4 Outdoor Adventures in Australia's Bush Capital

The Sleeping Giant has Finally Awoken

By: LJ Nielsen + Save to a List

The Bush Capital

When looking at amazing travel destinations, outsiders often brush Canberra aside, using the same old clichés to describe the national capital. That’s a shame, because Canberra isn’t just politicians wreaking havoc in locals bars, but rather a rapidly growing premier tourist destination, thanks to the culture of the locals and the natural beauty it was built within. To ignore Canberra now, truthfully, is to ignore a good time. Sydney is crowded. Brisbane is traffic. Perth is far. Melbourne is too cool. But Canberra has a lot to offer, you’ve just got to let go of the stereotypes.

First things first, the truth is that Canberra is, and always has been, located in Ngunnawal country, and there are a multitude of Ngunnawal stories that explain how the area was created. The city we see today lies on the banks of the man-made Lake Burley Griffin and hosts a number of famous attractions, such as the National Gallery, National Museum and Parliament House. While Melbourne holds Australia’s title as Coffee City, the large percentage of public servants residing in the capital has ensured that Canberra is not lagging far behind. Additionally, recent years have seen a number of craft breweries pop up within the city, offering a number of iconic local brews to sample. And let’s face it, we are outdoors people because it gives us the right to talk about craft beers and plan our days around the next caffeine hit.  

With all the fancy culture, top notch coffee and silky brews aside, Canberra’s jewel is its natural wonder. Only two hours from Australia’s best beaches and two hours from the snow, the city really has a good thing going. But it’s not all about the travelling, as sitting below the city are the pristine Gibraltar and Tidbinbilla Mountain ranges that host a number of breathtaking hikes, all only a short distance from the city centre.  


While summer temperatures can soar in the forties, winter is often a cold affair. That’s why locals have shown true adaptability in crafting their outdoor pursuits, and know exactly how important it is to layer clothing. As an old Outdoor Ed teacher once said to me “These are the mountains; weather changes, you need be able to as well.”   

Canberra may also be Australia’s snake capital, so be careful in the warmer months when tramping through long grass, and always keep a first aid kit nearby.

Most importantly, none of these hikes have baristas on hand. You may want to source your own beans prior to or after the hike at one of Canberra’s many fine cafes.

Adventure One: Square Rock

Perhaps one of Canberra’s most famous paths is the rewarding Square Rock Hike, a 9.5km out and back trail that leads to some of the most breathtaking views on offer in the territory.

The trail begins in a tranquil mountain scene, often flanked by kangaroos taking advantage of the tall grasses that grow in the area. The path then meanders through Alpine and Eucalypt forests, with a large number of native birds visibly darting in and out of sight. Boulderers and climbers will salivate at the sight of the large granite slabs that emerge from the forest floor, although the distance may deter some form lugging a crash mat uphill.    

After over 4.5km of hiking, the trail leads to Square Rock, an amazing group of boulders that loom over the surrounding landscape. The views are breathtaking, with peaks visible across Namadgi National Park and into New South Wales, with snow often ringing the higher peaks.  

Those with a little bit of wild in them will notice the ‘Leap Of Faith’, a 2-3m gap in between two large boulders that leads into a large crevasse. Legends tell of locals leaping across this precipice in order to reach adulthood. In no way should you attempt this leap, even if the Instagram potential is high (like, seriously high - but still, don't do it).

The Square Rock hike begins at the adequately named Square Rock Car Park, Corin Rd, Paddys River, around a 50-minute drive from the city centre.  



Adventure Two: Gibraltar Falls

While being mountainous, Canberra actually has very few waterfalls, which may be a surprise to some, ie a surprise to me.  That’s why, just before reaching Square Rock, it’s worth taking a short walk down to Gibraltar Falls.

The falls are an impressive sight (provided you have not recently visited Victoria or Iguazu Falls), with a 50m drop from the top to the forest floor below, but they also hold a local secret – they double as a swimming hole when water flows increase. In summer, it is not uncommon to see dozens of locals flock to the pristine pools that form above the drop and gaze upon the surrounding beauty of the National Park, enjoying the outdoors in the best way possible.

Gibraltar Falls are accessible from the Gibraltar Falls Car Park (Canberrans don’t mess around when naming things) on Corin Road, with an easy stroll down to the falls from there.  

Adventure Three: Gibraltar Peak

Next to Namadgi National Park lies Canberra’s perfect Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve, and another rewarding hike, Gibraltar Peak. This hike is an 8.2km out and back (with an option for a slightly longer loop) that starts in the Dalsetta Car Park (what surprisingly original name).

Hikers slowly meander up the hillside with an amazing 360 degree view of the surrounding mountains on offer. As a bonus, the peaks are often snow covered in winter time, making it feel more like Austria than Australia (however the mobs of kangaroos soon ruin the illusion with their rhythmic hopping).

As the path creeps through a series of switchbacks, the summit comes into view, with a large granite rock dominating the landscape. Why this was not named the Rock of Gibraltar will be a controversial issue for decades to come. Nevertheless, the sweeping views of the alpine country make this hike a local favourite and Canberra’s number one picnic spot.   

Entry is via the Tidbinbilla Visitors Centre, who charge a reasonable fee for the upkeep of the park. Do it for the wallabies.


Adventure Four: Booroomba Rocks

Deep in Namadgi National Park lies the single best view point of Canberra, Booroomba Rocks, an hour south of the city centre.

After a stunning drive through the mountainside, park at the Booroomba Rocks Car Park (Again, so original). From there, it's a 2km walk up a reasonably steep path to the viewpoints. Here is where Canberra’s true beauty can be admired – a national capital that has seemingly blended into the natural wonder surrounding it. In fact, it takes a trained eye to spot out parts of the town.

The nearby cliffs are also a favourite of climbers, as the sharp granite surfaces make for a challenging ascent. The tops of the cliffs are a favourite for romantic couples, for obvious reasons. It's an amazing place to watch the sun go down, just make sure you have some down handy as the Canberra nights are unforgiving to the uninitiated.        



Further Afield

There is no doubt that Canberra offers more than enough to satisfy the outdoor enthusiast. Climbers, Anglers, Trail Runners and Mountain Bikers will all find paradise within the city limits. However, Canberra does make the perfect base to travel further afield, with the ski resorts only two hours away, and New South Wale’s South Coast beaches just down the highway.

With a city so intertwined with nature, filled with people loving the outdoors, Canberra has made its own profile and is truly coming into its own. This is a truly remarkable city; do yourself a favour and get amongst it. 

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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