Camping in the Cathedral Range – Where and how to camp in the awesome Cathedral Range, only two hours drive from Melbourne.
About the Cathedral Range State Park
The Cathedral Range is located about 100km north-east of Melbourne. Known for its rugged ridgeline, stunning peaks and forested hills, the park is popular with hikers, trail-runners, climbers and campers. As well as this, it’s home to some beautiful flora and fauna which can be easily seen. Located around two hours drive from Melbourne’s CBD, the Cathedral Range is an easy and exciting escape from the city.
There’s a lot to see and do here and having previously hiked the Cathedral Range – Ridgeline Circuit, we were keen to try something a bit different this time. Wanting to spend a few days in the area, we decided on a 3 day, 2 night trip just before the busy Easter holidays started. As we were camping in the Cathedral Range, there were 3 campsites to choose from. Having hiked through all 3 before we knew each had its own charm. Deciding to mix it up a bit and we settled on 1 night up at The Farmyard, followed by a night at Cooks Mill.
Getting to Cathedral Range State Forest
The drive from Southbank, Melbourne took around two hours. Our route included the beautiful Black Spur Drive. This section of road is absolutely stunning, passing through the forests of the Yarra Ranges. With towering Mountain Ash trees and lush Tree Ferns lining the road, this part of the drive from Healesville to Narbethong, was a highlight in itself. We stopped at Dom Dom Saddle Picnic Area en-route for a quick lunch break before continuing on to the Jawbone car park in the Cathedral Range.
When I first hiked through The Farmyard on my Cathedral Range – Ridgeline Circuit, I knew it was a place we would to comeback to and camp at. Being a ‘hike-in only’ campsite meant it’s generally pretty quiet. Not only that, but when I had passed through, there’d been Lyrebirds everywhere! And the views from the nearby South Jawbone Peak looked like a great potential spot for a sunrise.
Jawbone Creek Track
The relatively remote nature of this campsite is what appealed to us. The only way to reach it is by hiking in. We parked at the closest car park (Jawbone car park). For this part of our trip we only took what we needed for the night. This included a lightweight tent, sleeping bags, roll mats, stools, a gas burner (this is a no fire camp site), food, water and the all important cold beers. So we were loaded up pretty heavy!
The hike in is on the Jawbone Track. It’s a 1.4km, Grade 4 track, uphill all the way with some fairly steep uneven steps. With all our gear it took about 45 minutes. After reaching the campsite, we picked our spot in one of the two small and empty camping areas, set up our tent and had a well earned beer.
Afterwards we explored the surrounding areas and watched the Lyrebirds dart about. The sounds they were making were unbelievable. They are capable of imitating almost any sound that they hear, natural or manmade. This mimicry includes car alarms, camera shutters and mobile phone ring tones. Apparently the Lyrebirds here are known to specialise in the noises of farm animals from the valley below.
Ridgeline Track Sunset
Shortly before sunset, we set off to the ‘Ridge Track’ section of the Ridgeline Circuit in the hope for a nice sunset. Passing a good size Tiger Snake on the trail, we found a nice spot to watch the sun slowly set.
We were a little over eager on the ascent and had to sit and wait for the sun to drop. But it didn’t matter, as it wasn’t a bad place for a beer with a view! As day turned to night and sky lit up, although a little chilly, it was an awesome end to the day.
Tearing ourselves away before it was too dark, the last of the colours in the sky were beautiful. The hike back to The Farmyard was a little challenging, as we were enveloped in darkness on an uneven path. It was definitely a case of slowly but surely. We startled a couple of Kangaroos en-route, who certainly weren’t expecting us!
As we approached the campsite, we were a little surprised to hear voices. We could not believe our eyes (or luck) when we saw a school group was setting up camp all around our tent. Why they couldn’t have walked the extra two minutes into the other empty section of the site, we will never know! After having a quick dinner of soup on the gas burner, we jumped into the tent for an early night. Sadly, it wasn’t the quiet night we’d anticipated for our night of camping in the Cathedral Range. After an hour of solid noise, we decided that enough was enough. Picking up our tent and gear in pitch black we carried it through to the empty section of the campsite. Thankfully it was a lot quieter there!
South Jawbone Peak Sunrise
We woke early to walk the short distance to the South Jawbone Peak for a sunrise. Waking to perfectly clear skies, it took only about 10 minutes under the guidance of our torch to reach the peak. We were again treated to some lovely colours in the sky.
As the sun rose we could see down into the Cooks Mill campground, where we would be camping that night. And there were pockets of low lying fog in the valleys and surrounding farmland below. It was a really serene way to start the day and definitely worth the cold and early wake up.
After the chilly pre-breakfast sunrise show was over, we were eager for our coffee fix. We raced back down the 300m Grade 3 track to The Farmyard. Thankfully it was a lot quicker in full daylight and before we knew it we had the water boiling and the coffee brewed.
North Jawbone Peak
From The Farmyard, the North Jawbone Peak is a 15-20 minute 800m walk along the Grade 3 North Jawbone Track. The last section involved a short scramble to the peak, where we were rewarded with some awesome views.
Having missed this viewpoint on my Ridgeline Circuit hike, we had hoped it would be worth the visit this time. And we were not disappointed. There were views of the surrounding peaks, Little River Valley and the farmland below. Getting there early meant there was no one else around either, so we had it all to ourselves.
Once we had our vistas fix, we walked back to the Farmyard, collected our gear and made the steep downhill hike back to the Jawbone Car Park. We passed plenty more Lyrebirds, a couple of Copperhead Snakes and lots of lizards as we descended. Overall, we were very happy with the first part of our camping in the Cathedral Range Adventure and were eager for the next.
Cooks Mill Campground
It was only a short drive to the Cooks Mill Campground for the relaxed second part of our camping in the Cathedral Range adventure. Being a weekday and importantly just before the Easter holidays, the campground was almost empty. We literally had the whole campsite to choose from. With around 50 sites to choose from, we were spoilt for choice for where to pitch our brand new Kings Big Daddy Deluxe Double Swag.
We ended up going with a lovely quiet spot in the corner of the campground. With the St Bernards track to our rear, we were tucked away with views of the clearing and the various Cathedral Peaks in the distance. Sitting alongside the Little River and surrounded by Peppermint, Blackwood and Red Stringybark gum trees this campsite was idyllic. And it’s not just the flora that make this spot special, there was plenty of fauna about. As with my Ridgeline Circuit hike experience, just a quick wander around the camp ground yielded plenty of wildlife. There were Kangaroos and Swamp Wallabies grazing and colourful birds darting around.
The Friends Nature Walk
After we setup camp, we strolled along the lovely Friends Nature Walk. This Grade 2 circuit walk is only 2km long and was a lot easier than our steeper hikes over the previous 24 hours. The trail leads you past the remains of the heritage-listed Cooks Mill and its abandoned tramway. You also pass tall Manna Gum forest, crossing over the Little River, with plenty of colourful Crimson Rosella around.
We kept our eyes and ears peeled for Koalas which can be found along the trail. But we had no luck. Whilst on the hunt for Koala and busy staring up in the trees I came incredibly close to treading on a small Copperhead snake. Lucky for me Imbi spotted it just in time and alerted me!
Back at the campsite
Once back at our swag, we set about getting a good fire going in the provided fire pit. Imbi cooked up a feast. It was a perfect spot to watch the Kangaroos hopping about in the last rays of light with the Kookaburras laughing all around us. We fell asleep to only the sound of the nearby Little River. It was certainly quieter than the previous night. And our new Kings Big Daddy Deluxe Double Swag was so comfy!
Waking to the sound of the Magpies and clear blue skies was perfect start to our final day. Staring out of the swag there were more Roo’s hopping around and several Bowerbirds scuttling around our fire pit. We got a nice fire going and had a leisurely breakfast. We even had a cheeky Kookaburra coming in to see if there were any leftovers. It left sorely disappointed!
After we finished our coffees, we ensured our campfire was extinguished properly. We then took one last stroll through the camp ground, as the last of the moisture evaporated from the swag. Once back, it took all of about 5 minutes to dissemble the swag and roll it and it contents away into its canvas bag. Just as we had hoped for, so quick and easy!
Once we packed up, we drove the 35 minutes to Marysville for our hike along the Keppel Lookout and Steavenson Falls via Tree Fern Gully Track Loop.
Camping in the Cathedral Range tips
- Bookings are not required at The Farmyard campground. However we highly recommend checking the weather conditions before you hike up there.
- Bookings are required at the Cooks Mill Campground. You can book HERE through Parks Victoria. As of 2021 the cost was around $15 per night.
- When camping in the Cathedral Range (or anywhere for that matter), it is your responsibility to be aware of Fire Danger Rating. Cathedral Range State Park is in the North Central fire district. Check the Fire Danger Rating and for days of Total Fire Ban in the ‘Prepare and Get Ready’ tab at www.emergency.vic.gov.au, on the VicEmergency smartphone app or call the VicEmergency Hotline on 1800 226 226.
- Cooks Mill Campground has allocated fire pits (fires are allowed when conditions permit). But remember to always extinguish with water, not soil. If your campfire is ‘cool to touch’ it is safe to leave.
- Fires are NOT permitted at The Farmyard campground.
- Cooks Mill has long drop toilets, but provide no bins or potable water. So, bring all the water you need and take your waste home for recycling or appropriate disposal. As always, leave no trace and take all your rubbish out with you.
- The Farmyard has NO facilities. You will need to bring everything with you and take all your waste home.
- Please remember to bury your soiled toilet paper and faecal matter. A small trowel can easily dig a sufficient hole of at least 6-8 inches deep. We were disgusted to see so much toilet paper and unburied ‘turds’ left around the perimeter of The Farmyard by previous visitors.
- Not only is it revolting to leave it on display, but there are other consequences you may not have considered. According to Leave No Trace ‘proper disposal of human waste is important to avoid pollution of water sources, minimise the possibility of spreading disease, and maximise the rate of decomposition‘. So don’t be a filthy git, dig a pit for your shit!
- Finally don’t be deterred by snakes, just watch out for them, particularly in spring and summer when they are more active. For some really useful information on Victoria’s most common snakes and snake safety click HERE for a handy PDF.
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