The 1000 Steps in Melbourne’s Dandenong Ranges is a haven for nature lovers and fitness junkies alike.
For the uninitiated, it’s a relatively steep, rocky staircase through some of the most spectacular cool temperate rainforest, where Melbournians flock every weekend to get the exercise and nature fix that their city-bound souls yearn for.
After walking about 800 metres from the car park on a gently ascending gravel track visitors find the 1000 Steps, which follow a creek through a lush rainforest gully thick with Tree Ferns and Manna Gum. After a gruelling 290 metre vertical ascent over 1.4 kilometres, you emerge at the dam at the top of the steps where you’ll most likely find a bunch of other visitors huffing and puffing while they stretch and recover from their climb. I’ve even received a round of applause here on occasions where I’ve looked like I really needed it.
Most people return to the car park back down the steps but there are other options if you’re up for adding a little extra distance to your walk (see below for walk variations).
The highlight of the 1000 Steps for me (and especially my kids) is often the wildlife. I’ve seen wallabies and echidnas, even in the busier areas in between the car park and the base of the steps. The impressive range of birdlife is even more common and, in the case of lyrebirds, more special. What’s great is that, despite how many visitors the Steps see these days, the lyrebird numbers actually seem to be increasing. Keep an eye (and an ear) out for them foraging in the undergrowth beside the track.
The other (more official) name for the 1000 Steps is the Kokoda Memorial Track and you’ll notice plaques along the way depicting the lives of the soldiers who fought and died on the real Kokoda Track in Papua New Guinea, during World War II.
The steps are said to represent the ‘Golden Staircase’ – the name given by Australian soldiers to the 2000 steps cut by the Australian Army and others into the track between Uberi and Imita Ridge.
You’ll notice that not many people take any notice of these plaques, but I guess that’s because most people visit the steps regularly. Though I’ve visited many times, I still occasionally use the plaques as a good excuse to stop for a breather when I feel like I’m about to pass out.
The 1000 Steps are just as perfect a spot to visit with the kids for a weekend family outing as they are for someone in training for the real Kokoda Trail. Go check this place out next time you get a chance.
Should I visit the 1000 Steps?
Whenever someone asks me this question, I answer YES without hesitation.
However – there’s always a ‘however’ – the time you should choose to visit depends on your reasons for visiting. When I first took on the 1000 Steps back in 2008, it was relatively quiet. On a Saturday afternoon, you’d only come across a handful of other people enjoying the trail. At some point since then, though, a good chunk of Melbourne’s population discovered how beautiful this spot is and what a good workout climbing the steps can be.
These days, at any time on a weekend, public holiday, or any day of the week during school holiday breaks, the steps are crazy busy. If you’re mainly visiting for a good workout in a beautiful bush setting, this probably won’t bother you. Most people keep going back. Even I don’t particularly mind the crowds because I know what I’m in for when I visit during these times.
If you’re the kind of hiker who prefers solitude, this will obviously not be for you, but that’s not to say you should never see this part of the Dandenong Ranges. You just need to pick your times. As with anywhere, early mornings will be quieter and naturally, any time on a weekday that’s outside of school holiday periods will be better, too. Winter, again, will obviously be a quieter time than summer.
Need to know
Map (see “Variations” section below for an explanation of different trail options)
Length: 2.8 km
Time: 1 hr
Grade: Moderate / Grade 4 (according to the Australian Walking Track Grading System).
Style: Return (walk variations below can turn this into a circuit)
Park: Dandenong Ranges National Park.
Cost: Entry to the 1000 Steps and Ferntree Gully Picnic Area is free.
Stroller / Toddler Friendly: Unfortunately not. However, there is a playground at Ferntree Gully Picnic Area.
Enquiries: For all enquiries, please contact Parks Victoria. I don’t have any affiliation with the 1000 Steps or the park they reside in. Phone: 131 963 / Email: email@example.com
Car Access: The Fern Tree Gully Picnic Ground is at the corner of Burwood Highway and Mount Dandenong Tourist Road (on the north-west side of the intersection). Park your vehicle as close to the north end of the car park as you can.
Public Transport Access: Belgrave Line – Get off at Upper Ferntree Gully Station and walk east, following Burwood Highway, to the park entrance (near the intersection of Burwood Highway and Mount Dandenong Tourist Road). Head through the car park and the walk begins near the playground at the end. Total walk to the playground is around a kilometre.
Path Taken: Ferntree Gully Picnic Ground (the trailhead is at the north end of the car park and is well-signed) – 1000 Steps / Kokoda Memorial Track – Ferntree Gully Picnic Ground. See below for details of variations.
Running / Jogging: The second set of steps on Lyrebird track was built in 2012 in order to ease the pressure on the Steps. Runners and joggers are encouraged to use these rather than the Steps, to make them more accessible to tourists and those wanting to pay their respects to the diggers.
Further Info: This walk is closed on days of total fire ban. Make sure you check for updates and closures before you leave home – try the Parks Victoria website or the 1000 Steps Facebook page. At the time of writing, the walk has just reopened after its closure due to COVID-19. As a precaution, the 1000 Steps and Lyrebird Track are both currently one-way only.
1000 Steps Walk Variations
NOTE: All variations are marked on the map.
A) One Tree Hill (add 800m / 12 min return): Continue north beyond the top of the steps to One Tree Hill Picnic Ground (the summit of One Tree Hill). This increases your total ascent to 315m. You also have the advantage of toilets and a drinking tap at the top.
B) Return via Lyrebird Track (add 200m / 3 min return): Lyrebird Track is well-formed but very steep in places. Use it for your return and give the legs and ankles a real workout. Won’t be as slippery as the steps going down, but the forest surrounding the track isn’t as nice as in the gully.
C) Return via 1000 Steps and Ramblers Walk Track (no change to distance/time): Near the bottom of the steps, veer off and cross the creek onto Ramblers Walk to see a different part of the gully on your return.
Are there really a thousand steps?
Don’t believe me? Check out this video…
1000 Steps Address
Cnr Burwood Hwy & Mt Dandenong Tourist Rd
Upper Ferntree Gully,
Parking at the 1000 Steps
In recent years, this has resulted in many people parking on the shoulder of Mount Dandenong Tourist Road, creating a hazard for everyone who uses the road. This is now heavily policed and parking fines are regularly issued here, so make sure you park legally and observe all signs.
I tend to visit early in the morning, which doesn’t see me avoiding the crowds completely, but I do spend less time driving laps and waiting for people to leave.
Can I bring my dog to the 1000 Steps?
What are the 1000 Steps opening hours?
The 1000 Steps, Ferntree Gully Picnic Area and the wider Dandenong Ranges National Park are all closed on days of total fire ban.
1000 Steps Café
It’s located within the Ferntree Gully Picnic Area, not far from the base of the 1000 Steps, making it the perfect place to stop for a coffee and some sustenance after a walk on any of the nearby trails.
The 1000 Steps Café is open Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 9am until 3pm, as well as weekends and public holidays from 8:30am until 4:30pm.
Other walks nearby
Circumnavigate One Tree Hill is a walk that begins from One Tree Hill Picnic Ground, which could be used as an extension to the 1000 Steps.
Ferntree Gully Circuit is a longer walk which includes the 1000 Steps.
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