The arc of rainforest-cloaked mountains that gave this corner of southeast Queensland its name is laced with dozens of beautiful and well-maintained hiking trails, from easy short walks to epic multi-day tramps. Lace your boots for the best hikes in Australia’s Scenic Rim, one of Lonely Planet’s top 10 regions to visit for 2022.
Home to six national parks, four of which form part of the World Heritage-listed Gondwana Rainforests of Australia, the Scenic Rim is the ultimate rainforest hiking hub. These national parks cradle the agricultural heart of the Scenic Rim, west of the Gold Coast, that’s home to wineries, breweries, farm-gate stalls and even a camel milk products-focused cafe, meaning there are plenty of delicious ways to treat yourself when you emerge from the forest.
Scenic Rim Trail
Best multi-day hike
47km (29mi) one-way, 4 days, moderate/strenuous
Tracing a dramatic ridgeline in Main Range National Park, on the western fringe of the Scenic Rim, Queensland’s first “Great Walk” pairs ancient Gondwana Rainforests with stellar views, lush waterfalls and pioneer heritage on a four-day trek from Thornton View Trailhead, 90 minutes southwest of Brisbane, to Cunninghams Gap.
There are two ways to tackle this multi-day adventure. Opt for a luxury guided experience with boutique hotel group Spicers Retreats, which created and launched the trail in partnership with Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service in 2020. With private, eco-luxe camps tucked well off the public trail, the Spicers version is around 13km (8 miles) longer than an independent hike. But with your luggage shuttled ahead each day, it’s more accessible for people unable (or unwilling) to carry four days’ worth of gear. This top-tier option costs AUD$3999 per person, which buys you a twin share and all-inclusive food and alcohol – expensive but a very premium experience for those that want to splurge on something special.
Public campsites are basic (don’t expect showers), but at AUD$6.75 (USD$4.83) per night, this option is a bargain for those who want to experience this beautiful trail without a hefty price tag.
Ascending through native bushland to the ridgeline on day one is the most challenging part of the trail. The following morning, you’ll pass several relics from the area’s logging days before venturing deep into the rainforest, where you could spend a lifetime counting the shades of green surrounding you.
Passing several waterfalls and viewpoints, the undulating trail is more manageable from day two onward. On day four, the Bare Rock viewpoint overlooking the farmlands of the Scenic Rim makes an ideal lunch spot before descending to the Cunningham Highway, where the trail ends.
Best mountain climb
17.5km (11mi) return, 1 day, difficult
The pinnacle of bushwalking in southeast Queensland, Mt Barney (1354m) is a challenging, strenuous climb that should only be attempted by hikers with extensive bushwalking, scrambling and navigation experience (a GPS and personal locator beacon is essential). The views from the rugged mountain peak in the remote southwestern corner of the Scenic Rim, which features prominently in local Aboriginal Dreaming stories, more than make up for the effort.
There are two routes to the summit. Allow eight to 10 hours to ascend the East Ridge route, which traverses steep ridges and involves several climbs. When you reach the saddle, there’s still about 267m (876ft) in altitude to climb before summiting on East Peak; allow an hour and a half each way for this section. While shorter at seven to nine hours, the South East Ridge route is much steeper, requiring a higher level of fitness and skill. Both routes descend via the East Ridge route to Upper Logan Rd (where you can park).
Ravaged by Australia’s 2019-20 bushfires, Mt Barney National Park (120km/75 miles southwest of Brisbane) is now making a remarkable recovery. To learn more about this wild corner of Gondwana, opt for a guided interpretive hike. Bookable through nearby Mt Barney Lodge, a guide also boosts your safety because it’s very easy to get lost on this trail.
Best for waterfalls
17.4km (10.8mi) return, 7 hours, moderate/strenuous
One of the most scenic walks in the Binna Burra section of Lamington National Park, the well-marked Coomera Circuit is a gorgeous day hike that passes through subtropical and warm temperate rainforest communities home to a series of lush waterfalls, including the Coomera and Yarrabilgong waterfalls that plunge off rainforest-covered cliffs into a 160m-deep (525ft) gorge.
Making a loop from the Binna Burra Upper Day Use Area, an hour’s drive west of the Gold Coast, this trail is best hiked counterclockwise to avoid a steep incline at the end, leaving the Border Track after 1.9km (1.2 miles), then ascending along the edge of Coomera Gorge. Look out for the distinctive blue-and-white Lamington spiny crayfish as you trace the path of the Coomera River through the verdant forest. You’ll cross the river several times (via conveniently placed stepping stones) before rejoining the Border Track and returning to the Binna Burra trailhead.
Curtis Falls Track
Best for families
1.1km (0.7mi) return, 30 minutes, easy
Ideal for little hikers lacking the stamina (or the attention span) for a longer tramp, this enchanting out-and-back walk in the Joalah section of Tamborine National Park is also one of the Scenic Rim’s most accessible, just a 45-minute drive northwest from the heart of the Gold Coast.
Beginning beneath towering gums, the easy walk gradually descends into lush rainforest. Feel the temperature drop as you admire beautiful staghorn ferns in the canopy above. Meandering alongside Curtis Creek, the trail ends at a platform at the base of small but stunning Curtis Falls. Swimming in the serene pool below is off limits, but the view makes for terrific photos. Look closely and you might spot freshwater turtles basking on rocks or logs.
Got more energy? Extend this hike by connecting it with the Lower Creek Circuit (2.5km/1.6 miles return) which branches off the Curtis Falls Track. Allow around an hour to complete this charming rainforest walk, with several creek crossings making it a little more challenging.
Best for adventure
21.4km (13.3mi) one-way, 7 hours, strenuous
Trek into the heartland of the Gondwana Rainforests on this full-day hike connecting the Green Mountains and Binna Burra sections of Lamington National Park. The long but rewarding journey traces the border of Queensland and New South Wales, taking you through subtropical and temperate rainforests, into lush gullies and valleys, across crystal-clear mountain streams, past ethereal waterfalls, and along prominent ridgelines. The first 700m (0.4 miles) is wheelchair accessible.
Many trails radiate from the Border Track, the backbone of the Lamington walking track system.
This includes a short, steep 600m/0.4-mile return side-track that leads to two lookouts – Beereenbano and Merino – well worth the detour for the awesome views over the Tweed and Limpinwood valleys. During winter months, listen for the distinctive ringing call of the Albert’s lyrebird, thought to be descended from the world’s oldest songbird.
The trail is bookended by Binna Burra Lodge and O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat, both of which offer rooms, camping, and one-way Saturday morning transfers to the opposite trailhead, allowing you to hike back to your accommodation (or car). Whichever way you go, it’s easily one of the most memorable ways to spend a day in the Scenic Rim.
Safety recommendations and restrictions during a pandemic can change rapidly. Lonely Planet recommends that travelers always check with local authorities for up-to-date guidance before traveling during Covid-19.