Not many cities in the world are surrounded by picturesque national parks. Fewer have pristine natural landscapes in the city itself. Sydney is known for being beautiful, but a lot of us have little idea just how accessible that beauty is. Here are our favourite spots to experience it, less than an hour’s drive from the city.

Karloo Pools

A five kilometre trudge through bush in the Royal National Park will lead you to a natural pool as perfectly designed for human leisure as anything made by humans. Karloo Pool has mixed depths, is spectacularly clear and there are a number of flat rocky outcrops to picnic on. The hike there is not without its charm, either. Along with the classic Australian assortment of shrubs, rocks and leafy creeks, there’s the Uloola Falls and scenic bush views.

10-kilometre round trip

43-minute drive from the city, 41 minute on the train

Karloo Pools

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Lane Cove National Park’s Great North Walk

The Great North Walk is a long one, running 250 kilometres from Newcastle, inland almost to Cessnock, then down to Sydney. To walk the entire thing takes about 16 days, but it does have a few parts that are accessible on a one-day trip. The beautiful 20-kilometre bush hike is best accessed by getting a train to Thornleigh and then another at North Ryde.

20 kilometres one way

15-minute drive from the city, 46 minutes on the train

Lane Cove walk

The Coastal Track

This track is one of the best examples of New South Wales’ gorgeous coastal geography. Almost the entire 26 kilometres is made up of either ridiculous cliff views or postcard-worthy beaches. It’s best to start this one early because you’ll want to give yourself some time to enjoy the beaches and stop along the way for a scenic picnic – the area around North Era Campground is our pick.

26 kilometres one way

25-minute drive from the city, 1 hour on the train

The Coastal Track

Berowra to Bobbin Head

This is the best of the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park walks, located 45 minutes north of Sydney. The track goes through a temperate rainforest and past harbour swimming spots. It also has great harbour views, lots of Australian flora and lookout points over Mount Kuring-Gai.

9 kilometres one way

43-minute drive from the city, 90-minutes-plus on the train and bus

Berowra to Bobbin Head

Crater Cove

Tucked into thick bush around the cliffs of Dobroyd Head lies a cluster of rickety shacks. They’re the abandoned homes and studios of a previously secret community of artists and escapees from society. Now they’re an attraction for well-versed hikers and beach goers around the north shore. Somehow, news of the site still hasn’t reached the Sydney beach-going masses, so you’ll find most of your walk, swim and exploration to be mostly, or even completely, alone.

*Requires more general exploration than a specific track

25-minute drive from the city, 1 hour and 20 minutes on the bus

Crater Cove