The Blue Mountains is the most popular day trip from Sydney and one of the most visited national parks in New South Wales and Australia. There are many things to do in the national park. Hence, it can be overwhelming to choose where to stop when planning a Blue Mountains self-drive itinerary. I went to the Blue Mountains many times for a day trip or an overnight trip. I’ve combined my experiences in this article to help you plan your Blue Mountains self-drive itinerary.
The wilderness as far as you can see is the most impressive thing in the Blue Mountains. Imagine that the UNESCO World Heritage site is about the size of Belgium!
These self-drive itinerary ideas will bring you to lookouts where you’ll get a peek at the immensity of the park. There are many hiking opportunities for active travellers. And for the adventurers, I highly recommend canyoning in the Blue Mountains for a day. It’s the best way to get into the wild feelings.
The numbers next to the names indicate the location on the map at the end of the article.
Things to pack for your Blue Mountains self-drive itinerary
- Warm jacket
- Rain and wind jacket
- Change of clothes
- Enclosed walking shoes
- Hat and sunglasses
- Reusable water bottle
- Lunch and snacks. There are restaurants and supermarkets in the Blue Mountains but you may want to avoid shopping during your limited time.
Blue Mountains self-drive itinerary for a day trip around the best lookouts
You should leave Sydney early to avoid the potential crowd at Wentworth Falls (1). It takes about 1.5 hours to get there.
Walking from the car park to the top of Wentworth Falls (and a bit further to Rocket Point lookout) then back to the car park should take you about one hour. It will depend on how fast you are climbing up the stairs. I did it wearing a walking boot so, if you take your time, you can do this walk even if you aren’t a fit hiker.
The Blackheath area is great to visit during peak hours to avoid the crowd at the other spots. Although it’s spectacular, it’s a lot less famous. You could easily spend the full day exploring the Blackheath area. That’s why some research is needed to select what you want to do there.
My favourite lookout in this area is Pulpit Rock (2), about half an hour drive from Wentworth Falls. The access is via an unsealed road, and there is no proper car park. Hence, it’s surprising to find an incredibly well-built lookout in the heart of what feels like a never-ending wilderness. Allow around 45 minutes to explore Pulpit Rock. The walk isn’t long, but you will want to take breaks to enjoy the view and take a break from the stairs.
You can directly drive to Govetts Leap lookout (3) in only 15 minutes to get additional views of the Hooker Valley. If you feel like hiking, the
I also like the short walk from Govetts Leap to Bridals Veils/Barrow lookout (4). This time, it’s almost all about climbing stairs. But you’re rewarded with a view of the valley from a different angle. I particularly like the walls full of moss. Allow around half an hour to complete this one (return).
The Three Sisters (5) is the most known place in the Blue Mountains and on many Australia’s bucket lists. So it’s not surprising that all tours stop at this iconic landmark. By doing your own self-driving itinerary in the Blue Mountains, you get a chance to check it outside the peak hours.
Allow about half an hour to drive from Blackheath to the Three Sisters in Katoomba, as you may have traffic on the way and look for a parking spot.
It only takes five minutes to have a look at the Three Sisters from the Echo Point lookout (6). But there are many things to do nearby that you may be interested in so you could easily spend half the day there. I recommend planning something in between.
Those who don’t want to hike may be interested in checking out Scenic World* (7) for a different way to explore the immensity of the Blue Mountains.
I recommend going to Eagle Hawk Lookout (8) to admire the Three Sisters in calm settings. At the end of the day, tours go back to Sydney so it’s a good time to check out the famous Echo Point lookout and the nearby short and easy walks to get even closer to the Three Sisters: Spooners lookout (9) and Honeymoon Bridge (10). There will be fewer people at the end of the day.
Where to stay overnight in the Blue Mountains?
If you are on a budget, camping is the cheapest option to stay overnight in the Blue Mountains. With just a tent, we could stay at Blackheath Glen Reserve for free and cook our dinner with the fire pit. However, you’ll have to check if a fire ban applies during your visit, especially in summer. I recommend downloading an app on your smartphone to view the free campgrounds near your itinerary.
Responsible Travel Tip: Even if you have a low budget, make sure you spend money in the destination to support local businesses. Free hiking and free camping aren’t the best for the local economy, so try to at least buy groceries at, for example, the local butcher or bakery.
If you don’t want to camp, you’ll find plenty of accommodations in Katoomba* and also a good selection in Blackheath*. Katoomba is closer to the main attractions, but I prefer Blackheath as it feels quieter.
Suggestions for a two-day self-drive itinerary
On the second day, I recommend starting with a short walk.
Leura Cascades (11) near Katoomba can be a nice option as it’s relaxing and even refreshing on a hot day. You’ll be in the forest which will feel different to the previous day where most of the itinerary was at the top of the cliffs. It only takes about half an hour to walk the circuit, so you’ll have plenty of time to visit another place after.
Your second option could be to check out other lookouts in the Blackheath region, such as the Wind Eroded Cave (12) and Anvil Rock (13). They both take only about 15 minutes return or do a walk you didn’t have time to do the day before.
Afternoon at Jenolan Caves
In the afternoon, drive to Jenolan Caves for about 1.5 hours. There, you’ll have the opportunity to explore some of the world’s oldest caves on Earth. Some caves are easy to access and others are more challenging and adventurous. Jenolan Caves (14) has facilities for visitors and provides guided tours of the caves, so you’ll find all the information you need when you arrive.
Keep your eyes open on the way: you may spot kangaroos, rock wallabies and many endemic birds such as the black cockatoos and the lyrebird.
Time your visit so you can still be there at sunset. That’s when the platypus that lives in the nearby Blue Lake (15) comes out for hunting. It’s one of the best opportunities ever to see a platypus in the wild, an iconic Australian animal. Plus, the Blue Lake does have a lovely blue colour – so it’s a lovely easy walk anyway.
If you don’t feel like driving back at night on the winding roads, you can spend the night at the Jenolan Caves House*.