9 September 2023.
Pigeon House Mountain is one of the best walks in Morton National Park and this comprehensive hiking guide covers everything you need to know to plan your visit.
Rising into a sharp pyramid amidst the wilderness of Morton National Park, Pigeon House Mountain or Didthul is an iconic feature of these landscapes and is visible from almost every direction as you drive along the south coast of NSW.
From the outset, the trail climbs steadily upwards, meandering beneath lush trees and honey-scented banksias, towards the infamous ladders that guide you onto the rocky outcrop that marks the summit.
At the peak, you’ll be rewarded with one of the best views in NSW overlooking the impressive ancient formations of the rugged and remote Budawangs Range which extend as far as the eye can see.
For just an hour of hiking, these views are nothing short of spectacular.
The trail is reasonably straightforward and makes an exceptional half-day hike for anyone visiting the area. Here’s everything you need to know about how to get there, what to expect and where to stay when hiking Pigeon House Mountain.
The Pigeon House Mountain walk is best accessed from the south coast of NSW, turning off the Princes Highway at Milton or Termeil.
From Milton, it’s 29km / 40 minutes to the Pigeon House Mountain track.
Head out of town along Croobyar Road / Woodstock Road, veer right onto Woodburn Road and continue until Morton. Turn right onto the winding Clyde Ridge Road where you’ll trade the bitumen for gravel for the final 13 kilometres of the drive.
Continuing on, turn right on Yadboro Road and right again on Pigeon House Mountain Road for the final stretch that will bring you to the Pigeon House Mountain picnic area.
If you’re arriving from the south, turn from the Princes Highway onto Monkey Mountain Road which eventually becomes Woodburn Road. When you reach Morton, turn left onto Clyde Ridge Road and follow the same route as above.
Though there is a long section of gravel to reach Pigeon House Mountain, the road is in reasonably good condition and is manageable in a 2WD. That said, after a prolonged bout of heavy rain some sections can get rather muddy so drive with care.
With its sharp conical shape peeking out from the surrounding mountains, it should come as no surprise that much of the Pigeon House Mountain track climbs gradually uphill.
Leading out from the far side of the large parking area, the hike is only 2.8 kilometres each way and begins along a narrow dusty trail that switches back and forth as you climb higher through the trees.
Previously, the trail cut straight up the hill, though this has now been blocked off and closed for maintenance to limit the level of erosion and allow the bush a chance to regenerate.
About 1km along, you’ll reach a steep section of sandstone steps that weave amongst a cluster of boulders and bring you to the top of the plateau. During my visit in mid-winter, colourful wildflowers had already begun blossoming beside the trail, peppering the vegetation in lilac, violet and buttercup yellow, making this a lovely part of the walk and a great spot for your first break.
At the top of the stairs, you’ll arrive at a large open rock platform where you’ll get your first glimpse of the vast southern reaches of the Budawangs National Park, encompassing rolling hills and endless forests that extend towards the ocean in the east.
Pushing on, you’ll be offered a brief reprieve from the uphill climb as the trail continues along the flat of the plateau, meandering through forest and tall grasses that hang beside the trail.
After almost a kilometre on the flat, the trail pitches sharply upwards with a series of wide steps that grow increasingly steep as you approach the famous Pigeon House Mountain ladders.
From afar, you would have noticed that Pigeon House Mountain climbs into a stark rocky dome, and the only way to navigate these cliffs is via a series of metal ladders that are bolted to the rock.
While it’s all perfectly safe, if you’re not all that comfortable with heights, this is where the nerves and adrenaline might start to kick in.
The first of the ladders is wide and not all that steep with secure ground all around, but as you go steadily higher, things start to get a little more hairy with an everpresent vertical drop on the outer edge.
While I have no issues walking around on cliffs and narrow pathways, there’s something about ladders with open flooring that I find a little unnerving. Particularly in the wind when the solid ground seems to grow further and further away.
There are about half a dozen ladders that crisscross back and forth between the channel in the rock, but once you’re at the top you’ll be on the home stretch to the summit.
With the ladders behind you, a flat metal boardwalk guides you forward around the eastern rim of the summit offering up stunning views over the distant coastline.
Onwards, the track swings around the north of the rocky outcrop, clambers between a cluster of boulders and up some more stairs where you’ll arrive at the large viewing platform that marks the Pigeon House Mountain summit.
With the entirety of Morton National Park stretching out before you, marked by sheer ochre cliff lines, snaking rock forms and an impressive canyon shaped over thousands of years by the Clyde River, the views from up top are simply spectacular.
One of the region’s most recognisable sights, the hulking mass of The Castle, with its sheer cliffs and flat plateau, rises up from the gorge basin, surrounded by the rugged western escarpment of Morton National Park and the gentle folds of Mount Bushwalker.
As a reward for a fun one-hour hike, it really doesn’t get much better than this.
Spend a while up here enjoying the views before heading back to the ladders which seem to be a much easier feat on the way down.
After a solid uphill climb to reach the summit, you’ll be glad to know the way back is all downhill. Be sure to stop off at the rock platform halfway down to take in the views before continuing down the steps and switchbacks which lead the way back to the car.
One of my favourite things about this area of the south coast is that there are plenty of charming small towns nearby to choose as a base, whether you’re after more of a countryside escape or a beach getaway.
I stayed in lovely little Milton which sits just 40 minutes from the Pigeon House Mountain walk, but if you’re after more of a beach vibe, Mollymook is another great option just 10 minutes further away.
125 Milton | This cosy and simple two-bedroom apartment on the edge of town is a lovely spot and you’ll find a fully-equipped kitchen and spacious lounge area for relaxing with a cup of tea after your hike. Check rates and availability here.
The Rooms Milton | Set in the heart of Milton above the local pub, The Rooms offers a selection of newly renovated and budget-friendly rooms with local Aussie-made touches throughout and a contactless check-in system which means you can arrive anytime. The bigger en suite rooms are definitely the better option over their smaller rooms if you have the choice. Check rates and availability here.
Motel Molly | This boutique hotel located just a stone’s throw from Mollymook Beach offers up beautifully renovated rooms with quirky pops of colour and an outdoor pool and patio area with Mediterranean-style touches throughout. Check rates and availability here.
Bannisters Mollymook | For a luxe stay by the sea after a day in the mountains, Bannisters has two Mollymook properties, one of which is perched on the headland that juts out between Mollymook and Narrawallee, and the other located a short stroll from Mollymook Beach. You’ll find a beautiful selection of rooms alongside ocean views, a spa, infinity pool and restaurant, depending on which location you choose. Check rates and availability for Bannisters by the Sea or Bannisters Pavilion.
Consider the road Condition
A few potholes and gravel sections aside, the road to the Pigeon House Mountain car park is, for the most part, in reasonably good condition and manageable in a 2WD.
But things can change very quickly in the rain.
Having attempted to visit this place two years ago after a year of record rainfall, the road wasn’t in great condition and seemed to deteriorate the further we drove. Eventually, another vehicle coming from the other direction waved us down. They had become stuck further along and had to be towed out.
Now, after a year of very dry conditions, that is no longer the case and the road appears to have been resurfaced with sandier gravel, but you might want to reconsider your plans if you’re visiting in a small car after a prolonged period of heavy rainfall.
Aim for good weather
The view from the summit of Pigeon House Mountain is magnificent and it’d be an awful shame to walk all this way only for it to be obscured by clouds.
Plus, I can imagine both the road and climbing the ladders could become a little more dicey in the rain.
As always, check the forecast before heading out.
Prepare for the Pigeon House Mountain ladders
For some visitors, the ladders will be one of the best parts of the hike. For others, the experience may be a little more unnerving.
Imagine clambering up a series of vertical metal steps bolted to the side of the cliff that zigzag back and forth across a narrow cutout in the rocky plateau that marks the summit. On the one side, you’ve got the sturdy cliff face, and on the other, you’ll look down to see the ladders crisscrossing towards the lower level and rolling into awesome views across the hinterland that extend into the distance.
If you’re confident, you’ll most likely glide steadily higher up each metal platform while taking the time to enjoy the views. If you’re more of a nervous ladder climber, rest assured, the views from the top are well worth it, and you’ll feel far better on the way down.
Try to keep a solid grip on the handrails and direct your focus upwards when climbing, only enjoying the views when you’ve reached the platforms that separate each ladder.
However you feel about the height situation, the Pigeon House Mountain ladders are sure to be an exciting part of the adventure and give you at least a little spike in adrenaline.
Reception is Patchy
It may come as somewhat of a surprise since this place certainly feels like you’re out in the wilderness, but Telstra users will have phone reception for most of the trail, although it’ll still be patchy along some sections or with other providers.
Though the trail is pretty straightforward, it’s a good idea to download a map of the area offline just in case.
Bring warm weather gear
The entire Pigeon House Mountain peak is incredibly exposed if the wind decides to pick up which could mean icy gusts rushing up the ladder shaft or blowing sharply over the viewing platform.
Even on a sunny winter day, temperatures in the forest and across the summit can be particularly chilly so bringing along a windbreaker and warm jacket is always a good idea.
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