7 secret camping spots near Brisbane
For an activity that can be so liberating, camping sure has rules. At least it does in our group.
Even before we pack the tent, there’s a mandatory four-point checklist to meet:
- The camping ground must be within two hours’ drive of Brisbane.
- It must have an open fire pit (“you’re not a camper if there’s no damper”).
- There has to be at least one hiking trail.
- For one of our group at least, we need a flush loo.
With all that in mind, here’s a wrap-up of my all-time favourite camping spots within a two-hour drive from Brisbane.
1. Bigriggen Park, Scenic Rim: 10/10
This place is so pleasing to the eye that we give it the sash, the crown and the Miss Universe award for camping.
Bigriggen lives up to its name. It’s big. I’m talking 100 acres of hilltop and gentle river flats, towering gums and lovely grassy sites in the midst of one big Aussie bush in the Scenic Rim. There’s easy access for 2WD cars, buses and caravans. And, you can now choose between non-powered and powered camping. (There’s always one in the group who needs a few creature comforts!)
If your furry friend isn’t keen to stay at home, you can bring them along too. Bigriggen in a dog-friendly park with reasonable guidelines to make sure everyone enjoys a peaceful getaway.
I always like to judge a place by its amenities and Bigriggen’s toilet block sparkles brighter than Miss Congeniality’s smile. The facilities are impeccable and there are pay-by-the-minute hot showers – a bonus in winter! There are hiking tracks in nearby national parks a short drive away, plenty of birdlife and over school holidays, the dirt roads easily turn into a bush velodrome for kids on bikes.
Oh, and the good folks here also run a little store stocking basic groceries, firewood and that all-important ice-cream for a post-hike sugar hit.
So what’s the downside? The possums! Cute to look at, these food bandits will make off with anything remotely edible.
2. Cedar Creek Camping at Amamoor Creek, Sunshine Coast: 9/10
I thought my camping buddies were bonkers when they suggested we go to Gympie. What? Apart from the billboard claiming this to be “the town that saved Queensland”, there didn’t seem to be much to differentiate Gympie from any other rural Queensland town. Wrong! A couple of kilometres inland from the highway is camping gold (hint!).
Cedar Creek Camping at Amamoor Creek comes a close second on my list. It has massive hoop pines, lovely grassy patches to stake your tent, a small creek that’s good for a summer dip and miles of hiking through a bird-filled forest. Best yet, it costs less than $7 per person per night. My bet is you’ll spend more on the espressos on the drive up than you’ll spend staying the night.
The downside – it gets super busy over school holidays and I ended up sleeping closer to my neighbour than my partner. Also, it only takes a few snorers to sound like the local Mary Valley Rattler is steaming through the grounds. Also, beware of the rustic outdoor shower which comes with one temperature: cold. The monitor lizards love squatting at the doorway to peer in.
P.S. Gympie “saved Queensland” in 1867 when James Nash discovered gold in the bankrupt state: He attracted some 25,000 folks to the region. There’s a neat little Gold Mining Museum on the edge of the town to celebrate the fact.
3. Mount Barney Lodge Camping, Scenic Rim: 8.5/10
Depending on your level of fitness, you have a number options when camping at Mount Barney Lodge, which rests at the base of the second highest peak in Queensland (after Mount Bartle Frere near Cairns).
You can sit back in your camp chair, toast your marshmallows and “ooh-ahh” as the sky changes around the rocky peak. Or, you can plan a trip to Mount Barney summit – it’s a full day hike for experienced adventurers, leaving by 7am and arriving back to camp by sundown. For everything in between, the friendly Lodge owners are eager to share their recommendations for Mount Barney National Park.
We broke a small sweat on the 1.5 hour Lower Portals track and were rewarded with a refreshing dip in a magical swimming hole, complete with a stunning waterfall. Note: you have to squeeze through a crack in the rock to get there, but it’s so worth it.
The downside – it can get a bit squishy at the campsite, so get in early to snag a spot by the creek. Mount Barney Lodge has unpowered, grassy sites, with a capacity of 100 campers at any one time. There’s a focus on Ecotourism here, so there’s plenty of signage for what can be flushed and you’re encouraged to recycle your rubbish. Be prepared to share the grounds with the wallabies at dawn and dusk too.
4. Cylinder Beach, Stradbroke Island: 8/10 (most times)
When we jumped on the 7am car ferry to North Stradbroke Island there was a hint of summer in the air and the skies were October blue. By 9am our tents were pitched and we were sitting beachside with a skinny latte in hand watching the perfect surf waves lap onto arcs of fine white sand.
Perfect. But only for a few hours. By midday, my smartphone was beeping like an electrocardiograph machine warning us that the mother of all storms was about to unleash 27,000 bolts of lightning on Brisbane. Yikes. All we had were a few steel poles and a thin nylon tent cover.
How did we get through it? With an even mix of valour, red wine and a quick decamp to the neighbouring Straddie Pub to watch nature’s most fearsome light show from the protection of its wide verandah.
On any given weekend, Cylinder Beach would score a ten for camping. The facilities are great, boasting flush toilets and hot showers (you pay for them), and there are heaps of activities on the island, from a super cool headland gorge walk to great beach fishing. On the downside, the car ferry to the island, at $140+, is a bit expensive. So best to stay a few days to get a return on your camping investment.
5. Charlie Moreland, Sunshine Coast hinterland: 7.5/10
It’s worth coming here for two reasons: the beautiful uphill hike to Mt Allan fire tower for 360-degree views out over the Conondale ranges, and the charming town of Kenilworth which sports a cheese factory with award-winning creamy stuff made from the local dairy herd and a secondhand shop full of bargain treasures.
By other camping standards, Charlie Moreland is a little rustic. There are no showers (the creek is a popular bathing spot at dusk) and you have to bring your own drinking water. Perhaps because of this, the grounds are always spacious – even over long weekends. Just to be sure, tick off this full camping checklist before you go.
Being on the edge of Conondale National Park, this spot teems with birdlife. The climb to Mt Allan is a rewarding 8.8 km round trip and there are a couple of other mid-range walks to Booloumba Falls and an old gold mine.
6. Peach Trees Camping, Jimna State Forest: 7/10
What would Richard do? That was our mantra when the heavens opened and camping plans were kyboshed in favour of a BBQ on the back deck. Under the safety of a solid iron roof, our admiration for Richard Branson, the ultimate adventurer and a man who lives life to the max, grew. The more burgers we ate, the more we knew that if Richard was one of our gang, we would be out there facing the elements.
So the next day, we repacked the car and headed two hours north-west to Jimna State Forest to resurrect our Easter long weekend.
Peach Trees Camping is lovely. It’s got the requisite mob of kangaroos at dusk, shared fire rings and some super pleasant short hikes, including one that has a neat little suspension bridge over the creek. Beware, there are no shower facilities and the water at Yabba Creek was a bit stagnant for a swim. (We stank: Richard would have been proud).
Also, the toilets, while pristine, looked like they’ve come straight out of Prison Break and the stainless steel seat-less rim makes the job quick and snappy.
Still, being a state forest, it costs next to nothing and the site is very pretty. Recently, the whole area has been given an upgrade and is looking spiffy with new trees and shrubs, new water tanks have been installed and there are more taps to campsites. There’s also a brand new wheelchair-accessible day-use area (word of warning: it can get busy!).
Just remember to pack a lot of rubbish bags as anything you bring in, you have to take out.
7. Lake Moogerah, Scenic Rim: 6.5/10
A necklace of mountains adorn the lake and promise a colourful backdrop for the setting sun. Lake Moogera is just minutes from the quaint towns of Aratula and Boonah, and loads of stunning hikes including Governor’s Chair at Spicers Gap Road where the view is breathtaking.
Lake Moogerah Caravan Park is a private campground right on the lakeshore, with rolling green powered and unpowered tent and van sites. Pick carefully for a level spot though, or you might just roll into the water!
If you like the natural privacy that comes with leafy trees, you’ll be a little let down. There are a few trees for light shade, but be prepared for the crowds that can come with motorised water sports; it’s a popular spot for fishermen, boaters and water ski fiends. You can drop a line from the shore (permit required), and there are fishing dinghies, kayaks and paddle boards for hire or bring your own.
Sure it has hot showers and a camp kitchen at no extra charge, but the higher cost of overnight camping is not reflected in the old and basic amenities. And that, folks, impacts on what is otherwise a nice spot.
Have I missed any? What are your favourite camping spots near Brissy?
This post was originally published in 2015 and updated on the 11th December 2017.