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Macedon Ranges Gardens
Photograph: Chloe Smith Photography Macedon Ranges Gardens

Nine secret walking spots around Melbourne

Take the road less travelled and explore these parks and bushlands in and around Melbourne this summer

By Time Out in association with Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning
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Staying CovidSafe this summer doesn’t mean you need to avoid going outside. We might be following physical distancing rules, but there are plenty of natural beauty spots where you can still take a walk, soak up some sun and fresh air and get to see stunning scenery – and possibly even a few furry and feathered friends. Strap on your hiking shoes and go find these nine less explored gardens, parks and forests of Melbourne and surrounds. Got kids? Several have playgrounds attached. 

Toolangi State Forest, Vic
Toolangi State Forest, Vic
Photograph: Supplied/DELWP

1. Toolangi State Forest

Toolangi State Forest in the Yarra Valley, about 60km northeast of Melbourne, offers a host of forest walks that can take you away from the crowds you’re likely to find in parks closer to the city. The four-hour Tanglefoot Loop traverses fern gullies and a forest of towering Mountain Ash gum trees, some of which are more than 200 years old. The Myrtle Gully Circuit is a 9km forest track that takes about three hours to complete and loops around lush forest filled with boardwalks, creek crossings, ferns, Mountain Ash and other greenery. Time poor? The Kalatha Giant Tree Walk is a 30-minute stroll that takes you to an enormous 65m tall and 14m wide tree that is over 400 years old. The wheelchair-friendly Wirrawilla Walk, meanwhile, is a flat, 500m boardwalk track through cool temperate rainforest at the headwaters of Sylvia Creek. Listen out for the Superb Lyrebird.

Open: 24 hours (except during extreme fire danger)
Where: Healesville-Kinglake Rd, Healesville 3777

Macedon Ranges Gardens
Macedon Ranges Gardens
Photograph: Choe Smith Photography

2. Mount Macedon

Macedon Regional Park, about 70km northwest of Melbourne, is a great hiking destination for energetic mountain climbers, with about 30km of walking tracks to suit all abilities. You can stroll through the gardens from the summit car park to the incredible views at the Memorial Cross, or try more challenging walks to the nearby Camel’s Hump Lookout and trails such as the Macedon Ranges Walk. Macedon Regional Park is home to over 400 species of native plants and 200 species of birds.

Open: 24 hours (except during extreme fire danger)
Where: Memorial Cross, Mount Macedon 3441

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Buckley Falls, Barwon River, Geelong
Buckley Falls, Barwon River, Geelong
Photograph: Supplied/DELWP

3. Barwon River

The Yarra River is a traditional summer playground for Melburnians but Geelong has a river too – the Barwon – that is a terrific spot for sightseeing, river sports, cycling, walking and fishing. Take the one-hour drive down the Princes Freeway and discover the diverse landscapes of the Barwon River Trail. The trail includes a waterfall, water bird sanctuary, parks and a golf course. Follow the river south and you’ll hit the vast Lake Connewarre Wildlife Reserve and the Barwon River estuary where the river meets Bass Strait between Barwon Heads and Ocean Grove.

Open: 24 hours
Where: Geelong 3220

Plenty Gorge Parklands
Plenty Gorge Parklands
Photograph: Supplied/DELWP

4. Plenty Gorge Parklands

Unusually dramatic geology makes these parklands, just 20km north of the centre of Melbourne, quite the drawcard, along with picnic settings, cultural heritage, flora and fauna. Middle Gorge features impressive views of the gorge and river from the viewing platform and walking tracks. The park extends 11km along the Plenty River and traverses the gorge, river, woodlands, pasture and wetlands. Come here for hiking, bird watching, fishing at Blue Lake, and to spot kangaroos and echidnas. 

Open: 24 hours
Where: Plenty Rd, Plenty 3090

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Royal Botanic Gardens Cranbourne
Royal Botanic Gardens Cranbourne
Photograph: David Mitchener

5. Royal Botanic Gardens Cranbourne

Things to do Cranbourne

The Royal Botanic Gardens have an equally cool sister in Melbourne's southeast. The Cranbourne division of the Royal Botanic Gardens specialise in native Australian flora and span over 350 hectares. The gardens are free to visit and home to over 170,000 plants, including those residing in the rugged Australian Garden, as well as a number of endangered Australian animals. There’s also a water-saving garden, a future garden with alternatives to traditional gardening, and a kids’ backyard where plant materials have been recycled into a play area. 

Open: Daily 9am-5pm
Where: Cnr Ballarto Rd & Botanic Dr (off South Gippsland Hwy), Cranbourne 3977

Organ Pipes National Park
Organ Pipes National Park
Photograph: Parks Victoria

6. Organ Pipes National Park

Attractions Parks and gardens Melbourne

The beautiful Organ Pipes National Park can be found just off the Calder Freeway, about 20 kilometres north of Melbourne. The 121-hectare park is named after its star attraction: 2.5 million-year-old basalt columns that look strikingly like organ pipes. The valley walls of Jacksons Creek are actually Pleistocene volcanic rocks that fractured during cooling into these vertical columns. While you're there, we'd suggest taking the short three-kilometre circuit walk around the park. Starting at the visitor centre, you can follow the trail that passes along the main features of the park, including Keilor Plains, the Tessellated Pavement and the Organ Pipes themselves.

Open: 24 hours
Where: Organ Pipes Rd, Keilor North 3036

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Brimbank Park Playscape
Brimbank Park Playscape
Photograph: Supplied/DELWP

7. Brimbank Park

South of Tullamarine Airport in Keilor East you’ll find a sprawling park on the banks of the Maribyrnong River. Brimbank Park’s loop trails are teeming with birdlife and have extensive paths for walking and cycling. There’s also Brimbank Park Playscape, an accessible adventure playground featuring swings suitable for children with physical disabilities, Braille and Auslan signage, and an accessible sand pit and water fountain. The playscape’s design showcases the Indigenous and European history of the land on which it’s located.

Open: Daily 8.30am-5.30pm (8.30am-7pm during daylight saving)
Where: Keilor Park Dr, Keilor East 3033

A family on a bridge at Westerfolds Park
A family on a bridge at Westerfolds Park
Photograph: Supplied/DELWP

8. Westerfolds Park

There are over 6km of sealed walking and cycling trails throughout Westerfolds Park, a place of wide open spaces and shady river red gums along the Yarra River in the northeast of Melbourne. Part of the Yarra Valley Parklands, the park has many great picnic spots and an adventure playground for the littlies. You can bring your canoe and launch it for a paddle, or admire the old 1936 Manor House that sits in the centre of the park on top of the hill.

Open: Daily 6am-6pm (6am-9pm during daylight saving)
Where: Fitzsimons Ln, Templestowe 3106

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Churchill National Park
Churchill National Park
Photograph: Supplied/DELWP

9. Churchill National Park

A national park since 1941 (and named in honour of Britain’s wartime leader in 1944), Churchill National Park near Dandenong in Melbourne’s southeast is crisscrossed with peaceful walking tracks through original forest and regrowth woodland. There are granite outcrops, lookouts and the Lysterfield Lake, home to more than 170 bird species. Points of interest include aqueducts, a disused quarry, remnants of a tramway, and a flagpole marking a WWII military base created in case of Japanese invasion. 

Open: 24 hours
Where: Churchill Park Dr, Lysterfield South 3156

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