Want a challenging day-hike close to Melbourne? An overnight hike with a stop-off in a remote bush campground? A series of smallish walks and boulder scrambles to pick and choose from? Mountain biking? Cathedral Range State Park has it all. Our Explorer Chris Paola checked it out…
- Close enough to Melbourne for day trips
- Hike up Sugarloaf and Cathedral Peaks
- Stunning rock formations begging to be climbed
- Mountain bike park nearby
Cathedral Range State Park
Casting our eyes over the map for an adventurous getaway close to Melbourne, the peaks of the Cathedral Ranges piqued our interest. Located roughly 110kms north east of Melbourne, they cast an imposing shadow over the Acheron Valley below.
Having a few days to explore the area, we chose a standing camp at Cooks Mill Campground. This gave us the greatest degree of freedom as to which way we attacked the walks, as well as giving us easy access to the surrounding areas of Buxton and Marysville.
After arriving and setting up camp, we went for a relaxing walk around the Friends Nature Trail. An easy loop which took us around forty minutes, it weaves its way in between two creeks that flow down the eastern side of the range. The following morning we drove the 10km to Buxton Mountain Bike Park to soak up the flowy goodness on offer before a well-earned lunch at the Buxton Pub.
Up early the next day, we were out of camp by 8.00am with a goal of attacking Sugarloaf Peak, at the southern end of the Cathedral Ranges. We took Messmate Track and after an hour of mostly-gentle climbing, we reached the Sugarloaf Saddle rest area and prepared for the real ascent.
To climb Sugarloaf Peak, you’ve got two options. The Canyon Track is rated as the easier of the two options so naturally, we took Wells Cave Track. Even though the track is well marked, some of the directional arrows leave you scratching your head in utter bewilderment as they usher you up near-vertical rock faces. Embrace the climbing, tight squeezes, and dizzying exposure that the track is renowned for and you’ll be rewarded with an adrenaline-fuelled ascent to the 920m tall peak.
With the southernmost peak under our belts and a large part of the day still ahead of us, we set our sights on the park’s namesake, Cathedral Peak, at the northern end of the range. Between us and the peak lay two aptly named tracks – Razorback and Ridge. As you’d expect, the tracks follow the ridgeline and don’t let up. While there are stunning views in every direction, your attention is firmly on the track as you clamber up, over and around a never-ending series of boulders.
The final ascent to the 840m peak of Cathedral Peak put the day into perspective. Staring south down the ridgeline, Sugarloaf Peak seemed impossibly close given the hours we had just put in. It had been a tough morning and refueling under the trig point with a view of the clouds rolling up the valley was the perfect lunch break.
We decided to take the long way down from the summit, rather than backtracking along the summit track. The rapid descent down Ned’s Gully was almost as challenging as the climbing and by the bottom, our knees were ready to explode but in a good way. With 23km and 1000m vertical under our belts, we wandered into camp and cracked open a hops-based recovery drink around the fire.
The beauty of the Cathedral Range State Park lay not only in the natural features of the park but the layout of the trail network. Want a challenging all-day epic? Done. Overnight hike? Check out the Farmyard Campsite. Feel like breaking it up into bite-size chunks? Easy. However you want to approach it, there’s an adventure here to suit you. Get out there and make it happen!
- Day Pack – if you’re going up Wells Cave Track, keep your pack small as there are some incredibly tight spots.
- Water – If it’s a hot/sunny day count on using more water. It’s tough going, and there’s no shelter up on the ridgeline.
- Map – Cathedral Range State Park is not a hard place to navigate, but grab an up to date map here.
How To Get There
If you’re coming from Melbourne, head east along the Maroondah Highway. You’ll traverse the Black Spur before passing through Buxton and turning off into the Cathedral Range State Park.
- Mountain biking
- Alpine exploring at nearby Lake Mountain
Most of the trails described here are rated are Grade 4 or 5 on the Australian Walking Track Grading System, which means you need to be reasonably experienced and comfortable on exposed trails. However, you can still experience the Cathedral Range State Park via the shorter loop options. Either way, be prepared for some climbing!
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