On a recent walk into the former Sherwood Homestead I had views of Mt McDonald in the distance – one such view depicted below. This reminded me that while I had walked part-way up the mountain, to the Cotter Catchment Lookout, I had not yet visited the top. To-day’s early spring walk would put that right and I would make a slight deviation on the return to re-visit the dam/catchment lookout. As it turned out, this was one of the best walks with the best views for the effort required that I have done in a while – highly recommended.

Mt McDonald from Mountain Creek Road on Sherwood Homestead Walk

The trailhead for this walk is a car park on the Brindabella Road, about two kilometres on your left if coming from the intersection with the Cotter Road (Cotter Reserve) which you will have taken if coming from Canberra (25kms or 30mins drive).

The walk is about 4.4kms return (3.8km for the summit walk with a 0.6 km diversion to the Catchment Lookout), initially along a bush track and then along a management road, and is reasonably easy going. There are a few directional indicators along the route, sufficient to stop you getting lost, for sure. Allow an hour and a half to two hours which includes sufficient time to take in the views.

When I last did the Cotter Catchment Lookout Walk (maybe ten years ago) I am fairly sure that there was no option other than to take the management road from the carpark. This is substantially longer (and not really any easier) than the ‘new to me’ trail through the bush.

This post is a review based on taking the bush track which you can easily spot behind the large information board in the carpark. It is worth having a look at the board as, not only does it contain the walk sketch map depicted below,  it displays an excellent history of the Cotter River Catchment and the Dam, together with details on the management of the reserve and attempts underway to restore native vegetation and combat soil erosion. As I have included a little of that history on my Cotter Reserve post I won’t repeat it here.

The Mt McDonald Lookout walk this the blue dashed line – A detour to the Cotter Catchment Lookout adds about 6oo metres to the return walk while following the management road from the beginning (yellow) adds around three kilometres to the summit walk.

The initial bush track, to its connection with the management road, is a little rugged in part and, like the rest of the walk, is uphill the whole way. I should however point out that while the Mt McDonald lookout sits at 797 metres you start the walk at 587 metres so giving an incline of 210 metres over about two kilometres which is not too bad.

The bush track
Mt McDonald ahead but the track meanders upwards for an easier walk

After about 700 metres the bush track intersects with the Mt McDonald management road and at this point I turned right for the Mt McDonald summit. From here I could have gone to the Catchment Lookout but chose to visit it on my return from the summit (see below).

Having turned right it wasn’t long until I had a good view back down to the Cotter Reservoir one of Canberra’s main potable water sources.

Cotter Reservoir

From the turn-off the summit was along a wide management road – easily walked.

Management road to Mt McDonald summit and lookout
Pines in springtime bloom
Looking down towards the Murrumbidgee River  and beyond

While I spotted a few birds including some colourful rosellas they were too fast for me to photograph (or was I too slow to photograph them?). I did, however, capture a rather inquisitive kangaroo, with my camera that is!

Approaching the summit turn-off (you cannot miss it) there are great views, including towards Canberra, easily identified by the Telstra Tower on Black Mountain.

The final couple of hundred metres
Mt McDonald summit marker and the remains of an old fire lookout tower

From the summit there are wonderful views in almost all directions (almost 360 degrees) and what made them particularly special on my walk were the green pastures. My overseas reader may find this comment odd but suffice it to say we have had very little rain over the past few years and have come to accept a parched brown country.

Summit view to Murrumbidgee River across beautiful spring-time hardenbergia 
Summit view to the Sherwood Forest area across Uriarra
village with Mt Dowling in the mid-foreground and the Brindabella Mountains in the distance
Summit view across the Murrumbidgee River valley towards Black Mountain (Canberra) – slight zoom used on this picture
Cotter Reservoir from just below Mt McDonald summit
The management road continues on past the summit turn-off – down the other side of Mt McDonald (photo from the walk turnaround point)
Spring flowers around Mt McDonald summit
Heading back towards the Cotter Catchment Lookout

Having returned to the bush track turn-off I continued on along the management road for another 20-30 metres and turned right (signposted) onto a 250 metres track to the Cotter Catchment Area Lookout. Again, it being spring there were some nice flowers along this section of the walk as well as peaks down to the reservoir.

The reservoir from the Lookout track

Having arrived at the lookout, where these is a bench should you need a rest or just want to sit down and take in the view, I had a sweeping view along the reservoir with numerous local local peaks in the distance. Each peak is identified on an information board.

Panoramic view from the Cotter Catchment Lookout
As much as I could get in of the Cotter Reservoir with my camera
Springtime flowers along the track to the Cotter Catchment Lookout

Having finally done this walk I really don’t know why I didn’t do it earlier. For my money it is, based on the effort required, one of the best walks in the Canberra/ACT area. While it was certainly a bonus doing it in the spring it would make a great walk anytime of the year, outside the height of summer when temperatures are regularly in excess of 35 degrees centigrade, hitting the mid forties on occasion.

As always, I recommend wearing proper closed shoes (hiking boots not really necessary for this one) and carrying sufficient water.


For other CANBERRA reviews click HERE.

6 thoughts on “Mt McDonald and the Cotter Catchment Lookout Walk

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