12 March 2023.
In this detailed guide to Gloucester Tops, a beautiful pocket of Barrington Tops National Park, you’ll discover the best Gloucester Tops walks, where to stay and some helpful tips for your visit.
An oasis of ancient rainforests and lush ferns, cascades surrounded by spongey moss and sprawling eucalypt forests that play host to abundant wildlife, Gloucester Tops was my favourite area of the Barrington Tops National Park and it might just be yours as well.
Home to some spectacular hiking trails, epic mountain vistas and a meandering river that is simply perfect for a summer dip, Gloucester Tops is a fantastic place to base yourself for a weekend escape in nature.
Alongside the millennia-old trees found in this remnant corner of the World-heritage listed Gondwana Rainforests of Australia, this is also a rare spot in New South Wales where it’s possible to see platypus frolicking in the river come dusk and hear the curious calls of lyrebirds going about their courting rituals in the midst of the jungle.
This comprehensive guide covers everything you need to know to plan your visit including the best hikes, how to get there, where to stay and helpful tips for your visit.
Located 3.5 hours (260km) north of Sydney, Gloucester is the gateway to Barrington Tops National Park and you’ll likely pass through this quaint country town at some point on your visit to Gloucester Tops.
From Sydney, take the M1 until Twelve Mile Creek (190km) and turn onto The Bucketts Way, a beautiful country road that winds through dense forest and farmlands for the final hour into Gloucester.
You’ll find the national parks office in town and I’d recommend stopping off here to collect a map and confirm which trails and roads are open during your visit as closures are relatively frequent.
To reach Gloucester Tops, backtrack 7.5km down The Bucketts Way and turn onto Gloucester Tops Road which weaves between vivid green paddocks and undulating hills. If you arrive early in the morning, you might be lucky enough to catch the valley draped in a thick mist that burns off as the blistering sun rises over the mountains.
The road is paved as far as Berrico and is unsealed for the rest of the way through the national park, but the road is in very good condition and easily manageable with a 2WD.
Continuing on, there are six causeways to cross, but again, all are perfectly manageable in a small car, unless the area has experienced considerable rainfall.
Each causeway has a gauge showing the water level and if the river is fast flowing and creeping up towards the 30cm mark, consider turning back and taking the flood detour instead. I visited the morning after a wild storm and a huge amount of rainfall and the gauge was still barely at 10cm.
If you do decide to take the flood detour, head straight on at the intersection of Gloucester Tops Road and Rawdon Vale Road – there’s a large yellow sign here so you can’t miss it. After 2km, turn left onto the detour (the road is labelled as Gloucester Tops Dry Road on Google Maps) and continue until you rejoin the main Gloucester Tops Road at Invergordon.
From Gloucester to Gloucester River Camping Area, it’s about an hour’s drive (38 km), with a further 30 minutes (18 km) to reach Gloucester Tops.
This final section winds steadily uphill (about 1,000m gain in elevation) along a narrow road until you reach the plateau. It’s a stunning drive, flanked by towering eucalypts and enormous tree ferns for much of the way, but there are also some beautiful stretches where the bushland clears and you realise you’re shuttling along a narrow ridgeline with a sheer mountain face rising up on either side of you.
You’ll find five walking trails at Gloucester Tops which can each be completed as short, standalone circuit walks. But for those after something slightly more challenging, these tracks can easily be combined to create two longer hiking circuits that take in the wild beauty of Gloucester Tops and the rich riparian scenes of Gloucester River.
Gloucester Tops Circuit
Trailhead | Gloucester Falls parking area
Distance | 7.6 km
Duration | 3 hours
The stunning Gloucester Tops Circuit is comprised of the Gloucester Falls Track, Antarctic Beech Forest Track and River Track.
Though these short trails are individually beautiful, completing the full circuit also includes some lovely connecting trails that guide you through mossy forests and open woodland areas. If you’re a keen hiker with time for just one walk in the area, it’s a no-brainer to make it the Gloucester Tops Circuit.
Technically you can begin from any of the upper parking areas, but Gloucester Falls is the largest and most established making it an ideal starting point. There’s plenty of parking, a couple of picnic tables and a toilet. I also chose to hike the circuit in an anti-clockwise direction in order to end on the River Walk, the easiest of the three trails, but you could certainly hike in reverse if you’d prefer.
Gloucester Falls Track
The Gloucester Falls Track starts along a wide gravel path at the far end of the parking area and guides you into an open, sunny stretch of eucalypt forest.
After just 250m, turn left at the intersection and then turn right after another 200m where you’ll begin walking parallel to the Gloucester River.
As you approach the river, lush vegetation engulfs the trail with large ferns lining the path and tall trees decorated in lichen and moss leaning overhead.
The trail arrives right alongside the river before veering away slightly and it is here that you’ll find a tiny path that leads down towards the water on the right. Rather than at the Gloucester Falls Lookout, it is here that you’ll find the best view of the river and cascades before you climb back up the final section to the official viewing platform.
Though still pretty, the Gloucester Falls Lookout only gives a small glimpse of the cascades from afar with the path of the river almost completely enshrouded in trees.
From here, the trail pitches steeply uphill for 400m through a beautiful leafy stretch of forest that leads you to Andrew Laurie Lookout.
The view from up here is sublime, overlooking the southern ranges of Barrington Tops and the endless layers of forested mountains that extend towards the horizon.
While Gloucester Tops is full of gorgeous forest scenes, this is the only panoramic mountain view on offer, and it doesn’t disappoint.
Continue along the trail for 200m and turn right at the intersection to reach the next stage of the Gloucester Tops Circuit Walk.
This mostly flat 1.2 km stretch links up with the Antarctic Beech Forest Track via a leafy forest glen that is brimming with enormous ferns and trees decorated with spongey, iridescent green moss.
It’s simply beautiful and a nod at things to come as you make your way closer to the rainforest.
If you’re only completing the Gloucester Falls Walk, continue straight along the flat trail for the final 600m back to the parking area.
Antarctic Beech Forest Track
When you reach the intersection for Antarctic Beech Forest Track, the sign will direct you left, but personally, I think it makes far more sense to go right and head directly down to the magical mossy cascade.
Beginning through an open section of forest and grassland, the trail descends steeply downhill almost immediately and disappears into a sea of verdant ferns. A staircase guides you down through the dewy foliage until you reach what was my favourite place in Gloucester Tops.
Reaching the bottom of the stairs and rounding the bend, you’ll find a fallen tree and a set of stepping stones laid out before you. As you make your way across the small stream, two cascades gush alongside the path amidst the mossy rocks, shimmering green ferns and tiny tufts of foliage.
It’s like something plucked straight off the pages of a fairytale and without a doubt one of the prettiest little pockets of the Gloucester Tops Circuit.
Once across the river, the trail climbs up sharply and then evens out, continuing on through mossy trees and ferns before rejoining the river further upstream.
If the water levels are low, you’ll find a few well-placed stones to help you across, but if there’s been plenty of rain, you may need to get your feet a little wet.
About 300m beyond the river, you’ll see the optional detour for the short circuit and the long circuit.
In all honesty, the short loop pales in comparison to the full long circuit and I’d really recommend doing the latter if you can.
While the short walk does still have some pretty sections, it’s much drier and there are plenty of remnants of fallen trees, with chopped logs and wayward trunks piled up alongside the trail which heavily detracts from that jungle feel that you’ll be rewarded with for much of the long circuit.
The final section of the Antarctic Beech Forest Track returns to the flat, grassy plateau where we began. Turn right at the intersection to reach the main road where you’ll cross over to begin the River Track.
The flattest of the three Gloucester Tops Circuit trails, the River Track meanders through open gum trees and dense clusters of bracken, and across boardwalks that guide you above hidden streams as you make your way across the wetland.
Compared to the verdant jungle of the earlier walks, the landscape here is completely different with no steep hills to contend with and bright, open forests to explore. In spring, this place also bursts to life with a colourful display of wildflowers.
After 1.7km, the track emerges at Gloucester Tops Road where you’ll need to turn right and continue for 150m to the large parking area at the bottom of the hill.
Be sure to wander down to the river here. It’s a beautiful spot here with a large, reasonably deep pool shrouded in lush greenery. While the water flows at a decent pace, it would be a beautiful spot for a swim.
The trail picks up again in the far left corner of the parking area and climbs high above the river, offering up some pretty glimpses of the water as it meanders through the trees below.
The way only gets more beautiful as you move further along with some lovely fern tunnels, shady groves and mossy trees.
After 850m, you’ll reach the intersection with the Gloucester Falls Track where you’ll need to turn left to return to the car park and complete the Gloucester Tops Circuit Walk.
Trailhead | Gloucester River Campground
Distance | 2.5 km
Duration | 1 hour
While the upper reaches of Gloucester Tops are certainly among the most beautiful parts of Barrington Tops National Park, the lower sections of this mountain plateau also have some delightful trails to explore.
They’re also easier and more accessible for those not keen to take their car up the steep gravel road that leads you to the top of the mountain, as well as keeping very much to the rainforest and river’s edge, making them a great option when the sun is beating down and you’re after some shady respite.
The trailhead for the Gloucester River Track lies 600m south of the main Gloucester River camping area. Either walk along Gloucester Tops Road or take the gravel road and forest trail through the secondary campground. Alternately, if you’re driving in for the walk, you’ll also find a parking area right at the trailhead.
Throwing you straight into the action, the Gloucester River Track starts by leading you directly through the river.
It’s about 6 metres of wading through steadily flowing water that comes up to just above knee height at the deepest point. Slowly navigating through the rocks and pebbles, it’s easy enough to cross, though if you’re visiting after heavy rainfall, this may present more of a challenge.
If you’d rather avoid the crossing altogether, you could also begin the trail at the opposite end and walk to the river and back again rather than completing the walk as a circuit.
Once across the water, you’re plunged straight into the rainforest.
Climbing gradually higher above the river, ferns crowd the path before giving way to paperbarks and gum trees. You’ll pass over a couple of tiny steep streams, but none were flowing during my visit despite a nightly downpour.
Be sure to keep an ear out for the many lyrebirds that frequent this beautiful stretch of riparian vegetation. I was lucky enough to spot three around the river, one of which was showing off its courting dance to a prospective mate.
For the final few hundred metres the trail hovers above the river, with some tight bends in the water that makes for a pretty scene between the trees, before rejoining the road.
It’s 300m along the road back to the campground and, along the way, you’ll pass a beautiful little corner by the river, with a tiny pebble beach and a wide, slightly deeper section of water which makes a wonderful spot for a swim and a picnic lunch. I came back here to relax and while most of the afternoon.
Trailhead | Gloucester River Campground
Distance | 3 km
Duration | 1 hour
Beginning just 100m north of the Gloucester River Campground, this trail immediately disappears into verdant rainforest, weaving back and forth across Sharpes Creek as you venture further inland.
Unlike Gloucester River though, the creek here is reasonably small and there is always a trail of stepping stones to help you across.
Following the creek bed, the trail is reasonably flat and easy the entire way. That is, until you reach the ridiculously steep hill that guides you back up to Gloucester Tops Road.
Honestly, aside from making the track a circuit, this final section doesn’t really add anything to the walk, so rather than battling your way up the hill, I’d instead suggest walking the 1.2km into the forest until you reach a small sign and then turning back and returning the way you came which makes for a much more pleasant walking experience.
If you’re set on trekking the 700m up the hill, the initial stretch is relatively overgrown and rarely walked which means you’ll be swatting away spider webs and bracken that lies across the path.
As you climb higher the trail only gets steeper until the last few hundred metres where it opens up slightly for the final push to the road.
After the cool shade of the rainforest, there’s little protection up here on the edge of the escarpment and the sun can be relentless.
Back on the road, you’ll be amongst an alley of towering eucalypts and, on a moody day, this was one of my favourite sections of road to drive with mist clinging to the treetops making it wonderfully atmospheric.
From here it’s all downhill for the final 2km back to the campground, or you can divert straight onto the Gloucester River Track at the bottom of the hill to make a longer 5.5 km circuit.
If you’re visiting in summer when the area is particularly damp and muddy, be prepared for plenty of leeches along Sharpes Creek. This place is full of them!
There are no brick-and-mortar accommodation options within Barrington Tops National Park, it’s camping only, but if canvas walls are not your thing, you’ll find a handful of charming cottages just outside the national park or a few simple motels in Gloucester.
If you’re staying in town, keep in mind that this will add about a 2-hour drive each day travelling to and from the hiking trails.
Camping in Gloucester Tops
All campgrounds within Barrington Tops are operated by the national park office and tend to be rather basic, while the privately owned campgrounds scattered around the park tend to have slightly better amenities.
Gloucester River Campground | The most beautiful camping spot within the national park, Gloucester River Campground is spacious and grassy, surrounded by trees and located right alongside the river. Facilities are basic but you’ll have access to barbecues, picnic tables and a drop toilet. There is no access to drinking water so be sure to bring enough for your trip. Rubbish bins are also not provided so you’ll need to pack out everything you bring in. Bookings are essential.
Gloucester Tops Riverside Caravan Park | As the name suggests, this sprawling caravan park is set right beside the river at the national park boundary at Invergordon. Unlike within the national park campgrounds, you’ll find proper toilets and hot showers here.
Gloucester Holiday Park | Located alongside the Gloucester River in the heart of town, this holiday park has an enormous grassy area for campers and caravans as well as small basic cabins on offer. Though the facilities are a little dated, prices are very reasonable.
Other Gloucester Tops Accommodation
Roseleigh Cottage | Nestled along the edge of the national park, this lovingly restored cottage offers self-contained accommodation with oodles of old-world charm in a gorgeous natural setting.
Bucketts Way Motel | Set in the heart of Gloucester, Buckets Way Motel makes a decent budget option with some great amenities including a pool and restaurant. Check rates and availability here.
Barrington Hideaway | Located a short drive north of town, this collection of secluded riverside cottages offer up a perfect escape to nature. Each cottage is self-contained and includes a fully equipped kitchen and cosy lounge area, as well as a balcony overlooking the river. Keep an eye out for the resident platypus who frequents this section of water. Check rates and availability here.
Limited Phone Reception
Phone reception is virtually non-existent in much of the Gloucester Tops area so be sure to plan ahead by checking the weather ahead of time, downloading a map offline (I recommend Maps.Me for hiking trails) and any entertainment you may need for the 3-hour return drive in and out of the park, especially if you’ll be staying overnight.
If you get desperate, Telstra customers can usually find reliable signal at the Andrew Laurie Lookout.
Gloucester Tops Weather
As always in the mountains, the weather can change quickly and unexpectedly up here.
Summer is usually hot during the day with temperates in the mid to low 20°s and a cool change overnight. After particularly hot days, afternoon storms are also reasonably common and can arrive quickly and ferociously over the escarpment.
By comparison, winter can be rather chilly up here with snowfall being fairly common across the mountain and temperatures hovering around the single digits and down to zero.
Once you leave Berrico, the rest of Gloucester Tops Road is unsealed gravel road, but thankfully the entire way is in reasonably good condition and perfectly manageable with a 2WD.
There are some short sections that are scattered with potholes or a few raised rocks but, even in a small car, if you drive carefully, you shouldn’t have any issues with accessing the area.
Overall I found it to be well-maintained, particularly compared to the Barrington Tops Forest Road.
Personally, leeches make me cringe far more and, given NSW has had the wettest couple of years on record, these little suckers are thriving. Though I thankfully didn’t see any up along the Gloucester Tops Circuit, the river area was a different story with a couple popping up in the muddier corners of the campground and many more along Sharpes Creek Track.
Wearing a solid pair of hiking boots will help slow them down, using a potent insect repellent on boots and skin will keep them away and salt or a solid flick will do the trick to get them off.
Watch out for Little Critters
So, this is probably the last thing any keen visitor wants to hear, but this area is wild and remote which means you should certainly expect to see a few creepy crawlies during your visit to Gloucester Tops, particularly in summer.
Snakes are certainly a common sight out here in the bush but are far more afraid of you than you may be of them and will always try to get out of your way. If you do see a snake, stand still or back away slowly, keep your distance and allow it time to move on. It’s also a good idea to warn any fellow hikers that it’s nearby, and you’ll find they’ll likely give you the same courtesy so you can keep an eye out.
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