trees. There is also a charming cafe just opposite the car park.
Lower Portals walk in Mt Barney National Park
7.4km return. Allow 3 hours
Start in the car park and walk towards the Lower Portals pools that sit within a gorge on Mt Barney Creek. Spend time exploring before turning around.
Nam says: This is a bit of a hilly walk but in the warmer months can offer an excellent swimming location in a wide section of Mt Barney creek where water passes through an amazing gorge. There is a short but not particularly difficult climb through a small gap in the boulders to get to the actual portals. A National Parks campsite can be found nearby, making for an excellent walk-in camping location. A great place to take children!
Keep these things in mind
Before heading off, Nam suggests you consider:
Pre-hike awareness and preparation – always be prepared for the environment. It's important to do research beforehand. Check the QPWS website for the particular walk you'll be doing. Some walks may be closed due to poor weather or planned burn-offs for example.
Check weather forecast – this particularly applies to mountains which can have their own little micro-climates.
Time your start – I rarely start even a short walk later than midday as having that extra time for unexpected events can make a world of difference.
Time of the year – as a general rule, summer is best to see waterfalls (after summer rain) and rainforest, and winter is best to do the more exposed mountains and walks with little tree cover or heath.
Flowers – obviously early spring is best to see flowering, and some circuits are amazing during blossoming time.
Distance from Brisbane – most of the more beautiful walks are a little further away, such as in Lamington National Park.
And, always let someone know where you are going!
What to carry
As for what to take, Nam suggests your hiking kit contains:
Good shoes with grip – boots designed for hiking are the best, and those with ankle protection are even better, especially on rocky surfaces.
Backpack – something with lots of pockets and places to stash things is handy.
Water – I take more water than needed. Humid conditions will cause faster water and salt losses, so you will need to consider this. As a minimum I don't take less than 2L of water with me on any hike, and on a longer all-day hike in summer I will take more than 4L of water.
Food – high-energy snacks are handy to keep you going. Many will take a "trail mix" of nuts and dried fruit. On a humid day, I'll ensure I have had extra salt in my diet the night before. I tend to also bring a small stash of jelly beans in my medical kit for days when I need that extra shot of glucose in an emergency. Plus I also stash away oral rehydration crystals (e.g. Powerade) to put into my water on extra hot days on long hikes.
Emergency medical kit – a minimum of bandages for snake bites could be lifesaving in fact. In addition, I always have a small thermal blanket in my kit should I need to stay overnight due to injury.
Whistle – you might be surprised how handy this could be should you be on a longer walk and become separated from your group.
Headlamp – I always carry a small headlamp with me as I could find myself stuck for hours out in the wilderness or returning in the dark. I carry spare batteries with the headlamp too.
Mobile phone battery charger – switch your phone off to airplane mode too. You'll find it will preserve your charge exceptionally well, as your phone won't be drained trying to seek a signal, especially where reception is poor or non-existent.
Insect repellent – great to apply before a hike, especially where leeches and ticks might be encountered. On longer hikes you might need to reapply after 3-4 hours.
Sunglasses, hat and sunscreen – being sunsmart is always a good idea, especially for walks that are more exposed and don't have the cover of rainforest.
Toilet paper and trowel – certainly you never know when nature might call, so these are handy to have along, particularly on long hikes.
Navigational gear – most of the shorter walks on graded tracks mentioned here are well-signed and won't require navigational gear, but for longer and more remote day walks a GPS, compass and topographical map should be carried.
Jacket – some walks may start off warm, but on mountain tops windy conditions may cause a sudden drop in body temperature so carrying a jacket with a hood is always handy. I also carry a small plastic disposable rain jack at all time as it takes up barely any space and can come in handy if rain suddenly develops.
Follow @namt79 on Instagram to keep up with his hiking adventures in South East Queensland.