The National Pass is a historic walking track in the Blue Mountains National Park, just west of Sydney.
Despite the National Park being popular with tourists, when armed with the right knowledge you can easily escape the crowds and witness the best that the Blue Mountains have to offer.
In this guide I’ll cover the following:
- Why choose the National Pass?
- The route in detail
- How to reach the start of the trail
- Best viewpoints to stop at
- Preparing for your walk
Update: the National Pass has closed since I visited due to a serious rockfall. HOWEVER, you can still enjoy the scenery by using a different track and bypassing the closed section. I’ve updated this guide accordingly so that all the information still applies. For the latest official status of the closed section, visit the National Pass alerts page here: www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/national-pass/local-alerts. Please contact me or leave a comment if you discover that it has been reopened.
Why choose the National Pass?
Whilst there are many ways to visit the Blue Mountains and admire the breathtaking scenery, there is one option that is favoured among hikers – the National Pass. These are the 3 main reasons why you would consider walking the National Pass:
1. Stunning views – with the National Pass, the scenery isn’t limited to the viewpoints – there are exciting views at every turn in the track!
2. Escape the crowds – whilst the fame of the Three Sisters (rock formation) draws the crowds, the National Pass is left to be enjoyed by the few who know about it (including YOU)!
3. Simple to follow – in most places the path is signposted and well-trodden. It also doesn’t involve any technical climbing.
The route in detail
Which way round to walk it?
The National Pass is actually only a small 4.5km looped track between Wentworth Falls and Empress Falls. In itself, the National Pass is a very enjoyable walk that can be completed in either direction and easily within a morning or afternoon.
My favoured route
In my opinion though, a more enjoyable and practical route is to hug the cliff line all the way from Wentworth to Katoomba, making use of the National Pass for the beginning section of the route. My advice would be to start at Wentworth Falls. By taking the National Pass in either direction, you’ll reach its halfway point at Empress Falls. From here, if you hug the cliff line and continue walking west (instead of looping back to Wentworth Falls via the other half of the National Pass), you can actually walk all the way to the Three Sisters rock formation in Katoomba.
How long will it take?
This longer route takes advantage of the traditional National Pass as well as numerous other scenic viewpoints and trails – see later section about “Best viewpoints to stop at”. Depending on how many viewpoints you detour to, this route will average around 16km in total. That should take anywhere between 6-10 hours to complete.
Is it currently open?
Update: due to a serious rockfall, the National Pass has been closed until further notice. Click here for the latest status and please contact me or leave a comment if you discover that it has been reopened. Whilst it remains closed, use an alternative track to traverse the section between Wentworth Falls and Empress Falls. West of Empress Falls you shouldn’t have any issues (but check the official alerts page just in case). Alternative tracks for this section include the following:
※ Wentworth Pass which follows the valley floor.
※ Overcliff Track with runs roughly parallel but higher up.
※ A combination of Falls Rd, Fletcher St and Valley of the Waters track.
Summary of route
Sublime Point lookout (optional – steep down & back descent then ascent)
Golf Link lookout
Bridal Veil view
Bridal Veil lookout
Three Sisters viewpoint (Echo Point)
Note: If open, I would advise using the National Pass between Wentworth Falls and Empress Falls. If the National Pass is still closed, try using the Wentworth Pass trail, Overcliff Track or Falls Rd ￫ Fletcher St ￫ Valley of the Waters track.
Read more: 5 Epic Experiences on Australia’s East Coast
How to reach the start of the trail
The National Pass is a looped route and can therefore be started at multiple different points. On the other hand, my favoured walk is a point-to-point route which begins at Wentworth Falls and finishes at the Three Sisters in Katoomba.
Please read the previous section – “The route in detail” – to understand the exact trail that I’m talking about (slightly different to the official National Pass but in my opinion more enjoyable and practical).
Reaching Wentworth Falls – the starting point of my trail – by car is relatively easy. There is free parking at Wentworth Falls picnic area but on busy days this can quickly fill up. Without a car is only marginally harder and actually more enjoyable…
How to reach Wentworth Falls without a car
My advice would be to take a train to Wentworth Falls train station and then use a track known as Darwin’s Walk. This 3km/40min track connects Wentworth Falls town to the falls themselves. It is peaceful, picturesque, and especially enjoyable just after sunrise.
Best viewpoints to stop at
As mentioned earlier, the National Pass is actually only a small looped track between Wentworth Falls and Empress Falls. If you continue walking west from Empress Falls (instead of looping back to Wentworth Falls via the other half of the National Pass), you can actually walk all the way to the Three Sisters rock formation in Katoomba. So, with that in mind, these are my favourite viewpoints when on a full-day walk from Wentworth Falls to the Three Sisters.
Wentworth Falls lookout
Funnily enough this viewpoint has a view of the impressive Wentworth Falls. Want to know what’s funnier? The amount of times I’ve typed ‘Wentworth Falls’ in this article!
The lighting isn’t the best first thing in the morning – as seen in my pic – but it’s still a mightily awesome view!
This is by far my favourite of the whole walk. Be sure to take the Gladstone Lookout Track to reach the epic rock that you can see in the picture below. Just promise to tread carefully and not trip over…
From here you can also see the blue haze over the forest in the distance.
Did you know?
The Blue Mountains are named after the blue haze that can be seen over the Eucalyptus forests. The colour comes from a combination of Eucalypt oil and tiny dust particles – together, they refract mainly blue rays of light and therefore that is the colour we see.
Golf Link lookout
Protruding out over a high cliff, the Golf Link lookout has panoramic views over the Eucalyptus forests and sheer rock faces of the Blue Mountains. Small clouds will cast distinct shadows over the vast valleys, making for some great pictures.
If you look carefully enough, you’ll be able to spot the Three Sisters at the end of the cliff opposite. The blue haze can also be seen from here.
I love this one because you’re slightly lower and can therefore appreciate the scale of the rocks around you. It looks directly out to the Eucalyptus forests through some steep and impressive cliff edges.
This viewpoint is located on the Leura Cascades Walking Track. You can find it by copy and pasting the following co-ordinates into Google Maps: -33.72203359757199, 150.3224045852286
Preparing for your walk
Purely down to its seclusion and unpredictable weather, there are some precautions that you should take if walking the National Pass alone or in a small group (or in a large group if most of you lack hiking experience).
Despite it being signposted and well marked, the National Pass is far from a walk in the park. I don’t mean to scare you or put doubt in your mind – it’s just always better to be prepared and follow the 6 P’s (Prior Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance).
So, the 3 best things to do before walking the National Pass track are as follows:
1. Tell the police
Katoomba Police Station has a digital form to fill out on an iPad. This is for hikers to inform the police of their planned route and intended return time/day. If the hikers don’t return on time then their nominated friend can notify the police to initiate a search and rescue operation. This situation is obviously a rare occurrence but telling the police about your plans gives you peace of mind. The police at Katoomba can also provide you with up-to-date information on the condition of the walking tracks in the Blue Mountains. Hiring a personal locator beacon (PLB) might be a good idea too. For more information on all of this: www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au.
Note: if you intend to leave early in the morning for your walk (recommended), try to inform the police before they close the previous day.
2. Get a map
It might sound obvious but the amount of inexperienced walkers I see without maps is unbelievable! Although most hotels and hostels will have some form of Blue Mountains map, the most detailed and therefore useful map can be found at the camping/outdoor stores in Katoomba – again be sure to visit the day before if starting early. It would be sensible to pair a map with a compass or GPS device.
3. Assess your fitness
There are some steep sections (both up and down) along the National Pass so your body had better be ready! It’s also quite a long route – about 16km for the extended route from Wentworth Falls to Three Sisters – and thus requires a high level of stamina.
These practices can, and should, be applied to any type of hike or walk. Telling your local police station might seem like overkill, but what if it saves your life? If you don’t tell the authorities, at least inform some friends or family members of your planned route and intended return time.
Check the current alerts to see which tracks are open before attempting any walk in the Blue Mountains.
The National Pass (when open) is a fantastic loop walk that is suitable for people wanting a shorter route.
An alternative and more varied route – and my personal favourite – is the point-to-point route from Wentworth Falls to Three Sisters.
Stay safe by adhering to the 3 P’s and not tackling a route too far out of your comfort zone.
Finally, and most importantly, enjoy the beauty that the Blue Mountains have to offer!