Railway Reserves Heritage Trail
Start - Sculpture Park, Mundaring
Length - 42.1km (Loop)
Grade - Orange
Terrain - Vehicle Track, Single Track, Pavement
Vertical Climb - 387m
Time - 2-6 Hours (Bike), 8-12 Hours (Hike)
Signed - Yes, Follow the Wooden Signs
Date Biked - 12th March 2021
Best Time - Autumn to Late Spring
Traditional Custodians - Wajuk People
Directions - Starting at the Mundaring Sculpture Park, from Roe Highway take Great Eastern Highway up into the hills until you reach the centre of Mundaring. Take a right turn at Nichol Street and follow this until the end where you'll find a car park for the Sculpture Park. The trail head is located on a series of undercover panels telling you about the different trails that run through the area.
The Ride - The Railway Reserves Heritage Trail is one of the more popular places in the Perth Hills to enjoy a walk or a ride and over the years it's one that I've visited on a few occasions without ever writing it up for the website. Running either side of Great Eastern Highway and utilising the old rail formations, this trail is an awkward length to walk but is perfect for a bike ride. My initial plans involved trying to walk the entire loop with my dog Sadie but bad weather got in the way and as the trail goes through John Forrest National Park, I needed to figure out a detour to avoid that section.
Because of that, plus it would take about 8-10 hours of my life for a trail that I know is nothing spectacular on foot thanks to walking most of it on the various Oxfam Trailwalker events over the years, this was always at the back of the future trails list. With a renewed interest in mountain biking thanks to joining my podcast partner on a couple of Munda Biddi trips over the winter of 2020, I have scheduled in my own end to end for August 2021. Because of that plus a motivation to get a little fitter, I have been riding my road bike a lot over the summer. Purchasing a new mountain bike for the Munda Biddi, it arrived a month earlier than expected so was keen to take it out for a spin on some gravel tracks. Switching my longer weekend ride from road to gravel, I travelled up into the hills to tackle the 42km Railway Reserves Heritage Trail (RRHT from now on) that I last cycled way back in January 2015 and did not enjoy thanks to my bike fitness being sub-optimal. With a bit of training under my belt this time, I was sure I would enjoy the experience and decided I would write up the trail from a cycling perspective instead of hiking as I think it's the better way as I'll detail over the course of this post.
This also marked the first time I would be taking out my new Nikon D5600 that had been purchased after the demise of my short lived D7500. Having tried to use a shoulder strap when cycling the Kep Track late in 2020, I realised that I'd need a better solution to having the camera handy for shooting cycle trails so also invested in a Peak Design Camera Clip that attached nicely to one of the straps of my hiking backpack. Being right in the heart of the suburban area of the Perth Hills, access points are frequent and very accessible so there are plenty of options if you want to start/finish in a different location. I chose the Sculpture Park because that's where the trail head is and decided to go in an anti-clockwise direction so I could ease into the riding and finish with the big uphill climb. After checking out the trail head, I spotted the Munda Biddi northern terminus and smiled because in five months time I would be here with a fully loaded bike and a 1100km ride ahead of me to Albany. Keen to see what the new bike was like on gravel, I took a few photos and headed off in an easterly direction. Joining up with the Kep Track, this section would be very familiar as I'd cycled it a few months prior as it heads all the way to Northam.
The first section towards the crossing of Great Eastern Highway is a mix of the high walled corridors of rail formation and connecting pavement to reach the highway crossing. It was nice to see the new Kattamordo trail markers in person after a big effort to bring that trail back to life by a group of passionate trail enthusiasts but I didn't enjoy seeing the cleared section of trees either side of Halifax Place thanks to the Mundaring Men's Shed. Crossing the highway you join back onto the rail formation and it's a really enjoyable ride all the way to the junction at Mount Helena. The high walls of the formation shroud you in the illusion of being in the forest despite houses, roads and other development hiding just over the banks. Heading mostly downhill towards the first of many information boards telling you about the history of the railways at Sawyers Valley, the morning light through here was spectacular. One of my favourite spots of the whole trail is a long downhill corridor of Marri trees that during my visit had the sunshine pouring through a slight mist at the end. Scenes like this are the reason I like heading east in the mornings and it seemed I wasn't alone with a group of gravel bikers doing the same. The new camera clip was super easy to use and the camera wasn't bumping around as much as I thought or pulling my backpack into weird angles so a big tick so far.
After crossing over the water pipeline that runs all the way to the Eastern Goldfields, the track takes a mix of wide gravel roads and more beautiful rail formation before reaching the trail junction. Here the Kep Track takes a right hand turn and heads off to Chidlow and Wooroloo , which also happens to be the route of a there and back extension to the Railway Reserves Heritage Trail. If you're looking to do an extra 20km then you can add this on but the main loop heads left at the junction and starts looping back on itself. Passing the Mount Helena Tavern, you can stop in for lunch or a sneaky beverage if you like or simply continue on. This marks a very long downhill section all the way to the underpass of Great Eastern Highway that lasts about 19km so a great time to ease off and let gravity do the work (for the most part). While the trail is mainly wide gravel tracks, this meant I could make up some time that I'd lost by stopping so much for photographs. This was going well until I heard the familiar calls of the Kaaraks (Red-Tailed Cockatoos). I wasn't the only one with another couple of cyclists stopped on the side of the trail watching the playful birds having a munch on the gum nuts of the various eucalyptus trees that had flowered over the summer. With my camera easily accessible I whipped it off the clip and started snapping away with various success. I love these birds and it's always fun to watch them go about their business.
Another fun addition to the experience that distracts you from the wide and monotonous trail is the series of art installations in the form of rusted metal silhouettes. Each tells a different story from the types of flora and fauna in the area to bushfires that devastated the area a few years ago to the need for wildlife to retain a home as human "progress" expands into these areas. Given most of them are at road intersections, you are already stopping to check for traffic so may as well have a read of the information plaque. Entering John Forrest National Park is marked with a big sign and from here until the Swan View car park, dogs are not allowed. Weirdly though horses can continue on and although there are signs everywhere telling you to pick up after your dog, the same can't be said for horse owners. Dodging piles of "trail gifts" isn't ideal on a mountain bike and it's an odd contradiction that horse owners don't have to adhere to the Leave No Trace principles given the likelihood that weeds can spread easily this way. The first highlight of John Forrest is the old Hovea Train Station that is instantly recognisable thanks to the row of palm trees that was used to landscape it. I used the benches here for a drinks and sunscreen stop plus a bit of a quick photoshoot for my new Norco Storm 1 SE.
Hydrated and creamed up, I kept moving towards the first of three bridges you cross. While the old bridges that used to service the railway are on longer fit for purpose, they have been retained next to the new bridges so you can appreciate the history. The concrete planks of the new bridges have been cast out of moulds to make them look like wooden boards and the effect produces a bumpy crossing on your bike. Having a close up look at the rusted old girders is pretty cool and I'm glad they still exist in this form. After crossing another smaller bridge, the next highlight is the open spaces next to Hovea Falls. A popular spot within John Forrest, the RRHT goes right past it with a spot to park your bike and have a look around. A connecting footbridge provides access to the wide open granite vistas and although bone dry at the time of my visit, it was still pretty scenic. I'd love to return here when the falls are in full flow and I think that will be likely given how much I'll ride this one as a training route. Down from Hovea Falls you reach the epicentre of John Forrest with the recently refurbished area near the Ranger's Station and Tavern. If you want another food and beverage option then the John Forrest Tavern is a short detour off the track and you can hang out with the local kangaroos that love to visit.
Crossing the biggest bridge on the track at Jane Brook, it wasn't as impressive an experience riding over the top compared to walking underneath like you do on the Eagle View Walk Trail. It's still cool to see the old and the new bridge together as you head off towards the next stop at National Park Falls. Similar to Hovea Falls, there is a bike rack to park up at so you can walk around the top of the falls and admire the beautiful vistas. Looking down the valley that Jane Brook creates is pretty cool and one of the most scenic parts of the whole trail. Leaving the falls, I continued on at a gentle pace, staring out at those excellent views as the trail makes it's way to the most popular part of the track that people seem to really be drawn to. I am talking about the Swan View Tunnel, a stunning piece of engineering and a really photogenic spot. I had built this spot up to my team on the 2014 Oxfam Trailwalker as something really cool to see and back then it wasn't signposted from the main trail. We ended up walking straight past it and given we had 100km to walk, no one really wanted to double back to see it despite all the hype I gave it. Going in an anti-clockwise direction like I was today meant it was very easy to spot and it always makes me think of the old Thomas the Tank Engine VHS tapes I had as a kid. The official trail diverts around the tunnel on the vehicle track but you can't not visit this beautiful location and experience the fun of walking right through it. I took a few photos of the eastern entrance before taking the plunge and continuing on through.
The photos make it look a lot brighter than it is thanks to the slow shutter speed but once you're more than 20-30m in, it starts to get really dark. You can see the light at the end of the tunnel (insert joke here) as you go along but the walls either side of completely black for most of it. I chose to continue riding my bike and the rocky ground combined with the lack of spatial awareness of the walls makes for an interesting sensory experience. The western side of the tunnel is even better in terms of appearance with high walls either side but the lighting in the early morning doesn't make for great photos. From the Swan View Tunnel you head along the trail towards the Swan View Station where the platform is still in excellent condition. I spotted a bunch of flaming Galahs having a munch on some young trees right next to the platform so stopped and watched them for a while before heading on towards Bellevue. This next section of riding is through a fairly built up area and includes riding on pavement as you head under the Great Eastern Highway bridge. It's a good section to make up some time as it's flat and has some smooth surfaces to ride on. Reaching Bellevue, you see another information board near the RSL club and this marks the start of a 15km uphill section to the finish at Mundaring Sculpture Park. Passing through a railway themed playground, I passed a very young boy on his bike and I had a laugh when I passed him because he looked up at me and let out a big "wooowwww" (I was more than twice his height when we were both on our bikes).