CATHEDRAL RANGES SOUTHERN CIRCUIT:
The Cathedral Range State Park is home to many tracks and trails that link up to create some of Victoria’s best day and overnight hikes. The Cathedral Ranges southern circuit hike is one of them, and it’s an absolute stunner.
But great experiences don’t come easy. You’ll have to work for it. Climbing steep rock walls, shuffling through caves & serious rock hopping are just a few of the challenges that you’ll need to overcome. But is it worth it? Hell yeah!
- Start/Finish: Cooks Mill Campground
- Distance: 10 km circuit
- Time: 4 hrs
- Grade: Moderate/Difficult
- Attire: Hiking shoes/boots preferable (runners will do the job). Dress for conditions.
- Where: Cathedral Range State Park
- Nearest Town: Taggerty (14km)
- Provisions: Approx. 2 L of water per person. Lunch + snacks. A headlamp in case you get caught in the dark & a fully charged mobile phone in case of emergency.
- Explored In: Winter. Suitable for all seasons.
WHAT TRACKS FORM THE CATHEDRAL RANGES SOUTHERN CIRCUIT HIKE?
There are 15 tracks within the Cathedral Range State Park, four of which make up the southern circuit. These tracks include; Messmate Track, Wells Cave Track, Razorback Track & Jawbone Creek Track.
If those names sound a little daunting, they should. This hike isn’t for the faint-hearted. The Wells Cave Track and Razorback track are particularly challenging and will put even an experienced hiker through their paces. But they’re all manageable, so get a crew together (with at least one experienced hiker) and get out there.
SECTION ONE: COOKS MILL CAMPGROUND TO SUGARLOAF SADDLE VIA MESSMATE TRACK
The circuit walk starts and finishes at Cooks Mill campground, a beautiful bush site tucked away next to Little River at the foot of the Cathedral Range. If you’re keen to stay a night or two, note that advance booking is required and there’s a (very reasonable) fee. Visit Parks Victoria to book. If you’re just heading up for the day, there’s plenty of free parking.
Heading up in the afternoon? Take a headlamp – this hike can take longer than expected.
To kick-off the circuit walk, you’ll need to find Tweed Spur Road on the southern fringe of the campground. Once located, follow it for around 1 km until you get to Messmate Track on your right. Here we ditch the roads until much later in the day… at which point, you’ll be hanging out for some easy walking!
The Messmate Track is the perfect way to warm into this circuit walk. Most of the 3 km trail is along a well worn dirt track that gradually winds its way up through the forest towards Sugarloaf Saddle visitors area.
Keep an eye out for Wombats, Kangaroos & the wonderful Lyrebird – all common in the Cathedral Range State Park.
When you arrive at Sugarloaf Saddle visitors area you’re treated to some top notch facilities. The toilets, sheltered picnic area and information boards are some of the best in Victoria. It’s a great place to grab a drink and learn more about what’s ahead of you.
To reach Sugarloaf Peak, you have two options; Canyon Track or Wells Cave Track.
Wells Cave Track is very hard, requiring the agility to scale a few climbing sections and shuffle through Wells Cave. There will be a few WTF moments, but it’s a rewarding track if your up for a challenge.
Canyon Track is still considered difficult, but is considerably easier than Wells Cave Track. Ideal if you don’t have a head for heights, or have kids in your group.
Note: If it’s wet or rain is forecast, rocky sections on both tracks can become slippery and dangerous – conditions that are best avoided.
SECTION 2: SUGARLOAF SADDLE TO WELLS CAVE VIA WELLS CAVE TRACK
This is where the fun begins. From Sugarloaf Saddle we’re heading up to the highest point in the range, Sugarloaf Peak (903 m). Here you’ll get stunning 360 degree views of the Cathedral Range and beyond, before continuing along the Razorback Track.
Wells Cave Track branches off from Canyon Track just 50 m from Sugarloaf Saddle visitors area, so you shouldn’t have any trouble finding it.
Wells Cave Track really steps things up, and is one of two tracks that make the southern circuit walk truly unique and memorable. You’ll be scrambling up countless rocks, but it’s all worth it as the eastern view over Cathedral Range State Park opens up.
Before you reach Wells Cave, you’ve got arguably the most challenging section of the entire hike – a near vertical 8 m rock climb. While confident climbers can fly up here, it does take the average explorer out of their comfort zone, providing a physical and/or mental challenge to work through.
A bit of teamwork here is the best approach. Send a confident climber up first so they can talk others through the climb. There are plenty of big holds to grab if you know what to look for, which makes it a lot easier.
Once the crew have all nailed the climb, you’ll be pumped and ready for the next fun feature – Wells Cave.
SECTION 3: WELLS CAVE TO SUGARLOAF PEAK, CONTINUING ON WELLS CAVE TRACK
Wells Cave is a essentially a high narrow space between two rock slabs. It’s around 30 m long and requires a fair bit of feeling (it’s dark), crawling, climbing and side-shuffling – making it great fun to scramble through.
Feeling claustrophobic? Yes, it’s a little like that too, but you can see the light at the end of the tunnel for the entire length which is encouraging.
It’s worth noting that Wells Cave is very narrow, particularly at the exit where it pinches to its narrowest point. How narrow? Well, the average sized person can only fit by shuffling through sideways.
Given you wouldn’t want to descend the climbs on this track, this is a serious consideration. Recommendation? If you’re a bigger person, take Canyon Track to Sugarloaf Peak and rejoin the circuit there.
Continuing on-wards and upwards, there’s another tricky climbing section that’s worth calling out. There are two routes to take here; up and under, or around and over.
The safest and recommended route is up and under, as pictured below. It’s a little awkward, but with a little shuffling and climbing, explorers of all levels should be able to conquer it.
The alternative is to climb around and over, but this exposes you to an open rock face where one slip could cost you your life. It’s serious business up here folks, so choose wisely.
After a challenging, fun and rewarding climb up Wells Cave Track you reach Sugarloaf Peak. The rocky landscape up here is stunning and the 360 degree views are something to behold.
Sugarloaf Peak also marks the approx. half way point of the southern circuit hike, so take a breather, eat lunch and re-charge the batteries before hiking the demanding Razorback Track.
SECTION 4: SUGARLOAF PEAK TO THE FARMYARD CAMPGROUND VIA RAZORBACK TRACK
The Razorback Track is simply remarkable. A true ridge trail, you’ll be rock hopping and scrambling your way along the spine of the mighty Cathedral Range. Heading north, there are wide open views to the west and east, while the view along the ridge is hands down one of the best in Victoria.
While the epic scenery will have you looking about at every opportunity, you need to concentrate on this trail. There are some big drops on the eastern side and the rocks would be unforgiving should you trip.
You’ll need to give yourself at least 2 – 2.5 hrs to get back to Cooks Mill Campground from Sugarloaf Peak, as progress can be slow along the majority of the Razorback Track.
Thankfully it’s relatively easy to follow as the orange track markers are regular and well positioned. Having said that, if you haven’t seen a marker for 50 m and/or the trails difficult to make out, there’s a chance you may have veered off and some backtracking may be required.
After 2.5 km or so along the ridge, the Razorback Track drops down to the left (western side), and the going gets a lot easier. At this point you’re only a few hundred meters from The Farmyard camping site, so rest assured you’re not far off the final section of the circuit walk.
ADD-ON: SHORT WALKS TO SOUTH JAWBONE & NORTH JAWBONE PEAKS
Feeling good and keen to see more of Cathedral Range? Both the South and North Jawbone Peak walks are close to The Farmyard campsite.
The South Jawbone Track starts directly from The Farmyard and takes around 30 mins to complete the return journey. North Jawbone Track branches off Jawbone Creek Track a few hundred meters below The Farmyard. North Jawbone peak is around 40 mins return.
SECTION 5: THE FARMYARD TO JAWBONE CAR PARK VIA JAWBONE CREEK TRACK
Arriving at The Farmyard, you can expect to find overnight campers or meet a few people parked up for a cuppa. It’s a welcoming little spot that’s sheltered from the winds that can sweep across the range.
If you’re feeling a little weary after The Razorback track, it’s a good idea to refuel and give the legs a rest if you’ve got time.
At this stage of the hike you’re pretty spent and the legs can be hurting, but listen up, the tough part isn’t over. The Jawbone Creek Track may be downhill, but it’s punishing.
Starting out on a nice mild decent, you soon come to the steps, and there are plenty of them. In fact, most of the trail is steps, and it’s not until you reach Maclennans Gully approx 45 mins later that the trail levels out before a little run up to the Jawbone Car Park.
SECTION 6: JAWBONE CAR PARK TO COOKS MILL CAMPGROUND VIA CERBERUS ROAD
If you weren’t fatigued after The Razorback, you’ll be feeling the pinch after descending Jawbone Creek Track. So while there is the option of meandering back to Cooks Mill Campground through the forest via St Bernards Track, there’s no shame in finishing the circuit walk along Cerberus Rd.
Head downhill along Cerberus Rd for another 15 – 20 minutes to get to Cooks Mill Campground, the finishing point for the mighty Cathedral Ranges southern circuit!
HOW TO GET TO COOKS MILL CAMPGROUND
From Melbourne follow the Maroondah Highway to Buxton, then on towards Taggerty. Just 10 km out of Buxton, you’ll see Cathedral Lane on your right. Take this road approx. 2.5 km until you reach Little River Rd, which you follow down past Neds Gully Campground through to Cooks Mill Campground. Note, roads within the park are not suitable for coaches beyond Little River Bridge.
Love getting out and about? Discover more of the best bushwalks in and around Melbourne. And remember, first and foremost, your safety is our number 1 concern, please refer to our safety guide for more.