Kitty's Gorge Walk Trail
Start - Jarrahdale Cemetery
Length - 17.5km (Return)
Rating - Orange
Terrain - Single Track, Rocky Paths
Vertical Climb - 336m
Time - 4-7 hours
Signed - Yes, Follow the Green Boot
Date Hiked - 22nd August 2020
Best Time - Autumn to Late Spring
Directions - Located just outside of Jarrahdale, take Jarrahdale Rd until you reach a right turn at Oak Way. Take Oak Way and then turn right onto Atkins Rd. Parking is opposite the cemetery and the trail head has a large information shelter.
The Hike - Kitty's Gorge is a mainstay of the Perth hiking community and often gets placed in lists of the best walks in Perth with good reason. I too have included it in my Five Best Hikes in Perth I did a while back now as it's a long and enjoyable trail that takes you through some varied landscapes with plenty of great photo opportunities. This was the fourth ever trail I posted on the website way back in 2014 and over the years I've returned to hike what is a favourite trail of mine a few times in different conditions. Unfortunately due to the desire to hike new trails and placing those experiences over a hike for fun, the last time I was here was in 2016 for a group hike I organised.
With no more Bibbulmun Track sections to complete and a few more weekends now free to explore old favourites, I found I had a blank Saturday to head out to Jarrahdale to see if Kitty's Gorge was as good as I remember, plus re-shoot it with my new camera (if you want to see the old post then it still exists here). This was on my 2020 plan with the goal to spend an entire day in spring exploring both Kitty's Gorge, Baldwin's Bluff and off-track areas around different parts of Serpentine National Park. With a month long road trip planned for September/October, that idea was shelved and instead I took the opportunity to spend the morning orchid hunting and hoping for an echidna sighting. Arriving at the start point just after sunrise, I was happy to see a few cars there, evidence that hiking in WA has really taken off as a leisure activity and from what I saw over the day, people were loving being in the outdoors. While this can be done as a one-way trail with a car at either end, I like the return journey for the fitness aspect and you also get different lighting throughout the day. Doing it as a return hike means the first half is all downhill so you can just enjoy the walk without breaking a sweat. The first section is through some lovely Jarrah forest with plenty of late winter wildflowers already on display.
Passing the large fallen tree sparked some memories (this happened a lot over the hike) and it was nice to take some photos of it in the muted light of a cloudy morning. Descending down the hill, I was stopping a lot to take photos of wildflowers, fungi and the forest scenes. Arriving at the spot where Stacey's Track departs down into the valley, I was checking out what looked like a non-native wattle when I stumbled across a Spider Orchid camouflaged on the forest floor. I'm terrible with names of wildflowers and orchids and to be honest it can be very difficult in WA with a vast number of species and varieties. There is an excellent guide to Spider Orchids that can be found here if you're interested. Pleased to have spotted one very early, I descended down towards Gooralong Campground, an old camping area that has since been abandoned. With two of the camp buildings still up, it's a little bit of an eerie place to be but at least all the piles of rubbish have been cleared. Now it's just a wide open area surrounded by pines and odd trees that needs some serious rehabilitation (a theme for this section). Continuing the unnatural theme, you arrive at the pine plantation near Gooralong Brook that people seem to be really drawn to. I agree it looks quite spooky in the right lighting but I have no idea why it hasn't been harvested yet and replaced with native vegetation.
As you walk along the 4x4 track towards the Kitty's Gorge Walk Trail sign, you have the pines on one side and Gooralong Brook on the other. Gooralong Brook will be a mainstay for a while but looks completely different as you walk along. At this point it has a very Tasmania flavour with lots of non-native Tree Ferns providing a temperate feel, although somewhat disjointed with all the other weeds in the area. Once you pass the walk trail sign it becomes more natural as you continue to descend over the first of a few wooden bridges. It feels much more pleasant here as the vegetation appears to be what you'd expect from the Perth Hills and I was having good fun scanning the thick undergrowth for wildflowers and sundews. Passing under a very large Balga that I remember being in awe of when I first visited, you soon reach a series of wooden bridges that make for a good rest spot. The view looking back down the brook is quite stunning in the morning light, more so if the sun is streaming through the canopy.
Climbing up the wooden steps you continue along with this section featuring a bevy of wildflowers hiding just off the path. Among others I spotted some Hovea, Myrtle, a Grevillea, a Couch Honeypot and some flowering Parrot Bush. Over the years I've gotten better at spotting changes of colour or identifying familiar shapes in the undergrowth as I go along so it was nice to see quite a collection along here. While the smaller details are nice, I was also appreciating the sweeping views down the valley and towards where the course of the brook runs. The trees lining the valley make for some lovely scenes and it was a case of splitting my focus between the two viewpoints. Approaching the gauging station along Gooralong Brook, you are treated to some lovely moss covered granite as it extends up the slopes of the hill. This whole section along the brook unsurprisingly has a moist feel to it, both being in a valley and somewhat sheltered from the sun in places.
Reaching the gauging station, this is one of many highlights along this stretch that warrants a rest stop for a closer look. Now in disrepair, the small dam is a cool feature to photograph from the mountings of the old bridge that used to exist when this was a loop trail. Having not ordered a set of ND filters for my new camera but still wanting to get some long exposure shots of the various rapids along the trail, I had also brought my old Nikon along for the ride complete with cheap ND filters. It's not a very good setup but with the right lighting can produce the desired results. Unfortunately while the clouds were hanging around, the direction of the water course meant I was always shooting back into the light over the morning so the results here were sub-optimal. Moving on, you ascend up a stone staircase that in winter and spring looks amazing with the moss covered granite next to it providing a visual spectacle that really makes you feel like you're well away from the hustle of urban life. Unfortunately as you rise up and start the section leading towards Gooralong Falls, the ugly weeds make an appearance again. Up until this point I was starting to wonder why I didn't rate this walk as highly as the Numbat Trail or either walk from Sullivan Rock and the answer was right in front of me, weeds.
While Sword Grass is quite common along the rivers of the South West, the thick leaved grass here did not look native but I'm happy to be corrected. Combine that with the blackberry that consumes many rivers and creeks in WA and the result is a bit of a sad looking landscape, although some that aren't aware of what the weeds are might find this attractive. Salvation arrives in the form of the first of the open sections of granite that Gooralong Brook cascades over and this is a real treat. After one smaller platform, you continue along until you are deposited above Gooralong Falls. An iconic shot from this hike, the trail takes you above the falls before descending down to give you a closer look. The tabletop appearance of the falls combined with the sharp drop means that when the water is flowing, you get a decent set of rapids that is really fun to photograph. With no one around I got out the old Nikon and was pleased with the much better results I got from the long exposure shots (although they were a little overexposed). I spent a good amount of time here shooting different angles and just enjoyed slowing down to take it all in.
With plenty of trail still to hike, a planned trip up to Baldwin's Bluff and the return leg, I reluctantly packed up and moved on. I mistakenly remembered Gooralong Falls being at the end of the gorge section of the hike so was pleasantly surprised to realise that I still had a really remarkable part still to come. After spotting more wildflowers and sundews, I popped out of the forest and was greeted by the spectacular views overlooking the main part of Kitty's Gorge. With expansive views down the valley and over to the other side of the hills, this is a real wow moment made better by the granite rocks just off trail that you can use to get a better look. Even with the grey clouds hanging about, it was still pretty special so I took a few moments to soak in the views. Continuing to descend, you switch between closed in single trail that is very pretty and spots where you can experience the views from a different angle. One particular spot I really enjoyed was a section of single trail where you are surrounded by the undergrowth but the in distance you can see the trail drop off and the view extends off to the distant hills. As you approach the bottom of the hill you are treated to one more spot of magic and a small detour down to what I consider the main part of Kitty's Gorge.
A side trail takes you off the main part and to a granite platforms on the edge of some rapids. A nice split in the granite provides a seat as you stare down the rapids towards the valley floor. The name Kitty's Gorge apparently comes from the name of a cow that just lost and was found here, not sure if that's the case but it's funny to picture a cow stuck on the granite here not knowing how it got to be in such a predicament. It was here I brought out some Lemon Myrtle Tea Cakes I had made the day before but unfortunately they weren't as nice as I was expecting (a bit doughy and lacking the lemon myrtle taste). Still, the views were excellent and I had fun experimenting with a fast shutter speed to capture the spits of water coming off the brook as it cascaded over the granite. I really enjoyed this spot the first time I came here and the effect had not changed over the six years since then. Not lingering too long here, I packed up the disappointing tea cake that was left and continued on my merry way. Another short side trip to the base of where I was sitting provided an opportunity for more long exposure shots but again, I was shooting into the sun so the results weren't the bestest.
As the trail flattens out, you enter the weed zone again with what should be really nice trail is ruined by Blackberry, Arum Lilies and Sour Grass. This is probably the worst of the blackberry and from the elevated position next to Gooralong Brook you can see the choking effect it has on the landscape. Not even a really hot burn through here would solve the issue as the "kill it with fire" approach doesn't really work from what I've read. A kangaroo or wallaby would have an issue crossing the brook here but for the Red Breasted Wren I saw, the spiky vines of the blackberry were just another landing spot. As you join a 4x4 track, the hodgepodge nature of the scenery here is a bit weird but really par for the course on this hike. Large open areas of grass on either side are havens for kangaroos although I saw none on this visit. Joining the edge of Gooralong Brook once again, you see multiple 4x4 tracks intersecting in the area including a crossing of the brook but I don't think these are in use anymore.
Up ahead is the remnants of the old timber bridge that is now just a shell of a structure and not fit for any bridge related work these days. It's an interesting feature to photograph and another of the iconic photos you often see when people post about this hike. Luckily a newer bridge has been installed just downstream, making the journey to the other side much easier, although not as characterful. After crossing the bridge you are confronted with a wide open landscape of greenery, hills and a small white cottage in the distance. Spencer's Cottage is leftover from when the surrounding land used to be an orchard but due to it's age and lack of maintenance, it is fenced off thanks to the risk of collapse. The short side trip is worth checking out as it places you in the middle of the green plain that again has not been converted back to native forest for whatever reason. This would have been an idyllic place back in the day but with the fields now empty and the cottage in disrepair, you have to wonder what value there is in leaving it like this given it is within a national park.
Leaving the cottage, I returned to the 4x4 tracks that border the open land and continued on my way back towards the edge of Serpentine River. Thankfully once you catch sight of the water again, you are back to a somewhat native setting apart from a few weeds here and there. The 4x4 track rises up above the river, taking you away from some cool looking rapids and towards the pipeline that runs between the main dam to the east and the pipehead dam that is downstream from Serpentine Falls. This is a pleasant enough section with views looking across the valley to the hills on the other side sparking my imagination about what it would be like over there. At the end of the 4x4 track you come across a sign stating that the area ahead is private property and the trail heads down towards the water. Previously there was a house here and it was always awkward walking along the edge of the property when the residents were out. Thankfully the building is gone, along with the junk that surrounded it and one can hope that it is no longer private property and will be returned to a more natural state in the future. Given the other non-natural parts of the hike, I suggest this will not be the case. The deviation down to the river is a welcome change from the 4x4 track and not having the weirdness that comes with traversing the boundary of someones house was refreshing.
The water course is much wider here than when it was Gooralong Brook, giving a calmer appearance. Again I'm not sure if the reedy grasses on the other side are native but they look pretty and I've always found the photos from this spot turn out very nice. Going through the gate leading into the property, this marks a fairly long section next to the river where you'll get a lot of opportunity to explore the rocky rapids and pools that line the trail. With plenty of photo opportunities, I stopped frequently to snap away at a new angle or different set of rapids. There are a few spots where you can clamber onto the granite right on the river's edge and take some really cool photos looking downstream. The combination of the steep hill on the other side and the looming presence of Baldwin's Bluff in the distance creates a cool scene that is a favourite of mine. A wide section of the river can be seen below the trail with a man made structure creating an arrow shape in the middle of the river (possibly another gauging station). Officially the trail turns off before this point (as you discover coming back) but an obvious goat path takes you back up the 4x4 track for the next section. Here I noticed a lot more people as visitors to Serpentine Falls extend their walk up here.
The sojourn on the 4x4 track doesn't last too long and soon you reach a section of Parrot Bush near where the trail deviates down the hill towards the main day use area of Serpentine Falls. This is a steep section that had many people going super slow on my visit so I made a polite "excuse me" as I bustled past. Helping the descent that would otherwise be a heavily eroded slippery slope are a series of steps that wind down the hill. At certain vantage points you can stand on the edge of the trail and get glimpses of Serpentine Falls below, a really cool perspective and proof of how steep the trail is to reach that spot. In the distance hidden behind a lovely flowering She-Oak is Baldwin's Bluff, the other trail that is found in Serpentine National Park and one I would also be doing today. At the bottom of the hill things flatten out significantly and you walk along a stone lined trail past the twin water pipes that is a shortcut to the Serpentine Falls trail. I was continuing on towards the car park as that's where the trail head for Baldwin's Bluff was located and I wanted the sun to be more to the west when photographing Serpentine Falls so left that until after my 6km detour to the top of Baldwin's Bluff. After an extremely enjoyable hike to the summit, I returned to the car park and headed over the bridge towards Serpentine Falls. This is a very popular spot with lots of people around, mostly families out for the day or groups enjoying a picnic.
I always feel weird when I reach these day use spots as a hiker because I'm all hot and sweaty in my hiking gear and everyone else is wearing jeans and looking anything but a hiker. Today was no different but I continued on towards Serpentine Falls, saying hello to a couple of rangers that were on patrol here. It isn't a long walk to the falls and the stainless steel walkway that takes you the final little bit is really impressive. I said on my first visit that it felt like the Pilbara and having now been, I can confirm that it does feel like one of the gorges there (very similar to Fortescue Falls in fact). Being a sunny Saturday there were a few people here enjoying the sight of the falls so I positioned myself on a free bit of rock with a clear view of the falls and got out my old Nikon for the last of my attempted long exposure shots. Being very sunny now I wasn't expected miracles and in the end the exposure wasn't very long but I'm happy with the result, so much so that it is the cover shot for the post now. A larger group had assembled that I assume was a walking group given the abundance of backpacks so I gave up my spot on the rocks and headed back to the start. Given the sunnier conditions, I only took a handful of shots on the hike back as I had well and truly spent longer here than I thought I would.
Final Thoughts - I wasn't sure how I'd go returning to Kitty's Gorge. Would my fond memories be nothing more than rose tinted nostalgia from a simpler time in my hiking life or would it be just as good as I remembered.
I think it lies somewhere in the middle with literally hundreds of new trails added to the website after this one, it still remains a very good trail. The gorge section of the hike is pretty unique in Perth and when Gooralong Brook is flowing and the wildflowers are in bloom, this makes for an excellent experience.
Like I mentioned in my recent re-do of the King Jarrah Walk Trail, there are a couple of factors that really hold this one back from being truly great in my eyes. The most obvious one is the weeds and how they completely overrun several key areas of Gooralong Brook and the Serpentine River.
I dare say that the rangers here don't venture outside of the Serpentine Falls regions very often, whether that's because of the popularity of the day-use area or the lack of funding for the required numbers of a park this size. Because of this, Serpentine National Park doesn't really feel like a "proper" national park when it comes to natural beauty.
Sure it is there in patches but there are some large areas that are baffling bare or filled with overgrown pines that makes you wonder if they really care about the biodiversity and conservation that make up two thirds of the DBCA name. I'm not sure if a "Friends of Gooralong Brook" group exists but I'm guessing that is the only defence this place has against all the weeds.
I'm just rambling though, for the most part this is a very enjoyable trail and if you don't mind the unnatural then it's a fantastic experience.
Get out there and experience it!
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