13 July 2022.
While you’d be forgiven for thinking that a trip to Kosciuszko National Park was all about hiking the nation’s tallest peaks and the rugged high alpine ridgelines that stretch between them, the spectacular Illawong Walk from Guthega and onwards to Charlotte Pass certainly proves that there’s plenty of beauty to be found at the lower altitudes as well.
Following the twists and turns of the majestic Snowy River, this newly established hiking trail meanders through a wide valley, between meadows of alpine heath and wildflowers and dense forests of snow gums and mountain ash.
Along with some spectacular scenery, this trail also offers up not one but two suspension bridges, one of the oldest mountain huts in the national park, a handful of cascades and plenty of sparkling river views as you make your way through the valley.
While the first section of the hike, the Illawong Walk, provides a short and easy option for visitors in search of a manageable day hike in the Snowy Mountains, the entire route from Guthega to Charlotte Pass is simply wonderful and marks the latest stage to open of the Snowies Alpine Walk, a 4-day hiking trail mapped around the Mount Kosciuszko region that is due to be completed in 2023.
If this section is anything to go by, I can’t bloody wait to see the rest of it!
Here’s everything you need to know about hiking the Illawong Walk and onwards for the Guthega to Charlotte Pass trail.
The Illawong Walk beings in Guthega which lies 44km or about an hour’s drive from Jindabyne.
Follow Kosciuszko Road west out of town and turn onto Guthega Road which swings around the mountain and carries you up the valley alongside the Snowy River.
As you arrive in Guthega, take the left fork where Guthega Road turns into Mount Tate Road and continue on for about 400m. Here, you’ll find a small sign for the Illawong Walk directing you to the right and a small parking area near the pump station a short way further along.
During my visit, this area was under construction and wasn’t accessible, but there is a large parking area in front of the Snowy Mountain Backcountry which makes a great alternative.
Only about half the Guthega Road is paved while the rest is unsealed, gravel with some tight corners and no barriers. Though it is reasonably well maintained, there are a few potholes and bumpy stretches so take care, especially if you’re driving in a smaller car.
Distance | 5.2km return
Duration | 2 hours
Difficulty | Relatively easy and flat with just one short, steep hill section to contend with.
The Illawong Walk covers the first third of the Guthega to Charlotte Pass Trail and is a beautiful and easy route that funnels you through the valley alongside the Snowy River.
Heading out of Guthega, the steepest section of the walk is actually right at the beginning where you’ll head sharply downhill towards Blue Cow Creek, across a small metal bridge and then back up the stairs on the other side.
As you emerge around the bend, the valley opens up before you revealing the immense beauty of the Snowies all at once.
From here, the narrow gravel path flattens out considerably, meandering across the vibrant green hillside dressed in alpine heath and low-lying shrubs, with the shimmering thread of the Snowy River snaking into the distance below.
Be sure to glance back occasionally for stunning views of the Guthega Dam before it disappears from view.
The rest of the walk is mostly flat and you’ll soon see the outline of the well-camouflaged Illawong Hut up ahead.
This mountain hut is one of the oldest in Kosciuszko National Park dating back to 1926. Then known as Pounds Creek Hut, it was constructed as part of the first ski tour across the southern region of the Snowy Mountains, however, after falling into disrepair, the small shelter was rebuilt and renamed in the 1950s to become the ski lodge that exists today.
To the right, the silver Illawong Suspension Bridge is another iconic feature of this walk and leads you, in very bumpy fashion, across the Snowy River.
Attached to the rocks at either end of the bridge, this one has plenty of movement as you walk across, especially if the wind has picked up, but the views up the valley and overlooking the river are spectacular.
If you’re only completing the Illawong Walk, this marks the end of the trail. You’ll find several large boulders on either side of the river that are perfect for a picnic stop before you make your way back to Guthega.
While this initial section of the walk is beautiful on its own, if you’re a keen hiker with enough time to spare, completing the entire route to Charlotte Pass is well worth it. Or for something a bit different, you’ll notice a small indistinct trail climbing straight up the hillside on the opposite side of the Snowy River.
This continues steeply for 5km to Mount Twynam and will eventually link up with the Main Range Track which leads to the Mount Kosciuszko Summit or Charlotte Pass. While I wouldn’t recommend adding on this entire hike to the Illawong Walk, you could always tack on a few extra kilometres to enjoy the views from the pass.
Distance | 18km return
Duration | 5 to 6 hours
Difficulty | Mostly flat with numerous boardwalks and a few gentle hills.
Continuing on to Charlotte Pass, you’ll need to return back across the Illawong Suspension Bridge (to the same side as the Illawong Hut) and rejoin the trail that weaves further into the valley.
From here, it’s only about 700m before you’ll arrive at the newest feature of these landscapes, the Spencer’s Creek Bridge which was only recently completed in 2021 and has claimed the title of Australia’s highest suspension bridge at 1,627m.
This bridge is much sturdier than the one at Illawong so be sure to take your time crossing. The views on either side will, once again, have you reaching for your camera.
As you climb higher up the valley, the low shrubs give way to snow gums, their trunks streaked in grey and green, their branches often twisted and contorted in response to the relentless winds that roar up the gully. As well as being synonymous with this beautiful region, they also provide some much-needed respite from the searing Australian sun.
It was here in the shade of the eucalypts, just beyond an unnamed creek, that we found a cluster of boulders and decided it was time to stop for lunch.
About two-thirds of the way to Charlotte Pass, you’ll emerge from the treeline and return to the heath where the stark white zigzag of the Main Range Track will be visible in the distance, climbing steeply towards the Blue Lake on the opposite side of the Snowy River.
Much of this final stretch is made up of metal boardwalk making it reasonably easygoing.
Shortly after you’ve left the tree line, you’ll reach a point where you can clearly see the stepping stones used to cross the confluence of the Snowy River and Club Lake Creek down below.
With a storm brewing on the mountain peaks, an afternoon weather warning in place and a long walk back to Guthega ahead of us, we used this as a sign to turn back. If you’ve already completed the Main Range Track to Blue Lake or the Mount Kosciuszko Summit (we had hiked this just the day before), you’ll be familiar with this section already and may consider doing the same.
If you’re travelling all the way to Charlotte Pass, the rust-red boardwalk marks a clear path through the shrubbery and continues on for about 1km until you find the intersection with the Main Range Track.
Here, turn left and head directly up the hill for about 400m where you’ll reach the main road and the end of the hike.
If you haven’t visited this area yet, or won’t have the chance to return during your trip, be sure to take the Snow Gums Boardwalk to the Charlotte Pass Lookout. It’s only 350m return and the views overlooking the valley are spectacular. There’s also plenty of interesting information provided about the nature of the Snowies along the way.
Take some time to rest and enjoy the scenery before making the return trip to Guthega.
The journey back will be familiar by now, but you’ll be able to enjoy a different perspective on the twists of the river, the many cascades and the mountains unfolding before you.
While the trail remains relatively flat, we had completely forgotten about the steep stairs that await right before you arrive in Guthega, a final push after a stunning day out in the Snowy Mountains.
Take A Map |
While maps of the Illawong Walk are readily available online, the complete route from Guthega to Charlotte Pass is not yet marked on Google Maps or Maps.Me.
While the route is clear and well-signposted and it would be impossible to get lost, a map is always a good idea to help gauge where you are on the trail and in case the weather was to turn. You can view the NPWS map here.
Prepare for all weather |
As always in the mountains, the weather can be unpredictable and change in the blink of an eye. Being sheltered in the valley, you won’t see the storm clouds coming until they’re racing down the side of the mountain towards you. We began this hike with blue skies and sunshine but after a few hours the clouds were closing in quickly and it had begun to pour with rain on the way back.
Even in summer, the temperatures can also fluctuate enormously at this altitude. Be sure to bring a rain jacket, a jumper and a pair of long pants just in case and check the forecast every morning before setting out. The BoM is most reliable.
Beware of the Flies |
If there’s one thing we were warned about before visiting the Snowy Mountains, it’s that the flies can be relentless.
While this thankfully wasn’t much of an issue during our visit, coming prepared with long hiking pants, strong insect repellant and a head net are all a good idea. Sure, these may look completely ridiculous, but when you’ve got flies attacking your eyes and nostrils every second of the hike you’ll be glad you’ve got one and more than happy to look a little silly if it means stopping the onslaught.
Bring enough food and water for the day |
The walk may be flat, but covering 18km in full sun will certainly take it out of you.
There are no facilities along the trail or at Charlotte Pass so be sure to bring a packed lunch and snacks and at least 2L of water to stay hydrated.
Pay the National Park Fee |
The Illawong Walk and Guthega to Charlotte Pass Trail fall within Kosciuszko National Park and so you’ll be required to pay the National Park Entry Fee.
The cost is $17 per vehicle per day, however, if you’re spending a few days in the area, the better option is to purchase the Short Breaks Pass for $68 per vehicle which is valid for 5 days where the fifth day is free. The pass is available from the Snowy Region Visitor’s Centre in Jindabyne or the park entrance gate on Kosciuszko Road.
For those planning to visit this gorgeous part of the state multiple times throughout the year, consider buying the NSW All Parks Pass for $190 per year, not to be confused with the Multi-Parks Pass for which Kosciuszko is the only park not included.
The trail is snowed under in Winter |
The Illawong Walk and Guthega to Charlotte Pass Trail are dressed in snow during the winter months between June and October and therefore not accessible to hikers.
Hike One Way And Leave A Car At Either End |
For those keen to complete the entire walk from Guthega to Charlotte Pass but not so happy about having to walk back the same way, if you’re travelling as a group with multiple cars, there is also the option of leaving one car at either end of the walk (so, one at Guthega and one at Charlotte Pass) and then shuttling between them at the start and finish of the hike.
While this will save you time on your feet, it will mean about an extra hour and a half of driving in between.
Alternatively, there are some local operators that can assist with a transfer from Charlotte Pass back to your car in Guthega, however, these tend to be rather pricey.
Jindabyne makes an ideal base from which to explore Kosciuszko National Park and lies about an hour’s drive from both Guthega and Charlotte Pass. There are several options for camping as well as plenty of homely self-catering apartments for a comfortable stay in the mountains.
As a premier winter destination, you’ll find that much of the accommodation is designed with alpine ski lodge vibes in mind and caters to groups of snow chasers, while many of the more luxurious ski lodges don’t operate during the summer months.
With this in mind, be sure to book well in advance to secure your accommodation in summer as it does fill up quickly.
Camping + Budget |
Island Bend Campground | With a spacious grassy meadow nestled right alongside one of the prettiest sections of the Snowy River, Island Bend has to be one of the best campgrounds in Kosciuszko. Located just off Guthega Road, there are picnic tables, barbecues and toilets on site, while the river would be absolutely perfect for a summer dip. Campsites are free however you do need to book in advance and pay the park entry fee. Check availability here.
Jindabyne Holiday Park | Set right in the heart of town on the banks of Lake Jindabyne, this sprawling holiday park includes everything from campsites to comfortable villas. The spacious waterside campground includes a communal kitchen and toilet area with powered and unpowered sites on offer. The cabins and villas also hold a prime location by the water and include a kitchen, bathroom and aircon. Check rates and availability here.
Discovery Parks Jindabyne | Also set on the shores of Lake Jindabyne, Discovery Parks is located a short way out of town and offers camping amongst a leafy grove as well as basic cabins and a handful of newly renovated deluxe villas complete with fireplace and modern fittings. Check rates and availability here.
Jindy Inn | Located just a short walk from town, this cosy and cheerful guesthouse is well priced and receives excellent reviews. Breakfast is included and many rooms include a balcony with lake views. Check rates and availability here.
Alaska’s Retreat | We stayed at this great apartment right on Lake Jindabyne which meant a refreshing afternoon swim was the first order of business as soon as we returned home from a hike. The space is comfortable and clean, has a fully-equipped kitchen, outdoor barbecue, modern bathroom and several rooms making it perfect for families or large groups. It’s also just minutes from town so you’re away from the bustle of central Jindabyne. Check rates and availability here.
** This post includes affiliate links and any purchases made through these links will earn me a small commission at no extra cost to you. **