Sitting just south of Sydney, and spanning across a whopping 15,000 hectares of pristine bushland and coastline is Australia's oldest National Park, the Royal National Park. From scenic lookouts to secluded beaches to wistful waterfalls, the best way to explore it all is via the many walking trails that wind through the national park.
So, strap on your hiking boots because we've rounded up the best walking trails the Royal National Park has to offer.
Wattamolla to Eagle Rock
Hugging the coastline, this is one of the most scenic Royal National Park walks. Starting at Wattamolla car park, the eight-kilometre trail leads to the iconic Eagle Rock – a rock formation that resembles an eagle's beak. Next to Eagle Rock is Curracurrong Falls – a waterfall that flows directly in the ocean, and when the wind is strong, the water from the waterfall is pushed back up. The walk itself is super kid-friendly and is popular among trail runners and hikers.
Distance: 8km return
Time: 3 hours
Winifred Falls Trail
For a quick walk, hit the Winifred Falls Trail. The two-kilometre scenic bushwalk of towering gum trees and lush banksia leads to a waterfall at the South West Arm Creek. This picture-perfect spot is ideal for picnics, but if you head another 300-metres downstream to the South West Arm Pool, you can relish in a large natural pool on hot summery days.
Distance: 2 km return
Time: 1 hour
Otford to Figure 8 Pools
This Royal National Park walk has it all – views, stunning bushland, secluded beach and natural pools. Before you leave, check the tides to make sure they will be low by the time you reach the Figure 8 Pools. Otherwise, you will miss out on the spectacular swimming spot. Start the walk at Otford Station and head to Burning Palms Beach. From there, a steep track will lead you to the Figure 8 Pools. Short on time? Park at Garrawarra Farm Carpark.
Distance: 12km return
Time: 6 hours
Karloo Track to Karloo Pool
One of the most popular Royal National Park walks (and for a good reason), Karloo Track starts next to Heathcote Train Station and leads down to the Karloo Pools – a natural swimming hole ranked as some of Sydney's finest. The walk has a steep rocky descent, so at times it is a little hard going, but it's well worth the effort when you dive into the swimming hole – just save enough energy for the trek back up.
Distance: 5 km return
Time: 1.5 hours
The Coast Track
Running between Bundeena in the north and Otford in the south, The Coast Track is nothing shy of breathtaking. It's a confronting 26-kilometres, but you can tackle sections of it over a weekend (or cover the entire length if you're feeling particularly energetic). This iconic walk takes in spectacular views of waterfalls, sandstone cliffs, secluded beaches and untouched wilderness. It's a challenging hike, so take it at your own pace, and pitch a tent at one of the several camping grounds along the way.
Time: 8.5 hours (or one to two days)
The Marley Track
If you're after a walk in the Royal National Park that has creek crossings, freshwater pools, scenic lookouts and pristine beaches, then this is it. The Marley Track is an eight-kilometre walking trail (return) that starts at Bundeena Drive and leads to Marley Beach. It passes by Deer Pool, a set of small waterfalls that run into a pool, which is as pretty as it sounds. At the end of the walk, choose between Big Marley Beach and Little Marley Beach, both equally worthy of a mid-hike dip.
Distance: 8km return
Time: 3 hours
Palm Jungle Loop Track
One for the more experienced hikers among us, the Palm Jungle Loop Track, is Royal National Parks's more challenging walks. Starting in Otford, the walk meanders past secluded beaches, large cliff tops with stunning views and lush rainforests. The walk is named after the trail section that passes through the rainforest filled with tropical plants and cabbage tree palms (about halfway). And if you're up to a bit more of an adventure, the Figure 8 Pools is a great detour from Burning Palms Beach (check the tides).
Distance: 10km circuit
Time: 4 hours
The Forest Path
An easy walk that makes you feel worlds away from it all is The Forest Path, which takes hikers through lush rainforest. The walk runs along the Hacking River and loops around the green lower gullies of Forest Island, starting and finishing at Sir Bertram Stevens Drive. Perfect for hiking with kids – pack a picnic to sit by Bola Creek or at the Upper Causeway Picnic Area.
Distance: 4.5km circuit
Time: 1.5 hours
Wedding Cake Rock Walk
Forming part of The Coast Track, many opt to just walk the section from Bundeena to the iconic Wedding Cake Rock – a pure white rock formation that stands out against the coastal cliffs' sandstone. What gives it its name is the sharp edges and deep cracks, perched high above the ocean. It's a perfect vantage point for whale watching, and the views up and down the coastline are spectacular. Feeling energetic? Head a little further south to Marley Beach.
Distance: 6km return
Time: 2 hours
Jibbon Beach Loop Track
As far as Royal National Park walks go, the Jibbon Beach Loop Track is a great teaser for what the park has to offer. Starting at Bundeena Ferry Wharf, the track passes Jibbon Head, Port Hacking Point, and Shelley Beach – the perfect spot for a refreshing swim. The walk is revered for its well-preserved Aboriginal carvings by the Tharawal people, dating back 2,000 years, which can be viewed from the walking platforms. Plus, the walk features coastal clifftop views as well as city views.
Distance: 5km circuit
Time: 2 Hours
Soaring clifftops with sweeping coastal views to lush rainforests that open out to secluded beaches, the Royal National Park walks are some of the world's finest. For more hikes that wind through stunning bushland and along clifftops, check out our round-up of the best hikes on the Central Coast, and the best walking tracks in Sydney with impressive scenery.