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The best winter hikes near Melbourne
From the You Yangs to the Yarra Ranges, here are nine stunning hikes near Melbourne.
After months of social distancing and self-isolation, even the chill of winter isn’t enough to keep Victorians cooped up inside. The easing of COVID-19 restrictions has seen a surge in people taking to the great outdoors for their daily dose of exercise, vitamin D and low-key escapism.
So swift has the return to outdoor outings and exercise been that some well-worn trails have been overwhelmed, and in the interests of public safety, authorities have temporarily closed the 1000 steps/Kokoda Memorial Walk in Ferntree Gully and the Warburton Redwood Forest until 11.59pm on Sunday 21 June.
But Victoria has a wide choice of beautiful walks, many of them within a few hours of Melbourne. So grab your scarf, pull on your hiking boots and get ready to embrace the feeling of (chilled) freedom from the four walls of your home.
The East-West walk in the You Yangs provides an uninterrupted view of the surrounding valley.
O’Shannassy Aqueduct Trail
Offering spectacular views of the Upper Yarra Valley, this gentle trail follows the historic open-channel O’Shannassy Aqueduct. Wander among lush ferns, towering trees and diverse native bushland as you breathe in the crisp winter air. While it can get muddy and slippery, the track is also suitable for an intermediate bike ride, weather permitting. Most easily accessed from the Dee Road Carpark in Millgrove, the full trail runs for 30 kilometres but you can easily break it up into shorter legs.
Distance: 30 kilometres, with multiple points to step on or off the trail for a shorter walk.
You Yangs East-West Walk
There’s no shortage of walking paths to choose from in the You Yangs Regional Park (located in Little River). We’ve narrowed down the selection for you. The You Yangs are a series of granite ridges that rise from flat volcanic plains, named from Aboriginal words meaning ‘big rock in the middle of a plain’. The East-West walk shows off these distinctive plains on a gentle looping walk, while its circumnavigation of Flinders Peak (the highest mountain in the park) rewards you with unobstructed views of the surrounding valley. Basically, it shows off all the best bits. Plus, there’s not a lot of shade on this path, making it particularly well-suited to a clear winter’s day.
Distance: About 4.2 kilometres.
Big Pats Creek
Beauty and history combine in this walk past the remnants of Victoria’s early timber industry. Near Warburton, the trail follows well-preserved sections of the historic timber tramlines, past old mills and other historic landmarks. While you’ll need two days and a good map to tackle the full 33-kilometre walk, which involves several creek crossings, a better choice for families and inexperienced walkers is the shorter leg from Big Pats Picnic Area to Starlings Gap. Pack some lunch and enjoy a picnic beside one of the trickling creeks.
Distance: Nine kilometres, 3.5 hours.
Difficulty: Mostly easy
Toorongo Falls Reserve
This walk is about 2.5 hours from Melbourne, but we think it’s worth the drive. Close to Mount Baw Baw, the Toorongo and Falls Reserve and Amphitheatre Walk shows off a gorgeous tiered waterfall surrounded by lush native bush. Starting at the end of the carpark, the track slopes slightly but is suitable for a slow, tranquil walk leading to an observation platform to show off Toorongo Falls. If you want to keep exploring, you can continue on to the loop and catch a glimpse of the slightly smaller, but still beautiful, Amphitheatre Falls.
Distance: 1.5 kilometres return (2.2 kilometres with Amphitheatre Falls).
Cape Schanck Boardwalk
Nothing is quite as iconic to Cape Schanck as the lighthouse, which is just minutes’ drive from RACV’s award-winning Cape Schanck Resort. Head down to this charming coastal spot at any time of year and take a stroll along the Cape Schanck boardwalk, soaking up views of the coastline and breathing in the sea air. The walk isn’t strenuous but does involve many steps. The boardwalk takes you right down to the beach and rock platform, where we suggest spending at least a few uninterrupted minutes just talking it all in, And of course, on the way back, look out for the lighthouse.
Distance: 1.6 kilometres.
Cape Schanck is beautful even on a wintry day.
The Lake Circuit at Lysterfield Park
For a more urban escape, look no further than Lysterfield Park. This family-friendly reserve meanders through dry forest, woodlands and wetlands, and is one of the best places near Melbourne to catch a glimpse of native wildlife in its natural habitat. Visit around dusk or dawn for your best chance to spot kangaroos, wallabies, koalas or even echidnas. While the park boasts a 24-kilometre network of bike trails, the Lake Circuit is easily its most popular walking trail. It is mostly flat with wide gravel paths and distance markers every kilometre, which makes navigating the trail easy. It’s also great for kids, with picnic spots and lakeside jetties.
Distance: 5.5-kilometre ciruit.
Each walking track we’ve mentioned offers something different, but only the Cumberland Walk, east of Marysville, can boast the tallest-known living tree in Victoria. Aptly named ‘the Big Tree’, this 85-metre-tall beauty is believed to be at least 400 years old. To reach it you’ll wander through a forest of mature mountain ash – the tallest flowering trees in the world – then continue on through a rainforest gully to the Cora Lynn and Cumberland waterfalls, and sweeping views over the Cumberland Valley. Allow some time to drive through the Marysville township, perhaps picking up some lunch to enjoy after your walk.
Distance: Four kilometres, two hours.
Difficulty: Medium, due to short, steep sections.
The Kokoda Track Memorial Walk
Currently closed until 22 June, this steep ascent, popularly known as the 1000 Steps, is famous for getting the blood pumping and that body temperature up. Nestled in Upper Ferntree Gully in Melbourne’s east, the steps have long been used as a training ground for those preparing to tackle the Kokoda Track in Papua New Guinea. To assist with physical distancing during COVID-19 the steep and at times slippery path will be restricted to a single direction once it reopens. Visitors will be permitted to go up the steps from Ferntree Gully Picnic Ground and descend via the Lyrebird Track to the carpark. Rules requiring physical distancing of 1.5 metres, and gathering in groups of no more than 20, should be observed at all times. At the top of the climb there are several paths that lead to other tracks, as well as a picnic ground at the base.
Distance: Roughly 2.8 kilometres (to the top of the steps).
Difficulty: Moderate to hard. Beware, this walk does have steep sections and can get slippery so wear appropriate shoes.
Sherbrooke Falls Walk
A 10-minute drive from the 1000 Steps, the Sherbrooke Falls walk is another scenic option. Also set in the Dandenong Ranges, this gentle walk takes you along a gravel path through the forest. If you’re lucky you might catch a glimpse of a lyrebird, as well as possums and wallabies. The forest is particularly beautiful right after rain with waterdrops on the ferns glistening and the falls more likely to be flowing.
Distance: 2.4 kilometres (return).