Exploring Canberra's Centenary Trail - in 10 shorter hikes
Canberra is known as the Bush Capital, and when you head out on the Centenary Trail you can certainly see why. The trail provides a nature immersion experience but with easy accessibility. Skirting the outside of suburbs, passing national monuments and offering optional heart-pumping side-trips up Canberra's highest peaks, the 140km (95 mile) trail has something for everyone.
The options to explore are as varied as the scenery. From single day forays by mountain bike or on foot (the current fastest known time [FKT] running the entire circuit is an impressive 16hrs 50 mins by Alex Ramsey), to out-and-back sections. In 2020, I hiked the trail with a group over 10 Saturday mornings, which is a fun and achievable way to complete the entire circuit. This post is about how I divided it up.
Before you start.
Like any hike, please make sure you are prepared, including at a minimum sufficient water, hat and sunscreen, a snake bandage and a fully charged phone. There is mobile phone reception along the entire trail, but it is sometimes several kms to vehicle access points. I also highly recommend you have installed on your phone the free Emergency+ App that gives your exact location to provide to emergency services if required.
The below walks are one-way. To return to the start, either do a car shuffle before your walk and leave one car at the end; or you can UBER/rideshare back to the start.
SECTION 1: Hall to Belconnen 12kms (70m elevation)
The Centenary trail is a loop, so technically you can begin anywhere. However, Forde to Hall (my last section - 10) is the longest and toughest section, with no vehicle access, so leaving it until last allows you to build up some confidence and hiking fitness before you get there.
Beginning at Hall Village, Section 1 is very flat and takes you approximately 12km through Gold Creek village and around Lake Ginninderra, finishing at the Belconnen skate park. The walk is mainly on bike path, but quite exposed to the elements. There is a very short section (5oms or so) where you must walk along the verge of the Barton Highway - be very careful here, especially with children. The highlight is the walk through John Knight Memorial Park which is full of birds, trees - and people out enjoying a picnic or birthday party.
Section 2: Belconnen to Galambary (Black Mountain) 10kms (340m elevation)
There is a lot of variety in section 2, which traverses suburbs, ridges and Canberra attractions. The early part of the walk through Bruce is paved, but the majority of is on fire trail. This section has quite a number of attractions that are worthwhile visiting along the way. Gossan Hill Nature Reserve is an important Ngunnawal site, and interpretive panels have been installed to explain its cultural significance. The trail then passes through the Australian Institute of Sport and into Black Mountain Nature Reserve. While technically you could end this walk at the base of Galambary (Black Mountain), why not continue to the summit, where there is also a convenient carpark if you have arranged a car shuffle or pickup.
Section 3: Black Mountain Reserve carpark (Glenloch Interchange) to Stromlo Forest Park 13kms (395m elevation)
Section 3 takes you through the part of Canberra that was destroyed in the 2003 bushfires and has been repurposed into several beautiful public spaces. After skirting around the Aranda Bushlands (which are well worth a separate visit), the trail passes through the Cork Oak Plantation and into the National Arboretum. By far the most beautiful time for this section is in autumn, when the leaves are fiery red, bright yellow and burnt orange, and there are red toadstools among the cork oak.
Something has gone wrong with the trail markings in this section - they lead in various directions and and can be quite confusing. If you lose the signage, continue south-west (directly across) the Arboretum to the pine forest on the far side, and you will find the markers again when you cross the Molonglo River into Coombs. After passing the ponds and Stromlo Cottage, the trail follows the Cotter Road, crossing into Stromlo Forest Park.
Stop briefly at the ACT Bushfire Memorial, before heading up to the centre of Stromlo Park, where if you time it right you can finish with a hearty egg and bacon roll at The Handlebar cafe.
SECTION 4: Stromlo to Murrumbidgee Country Club 11.5kms
Leaving from Stromlo (grab a coffee), the trail skirts around the back of Duffy, past several horse paddocks and onto the beautiful Cooleman Ridge. This is one of my favourite ridges in Canberra, as the north-eastern side has long views across Canberra, and the south-western side looks out across the Murrumbidgee River to the Bullen Range. It feels a world away from the city. Descending from the ridge you follow Kambah Pool Road past McQuoids Hill and finish at the Golf Club.
SECTION 5: Murrumbidgee Country Club to Tuggeranong Town Centre 12kms
From the Golf Club head past the free range chicken farms (maybe pick up some eggs) and down to Kambah Pool. From here turn left - the trail is also part of the Murrumbidgee Discovery Track along the Murrumbidgee River, Following the river, there is a beautiful viewpoint at Red Rock Gorge, and local colonial history at the Tuggeranong stone Wall. Keep your eyes peeled for wombats as there are large numbers along this trail, on both sides of the river. This section also makes a beautiful sunset walk.
SECTION 6: Tuggeranong Town Centre to Isaacs Ridge 15kms
I'll be honest - this is not the most scenic section, but it is an important one to complete the loop. Mostly following bike paths through Tuggeranong suburbs, the route then pops out at Fadden Pines where there is decent playground and a well placed toilet. The back end of this section is my favourite, as you leave the bike path for the Wanniassa Hill Nature Reserve and under Long Gully Road onto Isaacs Ridge. From Isaacs Ridge there are gorgeous views back across Woden, and of all the sections this is the one that 'feels' as though you have gone the furthest.
SECTION 7: Isaacs Ridge to the Carillion 15kms
There is some decent elevation at the start of this section, as you make your way through Mt Mugga Mugga Nature reserve and into Red Hill. Skirting along the bottom of Red Hill Nature Reserve you can peer into the back gardens of the most expensive houses in Canberra, before making your way down to Parliament House. You then follow what feels like a 'secret path' through the bushland that is the infill of State Circle, past the Parliamentary tennis courts and onto the rose gardens. Plenty of photo opportunities and detour options here: Parliament House, Museum of Australian Democracy, Aboriginal Tent Embassy, Reconciliation Place, the High Court and National Gallery of Art - finally finishing at the Carillion (where there is a handy coffee van). So much variety in 15kms!
SECTION 8: The Carillion to Hughie Edwards VC Rest Area, Federal Highway 14.5km
Leaving Lake Burley Griffin it is time to head back into the bush. The section starts by taking you up ANZAC Parade to the War Memorial where you can pay your respects to Australia's war dead. Then a heart pumping (optional) ascent of Mount Ainslie takes you to (in my opinion) the best view of Canberra. Continuing along the ridgeline past Mount Majura (optional sidetrip) on fire trail, you share the path with mountain bikers and the odd horserider. As you head further from the city the trail becomes more quiet, until it approaches the Federal Highway and you travel parallel northwards, finishing at another military memorial - the Hughie Edwards VC Rest Area and Air Force Memorial Grove.
Tip: If you request a rideshare or taxi to here, they often get very confused, due to the split highway. Keep your phone on hand for when the lost driver calls for directions.
SECTION 9: Hughie Edwards VC Rest Area, Federal Highway to Forde 14.5km (225m elevation)
This is a beautiful section on fire trail and single trail that heads north and under the Federal Highway and then through the serene Goorooyarroo and Mulligans Flat Nature Reserve. Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife here - especially echidna and large lizards. In spring the reserve
is full of wildflowers, and the ACT government is doing a great job of erecting informative signage that explains the flora and fauna in the reserve.
SECTION 10: Forde to Hall 19km (455m elevation)
The final section is the longest - and cannot be shortened because there is no road access. But it is well worth the extended walk along the northern boundary of the Australian Capital Territory. This section is also popular with mountain bikers but I have always found everyone to be very polite, moving to the left to let bikes past. It is also impossible to get lost on this section, as there is only one path. About 1/3 of the way you reach the northern border campground, which is a perfect stop for a morning tea break. And at the 2/3 point is the turnoff for One Tree Hill (another great sidetrip) which has great views across Gunghalin. When you reach the end of the path and arrive in the village of Hall - you have completed the Centenary Trail! I strongly suggest you celebrate by heading to the main street of Hall for a late lunch and/or celebratory drink :)
Note: This section will be closed on days of High Fire danger, due to the lack of access (and lack of escape routes in a fire). Check the weather report if you are hiking this section in summer.
The government website for the trail is located here.
If you have an Apple Phone, the is an App for the trail you can download here. While far from the best app out there, it does have 2 useful features. First, if the directional signage has you confused, you can open the App and check your blue dot is "on the line". I found this especially useful in section 3 where the signs seem to simply disappear, and in section 8 where some of the signage around Mt Majura is particularly confusing. The app is also great to design your own route. You can drop a pin at your planned start and finish locations and it will reasonably accurately tell you the distance.
There is one campground on the trail - approximately halfway though my section 10 above. Bookings can be made here.