Waterfall Gully to Mount Lofty Summit Hike | Cleland Conservation Park Walking Trail

Waterfall Gully to Mount Lofty Summit Hike

Adelaide’s favourite hike through Cleland Conservation Park, from serene Waterfall Gully all the way up to the summit at Mount Lofty.  

It is a challenge to complete, but there are many reasons why the hike from Waterfall Gully to Mount Lofty Summit is so popular.  From families with babies in carriers to elite athletes trying to beat their best time, this hike appeals to all ages and fitness levels. It is the state’s most popular hiking trail and attracts around 600,000 people each year.  The scenery is stunning as you walk through a natural bushland setting surrounded by a diverse range of birdlife, wildlife, creeks and waterfalls.

The return hike will take on average approximately 2.5 – 3 hours, according to Walking SA and is rated as a ‘hard hike‘.  Experienced hikers and runners aim to take 30 to 55 minutes on the way up and 25 to 35 minutes down. It is a 7.8km round trip in total.

With kids in tow it’s best to set out at your own pace, stopping whenever one of you needs a break.  It is essential to take a drink bottle and a good idea to take a backpack to carry the extra layers you may need to take off.

The first section of the trail begins in the beautiful Waterfall Gully, where you will also find Utopia Restaurant.  As you leave the carpark you can choose to walk up the stairs or take the ramp to the start of the trail.  This section is actually very steep and can take you by surprise if you aren’t expecting the incline, but before long you will be at the top of First Falls.  Take your time here and ease into your walk.

Once you reach the viewing platform overlooking First Falls and the valley below, the next stage will take you along the trail towards Second Falls.  You actually take a right turn before the waterfall and head up the steps, but if you want a quick stop you can walk towards the waterfall viewing section.  If it’s busy you can always stop here on your way back.  This area was once known as Fern Waterfall, but by the early 20th century most of them had disappeared through environmental damage and theft.

The climb continues as you make your way further along the trail and you will soon see evidence of the extensive repairs that have taken place.  The Waterfall Gully trail has been undergoing significant restoration and upgrade work since early 2018 after it was extensively damaged by flooding and landslides during storms in late 2016.  

The now complete $5.4 million project ensures the trail can better withstand any future storms and the improvements are very impressive. It has been an enormous task to repair the trail and make it safe for users to safely hike all the way to the summit.

Works on the trail involved:

  • 220m of elevated boardwalk material delivered via helicopter
  • 3km of exposed aggregate concrete trail installed (200 tonnes delivered via helicopter)
  • Creek-bank reinstated
  • Replacement of signage
  • Revegetation

The new bridges and the addition of new boardwalks are a fabulous improvement, especially in the sections that were once a very narrow trail along the edge of the mountain.

There are numerous new information plaques as well as new sign posts dotted along the trail.  A good excuse to stop and read some interesting facts while taking a quick breather.

You will notice there are different paths you can take as you continue along the trail leading off on different walks, so keep an eye on the sign posts with arrows pointing to your destination – Mt Lofty Summit.  They will also tell you how much further you have to go. Remember you can always turn back at any stage and you may not make it to the summit on your first attempt.  Go at your own pace and take rest breaks to catch your breath.

There is so much nature to appreciate on this walk it’s actually nice to stop at different stages to take it all in.  Different plants flower at various times of the year, and although it is very cold here in winter, it is actually a beautiful time to hike Mt Lofty.  Keep an eye out for kangaroos, koalas, lizards, birds and if you’re lucky you may even spot an echidna or a rare Southern Brown Bandicoot!  Be aware of snakes during the warmer months as they are known to slither across the path!

There are regular seats positioned at different sections of the trail, with enough room for families to sit and take a break.  

Once you reach the Mt Lofty Cottage YHA you are very close to reaching the summit!  This quaint stone cottage was originally built in 1880 and is available for exclusive use bookings.  You can rent the entire cottage, which has two double rooms and one bunk room, sleeping up to ten people.  Situated in this unique, peaceful location in the Cleland Conservation Park, imagine waking up surrounded by amazing bushland including Cleland Wildlife Park, Mt Lofty Summit and Mt Lofty Botanic Gardens.  Access is via Mt Lofty Summit Road just above the cottage. Visit the YHA website for all booking information.

Once you pass the cottage and climb the stairs to cross over Mt Lofty Summit Road you only have a short way to go to complete the hike.  This is another steep section, but it’s not very long.  You will soon be walking out onto the summit where you will be greeted by panoramic views over-looking the Adelaide plains and Gulf St Vincent.  

Mount Lofty Summit is 710 metres above sea level and includes a lookout, restaurant/cafe and visitor centre.  Enjoy a well deserved treat, buy a cold drink or simply take a well earned rest before heading back down to Waterfall Gully.  There are toilets inside and a free water station outside to refill your drink bottle.  Discover more about Mount Lofty Summit here.


Access via Waterfall Gully Road.  Open all year round (closed catastrophic fire days)

Read about the Mt Lofty Summit Walking Trail – Steub Trail

For more SA bushwalks and scenic trails

things to do in Adelaide for families

For more information and all enquiries please visit the Parks SA website.

At Play & Go Adelaide we make every effort to provide accurate information to the best of our knowledge at the time of publication. We recommend confirming times, dates and details directly before making any plans as details may be subject to change.

Image Source: all photos by Play & Go 2020


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