How to do Girraween National Park
The UK has Stonehenge; Queensland has Girraween National Park.
Spread across 117 square-kilometres, its natural rock formations prove why Mother Nature is dubbed the world’s greatest artist.
Wind, water and ice are her tools of choice, and she used them all to carve this national park out of the granite landscape over the course of tens of millions of years.
You’ll find beauty in her ruggedness with this guide to Girraween National Park:
What’s so special about Girraween National Park?
We don’t want to go all Nadia Comaneci on you, but Girraween National Park is a perfect 10.
Within 11,800 hectares you’ll find granite boulders that don’t just lie on the ground but balance with the same grace as an Olympic gymnast. The most famous (and photographed) is Balancing Rock – a giant boulder that to the naked eye looks like it’s teetering on a mountaintop.
It’s not just the natural environment that stands out – Girraween’s climate is like nowhere else in the Sunshine State. Girraween National Park dishes up a taste of the northern hemisphere with winter nights that dip to temps as low as -8°C.
It gets so chilly that its rock pools can ice over like little glaciers, snow caps can form over the granite boulders and fresh powder can fall on the tracks.
Girraween National Park trails
With walks ranging from short tramps to day-long long mountain climbs, Girraween National Park delivers 17km of tracks. They’re suitable for all fitness levels and appetites for adventure (Queensland Parks & Wildlife class these tracks between category 2-4).
But before you choose your adventure you need to choose your launchpad. The walking tracks start from Bald Rock Camping Area, Pyramid Road and Dr Roberts car park – aka in the north, south or east of the park.
Most start from Bald Rock Camping Area so if you’re short on time, or only want to tackle the crème de la crème, we suggest basing yourself here. (Please note that due to current drought conditions, Bald Rock is open for day use visitors, however camping facilities at both Bald Rock Creek and Castle Rock are currently closed).
If you’re here for a flying visit or day trip and want to see a smaller-scale granite marvel, check out the Granite Arch via its namesake 1.6km trail.
You’ll wind through eucalypt forest to a granite archway, which makes for a great photo opportunity.
The most-known return route is The Pyramid and it would be remiss to come to Girraween National Park and not see its most famous attraction, Balancing Rock.
It’s a 3.6km return journey that takes you to the top of a natural pyramid that could rival the ones in Giza when it comes to raw, natural appeal. Atop the second pyramid, you’ll find Balancing Rock, a granite rock perched precariously like it’s about to fall. To get there is nothing short of a scramble so expect to be down to all fours in parts as you haul yourself to the top.
Shoes with strong grip are essential as there are no safety rails to slow you down if you go A over T. This is not a hike to attempt in the wet either.
If you’ve got plenty of time and energy, the walk to Castle Rock, The Sphinx and Turtle Rock, then on to Mount Norman, is a fantastic day hike which will take you past most of the park’s icons. About 15km return, this trip should take around 6-7 hours to complete. The ridge-line track to The Sphinx and Turtle Rock is a little gentler than The Pyramid, and offers stunning views of the countryside before arriving at these peculiar rock formations. From here, if you’re up for a little rock scrambling you can continue onwards a few more kilometres to Mount Norman – the highest point in the national park.
For a shorter 5.5–6 hour option, walk to Castle Rock and Mount Norman. A hike to Castle Rock, The Sphinx and Turtle Rock takes 4–5 hours.
The flora and fauna of Girraween National Park
In the local Indigenous language, Girraween translates to ‘place of flowers’ and this park delivers on its namesake with over 750 plant types in its rugged surrounds.
The best time to see wildflowers in full bloom is spring, from golden wattles to yellow, red and purple pea flowers. That’s not to say you’ll only see shrivelled bulbs the rest of the time. In summer you’ll find flannel flowers and orchids in bloom.
On the cute and cuddly side, there are 22 mammals who call this park home, but it’s most common to see red-necked wallabies and brush-tailed possums. Count yourself lucky if you see one of Australia’s shyest natives, the echidna.
In the warmer months, you’re likely to see slithery inhabitants like snakes and lizards who hibernate when the temps drop.
Binoculars are a must to see turquoise parrots, yellow-tufted honeyeaters and fairy-wrens.
The best photo spots in Girraween National Park
Taking a bad photo in this park is impossible but like Ariana Grande, it does have a preferred side.
For a classic tourist shot that rivals the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Eiffel Tower AND the Taj Mahal, climb to the top of the Pyramid and pretend to hold Balancing Rock upright. Just you, a leaning boulder and civilisation below you.
If that’s all a bit cheesy for you, hike the Pyramid in the wee hours to catch sunrise over the national park from its highest point.
Granite Arch also frames a crisp photograph but without a wide-angle lens, you can struggle to fit the whole thing in. If you’re shooting iPhone only, take a few steps out of the arch and have your photographer stand on the lower steps. With thanks to perspective, it will look like you’re standing within the arch… without the need for a new lens.
For something less expected, try to stage something in the outdoor spas at Girraween Environmental Lodge. If you time the trip for July/August, this winter wonderland will look like a scene out of Japan. All that’s missing is the snow monkeys.
Local tips and tricks
Like most of Southern Queensland Country, Girraween experiences four seasons, so the experience in summer is almost unrecognisable to the winter one.
If you can line up the annual leave calendar, winter is the season to visit because the weather is temperate for longer hikes and you’re likely to have big blue skies.
Girraween National Park might be pretty in all seasons, but it’s not one for all weather conditions. If it’s raining, you can forget it. Consequently, granite gets slippery when wet, so if it’s dewy, snowing or raining you’re better off with an indoor pursuit, like eating and drinking at one of the Granite Belt’s finest.
Showing up for lunch without a booking in these parts is a trap for young players. Make a booking for Ballandean Estate’s famous barrel room and reward your hike with a paddock-to-plate lunch.
Everything has been sourced within a three-hour radius of the restaurant, organically or via sustainable farming means.
Where to stay in Girraween National Park
Unfortunately due to current drought conditions, staying at the park’s two campsites – Bald Rock or Castle Rock – is temporarily closed. The park is still open for day use activities, while some remote walk-in campsites can be booked online.
Both sites are suitable for camping au naturel or with a camper trailer. If you’re towing a caravan you’ll want to go with Castle Rock.
We hope they reopen soon because these campsites earn a place on our camping hater’s guide to national parks (not least of all because you’ll find them within 30kms of these six James Halliday 5 star-rated wineries!). Either way, pack your winter tent and gear to combat fluctuating weather temps that make these parts the coldest in Queensland.
If you’re more interested in creature comforts than camping, check into Girraween Environmental Lodge. Their romantic chalet-style cabins replace the tent’s canvas for Aspen-esq wooden walls. Set on 400 acres, it’ll give you a taste of big nature, without having to share showers or loos. And their outdoor spa baths are #perfect for Instagram and to soothe aching hiking muscles.
Another option if you don’t mind staying outside the park is to check in to one these quirky stays.
Prep further for your Granite Belt adventure with these guides:
- If you’re less about the walk and more about the wine, check out these places to eat and drink around the Granite Belt
- Make a weekend out of it with this guide to weekend escapes from Brisbane
- Add a weekend visit to Stanthorpe onto your Girraween adventure
- Never heard of Girraween National Park? Discover more unknown national parks here