Sunday, 23 September 2018

Wonderland Loop (Grampians National Park)

An extremely scenic loop walk in Grampians National Park, the Wonderland Loop takes walkers from Halls Gap itself to the Pinnacle. Following a track along the edge of the mountains, the walk leads to the commanding views from the Pinnacle before exploring the canyons and sandstone formations of the Wonderland area. A superb walk with an outstanding reward for effort ratio

Distance: 9 km (loop)
Gradient: A mix of a steady continuous ascents with some steep ascents and descents 
Quality of Path: Generally clear and well maintained trail with constructed steps and stairs
Quality of Signage: Clear signhead at the start of the walk and arrows and signs at trail junctions. Less well signed if done in a clockwise direction
Experience Required: Bushwalking Experience Recommended
Time: 4-5 Hours
Steps: Many steps in places, particularly leading up to the summit
Best Time to Visit: Autumn-Spring, except on very hot, windy or stormy days
Entry Fee: No 
Getting There: The trail starts at from Halls Gap. From Grampians Rd take School Rd and park near the caravan park. A linking trail runs along Stoney Creek

Having successfully reached the summit of Mt Rosea on Saturday afternoon, Alissa and I woke up early the next day to visit the famous Pinnacle formation in the Central Grampians. A very popular tourist attraction, the Pinnacle can be reached from a number of entry points throughout the Grampians, however being believers that the Long Way's Better, Alissa and I decided to reach the summit via the 9 kilometre long Wonderland Loop.

The Wonderland Loop commences behind the main caravan park in the middle of Halls Gap, with the trailhead located just before the start of the climb.

The suggested direction to the summit is to following the loop in a counter-clockwise direction, however this seemed to me to visit all the exciting parts of the walk first and leave the ending as a somewhat less inspiring constant descent. Wanting to save the better scenery for the descent, Alissa and I started the almost unending stair climb that veered off to the left from the main path.

Having been slightly bored by the enshrouding forest along the ascent of Mt Rosea, Alissa and I were immediately taken by how rugged the scenery along this lesser ascent section was. Seeing stairs lead up rocky lookout points and the surrounding rocky landscape filled us with excitement and anticipation. Mere minutes into the walk, and the Wonderland Loop was already looking to be a rewarding experience.

It should be noted that this is a section of trail that is continuously uphill, with a lot of metal stairs along the 400 metre vertical ascent.

When the views are rewarding, continuous climbs can be a lot less mentally taxing and we found ourselves enjoying the walk a lot more than Mt Rosea.

Given the seemingly endless stairs of the ascent, it was unsurprising to find the area filled with regular benches and rest stops along the way.

The vegetation along the ascent struck the perfect balance of trees and flowering heath with massive walls of sandstone towering overhead.

With the forest not being overly dense, Alissa and I were able to enjoy magnificent views of Halls Gap and Lake Bellfield in the distance.

From the lookout point, one final steep set of stairs took us to a slow ascent westwards before the start of the open, rugged ascent to the Pinnacle.

At this point, the track became a lot wilder and more rugged, appearing similar to the ridge top traverses of Stapylton Amphitheatre and Mt Rosea.

As we passed through a narrow slot, Alissa commented that this was definitely my jam. She was of course entirely correct - I love rugged walking in gorges and canyons just as much as mountains, and what could be better than a canyon on a mountain!?

Pushing through the slots, Alissa and I found ourselves at the cliff top overlooking Halls Gap below. Given that this is a major tourist area, it was good to see that the area hadn't been risk assessed away into an endless wall of railings. To keep it this way, walkers should be sensible about their own safety and not go too close to the edge.

From the cliff tops, it was only a short walk to the summit of the Pinnacle. Fenced off to the lookout point, the Pinnacle is a lot narrower in person that I had anticipated, and in this instance I think the fencing is probably a sensible addition.

From the lookout point, the views are nothing short of commanding. Alissa got out her phone and used the ViewRanger app to identify the nearby mountains, including Mt Rosea pictured above.

The Pinnacle was nothing short of a breathtaking final destination, but things were about to get even more exciting as we made our way back onto the Wonderland Loop and followed it down to Halls Gap. Initially descending an open, sloping landscape, we soon found ourselves walking through a natural sandstone alleyway.

Things got even more exciting as we descended a flight of stairs into a narrow slot.

Being a fan of slot canyons this was really rewarding walking, and Alissa and I were thoroughly enjoying ourselves.

Alissa even gave it her thumbs up as the slot widened as we reached the other side.

Out from the slot, Alissa and I were once again in an open landscape. This alternating between canyons and more open views kept it interesting, and allowed us to enjoy the surrounding mountains and sandstone pagodas.

Continuing along the path, the Wonderland Loop passes by Bridal Veil Falls. I'm unsure about the waterfall's quality at other times of the year, but at the time of our visit in late September, it was a somewhat unimpressive trickle.

From the waterfall, the walking entered a forested section. From here until the end of the Grand Canyon section, the track became extremely busy with regular traffic jams of tourists. This coincided with the phenomenon of 10 o'clock - that tourists don't get out of bed and out exploring until 10 o'clock and are thus there in droves at that time. The reliability of this weird quirk of timing is uncanny, and Alissa and I thus always recommend people to start popular walks early if they want to avoid the massive crowds.

Clearing the forests, Alissa and I were once again in a more open section overlooking the surrounding mountains. The sandstone pagodas looked amazing at this particularly point, giving the impression that we were exploring a temple complex in somewhere like Angkor Wat!

The most incredible and exciting part of the walk was just around the corner however, as Alissa and I began our descent into the Grand Canyon.

Not to be confused with America's famous Grand Canyon or even the Grand Canyon Walk Trail in the Blue Mountains, the Grampians version is nevertheless an impressive and exciting journey between towering walls of sandstone.

Entering the canyon via a series of metal staircases, Alissa and I were in absolute awe of the canyon's size. While we've been to deeper gorges in Kalbarri and Karijini National Parks, the Grand Canyon had nevertheless exceeded our expectations and was as beautiful in its own way.

Following the creek towards Wonderland Car Park, Alissa and I crossed over as we continued on towards Halls Gap. Having walked the track in the opposite direction to the way it is intended by Parks Victoria, Alissa and I found the signage unclear at this point but were reassured by a number of other walks that this was the way to go to get back to Halls Gap.

The track through this section features some well constructed sections that follow boardwalks and steps through the rugged terrain.

The flowing water would be a constant companion from this point on, and it really added another lovely dimension to the walk.

After crossing a bridge over the creek, a side track leads to Splitters Falls. A small but elegant waterfall, it may not be quite as lovely as the iconic McKenzie Falls but was a worthwhile side trip that was only about 100 metres return.

From the side trip junction, the trail heads through the range back towards Halls Gap. This is the same section of the park where the main road into the mountains ascends from Halls Gap, and it was cool to see this same area on foot after having driven through the area many times on this trip and back in 2016.

This area of the creek is known as the Venus Baths, and is very popular with families exploring the area.

As we came to another bridge over the creek, it was amazing to see so many families with young kids out and about exploring the area. Some of the kids were scaling the steep slope on the other side of the creek, and it was incredible to watch how nimble and fearless children can be. The cotton-wooling of children by rounding off the edges to make it 'family friendly' is something I find quite abhorrent, and the way the children were enjoying the rugged terrain both here and at the summit were case in point that children are really suitable for this kind of relatively safe but rugged adventure.

Crossing over the bridge, Alissa and I only had about a kilometre or so before we reached the end of the loop and were back at our car in Halls Gap.

For our first visit to the Grampians in 2016, I had originally planned to do two or three walks, with Stapylton Amphitheatre, Mt Rosea and the Wonderland Loop being my top three walks to complete. Having completed all three walks, I have to say that while Stapylton Amphitheatre remains one of the best and most exhilarating walks I've ever done, I think the Wonderland Loop is almost as good, and features one of the best reward for effort ratios of any walk Alissa and I have done. We loved this walk, and while the destination of the Pinnacle may be the main draw, the journey itself was even better. This has been a year of great circuit walks, and the Wonderland Loop would rank highly as one of the best - right up there with the Warrie and Coomera Circuits in Queensland, the Tarn Shelf Circuit in Tasmania and the Boyagin Rock Walk in Western Australia. 


  1. Hey Don, great to see you guys out and about a bit in Victoria! The Grampians are a really good walking destination aren't they. I'm not sure I'll still be walking by the time the Peaks Trail open though - it seems to be getting further away! You are one up on me by the way, I've been up Rosea twice but have still to get a view from the top!

    1. Hi Kevin, we love the Grampians - there is so much to see/do there. I agree with you regarding how long it is taking for them to finish the GPT. I hope they don't chicken out and then say that what is there is the 'complete' walk! Shame you didn't get the views from Rosea - it is quite stunning up there.