Leaving aside a stroll around Lake Burley Griffin, the Mt Ainslie Summit walk (sometimes referred to as the Kokoda Track after the famous WWII Kokoda Trail in neighbouring Papua New Guinea) is the most popular short walk in Canberra. You will find people along this track from pre-dawn till late evening. If you are up to it this is a must do walk.
Mt Ainslie is the second highest peak in city area at 843 metres, the highest being Mt Majura at 890 metres – which you can walk to from the top (or bottom!) of Mt Ainslie. It you can only walk up one, Mt Ainslie is the one to do.
The walk starts at the back of the Australian War Memorial in Remembrance Nature Park which was so named in 1978 to mark the 60th anniversary of the Armistice that ended WWI. The path from here winds its way 1.9kms to the summit of Mount Ainslie. The fully sealed track is rather steep in parts and contains a number of steps but is doable by almost anyway of if take your time. Allow yourself around 1.5 – 2hrs for the return trip. The ascent, these days, takes me about 45 minutes.
The view from the top is, in my view, the best view of Canberra available and clearly shows its unique layout along an axis from the summit to the distant Brindabella Mountains. You will also appreciate why Canberra is often referred to as the Bush Capital as you look out across the luscious tree growth throughout the city.
From my separate review on Mt Ainslie Summit you will see that you can drive to the summit. If you are unable to walk up then, off course, drive up but I do recommend the walk.
A large plaque at the beginning of the walk describes the Kokoda Trail in Papua New Guinea and its significance to Australia in WWII. On July 21, 1942, Japanese troops landed on the northern coast of then New Guinea and began to march over the Owen Stanley Ranges (on what is now known as the Kokoda Trail) with the intent of capturing Port Moresby the capital of New Guinea. Had they succeeded, the mainland of Australia would have come under serious threat.
Along the way you will come across a number of smaller brass plaques which provide additional detail on the Kokoda Trail, highlight some of the events that occurred along it during WWII and recall how the Australian forces scuttled the intentions of the Japanese. The plaques are an interesting read as you make your way to the summit (or an excuse for a rest!).
About 200 metres into the walk you will come across a sign on your left directing you to a short trail (70 metres) to a small memorial plaque dedicated to Aboriginal people who served in Australia’s armed forces. Do go in for a look – the setting is fantastic. Some people will invite you to contrast this simple memorial with the Australian War Memorial – certainly worth thinking about but a rather unfair comparison. Have a look at my separate review on the National Aboriginal War Memorial for additional information on this most interesting memorial. Within that review is a picture of the turnoff sign you need to watch out for.
In terms of wildlife Mt Ainslie is home to kangaroos, rabbits, birds and other wildlife so keep an eye out for those. That said you are more likely to see wildlife on some of the lesser used tracks on Mt Ainslie.
If you are travelling with your dog do bring it along, on a lead. There is a drinking fountain and tap to provide water to dogs at the top.
Since late 2013 this trail up Mt Ainslie forms a small part of Section One of the Canberra Centenary Trail – a 145km walk around Canberra.