ULTIMATE GUIDE TO THE WALKS & WILDLIFE OF THE DANDENONG RANGES

ULTIMATE GUIDE TO THE WALKS & WILDLIFE OF THE DANDENONG RANGES

The ultimate guide to the walks and wildlife of the Dandenong Ranges – Everything you need to know about the best walking trails in the Dandenong’s.

About the Dandenong Ranges

The Dandenong Ranges or ‘The Dandenong’s’ as it is often referred to, is found 35km to the east of Melbourne. Only about 1 hours drive or a simple train ride away from Melbourne’s CBD, it’s an easy getaway from the city. With its charming towns, cool lush forests and beautiful gardens it’s not hard to see why the Dandenong’s is so popular.

For us, it’s the Dandenong’s easily accessible hikes that keep drawing us back here. With over 200km of walking trails, the Dandenong Ranges has a plethora of tracks to choose from. There’s forests of towering Mountain Ash to explore, Tree Fern clad valleys to wander along, lookouts to hike up to, creek spanning moss-covered bridges to cross and amazing wildlife to discover. You really are spoilt for choice and there’s walking trails suited for all capabilities and interests.

Short walks and family friendly attractions in the Dandenong Ranges

Starting with some of the family friendly activities, there is plenty to see and do in the Dandenongs. There are short walks, picnic areas, gardens, mazes, viewpoints, waterfalls and even a steam railway. Ideal for the whole family and easily combined if you want to make a day of it.

1. Hardy Gully Nature Trail

Starting Point: Grants Picnic Ground – Free Parking

Distance: 700m (Return)

The Hardy Gully Nature Trail is exactly that, a great little nature trail. Luscious fern gullies, huge eucalyptus trees and lots of birds. Pram-friendly in the drier times of year, this is an ideal quick and easy walk if you just want a snapshot of the Dandenong Ranges scenery, without working up a sweat. This trail and the connecting Lyrebird Trail are great places to see Lyrebirds, so keep yours eyes and ears open, as they are regularly found here. It’s a perfect walk pre/post a picnic with the colourful birds at Grants Picnic Ground. You’ll likely see plenty of Kookaburras, Crimson Rosella, King Parrots and Sulphur-Crested Cockatoos.

Lyrebird at the Dandenong Ranges
Female Superb Lyrebird on the Hardy Gully Nature Trail

2. Sherbrooke Falls

Starting Point: Sherbrooke Picnic Ground – Free Parking

Distance 2.4km (Circuit)

A very popular short walk in Sherbrooke Forest, the largest section of the Dandenong Ranges National Park. Don’t be under any misconception, this is certainly not a spectacular waterfall! Full with tree debris, the small falls are often almost completely hidden and pretty underwhelming. But this short trail is definitely more about the walk than the falls. It’s a scenic loop with some massive trees, some nice cascading sections of the Sherbrooke Creek and another great place to see Lyrebirds. A really nice little walk for a taste of the Dandenong Ranges.

Sherbrook Falls The Dandenong Ranges
Cascading section of the Sherbrooke Creek

3. Olinda Falls

Starting Point: Olinda Falls Car Park – Free Parking

Distance 0.7km (Return)

More impressive than Sherbrooke Falls, especially after rain, Olinda Falls is a small scale series of cascades which is nice and easy one to get to. A short, sharp track with some steep steps leads down to the falls, so be prepared. There’s a nice picnic area at the carpark for lunch before or after seeing the falls. If you want to add this to a longer hike, then checkout our ‘Olinda Falls & Valley Circuit’ and ‘Dandenong Ranges Circuit with optional Olinda Falls Loop’ hikes below.

Olinda Falls The Dandenong Ranges
Olinda Falls

4. Dandenong Ranges Botanic Garden (formerly the National Rhododendron Garden)

Starting Point: Dandenong Ranges Botanic Garden Car Park – Free Parking

Distance: Up to you – There’s lots of walking tracks & trails to explore

At over a 100-acres, the Dandenong Ranges Botanic Garden in Olinda is huge. You could easily stay the entire day, wandering the paths and picnicking on the lawns. There’s said to be over 15,000 Rhododendrons here – no we haven’t counted to verify haha. But visit during the flowering season of June to early December and you’ll see the ‘King of Shrubs’ at their finest and the gardens at their most colourful. And it’s not just Rhododendrons here, there’s a huge variety of other plants too. It’s also another good place to find Lyrebirds. But best of all – it’s free to enter!

Dandenong Ranges Botanic Garden
Dandenong Ranges Botanic Garden

5. SkyHigh Mount Dandenong

Starting Point: SkyHigh Mount Dandenong Car Park – Paid Parking ($6)

Distance: Up to you – There’s short forest walks, gardens and a maze to explore.

At 630m and claiming the title of ‘highest natural view point in Victoria’, SkyHigh is one of the most popular attractions in the Dandenong Ranges. Can you see the city of Melbourne in the distance in the photo below? There are some short forest walks up here along with the SkyHigh bistro, a pop-up bar, a maze and plenty of lawn to picnic on. There’s something for everyone, young and old! A visit to SkyHigh makes a perfect addition to a day of short walks (listed above) and is the starting point for some of the longer walks like the Dandenong Ranges Circuit with optional Olinda Falls Loop (more details below). Having said all of that, a visit to SkyHigh is more about the views!

Mount Dandenong - The Dandenong Ranges
View from SkyHigh Mount Dandenong

Longer Walks (2 hours+) in the Dandenong Ranges

The following walks range in distance and ease and take anywhere from a couple of hours to half a day. They are for those with a reasonable level of fitness who are keen to get away from the crowds on some of the longer hiking trails in the Dandenong Ranges. The hikes below are some of our favourites, all in different sections of the National Park and each differs in their own way. All of these hikes, except the first one are ‘circuits’. So you start and finish in the same location, making them logistically easy. With all of these trails, we strongly recommend having trail maps on your phone. The circuit trails often join together, so it can get a bit confusing at times making offline maps a godsend!

1. Dandenong Ranges Tourist Track – Sassafras to Emerald

Trail Type: One-way (point-to-point) – Click HERE for trail map.

Start Point: 392-394 Mount Dandenong Tourist Rd, Sassafras – Marked as Sassafras Creek Trail on Google Maps. There is limited parking at the start point next to the Sassafras Mechanics Institute Hall and Toilets here.*

Finish Point: Telopea Steps or Emerald *

Distance: 15km to Telopea Steps or 16.5km to Emerald *

Duration : 4-6 hours

Difficulty: Easy-Moderate

* This trail can be done in either direction.

The Dandenong Ranges Tourist Track is arguably our favourite hike in this part of Victoria. This quiet point-to-point trail is probably the bushwalk for those wanting a real feel for the Dandenong Ranges. Starting in the quaint village of Sassafrass, you follow the Sassafras Creek, Woori Yallock Creek and Menzies Creek all the way to the Telopea Steps and on to the charming town of Emerald. Hiking through some truly beautiful parts of the Dandenong’s you’ll criss-cross creeks on moss-covered bridges and walk along boardwalks in lush fern gullies surrounded by towering trees. Overgrown in parts, it really does feel like you getting a little off track on this trail.

For more info checkout our Hiking the Dandenong Ranges Tourist Track – Sassafras to Emerald

Dandenong Ranges Tourist Track
Moss-covered bridge on the Dandenong Ranges Tourist Track

2. Eastern Sherbrooke Forest Walk

Trail Type: Circuit (start and finish in the same location) – Click HERE for trail map.

Start & Finish Point: Grants Picnic Ground – Free Parking

Distance: 7km

Duration: 2-3 hours

Difficulty: Easy / Moderate

This is another favourite hike of ours in the Dandenong Ranges. The easy-moderate Eastern Sherbrooke Forest Walk takes a couple of hours and leads you through some of the most scenic parts of the Dandenong’s starting on the Lyrebird Track. It’s a great option for first time hikers in the National Park, as there is only really one steepish section, a nice variety of vegetation including Tree Ferns, Mountain Ash, Messmate Stringybark and usually lots of wildlife. Lookout for Swamp Wallabies, Echidnas and if you’re really lucky Wombats (depending on the time of your visit). As well as Lyrebirds, there are any number of other colourful birds flying around too.

Eastern Sherbrooke Forest Walk
Hiking the Eastern Sherbrooke Forest Walk

3. Dandenong Ranges Circuit with optional Olinda Falls Loop

Trail Type: Circuit (start and finish in the same location) – Click HERE for trail map.

Start & Finish Point: Up to you. SkyHigh in the north or Olinda Recreation Reserve in the south are good options.

Distance: 16km

Duration: 4-5hours

Difficulty: Moderate

The Dandenong Ranges Circuit is a moderately difficult hike that offers some of the best views in the Dandenongs. Taking about 4-5 hours, it links two sections of the National Park. As it’s a circuit, you can start anywhere. But we recommend starting early at Mount Dandenong where there is plenty of parking around and SkyHigh will be nice and quiet. If travelling anti-clockwise your first stop will be Burkes Lookout which offers probably our favourite views in the park. For much of this hike you’ll likely see no one, as many of the trails that make up this circuit are very lightly trafficked, making it an incredibly peaceful route. If there’s been some rain include the short Olinda Falls Loop, if not, you may want to skip it.

Dandenong Ranges Circuit
Views from Burkes Lookout

4. Ferntree Gully Circuit

Trail Type: Circuit (start and finish in the same location) – Click HERE for trail map.

Start & Finish Point: 1000 Steps Carpark (Free Parking) or from the Upper Ferntree Gully Train Station*

Distance: 7.5km

Duration: 3 hours

Difficulty: Moderate

In all honesty there are definitely better hiking options than this one in the Dandenong Ranges. Having said that, the Ferntree Gully Circuit offers is a nice extension to the ever-popular and in our opinion overhyped 1000 steps. So if the 1000 Steps is a bit short for you and you’re wanting to add-on something a little more interesting, this is for you. Once you’ve summited the short steep 1000 Steps, head on to One Tree Hill Picnic Ground and you’ve pretty much done most of the hard work. From here, you escape the crowds and get some nice views along the way. After some pretty steep declines, the views really begin to open up as you join the Himalaya Track section and beyond. The series of different tracks that make up this circuit lead you all the way back to 1000 Steps carpark.

Ferntree Gully Circuit views
Views from the Ferntree Gully Circuit

*This is an easy one to access using public transport, just take a train to Upper Ferntree Gully and there is a short path (the Railway Track) all the way to the 1000 steps car park. Just cross under the railway (in the opposite direction to the freeway) and follow the 1.5km to the start of this hike.

5. Olinda Falls & Valley Circuit

Trail Type: Circuit (start and finish in the same location) – Click HERE for trail map.

Start & Finish Point: Woolrich Lookout at the R.J. Hamer Arboretum – Free Parking

Distance: 14km

Duration: 4-5hours

Difficulty: Moderate / Hard (only because of some steep hills)

There’s plenty of variety on this one. The Olinda Falls & Valley Circuit takes you through both native bush and the introduced tree species around the R.J. Hamer Arboretum. It’s a bit different to the other trails in the Dandenong Ranges. This is one for the tree lovers and is particularly picturesque in Autumn with all different coloured leaves. As well as the varied vegetation there is also a good mix of terrain, so it never gets boring. On the second half of the circuit there are some brutal sections of hill, which really gets the calfs burning, so be warned. Overall, this trail is a decent option if you want to see more than just Olinda Falls and want some nice scenery, views and a good leg workout to go with it.

Olinda Falls & Valley Circuit
Massive fallen tree on the Olinda Falls & Valley Circuit

Wildlife in the Dandenong Ranges

Mammals

There’s a lot of wildlife in the Dandenong Ranges National Park, though it can be hard to find. Of the mammals, we’ve most frequently seen Swamp Wallabies. But the Dandenong’s is also home to other harder to spot animals including Wombats, Echidna, Kangaroos, Fallow Deer, Sugar Gliders and a few Koalas. Driving in or out at dawn or dusk or very early walks probably offer the best chances of a mammal sighting here.

Swamp Wallaby in the Dandenong Ranges
Swamp Wallaby

Birds

Birds may not excite everyone, but here in the Dandenong Ranges, although you may not see many mammals you will see plenty of beautiful birdlife. Other than the aforementioned Superb Lyrebirds, when on the trails and in the picnic areas you’ll likely see plenty of Crimson Rosellas, Sulphur Crested Cockatoos, Rainbow Lorikeet and Australian King Parrots. Less frequently seen are the awesome Yellow-Tailed Black Cockatoo of which the Dandenong’s is one of the better places in Victoria to catch a glimpse of them.

Cockatoo in the Dandenong Ranges
Sulphur Crested Cockatoo
Yellow Tailed Black cockatoo in the Dandenong Ranges
Yellow-Tailed Black Cockatoo

As well as Lyrebirds, Parrots and Cockatoos there are so many other birds found in the various sections of the park. None more so than the Laughing Kookaburra and Eastern Yellow Robin that just seem to be everywhere. Other nice birds to lookout for include various Honeyeaters, Golden and Olive Whistlers, Red-browed Finch, Superb Fairy Wrens, Eastern Spinebill, White-Throated Treecreepers and Silvereye. There’s also several other species of colourful Robins in the Dandenong’s, though they can be hard to spot. We’ve come across Scarlet and Flame Robins on the trails, but are yet to find the Rose or Pink Robins here.

Kookaburra in the Dandenong Ranges
Laughing Kookaburra
Eastern Yellow Robins in the Dandenong Ranges
Eastern Yellow Robins

Other wildlife

And keep an eye out for the little stuff too. Both the Common and Blotched Blue-tongued Lizards are found here as well various Skinks and Frogs. We’ve always seen plenty of butterflies too. There’s even some particularly friendly leeches on some of the trails! They never turn down an opportunity to latch on for a free ride and usually find and befriend you long before you find them!

Yellow Admiral Butterfly

Useful information and packing essentials for the walks and wildlife of the Dandenong Ranges

  • Decent footwear is required for the majority of walks in the Dandenong Ranges. Even on the shorter walks, it is often pretty wet, slippery and boggy on the trails.
  • As already mentioned we strongly recommend trail maps on your phone. As many of the circuits link trails together, it can get a bit confusing at times and offline maps can save a lot of hassle and confusion.
  • It’s usually a few degrees cooler in the Dandenong Ranges than the surrounding area, so make sure to pack appropriately.
  • If hiking alone, always make sure people know your plans and intended route and timeframes.
  • As always leave no trace and take all your rubbish out with you or dispose of correctly in the appropriate bins provided!
  • Take a reusable water bottle and do your bit to minimise plastic waste, as well as saving the pennies.
  • For some people just seeing wildlife is enough. But, if like us you have a passion for wildlife photography, we highly recommend taking a decent zoom lens. We shoot the majority of our wildlife pics with a Canon 100-400mm.
  • Drive carefully, especially at dawn and dusk as wombats, wallabies and kangaroo’s are particularly active at this time. Use some common sense and drive sensibly. ‘Reduce your speed by 10 km an hour and reduce your risk of hitting wildlife by 20%!’ Wildlife Victoria.
  • Don’t feed the birds! ‘Most birds eat a balanced diet; 90% eat insects and nectar, seed or fruit. People feeding birds the wrong food changes the balance of their diet and can negatively impact their health’ – WIRES Australian Wildlife Rescue Organisation

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