A fun adventure to enjoy with your dog is going for a bushwalk. Unfortunately though, in NSW most popular bushwalks are off limits to dogs, as they’re located in national parks or other reserves that prohibit dogs. To help you out, I’ve put together this list of dog-friendly bushwalks in NSW that I’ve discovered, many in state forests or other pet-friendly reserves.
Note that you will usually need to keep your dog on-leash – check the local signage to be sure. And while many of these walking tracks are fairly short, your dog will probably walk far further than you on, especially with so many interesting smells to sniff in the bush.
#1 Lake Parramatta Circuit, near Parramatta
Distance: 4.2km loop
An excellent bushwalk to hike with your dog not far from the centre of Sydney is the Lake Parramatta Circuit. Just to the north of the Parramatta CBD is the Lake Parramatta Reserve, a beautiful remnant of bushland in Sydney. There’s a free carpark at the entrance or park in nearby streets on busy days.
There are multiple walking tracks that you can follow at the reserve, with the longest track the full loop walk around Lake Parramatta. The 4.2km loop takes about two hours to complete and passes through pretty eucalypt forest, with regular views of the lake.
It’s possible to complete the circuit in either direction, but if you’re uncertain about completing the full loop, I recommend starting in an anti-clockwise direction. On the eastern side of the lake are two shorter walks that follow the initial route of the loop.
Note that this walk is not advisable during and after heavy rain, with the stepping stones towards the end of the loop may be flooded. Dogs need to be kept on a leash on this walk, plus kept to the established walking trails.
#2 Platypus Track, Bidjigal Reserve, Castle Hill
Distance: 1.7km loop
For more dog-friendly bushwalks in Sydney head to Bidjigal Reserve, on the southern edge of Castle Hill and not far from the M2 Motorway. The moderately-rated Platypus Trail is the most popular track in the reserve and takes under an hour to complete.
The starting point is at the end of Excelsior Avenue – search for “Bidjigal Reserve – Platypus Track” on Google Maps. Take the short fire trail down to the left, where you’ll find a sign and map for the track. The first stretch is along a sealed footpath, but this quickly changes to a wide dirt track that loops around the playing fields above.
The walk starts to get more interesting as you descend down towards the creek, leaving behind the distant noise of traffic for the squawk of cockatoos and the ring of bell birds, before you hear the gurgle of the creek. Underfoot the track becomes rougher and rockier.
The remainder of the track mainly follows alongside the creek at the bottom of the pretty, lush gully. Unfortunately, platypuses no longer live the creek but you might spot water dragons on warm days.
There are signs warning against humans drinking or swimming in the water, but perhaps cautiously let your dog paddle on hot days. When crossing the final stepping stones on the track, smaller dogs might need to be carried (or paddle across).
For a longer dog-friendly hike, combine this loop with the longer 4.7km Burraga Loop that branches off near the creek. Note that dogs need to be kept on a leash.
#3 South Lawson Waterfall Loop, Lawson
Distance: 2.7km loop
On the doorstep of Sydney are the magnificent Blue Mountains, and while it’s generally thought that the region is largely off limits to dogs, due to the extensive national park, there are still some great dog-friendly hikes in the Blue Mountains area.
One of the most popular dog-friendly bushwalks in the Blue Mountains is the South Lawson Waterfall Loop Track. This track features not just one but four waterfalls, and is easily accessible from one of two carparks along Honour Avenue in Lawson.
While fairly short, this track isn’t the easiest, with some steps along the route. Smaller dogs might need to be carried up or down some of the stairs. Additionally, there’s a metal mesh bridge near the southern carpark that some dogs might dislike, although they can detour via the creek below.
Although the waterfalls will definitely be running, it’s best to skip the hike soon after heavy rain, when it becomes quite muddy. As of March 2022 there was also a landslide closing part of the route, but I’ve heard reports this can be easily detoured. During the warmer months, there’s plenty of spots for dogs to have a splash in the creeks and pools.
Dogs should be kept on a leash along this walking track, although it’s common for dogs to be unleashed except when passing other dogs.
#4 Knapsack Viaduct via Lapstone Zig Zag Trail, Knapsack Reserve, Glenbrook
Distance: 2.6km return
Another dog-friendly hike in the Blue Mountains is the Lapstone Zig Zag Trail. This walk is located in the Knapsack Reserve, on the opposite side of Glenbrook from the Blue Mountains National Park.
Knapsack Reserve is significant for containing the historical remains of the Lapstone Zig Zag Railway. This railway was built in 1867 as the original route of the train line up into the Blue Mountains. Within the reserve are the historical sandstone Knapsack Bridge, plus Lennox Bridge, the “oldest surviving stone arch bridge” on mainland Australia.
There are multiple dog-friendly walks that you can follow in the reserve, but one of the more popular options is to follow the Lapstone Zig Zag Trail to the Knapsack Viaduct Bridge, starting at the edge of Knapsack Street in Glenbrook.
The walk is 1.3km each direction along a well-maintained trail. Relatively flat and easy at first, you’ll then start descending down to the bridge along multiple staircases. The views of the bridge towering above you are the highlight of the walk.
You can optionally continue up to Elizabeth Lookout, for views across the city, but this 800m extension involves a lot of climbing! Make sure you keep your dog on a leash.
#5 Box Vale Track, near Mittagong
Distance: 8.8km return
For a longer dog-friendly bushwalk near Sydney, head to the Southern Highlands and the Box Vale Track. The track starts just off Box Vale Road near the Hume Motorway overpass and follows the route of an historic railway line.
Along the way you’ll pass through historic cuttings, along embarkments and most interestingly through an 84m long tunnel. There’s also the option of taking a 1.8km side track to Forty Foot Falls, if you want to further explore.
The main walking track is 4.4km long in each direction, ending at a lookout over Nattai Gorge. Some recent reports mention that walk is rather overgrown in parts, so make sure you wear proper footwear and ideally long pants.
It’s best to pick up a map from the Mittagong Visitors Information Centre or download the fact sheet online and allow about 3 hours for the complete walk. Make sure you keep your dog on a leash.
Note: As of December 2022, the Box Vale Track has been closed, with no forecast reopening date
#6 Arboretum Track, Strickland State Forest, near Gosford
Distance: 2.3km loop
One of the best places to look for dog-friendly bush walks in NSW are state forests, with dogs allowed in all NSW state forests. If you head north of Sydney, there are some great state forests with dog-friendly hikes.
One of the best dog-friendly bush walks not far north of Sydney is the Arboretum Track in the Strickland State Forest. This state forest is near Gosford, about a 75 minute drive north of the centre of Sydney and just off the Pacific Motorway.
There are multiple walking tracks in the state forest, most around 2km long, although it’s possible combine multiple together for a longer hike. The 2.3km long Arboretum Walk is one of the most popular, passing over a swinging bridge and through one of Australia’s oldest arboretums.
Previously, dogs were not required to be leashed, only stay under your control – i.e. they respond to voice commands and remain within your sight. However, the wording has been updated to state dogs should be leashed. In either case, it’s generally expected you put your dog back on their leash when you spot any other dogs.
Note that the short access road into the state forest is unsealed. After heavy rains, I wouldn’t recommend driving the 2.5km road down to the lower carpark and the Arboretum Track in a 2WD. However, you should be fine driving the shorter and flatter 1.5km road to the upper carpark at the Banksia Picnic Area, the starter point for some alternative walks.
#7 The Pines Walking Track, Olney State Forest, near Morisset
Distance: 1.7km loop
Heading further north out of Sydney, the Olney State Forest is about a two hour drive from the city, still close enough for a day trip, or a great outing if you are staying on the Central Coast or in Newcastle with your dog.
This state forest also involves an unsealed access road, which is generally kept in fairly good condition and is fine for 2WD vehicles, but avoid if you don’t like driving on unsealed roads or there has been recent heavy rain.
The Pines Walking Track starts from The Pines Picnic Area (not the nearby Pines Campground). It’s a 1.7km long track that follows Dora Creek, meandering through pockets of moist eucalypt forests and rainforest, plus passing a lovely rock pool. Allow about 45 minutes to complete the short hike with your pup.
Note that the nearby longer Abbotts Falls Walking Track is not fully dog-friendly, as the section of the track along German Point Road crosses into the adjacent Watagans National Park, where pets are not permitted.
#8 Old Bottlebutt Walk, Burrawan State Forest, near Port Macquarie
Distance: 600m loop
Port Macquarie on the Mid North Coast of NSW is home to many areas of beautiful rainforest, but generally dogs are not allowed to visit them, as they are generally contained in national parks, such as the Sea Acres National Park.
For a dog-friendly patch of rainforest near Port Macquarie instead head to the Burrawan State Forest. The state forest is also home to the Old Bottlebutt Tree, the largest Red Bloodwood tree in the Southern Hemisphere, with a girth just above its flared base of more than 16 metres.
To visit the tree, there is a lovely 600m-long walking trail, which also passes through a beautiful section of remnant rainforest. Dogs are welcome to join you on the trail and in the rest of the state forest.
To get to the Old Bottlebutt Walk, drive south along the Pacific Highway and take the Bago Road exit, then drive 3km north. The final 3.5km drive through the state forest is on an unsealed road, but it is well maintained and the tree is clearly signposted. The entire drive from the centre of Port Macquarie takes just over 30 minutes.
#9 Gumgali Track, Orara East State Forest, near Coffs Harbour
Distance: 1.3km return
The hills surrounding Coffs Harbour are also home to some beautiful rainforest, although once again much of it is off-limits to pets due to being located within national parks. However, one excellent spot to visit that is also dog-friendly is the Orara East State Forest.
The Orara East State Forest is home to the stunning Sealy Lookout, with the Forest Sky Pier extending out over the forest and providing views off to the coast. It’s easily accessed by taking the signposted turn-off not far north of the Big Banana, and climbing the step but sealed road through the banana plantations.
Choose between multiple dog-friendly walks within the Orara East State Forest, starting from multiple carparks. One of the best is the Gumgali Track, that departs from a carpark close to Sealy Lookout (or walk the extra section of footpath along the road) and descends to the Korora Lookout.
The walk is 650m long each way, and can be easily completed in 30 minutes. Make sure you keep your dog on a leash.
#10 Cedar Walk, Rocky Creek Dam, near Lismore
Distance: 2.3km loop
Inland from Byron Bay and the Far North Coast of NSW are multiple national parks that make up the Gondwana Rainforests World Heritage Site. While dogs are not allowed in these beautiful and precious national parks, instead head to Rocky Creek Dam, adjacent to Nightcap National Park.
Part of the Rous County Council Rainforest and Water Reserve, dogs are permitted in the reserve, although owners are sternly reminded to keep them on a leash (so this privilege can remain). There are multiple walks available, as well as a pretty grassed picnic area.
One of the longer walks is the Cedar Walk, which passes over the dam wall and spillway, before looping back along the edge of the reserve, through areas of regenerating rainforest. A 2.3km long loop with some stairs, allow about an hour to complete the walk.
Note that dogs aren’t allowed on the longer Scrub Turkey Walk, that enters into the adjacent Nightcap National Park. The dam is a 55-minute drive inland from Byron Bay along some beautiful but bumpy roads.
Keeping Your Dog Safe When Hiking
Before bushwalking with your dog in NSW, there are a number of things that you should keep in mind to keep your dog safe.
Firstly, the coastal region of NSW is home to parasite ticks. This species of tick causes tick paralysis – they can be fatal to dogs. They’re most commonly found between spring and late autumn, but can be found any time of year.
It’s important to use a tick treatment for your dog, ideally year round, plus check your dog for ticks after they’ve been in bushland areas. There are a variety of chews, spot-on treatments and collars available for purchase from pet stores and vets.
Secondly, note that many councils and other authorities in NSW use 1080 baits to control foxes . Keep an eye out for signs advising that baiting is taking place, and avoid the areas during this period. This even occurs in small areas of bushland surrounded by residential areas.
Another risk in the bush in Australia are snakes. It’s best to keep your dog on a short leash and not let them run through long grass. If you spot a snake, slowly move away from it with your dog and don’t be aggressive to it.