Tracks & Trails

Carnarvon Gorge
Tracks & Trails | bushwalking | camping | gorge | hiking | South West | Queensland

Carnarvon Gorge

Ancient Sandstone Gorges

by Susie Baber  |  25 July 2022

Fed by permanent spring water, Carnarvon creek flows in even the driest times. Over the centuries it has carved a spectacular network of gorges from the ancient sandstone. This oasis in the semi-arid heat of Queensland is flanked by towering white cliffs and lush vegetation surrounds the boulder strewn creek. Carnarvon fan palms, ancient cycads, ferns and gum trees flourish in the main gorge, while cooler temperatures and low light allow pockets of rainforest to thrive in the sheltered side-gorges.

Aboriginal people have a long and continuing relationship with this area. The dreaming says that the rainbow serpent Mundagurra created Carnarvon Gorge as he travelled through the creek system, coming in and out of the water, and carving the sandstone as he travelled. The gorge is often described by today’s Traditional Custodians as a place of learning – an area of great spirituality.


Camping at the main camping area in Carnarvon Gorge is only available during school holidays. If, like us, school holiday travel is something to be avoided whenever possible, you will need to stay outside the park. The closest options are Sandstone Park or Breeze Holiday Park only a few km away.


The Main Gorge Walk runs the full length of the ravine – 9.7km from the visitor center to Big Bend. If you walk from beginning to end you will pass several side gorges, each holding their own treasures. Depending on how much time you have, decisions will have to be made as to which parts of the gorge you are going to visit. To see the full expanse of the main gorge and all of the side gorges in one go it is over 25km with dozens of creek crossings. If you are fit and up for the challenge this is an option or alternatively you can break it up over a few days, but this does mean retracing parts of the main track each day.

The first four side gorges are very clearly sign posted and the paths are well constructed. Beyond the Art Gallery the path is less travelled and while for the most part is easy to follow, it does require a certain amount of concentration to stay on track, particularly when crossing the creek. I have broken up the distances for each section of the walk below, I hope this helps with planning your day/s.

To try and get the most out of our time and save us having to rewalk the main track we opted to do a two day hike, spending the night at the walk in camping area at Big Bend. This should see us hiking about 14km on the first day and 12km back on the second day. We left the van at Sandstone Park where we had arrived the day before and parked the car near the visitor center in Carnarvon Gorge.

From the Visitor Centre it isn’t far before you come to the first crossing over Carnarvon Creek. Each of the creek crossings is a series of steppingstones and the first few traverses have nicely placed large stones to hop across. The path between crossings is wide and sandy, gently undulating along the side of the hill, following the course of the creek. Looking up the white sandstone cliffs of the gorge can be glimpsed between the palms and eucalypts. Make sure you keep an eye out at ground level too, we spotted several kangaroos and rock wallabies in the long grass.

Moss Garden

Turn off to Moss Garden is 2.8km from the Visitor Centre | Side track is 1.3km return from the main track
If walked alone Moss Garden is a 6.9km return walk from the visitor center.

Soon after turning left off the main track we come to another creek crossing and decide to leave our packs next to the creek for a few minutes while we explore unencumbered. This crossing is not quite as well defined as those on the main track, but we manage to get to the other side without incident. Once across we are faced with several flights of stairs, it was a good decision to leave the packs behind.

Further into the gully we are surrounded by a pocket of rainforest. Tree ferns and palms soar above as the track leads around a huge strangler fig perched on a boulder. A boardwalk leads to the end of the gully where a waterfall flows into a turquoise pool surrounded by moss and ferns. The upper walls of the gorge are porous sandstone and a couple of meters above our heads you can see where the rock changes to impermeable shale. Water soaking through from the top of the plateau is force sideways and runs down the cliff face creating a perfect damp environment for this little oasis.

Back on the main track there are toilets available – these are the only amenities until the camping area at Big Bend so please take advantage of them!

The Amphitheatre

Turn off to Amphitheatre is another 900m along the main track (total 3.7km from the Visitor Centre)
Side track is 1.26km return from the main track
If walked alone Amphitheatre is a 8.66km return walk from the visitor center.

Again we leave our bags just before the creek crossing, so much easier to balance on wet rocks without the extra weight strapped to our backs! At the end of the track is a very steep set of metal stairs leading up to a narrow crack in the gorge wall. As you walk through the cliff the narrow passage opens up into a stunning gorge with vertical cliffs towering above you. The floor of the gorge is covered in ferns and moss and still shows signs of the creek that carved this spectacular opening into the plateau. The acoustics in here are reportedly quite amazing, although when we were there several other walkers appeared to be enjoying the silence, so we weren’t game to test it.

Wards Canyon

Turn off to Wards Canyon is another 600m along the main track (total 4.3km from the Visitor Centre)
Side track is 540m return from the main track
If walked alone Wards Canyon is a 9.14km return walk from the visitor center.

This side track starts with many sandstone stairs leading up past a waterfall to the creek that flows into it. Following the creek along the canyon takes you into one of the last remaining stands of king ferns. These ancient ferns require a permanent water source as they have no woody tissue and rely on the water pressure to keep them upright.

The Art Gallery

Turn off to Art Gallery is another 800m along the main track (total 5.1km from the Visitor Centre)
Side track is 680m return from the main track
If walked alone Art Gallery is a 10.88km return walk from the visitor center.

After heading through a narrow gap between two rocks the path opens up to a 62m long rock face, covered in 2000 engravings, ochre stencils and free-hand paintings. Boomerangs, hands, feet, stone axes, shields, nets and an assortment of animal tracks adorn one of Australia’s finest examples of stencil art. Interpretive signs that are scattered along the boardwalk explain the connections the Bidjara and Karingbal Aboriginal people have with their country.

These four side trips are all within the first half of the main gorge. By this point you have crossed Canarvon Creek six times, with the crossings getting a little more challenging each time. We saw walkers who elected to take their shoes and socks off for each crossing, some who were walking large sections of the track barefoot after slipping and soaking their footwear and others who just walked in wet boots.

Our waterproof hiking boots were put to the test and passed with flying colours. My hiking poles were put into service and made life much easier when balancing on uneven rocks, keeping our toes nice and dry.

Having spent time exploring everything on offer so far, we decide it was time to hightail it to the camp site and get set up for the night. Big Bend is 4.5km from the Art Gallery turn off and required 11 more creek crossings. We had not realised we would be crossing the creek so many times and at each one declared this must be the last. QLDNP had given up numbering the crossings after number six and these later crossings were certainly not as well set up as the first few had been. Still, it was all good fun and part of the adventure.

You can see Cathedral Cave from the main track so I quickly popped up for a look at the art work. Another boardwalk along the length of a very impressive cave with walls soaring up the side of the canyon. Just a few meters further is the turn off to Boowindi Gorge, not as clearly marked as some. We had been told it was not as spectacular as the other side gorges but I am not one to leave anything out so we will check it out – but we save it for the next day.

Big Bend

The camping area at Big Bend is a walk in camp area on the banks of, unsurprisingly, a bend in the creek. It is nice and level with plenty of shade and room for several groups of campers. There are drop toilets but no other facilities, and you do need to book online When we arrived there was one other couple camping in the area so we had plenty of spots to choose from. We set up our tent and made dinner surrounded by towering sandstone cliffs.

One piece of advice if you do plan on camping here is zip up your tent well. After we had retired for the evening we had to do battle with some very cute, but very annoying, little mice! They had made a meal of some of our snacks – mostly the wrappers – and took quite some time to evict from our accommodation.

The walk back

After packing up camp in the morning, and making sure we didn’t have any hitch hikers, we spent some time exploring Boowinda Gorge. This dramatic gorge walk is along a creek bed which follows curved sandstone walls through narrow passages covered in moss and ferns. The ground is very uneven, so it is a slower walk than yesterday’s exploring, and quite a different atmosphere as you wander between the water carved sandstone cliffs. We walked about one km up the gorge before turning back to the main track. At the turn off we retrieved our packs and started the return trek to the visitor center and our car. The walk back seemed to go faster. I think we were both getting better at the balancing act required to get over the creek, I guess that is to be expected with a total of 36 crossings over the two days. And maybe the enticement of a cold beverage back at the van spurred us on….

Other walks at Canarvon that we didn’t fit into our stay were:

  • Boolimba Bluff just 1km from the visitor center is the turn off to Boolimba Bluff, the 4km return hike to the top is said to be quite spectacular at sunrise when the first rays of the day hit the white sandstone cliffs.
  • Mickey Creek is a 3km return walk into a gorge so narrow you can reach out and touch both sides at the same time.
  • Nature Trail, a short 1.5km loop with the chance of seeing a turtle or platypus frolicking in the creek.
  • Rock Pool is a mere 400m from the carpark and a fab place to take a dip on a hot day. It is in fact the park’s only designated swimming area.
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