Sydney, New South Wales’ coastal capital, is fringed with national parks. These lush, leafy retreats combine bushland, verdant creeks and waterfalls with cliffside hikes leading to panoramic vistas of the Pacific Ocean. Culture Trip asks their local insiders for a breakdown of the must-sees that pack the most visual wow factor.
Whether you have a few days or just one, the Royal National Park will curb your appetite for adventure. It has 16,000ha (39,537 acres) of rugged bushland (rich with eucalyptus trees), views of the Hacking River and coastal cliff walks. Serious hikers can put their skills to test on the main coastal trail, which takes roughly two days to cover. Keep an eye out for lyrebirds, kookaburras and echidnas – the only mammal besides the platypus that lays eggs. Recommended by local insider Angharad Jones
There’s a definitive calming (and ancient) feel in the Dharawal National Park, on the ancestral land of the indigenous Dharawal people between the Illawarra Range and the Georges River. Its ecosystem is a unique combination of eucalyptus trees, red Hawkesbury sandstone ledges, gushing waterfalls and shale forests. There are also several sites of cultural significance, including indigenous drawings that date back thousands of years. In and out of the trees you might spot koala bears, wallabies, potoroos and wallaroos – yes, the last two are real marsupials. Recommended by local insider Angharad Jones
Located in the Macarthur and Southern Highlands regions, Nattai National Park offers spectacular views and access to the Nattai River, which is popular for fishing, fly fishing and canoeing. The national park also provides the perfect opportunity for first-time visitors to see Australia’s native animals in their natural habitat. Wallabies, wallaroos, emus and dingos live among the verdant valleys, overlooked by craggy sandstone cliffs. Recommended by local insider Angharad Jones
Lane Cove National Park is the perfect day trip from Sydney, which is just 20 minutes away by car, and a family favourite due to the clearly marked walking trails, calm boat trips along the Lane Cove River and numerous picnicking spots. Hiking trails take you through the wilderness and to the Fairyland Pleasure Grounds that are just as pretty as they sound, thanks to panoramic river views. The Heritage Walk boasts many historic sites, so if one day isn’t enough to pack everything in, visitors can book overnight stays at the campsite or rent out holiday cabins. Recommended by local insider Susanna Smith
Technically, you don’t even have to step outside Sydney for this one. Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park is utterly unique, as it combines sandy strips of white-sand beaches, lush rainforest, rugged bushland and part of the Hawkesbury River. The site also maintains its Aboriginal artwork (red ochre paintings and rock engravings), and if you do run out of water, the park boasts several kiosks, cafés and well-equipped marinas. The park’s only campsite, the Basin, gives campers access to a secluded beach and further inland, a private lagoon. Not too shabby. Recommended by local insider Susanna Smith
Heathcote National Park is every bushwalker’s paradise, as every other hiking trail is dotted with hidden freshwater pools. The landscape itself is the epitome of rugged, unspoilt bushland, though the downside of that is there are limited facilities. Hikers should bring water, food and any other essentials that can fit in their backpack. If staying overnight in the bush is something that appeals to you, there are two main campsites in the park, where you can pitch tents and swim in the pools at your leisure. Recommended by local insider Susanna Smith