Near Sydney

Camping in the Blue Mountains – Weekend Guide

Looking for a camping weekend close to Sydney? Head to the Blue Mountains for breathtaking vistas, glow worm tunnels, local cider and one of the best walks in NSW.

Here’s how to plan a weekend camping in the Blue Mountains.

 

Map: Check out my Blue Mountains Map to find all the places mentioned in this post. 

Where: Blue Mountains National Park, NSW

Driving from Sydney: 1hr 25mins to Katoomba, 1hr 35mins to Blackheath; 1hr 25mins to Bilpin; 2hrs to Mount Wilson; 2hrs 40mins to Glow Worm Tunnel walking track.

Having spent a few weekends in the Blue Mountains, I’ve come to realise the real beauty of this area sits outside of the towns. Instead it can be found in the quieter places: on walks and when looking out at the mass of vegetation and beyond. Meaning camping is one of the best ways to experience it!

Here’s my guide to planning a trip and where to go camping in the Blue Mountains.

 

Planning your trip to the Blue Mountains

Despite it being one of the things to do near Sydney, the Blue Mountains National Park spans a huge area. So deciding exactly where to go and planning your trip is surprisingly hard.

For a weekend away you essentially have two options: the more well-known South West side of the Blue Mountains around Katoomba, Leura and Blackheath; or the upper section following the Old Bells Line Road towards Lithgow and stopping at Bilpin and the Botanical Gardens.

Combining the two involves a lot of driving so I’d recommend splitting it across two weekends.

 

Why camping in the Blue Mountains is a good option

The Blue Mountains is an extremely popular weekend getaway so finding reasonably-priced accommodation at short-notice, can be tricky. I’ve made the mistake of assuming with so much accommodation available it would be easy to book into a hotel but everything gets booked up fast. This led me to researching campsites in the Blue Mountains and discovered there are a lot of options. Some of them are even free.

 

Free camping in the Blue Mountains

Unlike other beach camping options near Sydney, you have more options for free camping away from the coast . If you’re worried it might be too risky to just turn up without being able to book and secure your spot, opt for the bigger free camps like Cathedral Reserve. This place is really big so you are unlikely to have any trouble finding a spot. If you’re still worried, I’ve also listed bookable (paid-for) camping options.

 

Camping in the Blue Mountains during the colder months

Worried it will be too cold to camp outside of Summer? Yes you will need to be prepared for temperatures dropping at night. Good clothing and a decent sleeping bag or quilt will help you here. However, honestly the shoulder seasons are probably the best time to visit the Blue Mountains. It’s quieter and I recommend visiting Bilpin and staying at Cathedral Reserve near Mount Wilson in Autumn. The autumnal color of the trees is beautiful.

 

What to do in the Blue Mountains

 

Go for a walk or a hike

When visiting the Blue Mountains expect to want to do a few walks. The views and the hazy blue hues of the eucalyptus oil coming off the eucalyptus trees in the forests is the reason why this place is so popular.

I’m not big into long hikes but give me a walk that’s no longer than 3 hours with great views and I’m happy. And the Blue Mountains is just the place to do this. You get maximum reward for sufficient effort. If you too are a relaxed, fair-weather walker who likes to camp by your car and not carry everything with you, then you’ll enjoy the walks I’ve included below.

These walks are easy to moderate grades but don’t scrimp on spectacular views. The Grand Canyon Walk near Blackheath in particular is one of the best walks I’ve done in NSW so far and I can’t believe how close it is to Sydney! It even beat some of the  walks I’ve done in Dorrigo, Nightcap and Lamington National Parks.

 

Take in the views

There are many lookouts around the Blue Mountains which are easily accessible by car. Make sure you take advantage of them.

 

Visit at least one of the Blue Mountains towns

Blackheath, Leura, Katoomba and Bilpin are all great places to visit for food and drink, or to stock up on local produce. Although Bilpin is less of a town and more of a place where you drive past lots of stores selling apple-related produce like cider and apple pies.

 

Evan’s Lookout at the end of the Grand Canyon Walk

 

Katoomba, Leura and Blackheath in a weekend

 

Where to camp near Katoomba

 

Old Ford Reserve

Old Ford Reserve is a large free campsite 20-minutes drive from Blackheath or 30-minutes from Katoomba. I’ve not camped here but facilities include pit toilets and firepits. Bring your own water and firewood. The Six Foot Walking Track starts near here if you are up for the challenge of a 3-day 44km hike.

 

Blackheath Glen Tourist Park

This paid-for campsite is closer to the town Blackheath and with more facilities. These include toilets, showers, a camp kitchen and drinking water. Prices from $36/night (unpowered).

 

What to do around Katoomba in a weekend

Leura

I recommend making a stop off in Leura, a cute little town with a surprising number of cafes and shops. I had breakfast at Lily’s Pad Cafe which was a nice, no-fuss locals place. Leura Garage, in the old mechanics, is also a good spot to visit and does breakfast, lunch and dinner.

 

 

Echo Point, Katoomba and The Three Sisters Walk

This is the most popular attraction in the Blue Mountains. There is no doubt the views at Echo Point lookout and over towards the Three Sisters, are spectacular. The experience however is somewhat dampened by the crowds. Even more so when you arrive at the same time as a coach-load of visitors.

Try to get there either early doors or for sunset to avoid the crowds. If you can’t control when you get there, at least you know what to expect. The Three Sisters Walk takes 20 minutes and is worth doing whilst you’re there. 

 

The Prince Henry Cliff Walk and Furber Steps Scenic Railway Walking Tracks

Starting at Echo Point Lookout, take the walk in the other direction to do the Prince Henry Cliff Walk taking you past Katoomba Falls. This turns into the Furber Steps and Scenic Railway Walking Track.

 

Govetts Leap

Head to Govetts Leap and walk the Cliff Top Walking Track to Evan’s Lookout.

 

 

Blackheath

I really enjoyed my visit to Blackheath where I spent a Sunday morning have breakfast at the Victory Cafe before pottering round the historic Victory Theatre Antique Centre. Head to This Little Piggy Deli to pick up a takeaway coffee and stock up on sausage rolls and sandwiches for lunch, or to Bakery on Wentworth for one of their delicious pies before you hit the road.

 

 

The Grand Canyon Walk

One day, on a last-minute trip to the Blue Mountains, I did a quick search for walks near Blackheath and picked The Grand Canyon Walk. Little did I know just how amazing it is and remains one of the best walks I’ve done in NSW. If you’re heading to the area, this walk is a must-do.

The walk takes around 3 hours to complete and has you following a creek and passing waterfalls along the way. It is challenging in that you descend and walk along the valley floor. So no matter which way round you do the walk, you have to ascend out of the valley at some point.

Starting from the walking track car park I went anti-clockwise and would recommend this way because the ascent is not as steep as the clockwise route. You also get to end the walk with spectacular views of the blue hazy forests beyond from Evan’s lookout.

 

Camping in the Blue Mountains
View from Evan’s Lookout

 

The Hydro Majestic

The Hydro Majestic is a hotel with a teahouse, bars, function rooms and restaurants on site, found on the Great Western Highway between Katoomba and Balckheath. The place is huge, you can’t miss it as you drive past. Even if you’re not stopping for afternoon tea, food or a drink; still stop for the views. They are incredible and it’s a nice way to end your weekend in the Blue Mountains before heading back to Sydney.

 

 

Bilpin, Mount Banks and the Glow Worms Tunnel in a weekend

 

The most talked about place in the Blue Mountains may be the Three Sisters but there’s so much more to explore beyond what you find around Katoomba. My favourite part is the Upper Blue Mountains is actually taking the Old Bells Line Road in past Bilpin and towards Lithgow. So make sure to plan a weekend camping here as well. 

 

Free camping in the Blue Mountains at Cathedral Reserve

 

Where to camp near Bilpin

Cathedral Reserve Recreation Area

Camp at Cathedral Reserve near Mount Wilson, next to the Cathedral of Ferns walk. It’s free! You can’t book and it’s first-come first-served, however there’s lots of space. So unless you’re visiting during school holidays, I don’t think you will have trouble finding a spot.

I arrived one hour before sunset on a Saturday afternoon and had no problem at all. It was in early May so not the busiest time of year for camping, however the Autumn leaves were out and there were a lot of people camping, yet still plenty of room.

Some sites have fire pits but you need to be lucky (or early) to get one of these. Although this is not actively encouraged, you can take your own if you have one. Always check ahead if there is a fire ban in place or not.

Tip: I recommend the spot I stayed in. There are no marked spots but drive into the campground and take the road straight ahead. Keep driving down, you will come to a turning circle. On the turn there’s two spots next to a wooded area. I camped here and thought it was great because it was near a toilet (there are both drop toilets and portaloos onsite), near the trees but away from the bulk of campers. It made for a lovely quiet, more secluded spot.

 

 

Newnes Campground

This is another free camp but you need to book ahead before arrival which has a $6 fee attached. It’s a little further out but if close to the Glow Worms Tunnel walk so a good option if you plan to do the walk early in the morning or later in the afternoon. Facilities include toilets, BBQs and firepits. Bring your own water and firewood.

 

Lake Lyell Camping Area

This paid-for campsite is in the most idyllic setting right on Lake Lyell. I haven’t stayed here but drove past it and is on my list to stay next time. Make sure to plan your stay here in advance: it’s popular with families, gets booked up and has a 2 night minimum stay at weekends. Facilities include toilets, showers and BBQs but you still need to bring your own water. Prices from $27/night (unpowered).

 

Visit Bilpin Cider when camping in the Blue Mountains

Visit Bilpin Cider’s beer garden

 

Where to visit and what to do in a weekend

 

Sample some of the local Bilpin cider

If you fancy sampling some of the local cider then drop into either Bilpin Cider or if you’re after good pizzas, Hillbilly Cider on drive in or out of the Upper Blue Mountains. Both offer a range of ciders and non-alcoholic cider (tastes like Appletizer) for the drivers, as well as cider gardens to relax and enjoy them in.

 

Do the Mount Banks summit walk when camping in the Blue Mountains
The view from Mount Banks

 

Complete the Mount Banks summit walk

This is my favourite short walk in the Blue Mountains. It’s a 20-minute walk to the summit from the car park and then you’ll want to sit for at least 20 minutes on the way back down to take in the views. I’ve been here a couple of times now (I love it so much) and is best enjoyed in the afternoon light.

 

 

Check out Rigby Hill Lookout

Stop off at this lookout (on the map as Walls Lookout) on your way to Mount Wilson.

 

 

Visit the Glow Worm Tunnel

Although technically not in the Blue Mountains, the drive up to the Glow Worm Tunnel in Wollemi National Park is well worth the visit. Drive either along the Old Bells Road (takes one hour to drive 10km because it’s unsealed road. 2WD is possible but take it slow in sections).

I would recommend doing the Glow Worm Tunnel and Pagoda Circuit Track (7.5km) walk. It says it takes 4 hours but I easily completed it in under 3 hours. You get beautiful views of the Blue Mountains, dramatic rock faces that jut out of the ground and there’s different scenery at every stage of the walk. Although there is a steep section, the path is relatively easy and well signposted most of the way around.

If 3 hours is too long there is a shorter 2km return walk to the tunnel from the carpark at the end of Glow Worm Tunnel Road.

 

 

These are all the places and things I’ve discovered on my trips to the Blue Mountains and I hope this guide helps you navigate and plan your own camping trip away. No matter where you end up, the whole of the Blue Mountains area really is stunning and worth a visit so enjoy the your time there.

Happy camping!