Getting out of the city and into nature with friends and family is a great way to spend a weekend or day out over the holidays. One of the highlights of living in Melbourne is that you don’t always have to travel long distances or stay overnight to get your dose of the great outdoors.
Here’s a selection of fantastic parks for a day trip that only take an hour or less by car from Melbourne – and most of them offer great recreational activities or ways to cool off by a lake or river.
Plenty Gorge Parklands
20 kms north of Melbourne on Wurundjeri Country
Located between the suburbs of Bundoora, Mill Park, Plenty and South Morang, Plenty Gorge Parklands offers plenty of areas to explore.
Plenty Gorge Parklands surround the Plenty River, offering walks, multiple picnic areas, playgrounds and even a bush camp for school or community groups.
The gorge offers beautiful landscape views of native vegetation, unique geological formations of basalt and sedimentary rock and of course the Plenty River. There are several walking tracks within the park, including family friendly walks, designated areas for on-lead dog walking and opportunities to spot unique native wildlife.
If you’re visiting the parklands for the first time, the Hawkstowe or Red Gum Picnic Areas are great places to start – from here you can have a picnic or barbecue or start your way on one of the trails.
Alternatively, the Yellow Gum Recreation Area also offers barbecue and picnic facilities and walking tracks that pass the blue lake.
If you have a Victorian Amateur Fishing license you can bring your own bait and rod to the Blue Lake for some fishing.
In 2022, we’ll start works on the new Plenty River Trail and picnic area upgrades at the Hawkstowe Picnic Area. The Victorian Government is investing $19.3 million in the Plenty River Trail.
Learn more about Plenty Gorge Parklands.
Warrandyte State Park
23 kms north-east of Melbourne on Wurundjeri Country
Warrandyte State park is a large park that follows the banks of the Yarra River in Melbourne’s north-east. There are several reserves and picnic areas within the park which offer a great place for a picnic, birdwatching, walking or launching your canoe for a paddle downriver.
Along the interpretive walking trail leaving from Pound Bend Reserve you can learn about the history, culture and life of the Wurundjeri people.
There are plenty of walks in the park, including the 3.5 km Pound Bend River Walk and the 2km Jumping Creek Nature Walk and horse riding is also permitted in some areas along the bridle trails.
Warrandyte has a rich gold history, with a gold memorial at the site of Victoria’s first gold discovery in 1851 at Fourth Hill. If you have a Miners Right you can even prospect for gold in a section of Anderson’s Creek within the park.
Learn more about the different sites you can visit within Warrandyte State Park.
18 kms south-east of Melbourne on Bunurong Country
‘Karkarook’, which means ‘sandy place’, is at the site of a former sand mine. Over several decades it has been transformed into an inviting community park, complete with a beautiful 15-hectare lake and native vegetation.
The lake offers plenty of recreational activities including canoeing, kayaking and sailing, and you can even take your fishing rod to try and catch some Rainbow Trout or Red Fin fish at the lake.
Karkarook Park features a 6 km network of walking trails, including the Lake Trail which goes all the way around the lake and the Wetlands Trail which is a great place for spotting birdlife!
The lake trail is a wide, shared-use track which is mostly flat and suitable for people with prams or wheelchairs.
The park is a great place to bring the kids for a picnic – the Dragonfly Picnic Area features electric barbecues, picnic tables, a playground and an observation tower for a full view of the park.
Dogs are also allowed in the park in designated on and off-lead areas.
In early 2022, Karkarook Park will receive new picnic tables as part of the early works for the Urban Parks Active Wellbeing Program. The park will receive further upgrades to the toilets, picnic areas and playground in 2023 as part of this $21 million program delivering upgrades at 21 parks across Melbourne.
Learn more about everything on offer at Karkarook Park.
Organ Pipes National Park
22 kms north-west of Melbourne on Wurundjeri Country
It’s just a short drive from Melbourne to arrive at Organ Pipes National Park, which hosts a mesmerising volcanic rock formation that is renowned worldwide.
The basalt rock which makes up the hexagonal organ pipes columns is predicted to be around one million years old and was formed by the cooling and cracking of molten lava.
Visitors can enjoy short walks which include lookouts to the Rosette Rock, Tessellated Pavement and the iconic Organ Pipes rock formation.
The short walks make this park a great option for a family visit with opportunities for young visitors to learn about the rich natural and cultural history of the site and to stop for a picnic in the picnic area.
The park is also a great place for spotting native wildlife – if you’re lucky you might spot kangaroos, echidnas, bats, sugar gliders and platypus.
In 2023, the park will receive improvements including upgrades to the public toilet, new barbecues, picnic shelters, carpark and visitor centre as part of the Victorian Government’s $21 million Urban Parks Active Wellbeing Program.
35kms south-east of Melbourne on Bunurong and Wurundjeri Country
Lysterfield Park has something to offer everyone – from a relaxed picnic by the lake to adventurous mountain biking.
Lysterfield Park is home to unique vegetation across wetlands and grasslands that support diverse wildlife specifies including owls, bats, frogs and various reptiles.
There are a couple of great walking trails around the park, including a 6km circuit trail around the lake and the 6 km (or 12 km round trip) Granite Peak Trail which offers 360 degree views of Melbourne from Trig Point – on a clear day you can see as far as Western Port and the You Yangs!
If you’re keen for some company for a walk, or are looking to start your fitness or wellness journey, we volunteer-led park walks at Lysterfield Park every Friday. Bookings are essential.
The lake is a great spot for recreation on the water, where you can kayak, canoe, paddle or swim.
If you’re looking for something a bit more adventurous, bring your mountain biking gear and have a go at the 24 km of mountain biking trails which cater for all experience levels. The State Mountain Bike Course at the park was used as venue for the 2006 Commonwealth Games.
After being closed due to damage from a storm event in October, the mountain bike trails are gradually re-opening at Lysterfield park – check the Lysterfield Park page to check if the trail you want to use will be open for your visit.
If all that is not enough adventure for you, horse riders can also access an Equestrian Trail at the park from the 24-hour carpark on Logan Park Track.
Things to know before you go
While these parks are a short trip from Melbourne, it’s important to be aware of what you may encounter on your visit – from rugged terrain, remote walking tracks, varied weather conditions and hidden underwater hazards in lakes and rivers – you can never be too careful.
Here are some of our top tips for keeping safe on your day trip:
- Check the relevant park page on our website before you go to make sure the park is open, check that the recreational activities available match your fitness level and abilities and understand if there are changes to conditions that may affect your trip.
- Check the relevant park page before you go to see if dogs are allowed in the park, and if so, which areas are dog-friendly.
- Remember to check weather conditions with the Bureau of Meteorology before you leave and dress/ pack for the day accordingly – don’t forget to pack your sunscreen, too!
- Beware of hidden underwater hazards like strong currents and debris when swimming in lakes, rivers or beaches.
- Only swim in the areas where swimming is permitted, and make sure there’s always someone around to keep an eye out for you.
- If you don’t have experience but want to try a new activity such as canoeing, rock climbing or mountain biking, we recommend booking in with one of our Licensed Tour Operators.
- Want to learn more about how you can be summer-ready when visiting our parks? Check out our article on planning the perfect day trip.