The Nine Best Free Camping Spots Near Sydney
Think weekend getaways have to cost an arm and a leg? At these campsites, all you need is enough money for snacks, wine and petrol to get you there (and back).
March 24, 2022
Desperate to get out of the big smoke and into nature, but still waiting on that next paycheque to hit? Here's your solution: free camping.
Sydney is pretty much surrounded by stunning campgrounds that don't cost a cent. All you need is a tent, supplies and enough petrol to get to your destination (and back — a minor detail worth remembering).
Whether you want to sleep on the banks of New South Wales's most pristine river, wake up to panoramas of heritage-listed wilderness, rest within cooee of a good coffee or stay around the corner from an old-fashioned country pub, it's possible.
CATHEDRAL FERNS RESERVE, MOUNT WILSON
This pretty campground is on the outskirts of Mount Wilson, a village just north of Mount Tomah in the Blue Mountains. Run by the local council, the site is an expansive, flat grassy area, dotted with beautiful eucalypts and deciduous trees. Just ten minutes' walk away is the Cathedral of Ferns, 22 acres of rainforest, canopied by towering trees and filled with mossy stones and ferns. If you can, visit at night, keeping an eye out for fireflies. Facilities are limited to bins, toilets, fire pits and newly installed barbecue facilities. Cathedral Reserve is about two hours northwest of the city, with a stopover in Bilpin a definitely possibility on your way up or back.
INGAR CAMPGROUND, WENTWORTH FALLS
If you're craving mountain time, but don't want to jostle with crowds at tourist attractions, then experience another side of the Blueys at Ingar Campground. This gorgeous little spot is just a hop, skip and jump away from Wentworth Falls, home to one of the state's best scenic mountain walks. In warmer months, take a dip in the nearby dam or carry your kayak with you and make it a paddle. while relaxing at your campsite, keep an eye out for sugar gliders, possums and bandicoots, who are all common in these parts. Ingar Campground is 90 minutes west of Sydney in the Blue Mountains National Park. Among the facilities are toilets, barbies and picnic tables.
THE PINES, OLNEY STATE FOREST
Sleep among pine trees at this roomy campground in Olney State Forest, which you'll find just west of Lake Macquarie. The site is an excellent springboard for exploring the Watagan Mountains. Alternatively, for a stroll that doesn't involve any driving, head along the Pines Walking Trail, which passes through rainforest, before reaching a rockpool, or the Abbotts Falls Walking Trail, which carries you into blue gum forests. The Pines is about two-and-a-half hours north of Sydney. Toilets, fireplaces and picnic tables make up the facilities.
BENDEELA, KANGAROO VALLEY
This picturesque spot is on the banks of Kangaroo River in the lovely Kangaroo Valley. If you're keen to get active, then embark on paddling escapade, try your hand at fishing or take a swim. Alternatively, jump in your car and explore the local area, stopping by these foodie spots, conquering a few bush walks in Morton National Park and swinging by Fitzroy Falls. Bendeela is about two-and-a-half hours southwest of Sydney. Facilities include drinking water and toilets, and Kangaroo Valley village is about a ten-minute drive away.
COLO MEROO CAMPGROUND, WOLLEMI NATIONAL PARK
Colo River is one of the most picturesque waterways in the state and this magical campground puts you just 100 metres from the water. Spend your days swimming, looking out for platypuses and losing yourself in the dizzying sandstone cliffs that tower above, or venture over to the Bob Turner Walking Track close by. Come nighttime, prepare for millions of stars. It's a good idea to arrive prepared: the only way to get here is on foot, along a 2.5-kilometre trail, and you'll need to carry all your food and water. Also, if rain's been falling, be sure to check flood warnings. Colo Meroo is in Wollemi National Park, about 90 minutes northwest of the city. Facilities consist of toilets and barbies.
Colo Meroo campground is currently closed from March 1 to April 4, 2022 due to heavy rain and flooding.
WHEENY CREEK CAMPGROUND, WOLLEMI NATIONAL PARK
You could easily spend a week doing, well, very little, at this relaxed, idyllic spot, which inhabits a tranquil gully along Wheeny Creek. There's a sandy beach, a swimming hole, crowds of lush ferns and tall gumtrees, which provide plenty of shade. The picnic spots on site offer a perfect place to set up dinner for the night before getting some shut-eye in and building the energy the explore the lush surrounds of Wollemi National Park's southern end. Wheeney Creek is about 80 minutes northeast of Sydney. As far as facilities go, there are toilets and barbies only, but Kurrajong village is a short drive away, so there's no need to panic should you forget the wine.
Wheeny Creek campground is currently closed from March 1 to April 4, 2022 due to heavy rain and flooding.
WOLLOMBI TAVERN, HUNTER VALLEY
If your ideal camping adventure involves less wilderness and more beer, then this is where you want to be. Wollombi Tavern, a friendly, old-fashioned pub at the gateway of the Hunter Valley, lets you pitch your tent on its lawn for free. Given the money you'll save, you'll have a few bucks to spare for Dr Jurd's Jungle Juice, an alcoholic beverage created by legendary local Mel Jurd and unavailable anywhere else. The camping area is on the banks of Wollombi Brook and there are toilets, but no showers. Wollombi Tavern is about two hours north of Sydney.
PERRYS LOOKDOWN, BLUE MOUNTAINS
Head deep into the Blue Mountains and you'll be waking up to magnificent vistas of heritage-listed wilderness, without paying so much as a penny at this idyllic campground. Perrys Lookdown looks directly onto the sandstone cliffs, heath-covered plateaus and ancient Blue Gum Forest of Grose Valley. It's the perfect spot to sleep over before or after conquering the Perrys Lookdown to Gum Forest Walking Track, a steep, adventurous, four-kilometre trail that takes you towards the valley floor, where you'll find Acacia Flat, another free campground. Perrys Lookdown lies two hours and 15 minutes west of Sydney. Facilities are limited to toilets.
Perrys lookdown campground is currently closed due to dangerous trees.
GENTLEMANS HALT, HAWKESBURY RIVER
This one's for fit campers, as it's a ten-kilometre walk in — and you'll have to carry all your supplies. The good news is you can count on big rewards for your efforts — the campground perches right on the banks of the Hawkesbury River and, given its remoteness, you might well find that your only fellow creatures are lyrebirds, bandicoots, wedge-tailed eagles and sea eagles. If you've ever wondered what Sydney's wild places were like before European invasion, this is about as close as you'll get. Gentlemans Halt lies at the end of Canoelands Ridge Walking Track in Marramarra National Park, about 90 minutes northwest of Sydney CBD. If all this hiking hasn't worn you out, you can also head around to the other side of the river where you'll find kayak hire. At the campsite, toilets, picnic tables and barbecues comprise the facilities.
Top image: Olney State Forrest, Destination NSW
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