Over four days, Eva and Adam cruised through some of NSW’s most underrated landscapes and national parks. Here’s how to see the best of the Warrumbungles, Pilliga Forest, and Narrabri.

We acknowledge that this adventure is located on the traditional Country of the Gamilaraay people who have occupied and cared for the lands, waters, and their inhabitants for thousands of years. We pay our respects to them as the Traditional Custodians and recognise that sovereignty was never ceded.

About the North West NSW Road Trip

This four day itinerary through North West NSW takes you from the iconic formations of the Warrumbungles, through the middle of the Pilliga Forest, all the way up to the (sometimes) snowy peaks of Mt Kaputar National Park.

Read more: Remember to leave no trace!

History of the Warrumbungles, Pilliga Forest, and Narrabri Area

The Pilliga Forest is an important place for the Gamilaraay people. Evidence of their occupation of the area is found in the Sandstone Caves and their culture is celebrated through story and art on the Sculptures in the Scrub walk. 

The mountain ranges in the area were formed millions of years ago as the Australian continent slowly passed over a tectonic plate ‘hotspot’ leaving volcanoes in its wake. Now, the extinct volcanoes have eroded to a fraction of their size, leaving weird and wonderful formations sticking out of the predominantly flat landscape. 



The Warrumbungles, Pilliga Forest, and Nandewar Range are all pockets of unique biodiversity and habitat and provide safe havens for a range of endangered birds and animals like the Kaputar Giant Pink slug, the Brush Tailed Rock wallaby and the Glossy Black cockatoo. 

How to Get to North West NSW

This road trip starts in North West NSW, so it’s best to factor in at least one day of driving to get there! 

The Pilliga Forest covers most of the 120km stretch between Coonabarabran to the south and Narrabri to the north, so it’s totally up to you where you want to stop first.

If you’re from Brisbane, you might want to start near Narrabri and explore the Mt Kaputar National Park first. To get there, drive south west towards Toowoomba and across the NSW border. Once you get to Narrabri, follow signs to Mt Kaputar National Park. 

If you’re driving from Sydney, or further south like us, you’ll hit the Warrumbungles first. Drive north towards Newcastle before heading north west to Coonabarabran then follow signs west to Warrumbungle National Park. 

Places to Stay Along North West NSW Road Trip


Best Things to do on a North West NSW Road Trip

Explore the Warrumbungles

Warrumbungle National Park is a hiker and stargazers paradise known for its dramatic rocky peaks and epicly clear night sky. Stay a night in Camp Blackman and explore some of the world-class hiking nearby.

Learn about Aboriginal culture and spot rare birds in the Pilliga Forest

The Pilliga Forest is the largest natural forest west of the Great Dividing Range and is a haven for endangered birds. It forms part of the traditional Country of the Gamilaraay People and you can learn about their strong connection to Country at the Sandstone Caves walk and the Sculptures in the Scrub at Dandry Gorge.

Relax at Yarrie Lake

This naturally formed, circular lake is a popular spot with Narrabri locals and visitors for swimming, picnics, and waterskiing. You can also camp here!

Visit Mt Kaputar National Park

Mt Kaputar National Park in the Nandewar Range has hikes for all abilities, unique pockets of flora and fauna, and impressive ancient rocky outcrops formed by ancient volcanoes. It’s a perfect spot to spend a day or two getting back to nature. 

Skill Level

Beginner – Intermediate

This is a road trip that can be done at any experience level. Most of the drive is 2WD accessible, however roads through the Pilliga Forest are unsealed with some sections of quite soft dirt. It’s recommended to take a car with some clearance or a 4WD if you have one.

Read more: How To 4WD For Beginners

There are activities along the way that are beginner friendly, with plenty of options to do harder hikes or easier adventures depending on your skill level. 

Essential Gear

  • Hiking boots
  • Warm clothes for night time
  • Long sleeves and pants for sun protection
  • Hat
  • Sunnies
  • Plenty of water
  • Food and snacks
  • Camp cooker and gas
  • Camping gear
  • Headtorch
  • Firewood, paper and matches
  • First aid kit
  • PLB
  • Sunscreen
  • Camera
  • Binoculars
  • Swimmers and towel

What it’s Like to Road Trip Through North West NSW

Day 1 – Warrumbungles

Route: Coonabarabran -> Camp Blackman
Distance: 35km
Time driving: 35 minutes

The first stop on the trip is a day spent exploring Warrumbungle National Park. From nearby Coonabarabran, it’s a short 23km drive along Timor Road to the entrance of the national park. 

Begin with a stop at the Warrumbungle Visitor Centre to get the latest advice on track closures, animal sightings, and a bird list if you’re keen on twitching. We hung out in the garden at the visitor’s centre watching kangaroos graze and rare turquoise parrots feed on seeds. 



Next, make the most of the cool early morning weather and tackle one of the many impressive Warrumbungles hikes.

If you’ve only got time for just one, we’d recommend either Belougery Split Rock for 360 degree views of the whole park, or Fans Horizon for an epic view of the iconic Breadknife. Fans Horizon is a grade 3 hike and takes about two hours, while Belougery Split Rock is a little more challenging at grade 4 and has some steep slippery sections, so don’t attempt it in wet or windy weather.

Afternoon is the best time to visit Whitegum Lookout when the mountains are lit up in glowy golden hour colour. This short walk is wheelchair accessible and if you’re quiet, you might even see an endangered rock wallaby!

Spend the night at Camp Blackman, surrounded by grazing kangaroos as the sun sets over the stunning mountain backdrop, sipping a bev by the fire. If it’s a clear night and you’re not too sleepy, you can marvel at the epic stars above.

Warrumbungle National Park is an official Dark Sky Park, meaning bright lights are limited after sunset to maximise the visibility of the starry night. This is a great spot to test out some night sky photography or look at the stars through binoculars (if you’ve never done this I HIGHLY recommend, you’ll be blown away at what you can see). 

Day 2 – The Pilliga Forest Way and Yarrie Lake

Route: Camp Blackman -> Pilliga Forest Discovery Centre -> Sightseeing Pilliga Forest -> Yarrie Lake
Distance: 275 km
Time driving: 4 hours

After coffee and breakfast at camp, make your way into Timallallie National Park in the historic Pilliga Forest. Be sure to stop at the Pilliga Forest Discovery Centre in Baradine to learn about the wonders and history of the forest and get the most up to date info on road conditions. Also make sure you top up on water before you go as there isn’t any fresh drinking water available once you hit the Pilliga. 



As you enter the forest, the road turns to dirt. Make sure you follow a physical map, not Google maps as there are a million side roads and bush tracks leading off in all directions and you don’t want to get lost out here. Stick to the main roads and keep your eyes peeled for sunbaking lizards and fields of wildflowers beside the road. 

It can be hard to understand the vastness of the forest from the perspective of the car, so make sure your first stop is the Pilliga Forest Lookout Tower next to the Salt Caves Picnic Area. From the top you can see across the vast scrub to the Warrumbungles in the south and Mt Kaputar National Park in the north. Fair warning, if you get vertigo, this one might not be your friend. But I promise it’s perfectly safe and the view from the top is worth it!

Next drive 30 minutes down to the Sculptures in the Scrub. This loop walk meanders along the ridgeline of Dandry Gorge, then back along the riverbed through the trees. The first half of the walk features sculptures that tell the story of the Aboriginal history of the area. The sculptures were four years in the making and designed in collaboration with Elders of the region. There’s a campground at Sculptures in the Scrub if you want to spend the night. 

The last stop on your Pilliga drive is the Sandstone Caves walk, accessed just off the Newell Highway. To get the full experience of this special place, booking a guided tour is recommended, but these usually only run in school holidays. If you’re self-guiding like we did, take it slowly and quietly and soak it all in.

This is an incredibly special place for the local Aboriginal community with clear examples of painting and carvings and should be treated with utmost respect. The colour and patterns and light of the caves is extraordinary and the place inspires a feeling of presence and importance. Leave plenty of time for this walk to wander and learn. 

At the end of the day, leave the red dust of the Pilliga behind and head to Yarrie Lake, about half an hour out of Narrabri. This natural lake was thought to be formed by an ancient meteor and is perfectly circular! Swim, make a picnic, and watch the beautiful outback colours fade over the water at sunset. This is a lovely peaceful place to camp.

Day 3 – Mt Kaputar National Park

Route: Yarrie Lake -> Dawsons Springs Campground
Distance: 90km
Time driving: 1.5 hours

After a morning swim in the lake, swing through Narrabri for anything you need and a well-deserved coffee from local favourite cafe Yield. Once you’re caffeinated and ready to go, head out towards Mt Kaputar National Park for some alpine exploring. 

This national park peaks at almost 1510m above sea level and gets snow in winter so arrive prepared! It might be warm down on the plains, but the mountains are often at least ten degrees cooler. Because of the height of the park, it’s home to some rare creatures and plants that you won’t find anywhere else. There are loads of quite accessible lookouts and short bushwalks in this park and you could easily spend a few days exploring. 

We decided to tackle the Mt Coryah hike and were rewarded with stunning views across the rest of the range and back across the Pilliga. It’s a moderate, 4km out-and-back walk with a loop around the summit. Bring some snacks and binoculars so you can hang out at the top, admiring the view and spotting eagles as they soar by. 


Mt Coryah Walking Track – A Guide to This Spectacular Hike in Mt Kaputar National Park, Eva Davis-Boermans, view, lookout, mountains, woman, hike


The Dawsons Springs Nature Walk is another gem, right next to the campground. The path and boardwalks meander through misty eucalypt forest, mossy glades, patches of wildflowers, and over trickling waterfalls. This is the best place to spot the Mt Kaputar Giant Pink Slug (Triboniophorus sp. nov. ‘Kaputar’). Sadly we didn’t spy any as it wasn’t wet enough, but if you visit after rain you will probably have better luck! 

Spend the night at Dawsons Springs Campground or head back down to the mountain to Narrabri for a pub feed and a night in a classic country motel at the Southern Cross Motor Inn. 

Day 4 – Sawn Rocks

Route: Dawsons Springs Campground -> Sawn Rocks
Distance: 90km
Driving time: 1.5 hours

If you stayed in Mt Kaputar National Park, it’s worth getting up early to watch the sunrise. It’s most impressive from the peak of Mount Kaputar itself! You can drive all the way to the top and take a short walk boardwalk from the car park to the peak. Sadly the low cloud stopped us from witnessing the view, so we opted instead for the slightly lower but equally impressive Doug Sky Lookout. 

Once you’ve had your fill of the creeping dawn light, make your way back down the mountain, via Narrabri to the northern section of Mt Kaputar National Park to see the impressive Sawn Rocks. This huge exposed rock face is one of Australia’s best examples of a volcanic rock formation called ‘organ piping’. The columns are enormous and if you walk down into the creek bed you can see the big chunks that have fallen off over the centuries. The walk is wheelchair accessible to the viewing platform, then you can take the steps down into the cool creekbed to explore. 

Spend your last night back at Yarrie Lake, in Narrabri, or on the road back home! 

Tips for Road Tripping North West NSW

– The Pilliga is usually 2WD accessible but the dirt road can be rough and boggy after bad weather. Check conditions at the local info centre in Barradine, Coonabarabran or Narrabri before you head into the Pilliga

– There’s no water in the Pilliga Forest so be prepared and take plenty of your own

– Hikes in Warrumbungle and Mt Kaputar National Parks can get slippery after rain. Be cautious and heed warnings from national parks

– It might be hot in the day, but the western plains of NSW get cold at night, even in summer! Bring warm layers and your sleeping bag

– Mount Kaputar is almost 1510m high which means it’s much cooler than the surrounding plains and gets snow in winter. When checking the weather forecast, make sure you check it for the peak of the mountain and not just the nearby town of Narrabri before planning your day

– During summer, if temperatures become higher than normal, National Parks will close ALL walks and other attractions within the park due to high fire danger. It’s essential during summer that visitors always check the NSW National Parks website for alerts before arriving

North West NSW Road Trip FAQs

Where is the Pilliga Forest located?

In North West NSW between the towns of Coonabarabran and Narrabri. 

When is the Pilliga Forest open?

The Pilliga Forest is open all year round, but this is subject to change to local weather conditions. Please refer to the NSW National Parks website for any alerts before heading off. 

Is the Pilliga Forest good for beginners?

The Pilliga Forest is a great place to visit for beginner Explorers.

Can you drive through the Pilliga Forest?

There are many roads to drive through the Pilliga Forest. Stop at the information centre in Baradine to check road conditions before you go. 

How long does it take to drive through the Pilliga Forest?

Anywhere from two hours to two days can be spent driving through and exploring the Pilliga Forest. 

Do you need a 4WD to drive through the Pilliga?

The Pilliga is usually 2WD accessible but a 4WD or a high clearance car is recommended, especially after bad weather. 

How high is Mt Kaputar? 

Mt Kaputar is 1510 metres high. 

How do you get to the top of Mt Kaputar?

You can reach the top of Mt Kaputar by driving up the mountain to the car park and walking a short distance to the viewing platform. 

Where is Yarrie Lake located?

Yarrie Lake is 35km west of Narrabri in North West NSW. 

Can you swim at Yarrie Lake?

Yes you can swim at Yarrie Lake. 

Are the Sandstone Caves open?

Yes the Sandstone Caves are open but this is subject to change to local weather conditions. Please refer to the NSW National Parks website for any alerts before heading off. 

Are the Sandstone Caves free?

Yes the Sandstone Caves are free to visit, however there are tours that can be arranged ahead of time via the local lands council.

Are the Warrumbungles open?

The Warrumbungles are open all year round, but this is subject to change due to local weather conditions. Please refer to the NSW National Parks website for any alerts before heading off. 

Where are the Warrumbungles?

The Warrumbungles are 33km west of Coonabarabran in North West NSW.