8 July 2023.
Lower Portals is one of the best places for a refreshing summer dip in the Scenic Rim, with a short and adventurous hike that guides you through Mount Barney National Park.
Tucked away in a rocky canyon concealed within the forests of Mount Barney National Park, the Lower Portals Hike is one of the area’s best (and most popular) trails.
And with good reason.
From the outset, the dusty ochre trail meanders through the trees, though it’s not long before you’re rock-hopping across rivers, climbing up and down the undulating hills, clambering across boulders and gazing about in awe of the spectacular ravine that awaits at the end.
With a hilly topography, two river crossings and a tight squeeze through a gap in some boulders, this trail is also a wonderfully adventurous option that provides a rare opportunity for a swim between the mountains.
Fed by the waters of Mount Barney Creek which trickle down from the mountain, you’ll arrive at the serene natural swimming pool of the Lower Portals. Steep granite cliffs rise high on either side, long grasses crowd the water’s edge and the cool, gin-clear water is the perfect antidote to the hot and sweaty hike.
Though the walk itself is not far, you’ll be tempted to spend all day out here, seamlessly moving between refreshing swims and sprawling out on a sunny rock. Though there’s not a huge amount of space to spread out waterside, arrive early enough and you might just have the place all to yourself.
For anyone visiting Mount Barney National Park, the Lower Portals Hike is a fantastic option.
You can reach Mount Barney National Park from either Mount Lindsey Highway or the Boonah Rathdowney Road.
Navigate your way onto Upper Logan Road which passes through some beautiful countryside with views of Mount Maroon and Mount Barney as you make your way through the park.
After about 15 minutes, turn onto Seiden Spinner Road where you’ll leave the paved surface behind, followed by Lower Portals Road. After a few sharp bends on the gravel road, you’ll arrive at the large Lower Portals Carpark.
The gravel road is well-maintained and in reasonably good condition so you shouldn’t have any issues, even in a small 2WD.
Peeling out of the car park on a dusty, ochre trail beneath a smattering of eucalypts, the Lower Portals Track begins with a gradual climb almost immediately.
Knocking off one of the trail’s four small hills within just 700m, you’ll soon arrive at the first river crossing of the trail, the aptly named Rocky Creek. Depending on the water level, there’s a good selection of boulders here to guide you across the water without too much difficulty.
With long grass sprouting out between the rocks and lush trees crowding along the water’s edge, it’s a beautiful scene and a nod at what’s still to come further along.
Leaving the creek behind, you’ll pass a signpost that guides you onward between the tall trees.
The track remains flat for a short section before beginning the climb to the highest point along the trail and the three undulating hills that mark the middle section of the walk.
Keeping its signature orange hue, the path here is rocky and rutted with exposed roots snaking out in all directions from the base of the surrounding tree trunks.
While you’ll find dappled shade beneath the open forest canopy, the way is mostly exposed with the sun beating down as you move up and down the landscapes.
After 2.5km you’ll begin the final descent and soon enough will arrive at the lush and beautiful Mount Barney Creek.
While there are some well-placed boulders scattered across the river here to help guide you across, I personally found it far more difficult relying on these to make my way over.
After spending far too much time hovering about in the middle of the river with legs split between two rocks trying to calculate my next jump without falling into the water in a pile of flailing limbs, I eventually decided it would be far easier to just take off my boots and wade right the way across.
Though wider than the previous creek, it’s not too deep, the current is light and the rocks on the riverbed are easy enough to navigate through the translucent water.
With another successful river crossing out of the way, take a moment to look around before continuing along – the section of river here is really quite lovely.
Across the river, veer immediately left and scuttle over the smooth rock face before returning to the sandy trail. Turning right will lead you to the Lower Portals campground.
The final section of the trail clings to the edge of the river and remains flat until you reach a steep rock face and small pebbled beach that opens up into a large pool with some small cascades gushing over the rocks.
Surrounded by lush greenery, this tranquil setting may be all too inviting for a well-earned dip, but don’t make the mistake of thinking this is the end of the trail.
Take a closer look at the sheer rock platform that appears to block your way and you’ll find a small cave with an opening at the top that you’ll need to squeeze through.
While it looks like a tight space, there are well-placed footholes and hand grips to help you and with a bit of manoeuvring, it’s not too difficult to shimmy through.
That said, I’d suggest removing your backpack and anything on your head, like a hat or sunglasses, before attempting the climb. Either push them through the gap in front of you and rest them on the boulder or let someone else in your group pass them through afterwards.
If you’re not keen on squeezing through the gap, it’s also possible to cross the river, scramble upstream over the boulders and then rock-hop or wade back across the river once you’ve reached the canyon of the Lower Portals.
Keep in mind though that the river is fast flowing here with a number of cascades so be extra careful if you do take this option.
As you emerge through rocks, with a few extra scrapes and bruises if you’re anything like me, the scene opens up to reveal the stunning gorge of the Lower Portals concealed between the mountains.
Beneath a sunny autumn sky, every pebble on the riverbed is illuminated through the translucent water as you move into the ravine, the charcoal and ochre-streaked walls soar overhead and the treetops reach towards the cerulean sky.
Culminating in a small cascade at the far end, this remote oasis is a marvellous place for a refreshing mountain swim and makes a beautiful place for a picnic beside the water.
Arrive early and you may be lucky enough to have the entire place to yourself, but if you’re visiting on a busy summer weekend, don’t expect the serenity of this wonderfully peaceful spot to last long.
After whiling away a few hours riverside, head back the way you came.
It’s a little more awkward trying to shimmy backwards through the gap in the rocks but there are footholds to help you down. Again, it’s best to leave your kit resting up top and then pull it through after you.
Since I was already wet from the swim, I waded straight back across the river before drying off properly and putting my boots back on at the other side rather than attempting the rock hop again.
Once across, it’s straight back up the dusty hill to the high point of the track and through the hilly section before pitching downwards to reach the next river crossing and the final push back to the car park.
Lower Portals Camping | To stay within a stone’s throw of the beautiful Lower Portals, consider camping at the nearby remote campground. Facilities are basic and you’ll need to hike in with all your camping gear, but for anyone seeking more time in nature, this spot is pretty great.
Mount Barney Lodge | This sprawling eco-retreat is just 15 minutes from the Lower Portals Carpark and is perfect for exploring both Mount Maroon and Mount Barney. Accommodation options include camping, deluxe camper trailers, private cabins and a large, luxurious homestead. The Lodge also offers guided hikes and group expeditions. Check rates and availability here.
Barney Creek Cottages | Perched on the edge of Mount Barney National Park, this selection of charming self-catering cabins set beside a vineyard is a lovely choice in the area. Check rates and availability here.
Boonah Valley Motel | With all closer accommodations booked up over the Easter weekend, I opted for this lovely motel in Boonah which offers up spacious rooms that open up onto a large field where wallabies come to drink at the small dam. With a beautifully peaceful setting, this motel makes an excellent base for exploring the Scenic Rim and lies 50 minutes from the Lower Portals Carpark. Check rates and availability here.
Boonah Motel | Located at the main roundabout as you leave Boonah, this affordable and friendly motel is a great budget option with a pool and outdoor terrace on site. Check rates and availability here.
The Lower Portals will be beautiful at any time of year, but I’d really recommend visiting when it’ll actually be warm enough to swim.
Late spring and early autumn are the best times to visit when average daytime temperatures reach upwards of 25°C and rainfall is lower than in summer.
Summer is often very hot, but this also tends to be the busiest period and afternoon storms can put a damper on the experience so be sure to arrive early if you can and check the forecast before heading out.
Daytime temperatures in winter remain mild, averaging around 20°C but drop down to low single digits overnight so expect the water to be particularly frosty if you’re planning on taking a winter dip.
Want more time in the area? There’s a remote campground just a few hundred metres from the Lower Portals.
You’ll need to walk in with your camping gear and be fully self-sufficient (there are no toilets, barbecues or drinking water provided) but you’ll get to wake up in a beautiful spot right by the river and enjoy the portals with no one else around.
Check the national park website for bookings and availability here.
Unsurprisingly, this stunning spot isn’t exactly a secret and is particularly popular on summer weekends and school holidays when families camp overnight at the nearby campground or bring their kids for an all-day adventure by the water.
If you plan to arrive early enough or visit outside these peak times, you might just get the place all to yourself before the midday hikers arrive.
I visited mid-week during the April school holidays and there was just one person leaving the Lower Portals when I arrived around 10 am. They had wandered over from the campground for a morning swim and soon headed off.
When I was hiking back however I passed several large groups making their way in for the afternoon.
Although sun protection is crucial whenever you’re hiking in Australia, the Lower Portals hike offers very little in the way of shade for almost the entire route so be sure you come equipped with a hat, long-sleeved shirt, sunglasses and sunscreen to reapply after your swim.
Speaking of which, swimming between the canyon walls is an absolute treat so bring everything you’ll need for a day by the water, including a towel and swimmers.
Plenty of snacks, drinking water and a picnic lunch are also a good idea so you can while away the afternoon waterside.
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