Hiking in the Stirling Ranges
Updated: Nov 24, 2020
The Stirling Ranges in Australia's South West are quite possibly the most under appreciated natural asset in the state.
Rising out of the endless rural plains surrounding the range, the mountains and hills command more prominence than their height would otherwise suggest.
What's intriguing to us, is the fact that only a small percentage of the Perth population (much less the rest of the country and world) has visited the Stirling's, usually foregoing the inland experience to visit the much more renowned coastal towns and attractions throughout the south west region.
With a range of hiking options, unique plants found nowhere else in the world, WA's only alpine climate and a number of quality wineries and other attractions within close proximity; by the end of this guide to the Stirling Ranges, we're sure you may at least consider a slight detour when planning your next trip down South.
Distance from Perth: 390km
Highest Peak: Bluff Knoll (1,096m)
Age of Range: Up to 2,100 Million Years
Plant Species: 1,500 (87 Unique)
Climate: Creates it's own weather patterns.
First Recorded Ascent: Toolbrunup, 24 January 1832 by European explorer Robert Dale.
The Stirling ranges are part of a national park of he same name, covering an area of 1,159 km².
It is the only spot in WA to regularly receive snowfall, though very light.
At least 2 groups of indigenous Australians used the Ranges as hunting grounds, thousands of years before European arrival. The Qaaniyan people in the west, and the Koreng people in the east.
You're likely to be making the journey from Perth, though flights to Albany are also an option. Driving from Perth, it's roughly a 4.5 hour drive via the most direct route.
Taking Albany Highway practically the whole way, you'll see a large sign just after the tiny town of Cranbrook, telling you to turn left into the Stirling Ranges.
Alternatively, you can continue further south to the larger town of Mount Barker and then head back north-east to get to the national park. This is also the way to go if you're planning to make a trip to the Porongorups.
There are very, very few shops and service stations in the area, so Mount Barker is the best option if you need any supplies. Once you're in the park itself, the only place you'll be able to buy anything is at the Bluff Knoll Cafe (the food is recommended!)
Cody Hudson (Zuberant Life)
3 Day Stirling Ridge Walk
"Yep, I’m calling it. Having finished the Cape to Cape earlier this year, as well as large swathes of the Bibbulmun, I can say this one tops it. No other hike in Western Australia offers the experience as provided along the Stirling Ridge walk. It had been on the list for a while but to be honest, low expectations had put me off. I’d been up Bluff Knoll and a few other peaks in the area and while providing a pleasant outing, weren’t really worth the long drive from Perth. I’m happy to eat my words on this one."
The hiking options around the Stirling Ranges and the Porongorups are vast. There are options for a multitude of different experience levels and for a variety of conditions. We'll categorise them by Day Walks, Peaks and Multi-Day Trips. At the end, we'll recommend options based on your fitness and experience level.
The Devils Slide can either be done as a standalone venture, or as part of a circuit with Nancey's Peak. If opting for the former, expect 4.7km of moderate gradient action that should should take an hour and a half. The latter is around 6.3km and may take an additonial hour, depending on how long you spend taking in the sights.
The tourist hotspot of the Porongurups, Castle Rock and the granite skywalk is a well-designed walkway that takes in the full view of the range.
This walk really has it all.. ladders, rock scrambling, forest, metal walkways.. it's certainly the most popular hike in the area for a reason.
At 4.4km and with some pretty steep gradients, you'll want to be in reasonable shape for this one, with no conditions that would prevent you from getting up relatively steep rock.
Bluff Knoll (1098m)
Stirling Range Difficulty Rating: 3/5
The highest peak in the Stirling Ranges and undoubtedly the most popular. From the carpark, a paved path runs through to a well maintained trail leading right to the summit. The summit, on a cloud free day (which can be hard to find), presents unencumbered 360 degree views of the surrounding range and vast plains beyond. It's a spectacular sight at sunrise or sunset
(SUNRISE OR SUNSET BLUFF KNOLL PHOTO)
It's a 6km round trip from carpark to summit and generally takes 2-4 hours, depending on your level of fitness and how many stops you take along the way.
The terrain is generally mild, with a clear trail making up the majority of the climb. There are aspects that traverse rock however, and appropriate footwear is recommended. We'll lay out a gear list for you later in the article.
Suitable for most people of average fitness.
Mt Toolbrunup (1,052m)
Stirling Range Difficulty Rating: 4/5
The second highest peak in the range, though almost certainly the hardest climb. Unlinke Bluff Knoll, Toolburnup doesn't have a curated path to the top, with hikers relying on small signs to point them in the right direction.
Starting in relatively thick forest, the trail passes through a scree field, then a boulder-field, requiring hikers to boulder hop their way across. Towards the summit, a scramble is required to get over some fairly steep sections.
The climb is well rewarded, with a spectacular view from the top, particularly back down into the valley you've just hiked through. Be prepared for a rather windy encounter at the summit though...
Though you certainly don't need to be a world class athlete to tackle this one, it may be a challenge if you have knee or ankle problems or any issues with rock scrambling.
Mt Trio (856m)
Stirling Range Difficulty Rating: 2.5/5
One of the shorter peaks in the park, Mt Trio is a great introductory hike to get the legs warmed up for one of the bigger challenges. Don't be fooled though, it can certainly give you a case of the jelly legs if you're not particularly accustomed to hiking uphill.
Beginning with a relatively steep trail straight out of the carpark until levelling off, with a casual stroll to the summit once on the plateau. The hike is 3.5km return and will take you anywhere from just over an hour, to 3 hours, depending on your level of fitness.
Mt Magog (856m)
Stirling Range Difficulty Rating: 3/5
The longest hike in the Stirling Ranges and perhaps the least often climbed peak. Mt Magog is a 7km return journey that begins with a casual, flat hike until reaching the base of the climb. The mountain is set back from the main road more than the other peaks and as such, has somewhat of a more 'wilderness' feel to it.
From the beginning of the ascent, the climb can get pretty steep, requiring some legit scrambling and some scree travel.
The views from the summit are unique to the rest of the peaks in the range, due to the more Western location of Magog. You'll be well and truly rewarded for the tough climb.
Mt Hassell (847m)
Stirling Range Difficulty Rating: 2.5/5
Short but sweet. Mount Hassell is a 3km round trip, starting moderately and working up to a rocky scramble at the top.
Along with Mt Trio, this is a great introduction to the Striling Range.
Talyuberlup Walk Trail (784m)
Stirling Range Difficulty Rating: 3.5
The shortest, though perhaps the steepest day hike in the whole range. A 2.6km round trip sees the hiker encounter an array of incredible wildflowers, caves, rocky outcrops and some of the best views in the ranges.
Be warned though, this is a pretty tough hike and will certainly be a test for those with dodgy knees. The scrambles near the summit are a lot of fun and offer a bit of a thrill for those who tackle Talyuberlup Peak.
Image courtesy of reddit
Stirling Ridge Walk
Stirling Range Difficulty Rating: 5/5
The cream of the Stirling Ranges and perhaps the pinnacle of hiking in Western Australia.
The Stirling Ridge walk is a 24km journey that traverses the entire ridgeline from Ellens Peak to Bluff Knoll. It is generally done in 2 or 3 days and offers a wilderness experience not found in any of the other hikes throughout the Stirling Range.
Firstly, it offers the only Alpine Hiking conditions in WA. Meaning it can see occassional snow at points throughout the year, the winds can be legitimately strong and the only flora is low-lying shrub.
The hike itself offers the unique opportunity to sleep in caves, with 2 options large enough to accommodate a small party of hikers. Non-technical rock climbing is also part of the route, lowering your packs via a piece of rope over rocky outcrops. You will almost certainly become slightly lost, particularly if you have not done the route before. There is no marked trail, with rock cairns the only markers that ensure you're on the right path.
It is a phenomenal experience and a great step up once comfortable climbing peaks such as Toolbrunup.
Trip Itinerary Recommendations
There are a multitude of itineraries that are possible down in this region. It will depend entirely on your fitness, experience and the amount of time you have available.
A More Casual Approach
You can't go wrong with a couple of hikes in the Porongurups and a drive through the Stirling Range. Even driving up to the carpark at Bluff Knoll and following the paved path to the start of the trail is well worth the effort. It's an impressive sight looking up at. That will surely give you the itch to get...
Your first experience with 'mountains'
This will greatly depend on your itinerary and how long you have. There's a good bet you're looking at Bluff Knoll, so the best approach would be to work your way up.
Start day 1 with a walk in the Porongurups. Day 2 you can knock off Mt Trio to give you a good taste of what it's like walking up hill for some time. On day 3 you'll be well and truly ready to tackle the highest peak in the range and experience life above 3,000 feet.
Wanting a Challenge
There are 2 suggested approaches if you're wanting a challenge to tackle. The first is the Stirling Ridge Walk. That's challenging enough in and of itself.
Secondly, you could tackle the 5 highest peaks in the national park over 2-3 days. Tying in Mt Trio and Mt Magog on day 1. Mt Hassell and Bluff Knoll on day 2. Then Toolbrunup on day 3 would be sure to test out your resolve and leave you with sore legs for the drive home.
Guided vs Self Supported
In terms of guiding services operating throughout the Stirling Ranges, they are limited. There are several operating on Bluff Knoll, though as far as we know, none that cover the harder hikes such as Toolbrunup or the Striling Ridge Walk.
If anybody has interest in a personalised service in the region, do get in touch. Our partner Cody has a great deal of experience in the area and offers custom adventures in the region.
Where to Stay
The accommodation choices in the park are limited to camping or basic cabin accommodation.
If you're willing to travel a little, options open up, though only slightly!
For a small cabin or caravan, you have only one option: Stirling Range Retreat. You can find campsites, caravans and small chalets to hire for a night or two (discard your previous notion of a chalet..). The facilities are excellent, with cooking options and well maintained showers and toilets. Across the road you can find the Bluff Knoll Cafe for meals and stocking up on supplies.
Camping Options include the aforementioned Stirling Rage Retreat, Mt Trio Bush Camp and Moigup Springs campsite. All have shower and toilet facilities and are generally well maintained.
If you're willing to travel, there are hotel and AirBnB options outside the park- particularly in Mt Barker. There are more options again around the Porongurups.
The majority of the hikes we've outlined, with exception of the Stirling Ridge Walk, are day hikes. Therefore the list below will cater to gear for tackling the individual peaks of the range, with the assumption you'll be camping overnight at one of the local campsites.
Hiking boots or trail shoes (High top boots not necessary)
Long-sleeved shirt (not cotton)
Light fleece top (for those brisk mornings and evenings)
Socks (Both hiking socks and warm socks for overnight)
Light or heavy raincoat (depending on forecast- the ranges can get a decent amount of rain)
Warm jacket (For strolling around after you've finished hiking for the day.)
Thongs/slip-on shoes for camp
Tent (Lightweight 3 seasons tent is perfect.)
Sleeping bag (Again, lighter is better. Ideally down to 0 degrees rated will ensure a comfy sleep. If on the Ridge Walk, -5 rated is best)
Sleeping mat (a blow up sleeping pad will make life much more comfortable)
Backpack (Small day pack for individual climbs. 50-70 litres probably necessary for the ridge walk. Make sure it's well fitted)
Waterproof bag cover
Sunglasses (With UV Protection- polarised are great)
Small first aid/snake bite kit
Toothbrush and paste (& other toiletries)
Lighter and back-up matches
Pot and lid
Swiss Army knife
Thermos (for coffee on the go)
Plenty of water, whatever you intend to do. On the Ridge Walk, you'll want to carry a minimum of 3L per person per day.
Plenty of snacks such as trail mix, energy bars and jerkey.
Time of Year/Conditions
Though the Stirling Ranges can be hiked year round, it is best to avoid the intense summer heat. Hiking uphill is just not enjoyable in the summer sun.
March-October therefore is going to be the prime season. Mid-winter is the ideal time to get down there and experience some snow on Bluff Knoll- generally in June or July.
The Ranges generally contain there own weather patterns so forecasting can be difficult. It pays to be prepared for any conditions whenever you hike.
Need Help Planning Your Own Hike Along the Stirling Ranges?
Get in touch with your experience level, your details and what you're looking for in a Stirling Range Hiking experience. We'll point you in the right direction