A guide to hiking in the Cathedral Range State Park

The Cathedral Range State Park is one of Victoria’s best hiking and camping areas. The rocky range northeast of Melbourne offers some of the most challenging day hikes with a range of different peaks and stunning vistas of the surrounding area. 

Next to the Grampians, I would say it’s one of the best places to go hiking in Victoria. It’s also easily accessible from the city and makes for a great day trip from Melbourne. 

If you’re planning on hiking in the Cathedral Range, then this blog can help you plan and prepare for your perfect hike.

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Ridge Track

Hiking trails in the Cathedral Range State Park

Most of the hikes in the Cathedral Range are circuit trails, except for the Jawbone Peaks and the Little Cathedral return hikes. At all the junctions I mention in the descriptions below, you’ll find green information boards that have the track names, distances, estimated time, difficulty and directions so you know where each trail leads. There are also orange triangle markers on all of these trails, so you shouldn’t worry too much about navigation.

The southern circuit and northern circuit are the two most popular day hikes in the Cathedral Ranges, with beautiful views on all of the trails. The ultimate hike is the full ridgeline circuit that joins both southern and northern ends of the range together for a long but worthwhile hike that some even turn into an overnight hike.

However, there’s a Cathedral Range walk to suit most fitness levels and time limits with shorter half-day hikes if you prefer.

Cathedral Range State Park map

Cathedral Range State Park map
Source: Visitor guide downloadable at Parks Victoria website

Southern circuit hike

  • Start/finish: Cooks Mill Campground
  • Distance: 10.8km (add 650m for South Jawbone Peak, add 1.3km for North Jawbone Peak)
  • Time: 4 hours
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Highest point: Sugarloaf Peak 920m
  • Trails used: Tweed Spur Road – Messmate Track – Wells Cave/Canyon Track – Razorback Track – Jawbone Creek Track – Saint Bernards Track
  • Peaks: Sugarloaf Peak, South Jawbone Peak (optional) and North Jawbone Peak (optional)

This is a tough circuit that requires a lot of scrambling and walking along a jagged ridge, but the stunning views make it all worthwhile. You start in Cooks Mill and follow the Tweed Spur 4WD Road south of the campground. Keep a lookout for the turnoff to your right which is signposted. This is the Messmate Track, one of the newest additions to the park. This takes you on a gradual ascent to Sugarloaf Saddle Picnic Area and Car Park. 

From here you have two options to ascend to Sugarloaf Peak. Wells Cave to your right is a tough climb through near-vertical rock faces. If you have a large backpack, this is not recommended as there are numerous tight spaces to squeeze yourself between. It’s also not recommended for inexperienced or nervous hikers. 

Wells Cave is an ascent route only, you should return via Canyon Track if you need.

Canyon Track is the ascent option to your left and is slightly longer and still a challenging climb. It requires some scrambling up steep rock faces and is only slightly easier than Wells Cave. 

At the top of both tracks, you’ll come to Sugarloaf Peak, the highest spot in the range and an incredible viewpoint at 920m. From there, continue north along the top of the ridgeline along Razorback Track. This is a difficult trail that crosses the exposed ridge, but the views are spectacular for the most part. Make sure you keep looking for the orange markers to show you the way.

You’ll finally come to The Farmyard, a small clearing that is used for camping on overnight hikes. From there, you have a couple of options. You can descend straight down Jawbone Creek Track back to your car at Cooks Mill. If you have time and energy, you can take the side trip to South Jawbone Peak to your right and even North Jawbone Peak, a little further to your left. 

Then descend down Jawbone Creek Track and St Bernards Track back to Cooks Mill.

Little Cathedral Peak
Little Cathedral Peak

Northern circuit hike

  • Start/finish: Neds Gully Campground (or alternatively, Cooks Mill)
  • Distance: 13.5km (add 500m for Neds Peak, add 500m for North Jawbone Peak and add 1.2km for South Jawbone Peak)
  • Time: 5 hours
  • Difficulty: Medium-Hard
  • Highest point: Cathedral Peak 840m
  • Trails used: Neds Gully Track – Little Cathedral Track – Ridge Track – Jawbone Creek Track – Saint Bernards Track – Little River Track 
  • Peaks: Neds Peak (optional), Little Cathedral, Cathedral North, Cathedral Peak, North Jawbone Peak (optional) and South Jawbone Peak (optional)

The Northern Circuit is traditionally started from Neds Gully, but you can also start this from Cooks Mill if you prefer.

From Neds Gully, head up Neds Gully Track that steeply winds its way to Neds Saddle. From there, you have the option to take the side trail to Neds Peak for a quick view if you wish. Then from the Saddle turn right towards Little Cathedral Peak. Little Cathedral Peak at 825m is considered one of the best views in the Cathedral Ranges. From there, go back the same way for a few hundred metres and then take the trail to the right along the Ridge Track to Cathedral Peak at 840m. 

Alternative option: You can shorten this hike considerably if you like. Once you arrive at Neds Saddle, instead of turning right to Little Cathedral, you can take Cathedral Peak Track straight ahead that links up to the Ridge Track. This way you can completely skip the Little Cathedral Peak section which shortens your hike by 3km.

From Cathedral Peak, continue south along the Ridge Track, which offers incredible views for most of the way along an exposed and rocky trail. Pass the Neds Saddle junction and continue for almost 2km along the ridge until you come to another junction. The trail on the left leads to the North Jawbone Peak side trail and connects up to your descent to Cooks Mill. Or, the trail to the right continues to The Farmyard, the open clearing for overnight hikers, and from where you can take the side trail to South Jawbone Peak. 

Either way you choose, they both meet up with the Jawbone Creek Track where you need to turn left to head down to Cooks Mill. From Cooks Mills, turn left and follow the Little River Track back to Neds Gully.

Alternative option: A different start point for this hike is at Cooks Mill, where you can choose to do the hike in the same direction by first walking to Neds Gully along Little River Track or you can do this hike in reverse by heading up Jawbone Creek track first. This might be necessary if the footbridge is inaccessible at Neds Gully which can happen after a storm. You can check for these closures and track conditions on the Parks Victoria website here.

Razorback Track
Razorback Track

Ridgeline Circuit (long day or overnight hike)

  • Start/finish: Cooks Mill Campground
  • Distance: 18.5km (add 650m for South Jawbone Peak, add 500m for Neds Peak)
  • Time: 7-8 hours
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Highest point: Sugarloaf Peak 920m
  • Trails used: Tweed Spur Road – Messmate Track – Wells Cave/Canyon Track – Razorback Track – Ridge Track – Little Cathedral Track – Neds Gully Track – Little River Track 
  • Peaks: There are options to get to all of the peaks on this circuit if you like

This is the ultimate Cathedral Range State Park hike. It joins both the southern circuit and the northern circuit together. It’s tough both physically and mentally but it means that you can take in all of the peaks of the range and all the best views. You should only tackle this if you arrive early enough and have a decent level of fitness.

Some people make this a Cathedral Ranges overnight hike by breaking it up with a stay in The Farmyard camping area. This is a clearing in the middle of the range that has no facilities but camping there is free. It’s well protected surrounded by trees and shrubs and is only accessible by hiking in.

Start the hike from Cooks Mill. Head south along the Tweed Spur 4WD Road until you see the turnoff to your right for the Messmate Track. Take this dirt trail that brings you out at the Sugarloaf Saddle Picnic Area. From there, choose between the Canyon Track or Wells Cave (more about these above under the southern circuit description).

If you’re carrying an overnight pack, you won’t be able to get through Wells Cave, as it requires squeezing through tight rock faces.

From the top of Sugarloaf Peak at 920m, continue north along the Razorback Track until you reach The Farmyard. If you’re camping the night, this is where you can pick your spot and set up for the night.

From the Farmyard, you can take the short trail to the right to South Jawbone Peak, if you like. Otherwise, continue straight up the Ridge Track. This rocky trail takes you through scrub and exposed outcrops for 2.5km to Cathedral Peak at 840m. 

Alternative option: From Cathedral Peak, you can backtrack a little and then head straight down Neds Gully track, which shortens the hike by 3km by cutting out the Little Cathedral section. 

From Cathedral Peak, continue north along the ridge to Little Cathedral Peak, the northernmost peak of the range. Head back the same way for 450m and at the junction, you can take the left trail which connects up to Neds Gully Track and takes you down towards Neds Gully campground. 

Just before the campground, take the Little River Track to your right which follows the river all the way back to Cooks Mill.

South Jawbone Peak
South Jawbone Peak

Jawbone Peaks return hike

  • Start/finish: Cooks Mill Campground or Jawbone Carpark
  • Distance: 8km return from Cooks Mill including both South Jawbone and North Jawbone side trails (3km shorter if you start at Jawbone Carpark)
  • Time: 3 hours
  • Difficulty: Medium
  • Highest point: South Jawbone Peak 800m
  • Trails used: St Bernards Track (if starting from Cooks Mill) – Jawbone Creek Track – Side trails to South Jawbone Peak and North Jawbone Peak
  • Peaks: South Jawbone Peak and North Jawbone Peak (both optional side trails)

This is a great day hike option to get up to the top of the Cathedral Range in the middle of the ridge. It’s the shortest option if you just want to get some great views without too long of a day. 

You can start from Cooks Mill and take the St Bernards Track to Jawbone Carpark. Or you can simply park at Jawbone Carpark and start from there, making it an even shorter hike. From Jawbone Carpark, follow Jawbone Creek Track that winds its way steeply up along a dirt trail towards The Farmyard clearing which is used by overnight hikers. 

Just before the clearing, you can turn right and head towards North Jawbone Peak. Or, you can head to the clearing and take the skinny trail to the left that takes you to South Jawbone Peak. If you’re up for it, it’s best to do both. 

Turn around and descend the same way.

Cathedral Ranges peak
Ridge Track

Little Cathedral return hike

  • Start/finish: Neds Gully Campground
  • Distance: 8km return (add 500m for Neds Peak)
  • Time: 3 hours
  • Difficulty: Medium
  • Highest point: Cathedral Peak 840m
  • Trails used: Neds Gully Track, Cathedral Peak Track, Ridge Track, Little Cathedral Track
  • Peaks: Neds Peak (optional), Cathedral Peak, North Cathedral Peak and Little Cathedral

This is a half-day hike in the northern part of the Cathedral Range. Head up from Neds Gully campground along the dirt track that winds its way to Neds Saddle. You have the option of taking the side trail to Neds Peak. Otherwise, turn right and head to Little Cathedral Peak at 825m. 

From there, you have to backtrack a little and then take the right track along the exposed ridge. This takes you through North Cathedral Peak and Cathedral Peak at 840m. Shortly after that, you can take the left trail at the junction that heads back to Neds Saddle and back down to the Neds Gully campground

Friends Nature Trail

  • Start/finish: Cooks Mill Campground
  • Distance: 2km
  • Time: 1 hour
  • Difficulty: Easy 

An easy circuit walk that is perfect for anyone of any fitness level. It takes you through forest passing the old sawmill heritage site that operated in the 40s and 50s.

Little River Track
Little River Track

Campgrounds

Camping in the Cathedral Range State Park is a popular activity and there are two main campgrounds on the eastern side of the range. Both campgrounds also act as the main parking areas for day trippers, so they can get quite busy on weekends and on public holidays.

Remember to leave no trace and carry your rubbish out with you.

Cooks Mill Campground

Cooks Mill is a large campground on the site of an old timber mill. It’s a shaded area with flat ground and relatively obvious camping sites, although they’re not officially marked. All the sites can accommodate tents, with some suitable for camper trailers and caravans. There are non-flush toilets, a few picnic tables and communal fireplaces. 

You must book to secure a site and you can do that through the Parks Victoria website here.

Neds Gully Campground

Neds Gully camping area has various unmarked sites in a clearing, 50 metres from the carpark. There are non-flush toilets, picnic tables and communal fireplaces available. 

You must book to secure a site and you can do that through the Parks Victoria website here.

The Farmyard

The Farmyard camp is a free hike-in only clearing perched on the ridge above Jawbone Carpark. It is perfectly located at a junction of several trails and is the main camping area to break up the long Ridgeline Circuit hike. There are no bookings required and there are no facilities, but you can see where people have had fires previously.

Cathedral Ranges
Near Sugarloaf Peak

Car parks

Cooks Mill

Cooks Mill is one of the two main campgrounds of the State Park and is the main parking and camping area for the southern trails. There are public non-flush toilets and picnic tables available.

Neds Gully

Neds Gully is the other main campground of the park and is the main trailhead for the northern trails. There are public non-flush toilets and picnic tables available.

Jawbone Car Park

Jawbone Carpark is the main parking area for accessing the Jawbone peaks and the direct trail up to The Farmyard known as Jawbone Creek Track. There’s space for around 15 cars there. Otherwise, an alternative is to park further down at Cooks Mill and walk the St Bernards Track from Cooks Mill to the Jawbone Carpark which is 1.5km. 

Sugarloaf Saddle Picnic Area

Sugarloaf Saddle Carpark is the day visitor and picnic area at the southern end of the State Park. There are public toilets and picnic tables for day use, but no camping is allowed. 

This is the main trailhead for the climb to Sugarloaf Peak. From the car park, you have two options to get to the peak; the more gradual Canyon Track or the very difficult Wells Cave. It’s also a popular spot for rock climbers

The 4.5km Messmate Track connects the Cooks Mill Campground with Sugarloaf Saddle Picnic Area if you’re attempting the full Ridgeline Circuit.

Hiking in the Cathedral Ranges

How to get to the Cathedral Range State Park

From Melbourne, the Cathedral Range State Park is around 115km or a two-hour road trip. It’s a beautiful drive along the Maroondah Highway, through the Yarra Valley and up the Black Spur.

After passing through Buxton, you’ll find the turn-off 10km further along the highway on your right to Cathedral Lane. Follow Cathedral Lane until you find Little River Road on your right, which is where you’ll find the official park entrance. The dirt road of the state park is suitable for most vehicles and is in good condition. 

You’ll come across Neds Gully Campground first and if you continue driving you’ll eventually come across Cooks Mill. Beyond here, a 4WD vehicle would be best to navigate the dirt tracks.

Safe hiking tips for the Cathedral Ranges

  • Snakes are common on the trails in the Cathedral Ranges and on hot, sunny days you should remain aware of what’s on the trail ahead of you.
  • There are no water sources on the upper trails and along the ridgeline. You should carry more than enough water for the entirety of your hike.
  • The rocky and dirt trails can be slippery and dangerous during and after heavy rainfall. Be careful on the rocky ridgeline as well as the steep downhill trails.
  • Do not attempt a hike during extreme weather events such as a scorching summers day. Fire danger in this area can be serious. Check the fire danger rating on the Victorian Emergency website here.
  • Check for track closures and changes to conditions on the Parks Victoria website here
  • There are orange triangle markers throughout the trails marking the way forward. Keep an eye out for them, especially as you navigate the southern circuit trails at Wells Cave and along Razorback Track. There are also green signboards with track names and distances at major junctions on all the trails.
  • There is weak to almost no reception or phone signal in the car parks and lower camping grounds, depending on your service provider. On top of the ridge and on the upper trails, you’ll find almost full signal in some spots.
  • Be aware that these trails are not easy for the most part and some require difficult rock scrambling and steep ascents and descents. It’s recommended that you have some bushwalking or hiking experience and a decent level of fitness before heading up to the Cathedral. 
  • Download Maps.Me for offline use and you’ll find all the trails, peaks and carparks marked accurately on it. If you turn your GPS on, you’ll be able to check during your hike where you are and how far you have to go.
  • The closest towns are Taggerty which is 10km from Cooks Mill Campground and Buxton is 18km from Cooks Mill.
Hiking in the Cathedral Range State Park
Razorback Track

Essential hiking gear

You should dress appropriately and carry the essential gear for a remote bush walk:

  • Proper footwear is the most essential item, go for sturdy and supportive trail shoes or hiking boots as the rocky trails are unforgiving. 
  • Carry enough water and food for your anticipated hike.
  • Take extra items like hiking poles for the steep, rocky trails and gaiters to protect yourself from snakes. 
  • It’s wise to cover your legs with either hiking pants or exercise tights, even on hot days. The overgrown bush is very prickly and the rock scrambling can lead to scrapes and cuts.
  • Some of the trails on the ridgeline are quite exposed, you should be sun smart and wear a hat and sunscreen.

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2 thoughts on “A guide to hiking in the Cathedral Range State Park

  1. I grew up half an hour from The Cathedral Ranges and still haven’t done the whole lot of hikes! I’m so glad I came by this post as it’s reminded me I need to go back and tackle the overnighter.

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