For walkers who want to tick off a summit or for those after a quick(ish) leg burner that will get the heart rate up: Mt Little Joe, the 469m mini-mountain that stands proudly to the south-west of town, between Warburton and Millgrove is the ideal loop.

Don’t get your running blinkers on straight out of the gate because the access to Mt Little Joe is one of the prettiest sections of this loop, taking walkers west along the Lilydale-Warburton Rail Trail before turning up the Backstairs Track at Scotchmans Creek. Named for a cunning old Scotsman who fossicked for nuggets on this spot, Scotchmans Creek was one of the earliest goldfields in the Upper Yarra district (opened late 1859) and was one of the Valley’s richest sources of gold.

Before starting the climb up the southern flanks of the valley, the route takes you through historic Dolly Grey Park. Backstairs Track itself – once known as Blackstairs Track – used to link Old Warburton to the ‘new’ Warburton, the steps long ago worn down by packhorses.

At the top of Backstairs Track, runners will swing off to the rear flank of mighty Mt Little Joe, named after Portuguese Joe, a 'packer' friend of local historical character, Yankee Jim (James McAvoy). If you thought the climb up Backstairs was steep, think again – the wide track up Little Joe plows directly up to the summit, where you can sneak views across the valley through stands of trees burned in Black Friday and Ash Wednesday.

The route then loops back around, passing under the north side of the summit, heading back out to the rear-side entry of Little Joe. For a shorter run (9km) you can opt to dive back down Backstairs track and into town. Or for 3km of extra running just take the diversion into Old Warburton before picking up a repurposed benched tramway track that edges along pleasantly via a few small gully crossings back to the high side of the Warburton township. A quick drop down into town and it’s time for café rest-stop!



TrailBackstairs Track - Little Joe Loop - Tramway
Grade (if available)Walk: Difficult (long) or Moderate (short)

Run: Difficult (long) or Moderate (short)
StartWarburton Main Street
FinishWarburton Main Street
Distance12 km (long) / 9 km (short)
Ascent622 m / 500 m
Descent566 m /500m
Max Elevation469 m
FeaturesHistoric Dolly Grey Park, lush fern gully on Backstairs Track, steep ascent and tall forests on Mt Little Joe
FacilitiesToilets: Warburton township
Car Parking: Warburton township
NotesCan be done any time of the year, although Backstairs Track, Little Joe and Tramways trail can get muddy and slippery in winter.

Walk / run it

  1. Begin anywhere along Warburton Main St if you like, but a good spot to begin this one is Cog Café, as it has a car park and is where you need to pick up the Lilydale-Warburton Rail Trail, heading west (towards Melbourne).
  2. Crossing Station Road, run 800m west along the Rail Trail until you cross over a high bridge at Scotchmans Creek.
  3. Immediately after crossing the bridge, take a sharp U-turn down to your left, exiting into a small car park.
  4. At the rear of the car park, you will see a boardwalk trail heading up a reed-filled creek and eventually the Historic Dolly Grey Park, apparently named for the small trolley wheels used to haul heavy loads in the logging and mining days, rather than a tribute to notorious Melbourne Gangster, Squizzy Taylor’s first wife!
  5. Follow the signs for Backstairs Track, leading you up the gully. From the car park it is a 1.4km, 164 vertical-metre climb taking you through a stunning fern gully.
  6. At the top, you will pop out on Old Warburton Rd. To your immediate right there is a gated trail. Run around the gate and pick up the 4WD track that sweeps around a gully and onto the rear flank of Mt Little Joe. [If you didn’t want to take on Mt Little Joe’s significant climb, you can always either turn around here and head directly back down, or, cutting off the Little Joe Loop, head up Old Warburton Rd to pick up the tramway track loop return, see point 11.]
  7. 500m after turning onto the Mt Little Joe track, you will arrive at a junction where a wide, bulldozed trail shoots sharply up at a jaw-dropping gradient on your left. If you can run all of it, you are officially a monster runner!
  8. The track rises 160 vertical metres in 900m, topping out at Little Joe’s summit, 460m above sea level. You will be able to catch glimpses across the valley through a fire-damaged tree line, ravaged in Black Friday and Ash Wednesday.
  9. From the summit, the trail eases down the other side onto the drier, rockier slopes of the south-west. Drop down until you hit a T-intersection, turn right onto Mt Little Joe Tk.
  10. Ease around the mountain slowly pointing yourself back east. You will pass a few tracks darting off down and up the hill – stay on Little Joe Tk, which eventually benches out and hooks below the summit and re-joins where you originally started your ascent to the top. Return to the junction of Backstairs Track and Old Warburton Rd.
  11. At Old Warburton Rd, turn right, keeping safe on the verge, running up the gentle hill.
  12. Just under 600m later you will spy on the high side of the road a small singletrack trailhead. Make a U-turn and run back along it. This trail will parallel the road you just ran up for a while, before veering away some and widening out to what was an old tramway from the logging days.
  13. The trail eases along for 2km, ducking in to cross the odd gully, eventually popping back out on to Old Warburton Rd. Cross with care.
  14. Another 400m farther on, take a left hand turn down Clarke Av – it becomes a no-thoroughfare for cars, but runners, walkers and riders can pass along it as it eventually returns to being a residential street.
  15. At the end of Clarke Av turn left onto La La Av and left–right again onto Highfield Rd.
  16. Approximately 500m around the bend, veer off the road, taking a small singletrack that drops back onto the Lilydale-Warburton Rail Trail. A little further on you will return to the Cog Café and your starting point. And perhaps a soothing tea or re-invigorating coffee?


As mentioned, you can choose to do just complete Mt Little Joe Loop and return down Backstairs Track. If you’re not after too much vertical ascent, cut out the Mt Little Joe Loop, which will save your legs from just over 4km and 312m of vertical.

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