Despite being bordered by the suburbs, the bushland of Garigal National Park holds some real gems for weekend adventurers exploring north of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Steph’s favourite? The Cascades.


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

Finding The Perfect Swimming Spot

Where I lived in Nitmiluk (Katherine) for several months last year, waterfalls and swimming spots are as ubiquitous as the flies that vie for a spot on your sweaty face! The good news for Sydneysiders is that there’s a little piece of Top End-style wilderness – and some waterholes for you brave year-round swimmers – right in the heart of Sydney’s Garigal National Park, on the traditional lands of the Guringai people. 

You’ll find a gentle but steady flow of freshwater over an expansive rock platform here, where several little creeks converge and feed into Middle Harbour. Sandstone formations have created natural terraces and little caves for sunbathing after a swim, or reading after a picnic lunch.

Read more: Staying Safe Around Swimming Holes

Finding The Cascades

Access to the Cascades is possible on foot only. It’s best to drive to one of the trailheads, where on-street parking is free and abundant. From Acron Rd in St Ives, you can take your car right to the end of the wide Cascades Trail, before strolling for 10 mins to the water. It’s an easy downhill walk along management trails. 


The Cascades Offer a Tropical Escape Right in The City, Stephanie Lentz - Gadigal, bushwalk, water


Alternatively, walk the 2.3km from Douglas St Reserve to work up a light sweat before cooling off in the pools of the Cascades. From Belrose, the slightly windier Frenchs Forest Creek Track will get you to the water’s edge in about 40 mins. Buses to these starting points are available too.

Read More: Jump Rocks and Indigenous Carvings at Jerusalem Bay

City Views to Boot

The beauty of a national park in the suburbs is that you can swim and lounge in seclusion all day, then cop a stunning city view as the sun goes down. The cul-de-sac at the end of Douglas St in St Ives leads on to a trail flanked by rock lookouts that offer uninterrupted views of the Sydney skyline.


Keep Garigal Stunning!

It’s worth mentioning that there are no rubbish bins at the Cascades. I’m amazed at how clean the water and surrounding bushland is here, given its proximity to suburban neighbourhoods and shopping areas. 

Do your part in keeping Garigal National Park this way by carrying out whatever you bring in for the day – and any other stray chip packets you happen to spot!

Read more: Remember to leave no trace!


Essential Gear

  • Sturdy walking shoes
  • Hat 
  • Sunscreen
  • Swimmers
  • Quick-dry towel
  • Plenty of drinking water
  • Snacks
  • A good book or two

Skill Level


The vibe is easy and relaxed once you get there, but the walk to the Cascades traverses uneven ground and involves some elevation on the way back.

Duration / Distance Covered

Minimum: drive and walk from St Ives (10 mins / 800m walk)

Maximum: hike from Belrose (45 mins / 3 km)