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The Best Urban Hikes in Canberra

Canberra is a great spot for avid hikers to embark on new trails
Canberra is a great spot for avid hikers to embark on new trails | © Arcaid Images / Alamy Stock Photo
More bush capital than concrete jungle, the capital city of Australia has plenty of opportunities for hiking.

As the capital city of Australia, Canberra has more than its fair share of political landmarks and cultural institutions. Many visitors don’t realise, however, that this city is also blessed with beautiful bushland and nature reserves sprinkled around the suburbs, so you never have to travel far to feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere. Many of the most popular trails have been linked to form the Centennial Trail: a 145km (90mi) walk through some of the city’s finest bushland and urban gems. From strolls between museums and galleries to uphill treks surrounded by bushland and native animals, there’s no end to the variety of easily accessible walks to be found.

Kokoda Memorial Trail: Mount Ainslie

The Kokoda Memorial Trail on Mount Ainslie is one of Canberra’s most popular walks. The summit boasts unbeatable views of the city centre and is the best place to appreciate the geometric vision of city planner Walter Burley Griffin, with the Parliamentary Triangle and the Brindabella Mountain Range in the distance. The path is shaded by mature eucalyptus trees that provide shelter for a diverse range of birds and small mammals. Kangaroos and wallabies are often sighted, especially at dawn and dusk, and you may even catch a glimpse of the ash-grey gang-gang cockatoo: Canberra’s official faunal emblem.

The walk begins in Remembrance Park behind the War Memorial, and takes less than two hours to complete. The paved path is almost entirely uphill, and has some long sections of stairs.

The Kokoda Track Memorial Walk takes under two hours to complete | © Philip Game / Alamy Stock Phot

West Basin: Lake Burley Griffin

The central section of Lake Burley Griffin, known as Bridge to Bridge, is extremely popular with runners and cyclists; however the West Basin is perfect for those wanting an extra challenge away from the hordes.

This 13km (8mi) path takes you from the National Library past Lennox Gardens and the Canberra Yacht Club. Circle the golf course or detour through Westbourne Woods, which are especially beautiful in autumn, before taking a peek across the lawns at the Governor General’s residence (closed to the public except for special events). Head across Scrivener Dam and take a breather at the National Arboretum, or the National Zoo and Aquarium. Cross Black Mountain Peninsula and continue around to the National Museum of Australia. The remainder of the walk takes you across Commonwealth Avenue Bridge back to where you started.

Walk the 13km path around Lake Burley Griffin to the Commonwealth Avenue Bridge | © David Wall / Alamy Stock Photo

Mulligans Flat

The woodland sanctuary at Mulligans Flat is a unique ecosystem where wildlife is protected by a fox-proof electric fence. The lack of predators means that scientists have been able to reintroduce species that once thrived in this region, like the Eastern Bettong and Bush-Stone Curlew. There are several short walking routes signposted with information about the landscape and animals; however, those looking for longer rambling walks away from the well-worn circuits can follow any of the abundant management trails. As many of Australia’s more elusive mammals are nocturnal, the sanctuary also offers twilight tours.

As the name suggests, the terrain is flat and easy to navigate, so the difficulty of the hike really comes down to length. Shorter trails will take only 45 minutes, but longer walks can take several hours. The sanctuary is open to the public between 5am and 8pm; book online for twilight tours.

One Tree Hill: Hall Village

The village of Hall is practically part of Canberra’s suburbia, but has maintained its country town charm. One Tree Hill is an easy summit, and the walk takes you through some picturesque rural areas and bushland. There are panoramic views along the route, and the summit is a great place to relax and enjoy the outlook over Canberra’s northern suburbs. The trail is unsealed but well maintained, and mostly a gentle uphill slope, with a short section of stairs just before the summit. Keep an eye out for mountain bikes on the first half of the walk.

Hall Village is a 20-minute drive from the centre of Canberra. The trailhead starts on the corner of Hoskins and Hall Streets. This walk takes around two hours to complete. Hall Village has several cafés, a cellar door for local wineries and a speciality beer, wine and cheese shop.

Mount Majura

Some may consider Mount Majura the less interesting twin of Mount Ainslie, but there is plenty to recommend it. Mount Majura feels a little more remote and wild, with an unsealed path and fewer visitors. The bushland is different, too, with sections of casuarina trees and some open grassland. There’s a lookout just before the summit where you can check out the view over the airport and vineyards on the Northern ACT border. As with most of the pockets of bushland in Canberra, there’s plenty of wildlife to spot; if your timing is right, you may even be as lucky enough to spot an echidna or two.

Visitors can choose between several entry points to the reserve for a direct summit walk, or longer circuit. For the summit, enter via Antill Street (opposite the Watson Woodlands). The Hackett gate on Mackenzie Street is the entry point for a circuit walk.

National Arboretum

There are plenty of walks to take around the National Arboretum, offering everything from a gentle stroll to a steep uphill hike. Measuring 3.3km (2mi) one way, the Mountain View Track is a great opportunity to take in views of the Brindabella ranges and explore the western area of the Arboretum, before dropping into Dairy Farmers Hill Lookout to enjoy one of Canberra’s most scenic spots. On the eastern side of the Arboretum, take the Himalayan Cedars walk for colourful spring and autumn foliage and to snap a photograph with the Wide Brown Land sculpture.

Take a sculpture-spotting hike around the Canberra National Arboretum | © FoxTree gfx / Alamy Stock Photo

The arboretum is located 6km (3.7mi) from the city centre. Begin your visit at the Village Centre, where you can learn about the site, check out the bonsai collection and pick up a map.

Jerrabomberra Wetlands

With wooden hides for birdwatching and lots of wildlife, the looping walks around the wetlands are a great way to connect with nature. In summer, patient birdwatchers might see the elusive Latham’s Snipe: a migratory bird that flies all the way from Japan. The wetland walks take visitors through grassland, swamp and along the Molonglo River floodplain as it joins with the East Basin of Lake Burley Griffin. There are signs posted along the path with information about Indigenous culture, native flora and fauna, and recent settler history.

Start at the Kingston Foreshore dining precinct and make your way over to Dairy Flat Road, where you can visit Capital Brewing Co for a local beer and burger, before choosing a different path back through the wetlands to Kingston.

Black Mountain Summit Walk

Join the runners and walkers on this short and sweet trail, making their way up the paved incline towards the silhouette of Black Mountain Tower. Once you reach the summit, you can enter the iconic tower for uninterrupted views over Lake Burley Griffin and the Parliamentary Triangle. On the way down, the path looks out over North Canberra and Belconnen. Visit in spring to admire native wildflowers.

The trailhead is located behind the CSIRO building, next to a small electricity substation on Frith Road. It can be difficult to find, so it’s worth using GPS. There is a short, uphill dirt section before you meet the paved path. Telstra Tower is open to the public between 9am and 10pm for a small fee.

Canberra has beautiful bushland and nature reserves sprinkled around the suburbs | © Taras Vyshnya / Alamy Stock Photo

Murrumbidgee Discovery Track

This path traces a line down the Murrumbidgee River in Canberra’s south west. At 25km (15.5mi), it is achievable in one day for very fit walkers, but most people split the walk in half to allow plenty of time for swimming in the river along the way.

The first half of this walk begins at the popular picnicking area, Casuarina Sands, and weaves through stands of scribbly gum trees before heading across open grazing land and high above the river, giving a top-down view of the gorge. This section of the walk is the most challenging and requires a high level of fitness. Finish your walk with a dip in Kambah Pool, a wide and deep section of the river.

Follow the 25km hiking trail down the Murrumbidgee River | © Manfred Gottschalk / Alamy Stock Photo

This second half of the Murrumbidgee Discovery Track hike begins at Kambah Pool and continues south along the river, past stunning views of the Red Rocks Gorge. This section of the walk focuses on the history of settlers in the area, featuring sections of a historic dry stone wall which used to mark property boundaries in the 1860s. The walk takes you to Pine Island, which is another great swimming and picnic spot, and the last 4km (2.5mi) to Point Hut Crossing are easy, perfect for a post-lunch stroll.

A car shuffle, or organised lifts will be necessary for this hike. Most of the walk is well signposted with the centennial trail symbol, but close to Pine Island there are some older markers for a Tuggeranong heritage walk that may take you off trail, so make sure to stay close to the river.