Mount Lofty is barely what anyone would call a mountain, but it’s the highest point of Warrandyte State Park, and I’m making the call that it offers the best views in the area. It’s been a favourite hiking spot of mine for more than 15 years, but it isn’t just the summit I keep coming back for.
Located in Wonga Park, the 5.5-kilometre* Mount Lofty Circuit Walk is the perfect way to explore the area – and look down on it from above – without needing a high level of fitness. Though anyone will enjoy the hike, it’s perfect for a family day out. When my kids were little, I didn’t even get the usual groans when I’d bring them for a walk at Mount Lofty.
* You’ll see various estimations of the distance online, but this is what my GPS measured it as – seems like it could be anywhere between 4.5 and 6 kilometres.
The Mount Lofty Circuit: Instantly interesting
At the northern end of Witton Reserve, you’ll find the trailhead. Sometimes there’s a ‘Mt Lofty’ sign. Sometimes it’s missing or lying on the ground. It depends on the day, I guess. Either way, the track won’t be difficult to find. No, that’s not the ‘instantly interesting’ part. Let me go on…
The trailhead is at the junction of Brushy Creek and the Yarra River – said to be the birthplace of a Wurundjeri elder named William Barak. If you’re a Melbournian, you might have even heard of him as the ‘last chief of the Yarra Yarra tribe. He was also influential in establishing the Coranderrk Aboriginal farming community near Healesville.
Cross the bridge over Brushy Creek, and you’ll officially start exploring Warrandyte State Park. The first thing you might notice is that the vegetation is incredibly well-preserved – a testament to many years of conservation and revegetation efforts by Parks Victoria and local community groups. This tract of remnant bushland was only added to Warrandyte State Park in 1997, so we’re lucky it’s still so dense and rich in biodiversity.
Need to know
Length (km): 5.5 km
Time (hrs/min): 1 hour 30 mins
Grade: Easy / Grade 2 (according to the Australian Walking Track Grading System).
Park: Warrandyte State Park
Closest Town: Wonga Park (4 km)
Maximum Elevation: approx. 122 m
Total Ascent: approx. 62 m
Car Access: The walk begins from the north side of Wittons Reserve (the trail is signed ‘Mt Lofty’), which is at the end of Reserve Road in Wonga Park. Reserve Road is reached via Homestead Road and Jumping Creek Road (east of Warrandyte).
Birdwatchers will be beside themselves at the chance to see more than 120 different species here, including kingfishers, robins, and honeyeaters. They’ll find ducks, cormorants, and waterhens on the trail’s riverside sections.
Continue along the wide gravel walking track, following the Yarra River upstream through gorgeous open eucalypt woodlands, where Manna gums line the riverbanks, and various wattles add colour.
Depending on the time of year, you might be impressed by either orchids and wildflowers or a huge range of fungi in the forest understorey, all begging to be photographed. If you’re like me, you’ll enjoy annoying your hiking mates by stopping at nothing for the perfect shot.
Approaching the halfway mark – the northern end of the circuit – I usually make a lunch stop in one of the riverside clearings. When I used to take the kids, we’d set up for a picnic. It’d be a shame to come all the way here and not pause to properly soak up this place.
It’s when you stop and have these quiet moments that the best wildlife sightings happen. The kids and I have been treated to up-close encounters with a Swamp wallaby on more than one occasion.
Unfortunately, the Short-beaked echidnas, Common wombats, and platypus that also call this part of Warrandyte State Park home are much more shy. Not to mention the nocturnal Sugar gliders, possums, and the threatened Brush-tailed phascogale.
The Mount Lofty Summit: When reward far outweighs challenge
Soon the Red box trees thin out, and you’ll see that the eastern side of the Mount Lofty Circuit brings stark contrast to the forested western side, with the land clearing that began in the early to mid-1800s still very noticeable.
The trail departs the Yarra River and turns south to begin the short, steep(ish) ascent to the summit of Mount Loft. This part of the circuit walk is less ‘bush track’ and more ‘you could land an aeroplane here if it was flat’. On the upside, the increasingly impressive views make it seem like the uphill trudge is over in a few minutes.
At the summit, any hint of burn in the leg muscles is quickly overtaken by the sight of the Yarra Valley and its farms, vineyards and golf course all laid out before you – the perfect excuse to stop for an extended breather.
Mount Lofty’s summit might only be 122 metres above sea level, but you can see all the way to the Dandenong Ranges (and they don’t look that much taller, at least from here). While you’re feasting your eyes on those expansive views, it can be easy to miss the mobs of Eastern grey kangaroos that tend to graze on the hillsides here. No matter how many times I stumble across kangaroos, they’re always captivating.
When you’re ready to head back to the car, descend the southern side of Mount Lofty, making sure to stick right at the first two track junctions to continue back to river level, where you’ll turn left onto the track you started on and retrace your steps to Witton Reserve.
I can’t wait to return to Wonga Park and do the Mount Lofty Circuit again. The kids might take a bit more convincing now that they’re teenagers, but I’ll get them back there one day, too. There’s a lot to love about this spot – an easy, family-friendly walk with unbelievably good views and diverse forests rich with wildlife. Plus, it’ll only take between 45 and 90 minutes by car from Melbourne’s CBD.
I’m pretty sure you’ll love it, too.
Other outdoor adventures near Mount Lofty
Hiking in Warrandyte State Park
If Mount Lofty at Wonga Park has you craving more of what this park offers, you’ll be glad to know that there are plenty of other trails to choose from. Here are some others that have previously been featured on The Bushwalking Blog.
- Warrandyte Gold Heritage Walk – 3 kilometres / 1 hour
- Black Flat – 2 kilometres / 40 minutes
- Pound Bend Circuit – 3.3 kilometres / 1 hour
- Jumping Creek Nature Trail – 2 kilometres / 45 minutes
Disclaimer: Most of the articles in the list above are from The Bushwalking Blog’s very early (very, very early) days, and they now make me cringe hard. You’ve been warned.
Paddling the Yarra River
Speaking from experience, you’re going to want to launch at Lower Homestead Road (but only if you know what you’re doing).
Although you’ll be missing out on the views from Mount Lofty, paddling this section of river which snakes around Mount Lofty’s base is incredibly fun – depending on the water levels, you’ll be taking on rapids ranging from Grade I to III – and you’ll still be treated to a taste of the park’s biodiversity from the water.
I’m not the kind of outdoor adventurer who paddles rapids unsupervised, so I took an awesome guided whitewater kayaking trip that visited this section of the river. It was such an incredible experience that I actually did it twice. I’m unclear whether the tour company I went with still operates, but Viator Travel currently has a couple of options for the same Yarra River kayaking trip.
Have you visited Mount Lofty? Got it on your bucket list? If you have any stories, updates or corrections, please let us know by commenting below.
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