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Two cyclists on the road with the National Arboretum Canberra and Telstra Tower seen in the background

Wild at heart

Updated 23 Apr 2024

Around here, epic views, bushwalking highs and even space odysseys are easy to come by

Embark on a journey to uncover Canberra's many natural marvels, each inviting you to indulge your adventurous spirit. From bushwalks to celestial encounters, Canberra can be seen as a bit of a playground for outdoor enthusiasts of all stripes. Step into the Red Hill Nature Reserve or cycle the iconic Centenary Trail, weaving through historical landmarks and untouched wilderness. Enjoy this list of Canberra's outdoor wonders, promising an exploration of the capital's wild side like no other.

A couple looks out into the distance at a lookout spot.

Head for the hills

Red Hill Nature Reserve stretches for nearly 300 hectares along the eastern edge of the Woden Valley. One of the most delightful paths through this biodiverse wildlife corridor is The Red Track, a 3.2-kilometre loop where white-banded bees and meadow argus butterflies flit among creamy candle flowers while gang-gang cockatoos squawk above. You won’t believe you’re only five kilometres from the city centre.

A couple looking out across Canberra as the sun sets.

Salute the sunshine

Sun-up (and sundown) is go time at Mount Ainslie Lookout, when 270-degree views of the National Triangle are burnished gold and orange. Drive or cycle your way there, or walk the Kokoda Track, a 4.5-kilometre-return sealed trail that connects Remembrance Nature Park (near the Australian War Memorial) to Mount Ainslie’s summit. Along the way, a series of switchbacks through shrubby scribbly gums gives way to a meandering path with a gentle incline and few steps. When you hear glossy black cockatoos making a ruckus atop some drooping she-oaks, you’ll know you’re almost there.

Stars shining at night at an observatory

Take off in a space odyssey

Before starting out on the self-guided Heritage Trail from Mount Stromlo Observatory, the HQ of the Australian National University’s Research School of Astronomy & Astrophysics, download the ANU Walks smartphone app. Stories of the site’s destruction in the 2003 bushfires and wartime military secondment bring history to life. But the real action is up above. Ngunnawal people watched the sky from Stromlo for millennia before the first observatory dome arrived in 1911. “After-dark group tours, lectures and stargazing events here are a great way to discover the beauty of space,” says Dr Brad Tucker, astrophysicist and cosmologist at ANU. “There’s nothing quite like seeing the rings of Saturn with your own eyes.”

Mountain bike riders admiring the view form One Tree Hill

Choose your own adventure

Skirting the NSW border at its northern tip and travelling as far south as the Murrumbidgee River, the epic Centenary Trail takes in major monuments and suburban lookouts before sweeping off into the wilderness that frames Canberra. Tackle the 145-kilometre loop by bike or on a seven-day walk (averaging about 20 kilometres per day). Alternatively, you can dip in and out on short trips. The popular One Tree Hill Summit trail starts and finishes in the town of Hall, a 20-minute drive north-west of the city. It’s a mostly gentle nine-kilometre amble on well-groomed dirt, winding in and out of wattle and eucalypt cover and through open grazing land. The summit unfurls knockout views of the Brindabella Range.

Sugar Glider sitting in a tree is one of several species you will see on an Night Safari.

Hit a park after dark

Bush stone-curlews – nicknamed “murderbirds” for their haunting call – freeze when surprised, often committing to comically odd poses. Catch one in the act on a Twilight Tour at Mulligans Flat Woodland Sanctuary, a 12.5-square-kilometre oasis for endangered species in Throsby, 20 minutes’ drive from the city centre. About two hours long, the easy walk starts before sunset at Wildbark, a visitor-centre-meets-café with a solid local wine list.

Cap off your adventure-filled day by venturing on a wildlife tour, like Night Safari Canberra with Wildlife Reimagined, to embark on an exciting expedition under the stars. Shine your spotlight on endangered Greater Gliders as they go about their nightly business or hear Australia’s largest owl calling to protect its territory. You may also come across possums, microbats, wombats, and wallabies as they emerge from their homes for the night. The Night Safari runs for approximately four hours and includes light refreshments and pick up and drop off from a location of your choice in the Canberra region. It's the perfect way to experience Canberra's wild side after dark, adding another layer of adventure to your visit. 

Cover for the Annual Visitor Guide 2024 with a GoBoat on Lake Burley Griffin during sunset with Black Mountain in the background | © Lean Timms

As seen in the Annual Visitor Guide 2024

This article first appeared in the Visitor Guide 2024. Pick up your copy from the Canberra and Region Visitors Centre, read the digital guide online (for desktop) or download the guide (for mobile).

Find out what’s on (and what’s free) to help plan your trip to the capital this year.

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