If you live in Melbourne, there’s every chance you will have heard of the Dandenong Ranges.
Known for its many cafes, restaurants, spectacular views, amazing wildlife, and many trails, it’s a place that many flock to every weekend – including outdoor adventurers.
And with those sorts of people in mind, we have come up with an adventurers guide to some of the places we think are worth hiking in the Dandenongs i.e. that aren’t the 1000 steps!
Hiking in the Dandenongs
Not far from the popular Glasgow Track, the Mount Dandenong Trail (which are calling it) starts at the base of the mountain in the Doongalla Forest and climbs all the way up to Burkes Reserve.
It involves three steep inclines as you make your way to the top and, best of all, you’ll avoid all the crowds that are hiking the Glasgow Track.
Once you get to the top, you’ll have all the views of the city (on a clear day, of course) and you’ll be able to make your way around Kyeema Track to Burkes Lookout to get an even better view of the city.
At roughly 9kms and relatively difficult, this isn’t easy hiking in the Dandenongs, so we’d recommend it to those who are comfortable with hills and have a decent level of fitness.
Start and Finish: Corner of Pavitt Lane and Sheffield Road.
Located not far from the Mount Dandenong Trail, the Sassafras Circuit is one of those hikes that you’ve probably driven past a million times on your way through the area but never knew was there.
A fraction under 4kms, and with only one serious hill to really contend with, this is absolutely a beginners hike that is typical of what you would find when hiking in the Dandenongs: lots of ferns and lots of Mountain Ash.
Start and Finish: Car park on the corner of Mountain Highway and Old Coach Road.
Another hike in the Dandenongs geared towards beginners, this 8km trail wanders through quite possibly the most picturesque location in the area.
A fairly well-formed path that cuts its way through the western side of the forest, you’ll have the opportunity to visit the Sherbrooke Falls mid-way through your adventure.
There are a couple of spots you can start this from, but most will start it from the Sherbrooke Picnic Ground where there is a decent car park and toilet block available.
Be sure to keep your eye out for a lyrebird as they are notorious for being seen whilst hiking in the Dandenongs.
Whilst it does have a reasonable hill to climb at the three-quarter mark, we still reckon it’s suitable for beginner hikers.
Furthermore, it’s a good one for parents and kids as you can modify it to make a shorter 4km return hike from the car park to the falls.
And on the eastern side of the Sherbrooke Forest lies – you guessed it – the Eastern Sherbrooke Forest Walk.
Somewhat similar to its sister hike on the western side of the forest, it follows a well-formed path that has very obstacles to navigate save for one decent old hill that will at least offer you a challenge.
We’d probably recommend starting and finishing this near-on 7km hike at Grant’s Picnic Ground; at the very least you’ll have a coffee/drink/tasty treat waiting for you at the end (the pumpkin soup is amazing!).
We’d also recommend doing this hike in an anti-clockwise manner so you can really give yourself a challenge as you make your way up “that” hill.
There is so much more to hiking in the Dandenongs than taking a trip to the 1000 Steps and we reckon you’ll find plenty of alternatives in the RJ Hamer Arboretum in Olinda.
And we reckon you won’t find a better alternative than the Olinda Falls & Valley Circuit.
This is a fairly long-ish hike at almost 16kms but takes in an ever-changing scenery that includes Olinda Falls, Valley Picnic Ground and the Woolrich Lookout.
Depending on the pace at which you walk, we’d recommend giving yourself 4.5-5.5 hours to complete this Grade 3 hike.
We’d say that you’ll find the going a lot easier from Woolrich Lookout to Olinda Falls, but once you come back into the forest and head south to the trailhead, there are plenty of hills that will almost certainly slow you down – including one decent hill right before the end.
Start & Finish: Woolrich Lookout Car Park, Olinda.
One of the great things about hiking in the Dandenongs, especially in the RJ Hamer Arboretum, is that there are tracks within tracks.
If the 15kms of the Olinda Falls and Valley Circuit doesn’t appeal to you, then an alternative might be the 7km Valley Picnic Ground to Olinda Falls Return trail.
It’s a fairly manageable hike where you get to explore both the Valley Picnic Ground and Olinda Falls, but without as many hills as the 15km version.
The great thing is that you still get that sense of isolation in the deepest sections of the forest as you’ll most likely not see anyone until you reach the falls.
We’d say those who have a reasonable level of fitness and some bushwalking experience would be more than capable of tackling this amazing adventure.
Start and Finish: Valley Picnic Ground, Dandenong Ranges National Park
If you’re a parent with small children and have no interest in the previous two mentioned hikes, but still want to get in some good hiking in the Dandenongs, then the Valley Picnic Ground to Eagles Nest Picnic Ground is for you.
A fairly easy 4km return trail, you can start it from either picnic ground as they both have a decent car park attached to them.
And to really extend it out, we’d recommend making a point of spending as much time as possible at Valley Picnic Ground as it is such a vast and picturesque place that you’ll kick yourself if you don’t.