The enchanting Blue Mountains are located in New South Wales, Australia, about 50km west of Sydney. The region was inhabited for millennia by the Gundungurra aboriginal people, before Europeans joined them in the 1700s.
The Blue Mountains own their name to the blue haze which is refracted when oily droplets from evaporated eucalyptus leaves mix with dust particles and water vapour in the surrounding air.
Read on for an overview of the physical geography, climate, wildlife, some of the notable mountains, as well as some exciting activities that you can fill your time with in the area.
The range is notorious for its bad weather, although its rugged, wild beauty more than makes up for it. See our guides page to compare it to other ranges in the world.
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The Blue Mountains - Overview
From 2000, thanks to their unique landscape, vegetation and wildlife, the mountains have been listed as an official World Heritage Area by UNESCO.
The mountains have historically been named the Carmarthen hills and the Lansdowne hills by Westerners until the more poetic current name eventually stuck.
The area offers tourists with a multitude of daytime, and multi-day adventures, including hiking, interacting with wildlife, rock-climbing and exploring caves.
See best hikes in Australia, featuring a hike from this region.
Geology and Topography
The Blue Mountains were formed from a plateau of sandstone bedrock, which was harshly eroded to form a succession of ridge lines cut by gorges.
The Blue Mountains Range spans about 96 km off Australia’s Great Dividing Range. It is officially bounded by the Nepean and Hawkesbury rivers to the east, the Wolgan and Colo rivers in the north and the Cox River and Lake Burragorang in the west and south.
The highest point of the Blue Mountains is unnamed and lies at 1189m above sea level.
Previously, the highest point was considered to be the peak of Mount Bindo (at 1362m). However, the section on which this mountain lies has now been excluded from the formal “Blue Mountains”.
The Blue Mountain range comprises several smaller ranges, including the Bell Range, the Explorer Range, the Caley Range, the Erskine Range, Mount Hay Range, Woodford Range and Paterson Range.
Some of the predominant recorded peaks are Mount Paddington (1094m), Mount Boyce (1093m) and Mount York (1061m).
The rainfall in the Blue Mountains is highest in the months of February, March, November and December. The higher regions of the ranges receive more rain than lower mountains (an annual average of 105 cm as opposed to 85 cm respectively).
There is also significantly more mist in the higher sections than in the lower, especially in the rainy months.
During this wet period, it is advised that tourists do not go on mountain treks or other tours. This is because wet weather can heighten the risk of many related accidents.
The temperature on the Blue Mountains varies with elevation and, of course, with season. The Australian summer lasts from December to February and the winter is roughly from June to August.
The average temperature on the Blue Mountains is about 64F (18C) during the summer and about 41F (5C) during winter. However, the lower regions are generally warmer.
If you stay at relatively low elevation, you can avoid much of the coldest weather. The average temperature in the summer here is 84F (29C) and the average winter temperature is 61F (16C).
The temperatures are typically above freezing, but have been known to fall to 27F (-3C) during a clear winter’s night. Snowfall in the Blue Mountains is relatively scarce and occurs typically only in the higher mountains on about 3 days per year.
The area is vulnerable to bush fires and unforgiving storms, which lead to wide-spread loss of property but fairly little loss of life.
Wildlife and Plants
The natural vegetation which dominates the Blue Mountains is eucalyptus forest, particularly in the more elevated regions.
The plateaued tops of the cliffs are populated by heath-like shrubbery, while the deep gorges are largely characterized by temperate rain forests.
The diverse habitat is home to over 400 species of animals, including rare mammals like the spotted-tailed quoll, the koala and the long-nosed potoroo.
Many animals in the area are listed as endangered, or threatened, and some have even recently gone extinct. Other notable inhabitants of the area are the Blue Mountain water skink, the green and golden bell frog as well as dingoes and kangaroos.
In addition to the bountiful mammals, marsupials and reptiles, the area is teeming with vibrant birdlife. In fact, BirdLife International has declared the Blue Mountains area an Important Bird area because of the many rare and native resident species.
The mountains are home to the highest population of rock warbler globally, accompanied by flame robins, diamond fire-tails and common pilot birds.
One of the best areas to spot and even interact with this exotic game is at the Featherdale Wildlife Park where you can approach many of the native species including wombats, kangaroos and koalas.
Notable Blue Mountains And Peaks
Below are five of the tallest, and most famous in the Blue Mountains region. Although, the highest peak remains unnamed.
Mount Piddington is located in the Explorer Range of the Blue Mountains, just south of the village Mount Victoria in New South Wales. It stands at 1,094 m or 3,589 ft tall and forms an imposing part of the surrounding landscape.
The mountain was named after William Richman Piddington, a historical colonial landowner in the area.
More recently, there have been monumental rock-climbing achievements on the mountain. For example, when it was first freed by Mike Law in 1973 and became the hardest climb in Australia.
A loop road from the nearby village provides access to the bush walks, trails to caves and rock-climbing areas.
Mount Boyce is situated in the Explorer Range of the Blue Mountains, 2km north of the town of Blackheath. It forms one of the highest points of the surrounding plateau at 1093m (3586ft) and is just east of a sharp cliff which drops to the Kanimbla Valley.
The feature was named in 1923 after Venerable Archdeacon Francis Bertie Boyce, a well-respected social reformer and clergyman who died in Blackheath.
The mountain provides climbers with a number of crags which allows for sport, mixed and traditional climbing options.
Mount York is also a notable feature of the Explorer range, just outside the village of Mount Victoria. The hill consists of a relatively flat dissected plateau with a minor rise at its 1061m (3481ft) peak.
This mountain provided the view of the Australian “west” for early farmers and its summit is commemorated as such.
There is a trail which loops from Hartley Vale and takes about 5 hours, for those interested in appraising the land from a more revealing perspective.
Mount Banks (1049m) forms part of the Explorer range and is 8km from Mount Tomah, the nearest residential area.
It is easily accessible Bells Line of Road, which leads to a picnic spot and onward to a quick 1km track to its summit and the option of continuing on, following a fire trail. Bushwalking and photography is popular in the area because of the impressive views of the Grose Valley from these trails.
One characteristic that visitors are sure to notice is the diversity of the vegetation as they approach the summit. The hike starts with Triassic sandstone, after which you will encounter a basalt cap and finally a more densely vegetated environment with an overhead canopy and thick grass.
Best Activities in the Blue Mountain Range
The Blue Mountains are well known for a network of hiking trails which are easily accessible by car or by train from Sydney. It is best to go on a weekday as this is a popular destination for tourists and locals alike.
Round Walking Track
Grand Canyon Walk (aka Heritage Walk)
Cliff Top Walking Track
Explore Jenolan Caves
The Jenolan Caves are the most ancient discovered open caves in the world, with a 40km network of subterranean passages and more than 300 entrances.
The limestone walls include marine fossils and beautiful, pure white calcite formations, a privilege to see for any visitor.
As a popular tourist destination and the underground tunnels are lit for an impressive viewing experience.
There are options to tour different combinations of the 11 caves, some more physically demanding than others.
However, this is certainly an experience that is open to people of all fitness levels. The tours are open every day (except the 25th of December) and run from 10am to 5pm.
There are many options for touring companies which give visitors easier access to the vistas of the Blue Mountains than walking does. The tours are also perfect if you do not have the time to research and spend time in the mountain, and only have a day to explore.
Some of the tours include short walking sections in carefully selected regions of the mountains.
There are tour options which provide detailed information on the indigenous flora and fauna for those interested in the ecology of the area.
The tours also function in a variety of ways. For some you can spend as much time as you’d like at the different hop-off spots and for others you are driven briefly to some of the key attractions.
You have the option of joining a full-sized bus tour or a mini-bus tour. We recommend the latter, if you can spare the extra cash, as they can transport you around the area efficiently and less time is spent waiting for fellow tour-group members to embark and disembark at each stop. On average, the tours run for about 9 – 10 hours.
Although each of the tours are different, generally, a combination of the following stops is included.
The best advice we can give to book your tour, is to make sure that you know what your priorities are before doing so – and then book accordingly.
- Echo Point: From where you will have an exquisite view of the Three Sisters
- Blue Mountains Villages: Most tours include visits to either Katoomba or Leura
- Featherdale Wildlife Park: Many of the tours spend up to an hour here. This is a great option for people who want time to interact with Aussie wildlife, like koalas and kangaroos.
- Scenic World: This park offers a range of experiences which optimise the viewing of the surrounding landscape. These include gliding over the forest in cable cars, rambling along gorgeous elevated walkways, or chugging along the steepest railway in the world. While these options all provide a quick and impressive vies of the mountains, they do have long lines especially during the weekends.
If you plan to hike in the Blue Mountains, make sure that you are adequately insured for up to 4,000 m. We recommend World Nomads. Use the calculator below to get a quick quote.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why are the Blue Mountains blue?
The Blue Mountains got their name because from a distance they do indeed look blue. They are covered in dense forests of eucalypts, or gum trees, which produce a fine mist in the hot sun. This mist reflects light and creates a bluish hue around the mountains.
When is the best time to visit the Blue Mountains?
Summer (December to February) and Autumn (March to May) are the best time to visit the Blue Mountains in Australia. Although it may still be a bit rainy in the summer time.
Does it snow on the Blue Mountains?
The Blue Mountains do experience some snowfall in winter. However, there are generally only about 5 snow days on the mountain peaks per year - despite the cold temperatures.