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Garie Beach in the Royal National Park
Photograph: CC/Dimitri Koussa

The best national parks to explore near Sydney

It’s so serene surrounded by all this green, just a stone’s throw from the city

By Maxim Boon
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Cities are amazing places, bursting with diverse cultures and extraordinary experiences. But every now and then, it feels good to slow down, escape the urban jungle and get back to nature.

Fortunately, you won’t have to travel very far to find yourself surrounded by verdant greenery and soothing solitude as you explore one of many national parks that can be found on Sydney's fringes. Next time you need a break from the pace of city living, we suggest you take a trip to one of these lush and leafy retreats within 100km of the CBD.

Looking to venture further afield? Take one of the best road trips from Sydney and discover more of the state, or make home wherever you pitch your tent at the best campgrounds near Sydney.

From June 1, travel across NSW for any reason, including for day trips and holidays, is permitted. However, before travelling, it's recommended that you check the National Parks NSW website to make sure essential facilities are open to the public.

Royal National Park

Attractions Parks and gardens Royal National Park

Distance from Sydney: 37km

What list of Sydney’s nearby national parks would be complete without the majestic OG? Less than an hour from the hustle and bustle of Sydney’s CBD, you’ll find a whopping 15,091 hectares of bushland hugging the coast south of the city. Whatever outdoor pursuit you’re in the mood for – swimming, surfing, hiking, biking, bird watching, camping, or just chilling out in nature – you can find your fix here. Serious walkers should set their sights on the 26km coastal trail, which usually takes two days to complete.

The Basin, Ku-Ring-Gai National Park
The Basin, Ku-Ring-Gai National Park
Photograph: Andrew Gregory/Destination NSW

Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park

Attractions Parks and gardens Sydney

Distance from Sydney: 25km

Where the Hawkesbury River meets the sea, overlooking the insular peninsular of the Northern Beaches, some 15,000 hectares of dense forests, hidden coves and sheltered beaches are waiting for you. If you want to keep one eye on civilisation, you can catch the ferry from Mackerel Beach Wharf across the sapphire expanse of Pittwater to Palm Beach, where you'll find bijou cafés and waterfront diners. But not before you’ve had the chance to take in the stunning views at West Head Lookout, perfectly positioned by the mouth of the Hawkesbury with the Barrenjoey Lighthouse in the distance.

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The Three Sisters at sunset
The Three Sisters at sunset
Photograph: Destination NSW

Blue Mountains National Park

Attractions Parks and gardens

Distance from Sydney: 65km

There’s a very good reason why the epic vistas of the Blue Mountains are World Heritage listed. Several in fact. Firstly, it has some of the most breathtaking geological formations, gorges and waterfalls anywhere in the country, many of which are important sacred sites for the Gundungurra and Darug peoples who have called these lands home for thousands of generations. Secondly, it boasts a unique diversity of vegetation, including certain species of eucalypts that are found here and nowhere else in the world. It’s also one of the largest national parks of its type in the country (the top spot goes to Kosciuszko National Park, also in NSW), covering more than a million hectares. It’s almost beyond belief that such world-beating natural beauty can be reached in little more than an hour's drive from central Sydney.

Bradley's Head Sydney Harbour National Park
Bradley's Head Sydney Harbour National Park
Photograph: National Parks NSW/David Finnegan

Sydney Harbour National Park

Attractions Parks and gardens Mosman

Distance from Sydney: 9km

Some people have a yen to roam far and wide, but others prefer to stick closer to home. If you count yourself among the latter, this slice of pristine nature within sight of the city is the national park for you. Most easily accessed from the city via the Taronga Zoo ferry, it's set up with walking trails and coastal paths, making it a perfect day trip destination for anyone who doesn’t want an overly arduous trek. Follow the trail to Bradley’s Head, where you’ll find stunning views of the harbour, the Middle and South Heads as well as the Hornby Lighthouse in the distance at Watson’s Bay, one of Sydney’s most Instagrammed landmarks. There are equally photogenic views of the city skyline from the Bradley’s Head Amphitheatre, so bring your camera and get ready to rake in those double taps. 

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Bouddi National Park
Bouddi National Park
Photograph: Central Coast Tourism

Bouddi National Park

Attractions Parks and gardens

Distance from Sydney: 98km

Hugging the Central Coast near Gosford, this park is a real crowd-pleaser. The 8.5km coastal walk is easily manageable in an afternoon, and if the uninterrupted ocean views on the trail aren’t enough for you, you can always head to Gerrin Point Lookout, a short walk from Putty Beach, where you’ll find unbeatable whale watching conditions during the season. Why not up the adrenaline factor by breaking out the mountain bikes and taking on the 10km Bouddi Ridge course? For those in search of a more challenging trek, there's the Maitland Bay bushwalking trail down to the area’s famous shipwreck. There’s also a wealth of wildlife for animal lovers to encounter, including sea eagles, echidnas and sugar gliders. And if all that sounds rather ambitious for a day trip, no problem: you can pitch a tent at one of the park’s three campsites for a weekend – the Putty Beach grounds even have shower facilities.

Minerva Pool in Dharawal National Park
Minerva Pool in Dharawal National Park
Photograph: Supplied

Dharawal National Park

Attractions Parks and gardens Appin

Distance from Sydney: 74km

The ancient eucalypt and shale forests, dense bushlands and pooling waterways within this protected area south of Helensburgh sit on the ancestral lands of the Dharawal people. There are several sites of cultural and sacred significance within the park, including Indigenous artworks and axe-grinding grooves that date back thousands of years. One of the most enlightening and powerful ways to experience this beautiful park is on one of the official Indigenous-led walking tours, which happen on the second Saturday of the month. Discover the lore and culture that still resonates through the Hawkesbury sandstone to this day, while also learning about the local flora and fauna and how the area is being preserved.

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Marramarra National Park
Marramarra National Park
Photograph: NSW National Parks

Marramarra National Park

Attractions Parks and gardens Sydney

Distance from Sydney: 70km

This sprawling forest is one of the Hawkesbury's best-kept secrets. The landscape here is staggeringly dynamic; sandstone gullies give way to mangrove forests on the shoreline, while tall, ridge-top woodlands blanket the highlands. In the summer months, the conditions are perfect to explore the area by kayak or canoe, although there are also excellent biking routes to explore and even a horse riding trail. In winter, day hikes are the best activity for the season, exploring the Canoelands Ridge track or the Marramarra Ridge to Smugglers Ridge walking trail, but be sure to rug up – the average winter temp is a chilly six degrees.

Learn about NSW's rich cultural heritage

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