This is a fascinating journey on foot along well-preserved timber industry tramways, past old bush mills and relics of yesteryear hidden amongst the forest, reminders of when gangs of foresters called this wilderness their office.
The route as described includes a very worthwhile out-and-back to the famous Ada Tree, a 75.1 metre-high mountain ash considered one of Victoria's largest living trees and estimated to be over 300 years old.
If you are seeking to complete the full length in one push this is best done as a multiday walk. Most guides advise walking from Warburton to Powelltown, this ensures the climbing is of a mostly-gentle gradient, ascended over a longer distance early on, and the steep section along High Lead – which rises/drops 500m in only 2km – is tackled as a downhill rather than uphill.
The Warburton/Big Pats Creek to Powelltown traverse is an approach that delivers most of the climbing over a 9km singletrack stretch. This was once the main thoroughfare for timber workers traipsing on foot to and from the Warburton township for their working week spent in the isolated bush mills.
The trail rises up from Big Pats Creek towards Starlings Gap campsite and picnic area, an excellent place to pitch the tent for an overnight stop.
From Starlings Gap, a mostly-benched trail follows an old tramway downstream along the Ada Valley, through tall, wet forest and more temperate rainforest, with views across tea tree and melaleuca zones.
Reaching a major trail intersection, The Crossing, walkers can choose to explore a short out-and-back trail leading north to the New Ada Sawmill site (which, of course, is not new at all!), or head further east to explore the New Federal Mill, once the biggest and most prolific producer of the area, and the impressive Ada Tree, one of Victoria’s biggest. Or you can skip the out-and-back and instead go straight to the rapid descent into the Big Creek valley, via the knee-crumbling High Lead, dropping 500m in 2km.
Reaching the valley, it’s a moderate walk through stunning rainforest pockets and multiple creek crossings as you follow old tramway trails all the way into Powelltown.
There are shorter walk options (see Alternatives header). Our guide takes on the full-shebang from Warburton but you can always begin at Big Pats Creek (most people do).
Or, to halve the distance and take out the big drop down High Lead, try the Starlings Gap to Ada Tree return, at 24km and 422m of climbing.
Those seeking a still shorter, but no less impressive experience, can drive to near the Ada Tree, and complete a beautiful 5km loop walk to the tree and back to the car.
|Trail||Walk into History incl Ada Tree|
|Activity||Walk or Run|
|Type||Point to point (see Alternatives header for an out and back plus loop suggestion)|
|Grade (if available)||Moderate to Difficult (Up to) Grade 4 – Australian Walking Track Grading System|
|Start||Warburton / Powelltown|
|Finish||Powelltown / Warburton|
|Distance||51.2km (full length) or 43km (start or finish at Big Pats Creek)|
|Ascent||1200m or 1102m|
|Descent||1267m or 1103m|
|Max Elevation||808 m|
|Features||Historical logging industry relics and tramways, the Ada Tree, gigantic Mountain Ash, lush tree fern forests|
|Facilities||Toilets: Powelltown, Ada Tree Picnic Area, Starlings Gap, Big Pats Creek Recreation Area, Warburton|
Car Parking: Powelltown, High Lead Car Park, Ada Tree Picnic Area, Starlings Gap, Big Pats Creek Recreation Area, Warburton Camping: Ada No2 Mill Site, Starlings Gap, Big Pats Creek Recreation Area, Warburton
|Notes||Best completed in summer and shoulder seasons; muddy, slippery, can even be snowbound and difficult going in winter; car shuttle required, there is no direct public transport between Powelltown and Warburton|
Begin your walk at Big Pats Creek, thereby cutting off the transit section from Warburton. You can also terminate your walk at High Lead Car Park, saving another 11km (from Big Pats Creek trailhead to High Lead is 31km).
For a shorter walk that is out-and-back with less climbing, you can park at Starlings Gap, and walk out to The Ada Tree and back. This is a ‘highlights route’ as it takes in the most spectacular parts and includes most of the historical artefacts to be discovered, plus Ada herself! It’s still a decent distance, however, clocking in at just over 24km and 422m of ascent, so you may want to camp at the New Federal Mill site, 9.5km in (or 14.5km if you complete the Ada Tree loop before pitching your tent).
Or, for an even quicker burst, try the 5km loop (142m ascent) that goes into the famed big tree from the Ada Tree Picnic Area – it’s short but worth the drive in, such is the bang for your rainforest-buck.
The Walks eGuide features over 200 walks and trails in the Dandenong Ranges and Yarra Valley. Covering all ability levels, whether your walk is dog-friendly or where to find your nearest toilet is covered in the Walks eGuide. At $15, it's a steal so grab your copy now!