Everything you need to know about hiking the 3-day Grampians Peaks Trail
Grampians National Park, located just 3 hours northwest of Melbourne CBD, has long-since been one of my favourite places to explore, its dramatic rock features, sparkling waterfalls, and sweeping views over a patchwork of green valleys and blue lakes quite unlike anything else in the state. So when I heard that VicParks was building a long distance trail through the Grampians, I was obviously ecstatic.
The Grampians Peaks Trail is set to be a 160km, 13-day route running the entire length of the National Park from Mt Zero in the north to Mt Abrupt in the south, summiting spectacular peaks along the way and really showcasing the grandeur of the Wonderland Range. Between building new hiker campgrounds and facilities, upgrading 60km of exisiting trail, and creating 100km of new tracks, it’s a pretty big undertaking for VicParks, estimated to be fully completed in 2020 (although I seriously expect that’s going to get pushed back, given the COVID-19 interruptions).
To sate eager trekkers in the meantime, a small section of the Grampians Peak Trail has been officially opened between Halls Gap and Mt Rosea, linking with existing fire trails to form a 37km, 3-day loop beginning and ending in the Grampians’ principle tourism township. This guide contains absolutely everything you need to know about hiking this first stage of the Grampians Peaks Trail from Halls Gap, including getting there, reserving campsites, available facilities, what to expect on the trail, a packing list, and heaps more.
Planning for the Grampians Peaks Trail
Best time to hike
The best time to trek the Grampians Peaks Trail is probably shoulder season: autumn (March – May) or spring (September – November). You’ll typically have the most agreeable temperatures during these months, with autumn being a bit sunnier and spring usually boasting more waterfalls.
It’s not uncommon for temperatures to exceed 40C+ in summer, which also means that fire risk is elevated and total fire bans are often in effect, not to mention the added risk of encountering poisonous snakes during summer (I’ve seen a brown snake in the Grampians as late as the first weekend of March). Water access might also be slightly more challenging towards the end of summer as things start to dry out.
Winter temperatures in the Grampians can dip below freezing at night (they were actually down to 3C in March) and it’s not unheard of for there to be snow flurries, which might not appeal to some trekkers. Still, winter is not a bad time to visit the Grampians. There’s usually plenty of water flowing through the rivers and in the falls, fewer visitors, and lots of lush foliage, which can make for a pretty wonderful visit (if you can get clear weather, which will be the challenge).
There are 2 campsites along Stage 1 of the Grampians Peaks Trail, each with drop toilets and running (untreated) water. Both camps need to be reserved in advance online.
Bugiga Hiker Camp
This is a small, trail-access only camp that has been purpose built for night 1 of the 3-day Grampians Peaks Trail, looking out onto Mt Rosea and Mt William at the south end of the Wonderland Range. Camping is on timber platforms raised off the ground, each of which accommodates a 2- or 3-man tent (but max 2 people on each platform).
You can reserve a camping platform at Bugiga Hiker Camp for $16.80 (for 2 people), but with only 12 sites available, make sure to book early during the summer months and school holidays to ensure a spot. I’d specifically recommend Site 08, 09, or 10, as these have the best mountain views.
You’re meant to print the camping permit (from your confirmation email) and display it on your tent, but I just carried a screenshot of the permit on my phone (and was never asked for it anyway).
Borough Huts Campground
On the second night, camping is at Borough Huts Campground, a larger site with vehicle access that is acting as an interim camp for the Grampians Peaks Trail until a dedicated hike-in camp is completed.
There are 30 tent sites, either gravel or grass, that can each accomodate up to 6 people (and I’d recommend choosing a grass site for obvious reasons). You can reserve a tent site at Borough Huts Campground for $14.50 (for 2 people).
Getting to Halls Gap
The best way to get to Halls Gap, the main tourist town for the Grampians, is definitely to drive yourself. Depending on traffic, it will take around 3hrs to drive from Melbourne CBD (250km).
The other option is to catch the V/Line train from Southern Cross to Ararat (2.5hrs) and then the V/Line bus bound for Warrnambool, hopping off at Halls Gap (1hr).
Getting to the trailhead
The Grampians Peaks Trail begins right from the main carpark in Halls Gap, across the road from the General Store (you really can’t miss it). It’s totally safe to leave your car here while you’re out on the trail, and there are also public toilets you can use before setting off.
Grampians Peaks Trail itinerary
Beginning in Halls Gap and ascending via the spectacular Grand Canyon to the park’s most popular lookout, The Pinnacle, the Grampians Peak Trail climbs again to Mt Rosea and then finally descends to the valley as you loop back around to Halls Gap. There’s definitely some elevation gain along the trail (the figures below seem a little high to me, but they’re directly off the official website); still, it’s an undemanding 3 days overall and a great weekend escape.
Day 1: Halls Gap to Bugiga Hiker Camp
Elevation change: 840m
Trail hours: 4hrs
Highlights: trekking through amazing rock features in the Grand Canyon en route to the Pinnacle; sweeping views over the Grampians and Lake Bellfield from the top of the Wonderland Range; charming campsite built specifically for the GPT
Campsite: Bugiga Hiker Camp
Day 2: Bugiga Hiker Camp to Borough Huts Campground
Elevation change: 1033m
Trail time: 4.5hrs
Highlights: hiking through rock tunnels and caves to reach the summit of Mt Rosea; foggy views over Lake Bellfield, clearing briefly for lunch in the sun; a wallaby on the trail and kookaburras at camp
Campsite: Borough Huts Campground
Day 3: Borough Huts Campground to Halls Gap
Elevation change: 600m
Trail time: 3hrs
Highlights: hiking above Lake Bellfield; relatively short walk back to Halls Gap, completing the loop and stage 1 of the Grampians Peaks Trail
What to expect on the trail
For the vast majority of both day 1 and day 2 on the Grampians Peaks Trail, expect to be walking on rock rather than an actual dirt track. Sometimes this is in the form of stone steps, but mostly you’ll just be directly on large sheets of sandstone. It’s not necessarily challenging terrain, but it’s still best to have sturdy hiking boots, as the rock can get slippery in the rain and additional ankle support is always welcome.
On the descent from Mt Rosea on day 2 and all of day 3 from Borough Huts to Halls Gap, there is dirt trail rather than rock, mostly winding through trees. The first section of trail is well-graded and free of most roots and rocks, but the fire trail on the final day is incredibly steep, as well as covered in sand and nasty ruts. This adds a little bit of difficulty to the already gnarly ascents and descents, but it’s still nothing you can’t handle in runners if it’s really all you have.
Thankfully, there really aren’t any navigational demands on the Grampians Peaks Trail, with frequent yellow markers guiding you through the rocks and intermittent signs displaying distance to the next peak or campground. I didn’t carry a map or a GPS, and honestly there really is no need.
Camping & facilities
As described previously, the campgrounds along the Grampians Peaks Trail have drop toilets (with toilet paper!) and a couple of running water taps. It’s not permitted to camp outside of these designated campgrounds, but you honestly wouldn’t want to— they are super nice, uncrowded (I suppose that depends on when you hike), and well-equipped.
Other than Bugiga Hiker Camp and Borough Huts Campground, don’t expect to find any toilets or running water along your route, except at the trailhead in Halls Gap.
There is running water at both Bugiga Hiker Camp and Borough Huts Campground, but it’s untreated, so I’d recommend packing a filter like this one to clean your drinking water. When you’re cooking, just bring the water to a boil for a few minutes to kill any germs, and that will be more than enough. Honestly, everything that comes out of these taps is collected rainwater, so it’s probably safe to drink anyway, but it never hurts to be cautious if you have a sensitive stomach.
In the event that there hasn’t been much rain and the water runs out at one or both campgrounds (rare, but it could happen), you should be able to filter water from nearby streams on both days. There is a water source about halfway through day 1 at Splitter Falls, as well as a creek closer to camp, and a (somewhat stagnant) river right before Borough Huts on day 2, so you can fill up if necessary. There isn’t anywhere to fill up on the final day, so if there’s not water at Borough Huts, you should backtrack slightly to the river before setting off.
VicParks recommends that hikers register their walk with Brambuk the National Park and Cultural Centre in Halls Gap so that the rangers are aware of who’s out in the bush. If you’re hiking alone or aren’t confident on the trail, it might also be worth considering a PLB or EPIRB. I really didn’t feel like it was necessary on this trail, since there’s intermittent mobile reception and you’re not really that far from town, but it’s up to each individual hiker.
Taking normal precautions, like letting someone know when you’re setting off on the trail, bringing a charged mobile phone, and packing a well-stocked first aid kit is probably more than enough for most hikers. Only you know your physical abilities and personal experience, though, so use your best wilderness judgement!
Packing list for the Grampians Peaks Trail
- Hat + sunnies
- 2x short-sleeve hiking shirts
- Down jacket
- Rain jacket
- Hiking shorts
- Tights/trackies (for sleeping or lounging around camp)
- 2x pairs hiking sock liners
- 2x pairs wool hiking socks (wear the first pair on day 1 & 2 and sleep in the second pair, and then wear the second pair on day 3)
- Sturdy hiking boots
- Sandals for camp
- Toothbrush + toothpaste
- Body wipes (mountain shower!)
- Hand sanitiser + toilet paper
- First aid kit: anti-inflammatories, antihistamines, bandaids, medical tape, antiseptic, etc
- Camera + extra batteries
- Phone + power bank
- 50L hiking backpack + rain cover
- 2-3L bladder
- Tent with rain fly
- Sleeping bag— recommended rating 5C or below, it can get really cold in the evenings
- Sleeping pad
- Camping pillow
- Camp stove
- 1 gas canister
- Cookwear: bowls, cups, cutlery, long spoon for cooking
- Food for 2 breakfasts, 3 lunches, 2 dinners, and plenty of snacks (like nut bars, crackers, salami, cheese, beef jerky, tuna, hot chocolate, lollies, etc). For dehydrated dinners, try: Packit Gourmet or Backcountry Cuisine
- Water filter
- Check out this post for all the best gear recommendations: BUILDING THE ULTIMATE OUTDOOR ADVENTURE KIT: THE BEST HIKING & BACKPACKING GEAR FOR WOMEN
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