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Hiking into Carnarvon Gorge (Carnarvon National Park)

{Updated: August 2019}

Before moving to Queensland in 2013, I’d never even heard of Carnarvon Gorge.

So imagine my surprise when we got here and 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 explored Carnarvon Gorge as part of our first Central Queensland road trip where we jam-packed four different national parks into a mere 8 days.

Rewan Road, Central Queensland

Along the Rewan Road on our way to Carnarvon Gorge. We took some back roads instead of Carnarvon Highway.

Visiting Carnarvon Gorge (Carnarvon National Park)

Carnarvon Gorge is just 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.

Carnarvon Creek running through Carnarvon Gorge

We’ve done a fair few walks in this country, and 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, 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. Simply 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 takes you directly to the visitor area.

How much time to plan at Carnarvon Gorge

At a minimum, plan to have 2-3 days at Carnarvon Gorge to experience all that this spectacular part of Queensland has to offer.

There are different ways of 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 opted for hiking into the gorge and camping at Big Bend for a night. For us, that worked perfectly as we had parts of the gorge all to ourselves in the morning.

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.

Any time from May to September would be fantastic with temperatures expected to heat up a bit more by September.

We visited in June, which was 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.

A little furry friend we met on the way to Big Bend

Where to stay at Carnarvon Gorge

Camping is, no doubt, the most popular option for visiting 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.

Takarakka offers roast dinners a couple of times a week. People really love it and you may need to pre-book. I still can’t quite get over the fact that they offer roast dinners out here, haha!

Another option is to hike part of the Carnarvon Great Walk and go as far as Big Bend Camping Area. If you choose do this, 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 Walking Trails

There are so many sights to see at Carnarvon Gorge that you’ll need at least three full days. We didn’t have time to explore all the trails, and I really want to go back to do tracks like Boolimba Bluff.

We stayed in the Carnarvon Gorge area for three nights: The first night at Takarakka before our hike, then one night camping at Big Bend, followed by another night at Takarakka after our hike. This worked great as we got to do an overnight hike as well as enjoy a hot shower afterwards!

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. The best part was that we had the campsite completely to ourselves.

The main attraction at Carnarvon Gorge is the Main Gorge Walking Track with its various stunning side trails. But there are a few other short walks like the Rock Pool Walk or you could tackle longer ones like Boolimba Bluff.

Carnarvon Gorge

Main Gorge Walking Track (19.4km return)

From the start of the Main Gorge Walking Track (Carnarvon Gorge Visitor Centre), the Big Bend Camping Area is almost 10km into the gorge. In fact, it’s at the end of the accessible gorge. All side tracks mentioned below are along this main track.

The walk into the gorge follows Carnarvon Creek and is relatively flat except for a few moderately steepish sections at the start. Some of the side trips also involve a bit of a gradient.

Most people walk as far as the Art Gallery (10.8km return + side trips) in a day. Then spend another day going straight to Boowinda Gorge or Big Bend (19.4km return) and back out again.

Map of Carnarvon Gorge. Image credit: Queensland Government

Since we were headed to Big Bend for our overnight stop, our plan was to do all the side trips on the way into the gorge. This meant starting early (we didn’t get going until about 9am though) and getting to Big Bend by late afternoon.

We just managed that, though we had to race a bit in the end. We somehow seem to have a habit of getting to a campsite just before dusk and setting up in a hurry before it’s utterly dark.

Since Carnarvon Creek sneaks its way into the gorge, be ready for plenty of creek crossings. You will likely have to hop from rock to rock, depending on the water levels. Hiking poles will help if you’re a bit unsteady on your feet.

I didn’t count all the crossings but there were probably at least ten to fifteen. Some of the side tracks also have creek crossings with more rock hopping involved.

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.

From the Main Gorge Walking Track, there are six tracks off to the sides that take you to special places. They’re all worth checking out, each one offers something unique and special.

Moss Garden (230m one-way)

The Moss Garden is the first side track of the Main Gorge Walking Track, and a very quick one.

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.

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, 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!

Ward’s Canyon (270m one-way)

From the Amphitheatre, we retraced our steps back to the Main Gorge Walking Track, picked up our packs and headed some 900m further to the start of the walk to Ward’s Canyon.

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.

Art Gallery (200m one-way)

From Ward’s Canyon, we had some 800m to walk to get to the next side track. This was one of the sites I’d been looking forward to: Aboriginal rock art at the Art Gallery (Bidjara and Karingbal People).

There are some 2,000 engravings, stencils and free-hand paintings along a 62 m sandstone wall. Impressive.

The Art Gallery feels like a truly special place. There’s a boardwalk installed (and a video camera) so that people are reminded to treat this place with respect. Sad that the security camera is necessary, right?

READ MORE: Incredible Aboriginal rock art in Queensland

Most people make it as far as the Art Gallery in a day as it’s some 5.4km (10.8km return) from the start of the Main Gorge Walking Track.

If you’re reasonably fit, hiking into the gorge and doing these 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.

Art Gallery, Carnarvon Gorge, Carnarvon National Park

The rock wall of the Art Gallery

From the Art Gallery, the track becomes narrower and is mostly single-file from here. We had another 4km on our hands before we got to the last side track for the day, and from there to the Big Bend camping area.

The narrower track towards Cathedral Cave

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. It was already late in the afternoon and so we had the entire rock art site to ourselves. Most people who had actually made it to here had probably already come and gone hours ago.

Boowinda Gorge (~1km in to explore the gorge)

Boowinda Gorge is the last side track along the Main Gorge Walking Track, and only another 80m along from Cathedral Cave.

We wanted to climb out of the gorge and onto Battleship Spur so left this trail to the next morning after our night camping at Big Bend.

Being 9.2 km 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.

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 side 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 will take 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. You’re also supposed to have a topographic map for the Great Walk, which would obviously have helped us enormously.

First views back over Carnarvon Gorge

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.

Big Bend

From Boowinda Gorge it’s not far to Big Bend (420m).

Almost at Big Bend: A narrow track and a few, sporadic orange markers in the trees pointing the way

I was certainly ready for setting my pack down for good on our first day of hiking. My tummy had been unhappy with me all day, we’d covered far more than the 10km with all our side trips, and I couldn’t wait to have a cup of tea.

That night, we just managed to set up the tent and then crawled around the gorge until we literally ran out of light.

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!

Short(er) Walking Trails

Beyond the Main Gorge Walking Trail, there are a couple of other trails you could hit. We only managed a quick detour to the Rock Pool on our way out of the gorge and back to Takarakka.

Here’s a quick overview of the hiking trails you could do:

  • Boolimba Bluff (6.4km return): Branches off the Main Gorge Walking Trail to the Boolimba Bluff lookout, offering great views into the gorge and Carnarvon Creek (200m elevation). Involves some steep sections.
  • Nature Trail (1.5 km circuit): Starts at the visitor centre and loops back around Carnarvon Creek for an easy stroll
  • Mickey Creek (3km return): Starts at the Mickey Creek carpark and takes you into Mickey Creek Gorge
  • Rock Pool (400m return): Starts at the Rock Pool carpark to a small rock pool area. Not very long and not very spectacular (once you’ve seen the main gorge). You could also walk from the visitor centre along Carnarvon Creek, which might make this walk much more interesting (3.6km return)

Rock face at the Rock Pool

Summing Up…

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 turtles in Carnarvon Creek.

The Aboriginal history and cultural artefacts here are fascinating with fantastic examples of indigenous rock art.

Despite not being 100% well, I loved hiking into the gorge and camping at Big Bend. It was definitely an experience, and even though we didn’t make 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!

MORE INFORMATION

For details on what to expect at Carnarvon Gorge, walking trails, how to get there, etc., check out Queensland National Park Carnarvon Gorge. Or download the Queensland Park’s Carnarvon Gorge Guide (PDF) that 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, check them out:

Pin for later.

Hiking Carnarvon Gorge, Carnarvon National Park

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10 of our favourite hiking trails in Australia
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