Enjoying a winter hike near Melbourne
Wednesday 31 May, 2023
Some of Victoria’s most beautiful autumn and winter walks are just a short drive from Melbourne.
Despite their proximity to the city, these parks are still wilderness areas and it’s important to be prepared. That’s not just about being ready for bad weather.
It’s also about understanding how challenging a walk is, how long it will take and what your plan is if things go wrong.
Autumn often sees a spate of emergency services rescues from our parks as people get caught out by the early nightfall and changeable weather conditions. Don’t make the same mistake. Before you head off on a hike, take a moment to plan ahead:
Choose your walk carefully
Most of the Parks Victoria-managed parks around Melbourne have visitor guides available on our website.
These include information about walks, including how hard they are, how long they will take and what you might see.
For example, the popular East-West walk circles Flinders Peak in You Yangs Regional Park and is rated Challenging in our Visitor Guide.
That’s because there are sections of clambering over rocks, some sharp climbs, and there isn’t a lot of shade or cover.In the summer, it can get very hot, and exposed to rain and wind in the autumn and winter.
While it’s popular with families and particularly with dog walkers (dogs are allowed on-lead), it isn’t a walk you should take lightly. Make sure you are prepared before you go.
Parks Victoria has more advice about how to choose a walk on our website.
Know where you’re going – and know your capabilities
Another popular walking area west of Melbourne is . Like the You Yangs, it’s only a short drive from the city.
Parts of are a true wilderness, with no mobile phone reception, dense forest and deep gorges. It is beautiful but can also be treacherous.
Over the last two years Parks Victoria and the local SES teams have had to rescue several people from because they got lost or couldn’t get back to the trailhead by nightfall.
It’s important to make sure you know where you are going, to tell someone what your plans are, and judge your fitness levels, your arrival time and how long it’s going to take you.
The Parks Victoria website is the best guide for walk lengths and difficulty – external websites may not be as reliable.
When you're on the trail, look out for emergency markers located along bushwalking tracks. They are designed to pinpoint your exact location during an emergency in public open spaces or a hard to define places. They display three letters and three numbers which gives an exact location of where the markers are.
Cathedral Range State Park is a true wilderness easily accessible from Melbourne. But like all wildernesses it pays to be prepared for a walk there. Credit: Parks Victoria
Pack and be ready
It’s better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it.
You may think you don’t need to bother with a backpack for a short walk near Melbourne, but you should take one.
Pack it with water, snacks, sunscreen, insect repellent and any extra clothes you might need, even if you’re only planning on an hour’s walk or less.
Pack a map and a compass, use GPS location services and take a photo of a map before you set off, or download an offline park map from Avenza.
Take half a litre of water for each hour your walk is expected to take. If it’s a hot day, take more.
And if you’re taking your dog, make sure you bring water and supplies for them too.
A phone battery charger is also a good idea. For a longer walk you might want to take some first aid supplies like plasters and antiseptic.
Have communications equipment that will work where you are going – like a satellite phone if you’re going for extended periods across low coverage areas. Consider if you’ll need radio backup, a Personal Locator Beacon, a copy of any important phone numbers, a phone charger, battery pack or other communications supplies.
Even for a short walk, a good pair of sturdy hiking boots is a must. Trainers are fine for walking on but tracks can and will be rocky, muddy, wet, steep, dusty – sometimes on the same walk! Wear appropriate footwear and clothes for the conditions.
Some popular walks around Melbourne, like the Cathedral Ranges, can be very exposed to the elements, and conditions can and will change very quickly.
Others, like Werribee Gorge, involve steep scrabbly descents and an infamous riverside section where you must hold on to a safety line.
Don’t worry about fashion. Wear comfortable clothes are easy to move in, light and fit for the conditions. Jeans are never a good idea.
Check the forecast before you go and pack appropriate clothes.
Download the VicEmergency app and set up watch zones for the areas you are planning to visit.
Time your walk well
At most parks within an easy two drive of Melbourne, you’ll also avoid the crowds by going early.
When the days get shorter and colder, you consider sunset – you wouldn’t be the first person to get caught out by early nightfall in the autumn.