Rarely does an Explorer get to see so many diverse landscapes in one day, yet Watagans National Park in Lake Macquarie is one that has blown us away. Known for its lush rainforest greenery and stunning lookouts, the park is a 90 minute drive north from the heart of Sydney.

We acknowledge that this adventure is located on the traditional Country Awabakal and Darkinjung people of the 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.


Please note! There are still actively dangerous areas of this park including landslips, closed trails, and restoration projects. Please check with National Parks before entering and always book ahead for campgrounds.

Situated on the west of Lake Macquarie, Watagans National Park offers many choices for you to build the best itinerary for a weekend trip. Setting up camp at one of the nearby campgrounds will allow you to really immerse yourself in the park, make the most of the scenery, and rip into some awesome adventures. 

Let’s go!

About Watagans National Park

Watagans National Park spreads over 7,500 hectares, so you’ll be spoiled for choice between hiking, jumping in the refreshing swimming holes, or chasing waterfalls. Alternatively, if you’re up for more of a challenge, Watagans is home to some fantastic mountain bike trails and rock climbing crags. 

The mountainous regions of the park also hold a lot of cultural significance to the Awabakal and Darkinjung people as the park is home to more than 40 Indigenous cultural sites. Many of these engravings and art features are now on walls covered in thick green moss, yet if you’re lucky, you may spy a few peeking through.

Whether you’re a total newbie in the outdoors or this ain’t your first rodeo, we’ve done the hard yards for you and compiled a handy list of our favourite features of Watagans National Park and surrounds.

Read more: Remember to leave no trace

Walking & Hiking Watagans National Park

Boarding House Dam Area

The first cab off the rank is Boarding House Dam. Even from the car park you can see that Mother Nature turned the green saturation all the way up. Moss-coated logs and walls serve as relics of the timber industry that was situated in the park over 200 years ago.   


Circuit Walking Track 

Distance: 600 metres

The Circuit Walking Track is an entry-level 600-metre loop, one you can finish in half an hour, or take a full leisurely hour to take it all in. If there’s been good water flow (and you’re feeling brave) you can bring your swimmers for a dip in the dam. The track weaves along the flowing creek and hosts some enchanting footbridges for awesome photo opportunities. The greenery is indescribable! 

Turners Walking Track 

Distance: 1km

A little more challenging on the legs, this track is a 1km one-way trail. Turners Walking Track is great for bird-watching or keeping an ear out for passing bush wallabies. You should be able to knock it out in about 45 minutes to 1 hour. 

Read more: How to Tell if You’re a Bird Nerd

Gap Creek Area

This central area of the park is easily one of the most spectacular due to its easy access to an impressive 40-metre waterfall, arguably one of the best in the Lake Macquarie region.

You could easily spend a good couple of days exploring this section of the park map as it’s densely scattered with so many exciting lookouts, campgrounds, climbing crags, and mountain biking trails, all within a couple of kilometres of each other. Here are our highlights of the Gap Creek Area:


Gap Creek Falls Walking Track

Distance: 1.4km

Starting from the Gap Creek Day Use Area, follow the signage for your choice of three different walks: 

  • An easy 20 minute return hike on mostly flat ground
  • A 40 minute enchanting forest walk
  • Or the full exploration to Gap Creek Falls

The last option will take you about an hour and has notoriously challenging surfaces to navigate including the descent to the falls, with plenty of strangler figs, vines, and fallen trees to weave your way through. Nonetheless, the juice is worth the squeeze and the waterfall is certainly worth the hike in. Don’t forget your camera and your swimmers!

The Great North Walk

The Narrow Place Lookout 

Distance: 10km

Spanning from Sydney to Newcastle, The Great North Walk is an iconic and rather popular hiking trail that runs 250km+ from start to finish, so it’s no walk in the park.

But you can tick off a section of the trail in a single day while in Watagans National Park! There’s an beautiful segment of it that runs through the Watagans. As a grade 5 hike, this route is recommended for experienced hikers as the trails can be a little rugged. Starting on Georges Road via the Narrow Place Lookout, and finishing up at Watagans HQ Camping Area, this one is a 10km one-way trail that you can complete in two to three hours. Plus, the views are worth the sweat!

Biking & Climbing Watagans National Park

Monkey Face Lookout (+ climbing crag)

Pack your picnic basket and blanket for Monkey Face Lookout because it’s an absolute stunner! With views across the Martinsville Valley, this lookout is a quick two minute walk from the car park and is one of the best vantage points in all of the Watagans. 


Watagans National Parks is Lake Macquarie's Adventurous Hinterland, Sophie Turner, Lake Macquarie, Monkey Face Lookout, forest


There are also a bunch of nearby climbs at the Monkey Face crag with almost 300 routes that are a mix of sport and trad climbing (for experienced climbers only).

Awaba Mountain Biking Area

With about 30 different bike trails close by, I suggest loading up your gear and enjoying some of the best mountain biking in the region at Awaba Mountain Biking Area. It hosts an incredible cross-country loop that’ll keep you busy for a full 12km! There are also plenty of downhill trails for all abilities, so you don’t need to be a professional.

There are three easy/green trails to get you started if you’re a newbie (like me) but if you’re ready to step it up, here are the top picks of the area:

  • Biraban (Blue/Intermediate): An awesome 2km single-track that’s one of the most popular in the mountain biking area with a fun, technical decent at the finish
  • The Faulk Line (Blue/Intermediate): Stacked with technical trail features like A-Frames, bridges, drops, and jumps, this one is an exciting three-minute track that gets the adrenaline pumping
  • Monkey (Double Black Diamond/Extremely Difficult): Considered to be a crazy ride, this one isn’t for the weak. Monkey is just under 2km of downhill descent with technical gap jumps and berms that make for excellent photo opportunities

Where to Camp in Watagans National Park

There are some great options for you and your crew, whether you want to stay one night or for a whole week! With limited spots within the park, I suggest you always book ahead so you can snatch up those camping spots before they’re taken.



Bangalow Campground

Number of sites: 3
Booking required: Yes
Toilets: Yes

Pitch a tent or camp in your van in this secluded clearing surrounded by sky-scraping gum trees. Bangalow Campground even has a BBQ area and picnic tables so you can perfect the camping experience with some well-earned dinner.


Gap Creek Campground

Number of sites: 3
Booking required: Yes
Toilets: Yes

Situated nice and close to the Gap Creek Falls Track, Gap Creek Campground is the perfect spot for your crew or family. It also has a BBQ area and picnic tables, plus the cool shade from the trees provides an awesome spot for an arvo nap in a hammock or game of cricket.

These two sites (Gap Creek and Bangalow) are top-tier for their location and privacy. They’re about 500 metres from each other (an easy one-minute drive) and are arguably the most sought-after spots in the park. So grab a small group of mates, book out both campgrounds and have the place to yourselves!

They’re also within walking distance of Monkey Face Lookout and the Gap Creek Falls Walking Track.

At the time of writing, unfortunately these two sites in the park are currently closed, so we’ve added a few great spots close by that border Watagans National Park.


Watagans Headquarters

Number of sites: 15 (approx.. first in first served!)
Booking required: No. All state forest sites are free to camp in
Toilets: Sadly no, so make sure you bring your trowel, toilet paper and do the right thing and leave no trace

Technically part of the neighbouring Watagan State Forest, Watagans HQ is a popular stop for those on the Great North Walk, mountain bikers or climbers. There are wood-fired BBQs and plenty of room to pitch a tent and roast some marshmallows in classic camping style.

Many people also take on the challenge of the HQ to Heaton Gap walk, a six hour, 12.5km one-way trail that follows another section of the Great North Walk, starting from this campground. So if you’ve burnt through the rest of the trails and are still hungry for more, put this one on your list!

Read more: How To Poo in The Bush


Olney State Forest Camping (Pines Campground/Casuarina Camping Area/Olney HQ)

Number of sites: Dozens of spots (first in first served!)
Booking required: No, all State Forest sites are free to camp in
Toilets: There are toilets at Olney HQ (including disabled access) as well as The Pines Campground and Casuarina Camping Area

Olney State Forest hosts a number of different sites that you pass just before you enter Watagans National Park via Watagans Forest Road. Again, these sites are part of the State Forest, so you’re free to enjoy a campfire, a wood-fired BBQ (BYO wood!), and some very spacious sites free of charge. During the off-season or mid-week, it’s very likely you’ll have the place to yourself, so prepare for absolute serenity as you step inside a real life forest-mediation playlist to send you off to sleep.

For this trip in particular we pulled up to Casuarina Camping Area and found an excellent spot to pitch our tents straight away to camp for the night. You’ll be spoiled for choice here if the sites within the National Park are taken.

Read more: What’s the Difference Between National Parks & State Forests


Watagans National Parks is Lake Macquarie's Adventurous Hinterland, Sophie Turner, Lake Macquarie, campground, forest, ute, car

Tips for Exploring Watagans National Park

  • A few words of caution before taking off on your trip: always plan ahead. For Watagans National Park in particular, the local alerts are updated every few days as certain tracks and roads are undergoing restoration
  • I suggest downloading the NSW National Parks app to have access to the park maps without needing internet reception or visit the Watagans National Park page to keep updated on closures and access
  • You always need to advise someone of your plans and always bring enough water and food for you and your mates! Morisset is one of the closest towns to the national park, so you can grab your essentials from there
  • On the way home, drop into one of Morisset’s famous microbreweries



Now all that’s left to do is organise your calendar, wrangle your mates, and load up the car for your next (or first!) trip to this beautiful national park, just a stone’s throw from the big city.