This challenging hike up to the top of Mt Dawson from the Wolgan Valley (2 hours from Sydney) reaps heaps of rewards, even on a drizzly day. It also happens to lead through what might be Heaven on Earth for climbers and boulderers.

Quick Overview

Mt Dawson is a 20km return, grade 4 hike located in the Wolgan Valley in New South Wales. Driving from Syndey, it takes around 3 hours to get to the Newnes campground, the starting point of the hike.



  • Walking along the ferny Capertee Creek
  • Views of the Wolgan and Capertee valleys and Newnes Plateau
  • Summiting Mt Dawson
  • Camping in cosy dry caves

On Top Of Mt Dawson

We stood on the topmost rocky ledges of Mt Dawson – endless wild views of cliff faces, tumbling forest, and slivers of green pasture in all directions – and laughed into the wind under a sky of silver-blue clouds.

And that wasn’t even the best bit.

Newnes Campground

The hike from Newnes Campground up to the summit of Mt Dawson requires a bit of legwork and an awful lot of pushing through a tangled, scratchy bush.

The descent is also something of a sharp and rocky slippery-slide if it’s raining (which it was). Doesn’t exactly sound like the recipe for a great weekend away, does it? But, honestly, it was pretty much perfect.

We camped the Friday night in the Newnes Campground – a huge green field hemmed in with glorious tall walls of stone.


Rhys Tattersall Newnes Wollemi National Park NSW


There are pit toilets (very civilized) and a little general store at the Newnes Hotel. Camping at Newnes is free and it’s only about a three-hour drive from the centre of Sydney.

A pleasant four-wheel drive path from the end of the Little Capertee Trail starts you along the valley floor. After a kilometre or so this turns into a foot trail along the creek.

The hollow of the valley is filled with ferns and majestic tall gums reach upwards into the sky. As you lift your gaze higher there are magnificent cliff faces soaring overhead on both sides of the narrow valley.

Above Capertee Valley

Climbing out of the valley to the right of the creek, the ferns give way to dryer scrub. Ascending higher and higher, there is a great little rocky scramble to the lookout point which offers a stunning view back along the valley.

You get a great perspective of the height of the cliffs and the wildness of the vegetation.

The trail winds through the plateau forest and scrub towards the northwest. Just when you feel like you’ve had quite enough of being whacked in the face by twigs and branches, out you pop onto the cliff edge.

Suddenly you can stand up freely – arms open wide, big silly grin on your face – a 50m drop below you into the incredible beauty of the Capertee Valley and cliff-line stretching off to the left and right of you.


Mt Dawson From The Wolgan Valley (NSW) Melissa Hamblin Biggs, climbing walls, cliffs, scree, forest


From what we could see from the top there looked like there was enough climbing to keep a person busy for several lifetimes — a crazy amount of rock.

We spent the early afternoon following the cliff-line to the left (south) amazed at the sheer volume of rock and sky. The wind and rain have carved fantastic shapes into the rock — many of the cliffs top building skyward like beehives. We gleefully took the opportunity to enjoy some (totally unnecessary!) scrambling and bouldering.

Natural Shelter

About a kilometre from the summit of Mt Dawson, tucked away about 500m from the cliff-face are a series of massive boulder-like cliffs. Yup, cliffs on top of cliffs. Nature has conveniently arranged these so that you can camp in sheltered comfort – no rain and no wind.

There are two gorgeous little campfire spots and heaps of camp pads. Even with eight people in our group no-one had to set up a tent within snoring distance of anyone else. There is even a little creek nearby (although it’s probably not a permanent water source and shouldn’t be relied on).

Mt Dawson From The Wolgan Valley (NSW) Melissa Hamblin Biggs, rock tower, trees, forest, cliffs


We pitched our home for the night and headed off to the summit. I was expecting more of the incredible views that we’d enjoyed all afternoon down across the Capertee.

Mt Dawson certainly provided that – plus a great view of the flat-topped Pantoneys’ Crown – but when you turn 180° you’ve also got views as far as the horizon of the Newnes Plateau, the Wolgan Valley, and further. Incredible!

We enjoyed the start of sunset and the rolling in of big beautiful silver clouds and after the obligatory silhouette pictures headed back for a campfire, tasty dinner, and a good night’s sleep.

An Unexpected Bonus

The next day’s return was a bit wet and very cloudy and misty so we moved faster with fewer snack and photo stops and minimal scrambling.

By the time we descended to the valley we were thoroughly damp and squelchy and a number of bruises had been collected from unceremonious and muddy tumbles.

Luckily nature had one more trick up her sleeve — the giant softbox in the sky and the glittering droplets turned up the colour saturation all along the creek.



The ferns that have been pretty enough the day before were suddenly popping with an almost iridescent green. The long fallen strips of bark were a vibrant ochre. Mosses were verdant rainbows and yesterday’s grey rocks suddenly variegated gemstones.

It was a fitting end to a glorious weekend. I’ll definitely be back. See you out there.

Essential Gear

  • Usual overnight hiking gear
  • Water (the water source at the camping caves is not reliable)
  • GPS (because you need to trail-find around the rocks it’s really easy to become disoriented – GPS as well as the usual map and compass is highly recommended)

How To Get There

The hike starts from Newnes Campground.

To get there from Sydney: After Lithgow turn right off of the Castlereagh Highway onto Wolgan Road. The campground is at the end of the road (last few kilometres are on a good dirt road – suitable for two wheel drives).

Skill Level

Experienced bushwalkers with trail-finding ability.

Distance Covered

20km return (approx.)