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.



TrailWalk into History incl Ada Tree
ActivityWalk or Run
TypePoint 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
StartWarburton / Powelltown
FinishPowelltown / Warburton
Distance51.2km (full length) or 43km (start or finish at Big Pats Creek)
Ascent1200m or 1102m
Descent1267m or 1103m
Max Elevation808 m
FeaturesHistorical logging industry relics and tramways, the Ada Tree, gigantic Mountain Ash, lush tree fern forests
FacilitiesToilets: 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
NotesBest 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

Walk it

  1. If you choose to take on the longest version of this walk, you can start in Warburton (an option for those reliant on public transport, which does not go out to Big Pats Creek). Begin at the Main St, slipping down the back of the shops via an alley opposite the Police Station
  2. Pick up the riverside trail heading east, upstream. You can follow it on either side of the bank – both trails will lead to the same point (1.7km), at a road bridge where the Warburton Hwy crosses the Yarra River
  3. Here you can choose two directions: the first is to cross the road, turn right and walk 200m before turning left down Riverside Dr. Follow Riverside Dr for 3.6km until you reach Big Pats Creek Rd. Then follow directions from point 6.
  4. Altneratively, if you want more trail and less road, take the footpath that loops under the bridge and again pick up the trail riverside. It continues to follow the Yarra River upstream passing through the Warburton Caravan Park, eventually picking up a trail at the far (eastern) end.
  5. Follow this trail until it crosses the Warburton Hwy. It will continue alongside until reaching a bridge where the footpath ceases. With caution cross the bridge and follow the highway a few hundred metres until you reach Riverside Dr off to the right. Walk back along Riverside Dr until you reach the junction with Big Pats Creek Rd.
  6. Reaching Big Pats Creek Rd (from either direction), turn down it and walk roadside for 3km in to the Big Pats Creek camping area – you will cross a road bridge. Look for the Walk Into History trail signage to your right. It sidles up between Big Pats Creek and Smyth Creek Road. This is where you can also park and begin your walk if looking to cut out the Warburton to Big Pats Creek section.
  7. Ahead is 9km of trail that gently climbs up the valley towards Starlings Gap.
  8. At 10.3km (cumulative) or 1.9km beyond Big Pats Creek trailhead you will reach Burns Rd. Continue along briefly looking on your left hand side to re-enter the singletrack. Follow the trail all the way up to Starlings Gap.
  9. At Starlings Gap, cross the road to the picnic and camping area. This is a great overnight stop. It is also a good location for a shorter walk (potentially still an overnighter at 24km) from here out to the Ada Tree and New Federal Mill and back.
  10. Continuing on, pick up the singletrack located to the eastern side of the camping area.
  11. The tramway trail follows the contours, working its way 7.5km downstream along the Ada Valley, eventually coming in to The Crossing, an intersection where you can turn left on an out-and-back to the New Ada Mill, right down towards Powelltown, or continue straight ahead towards the Ada Tree and New Federal Mill. For those skipping the Ada Tree section, turn right. Otherwise continue on straight through (east) towards New Federal Mill.
  12. Walkers will arrive at the New Federal Mill site, one of the most prolific mills of the timber industry heyday, eventually closed in 1949. From here, continue on to complete the Ada Tree loop in an anti-clockwise direction. You will come to the Ada Tree Picnic Area first, then take the ‘Island Creek Walk’, a 1.3km section that is perhaps the most stunning of the entire route, passing through fern corridors and verdant gullies before reaching the Ada Tree viewing platform.
  13. From the Ada Tree, continue the loop around anti-clockwise, the trail following the Little Ada River until re-joining the track you walked in on.
  14. Retrace your steps back to The Crossing.
  15. Turn left at The Crossing, heading south past the impressive Ada Mill No.2 – another good campsite located near the Ada River.
  16. After crossing Downey Spur Rd you drop immediately down the intimidating High Lead, a precipitous descent that shoots directly off the spur towards Big Creek, 2km and 500 vertical metres below.
  17. Hitting Big Creek, the terrain flattens out for a pleasant creek-side walk over 2.5km until reaching the main Yarra Junction-Noojee Rd and High Lead Car Park.
  18. From here, walkers pick up the final 11km length of the Walk Into History. For 3.5km you will follow Little Yarra River before the trail crosses briefly back over the main road, and then back again at the historic Bump Tunnel, a railway cutting constructed in 1925. Spanning 313m in length it was constructed to avoid winching up the extreme inclines found here.
  19. Another 3.5km of mostly benched trail (with a few small gully drops) and you will pop out on Mackley Ck Rd.
  20. Turn left down the road and walk 800m until you reach the main road, cross over and pick up the signed ‘Walk Into History’ singletrack diving back into the foliage.
  21. After dipping down some steps you will emerge into a clearing – there will be a house to your left. Cross the clearing and take the trail to your right, which will again dip down into a small gully and back up some steps.
  22. The route follows the trail on west until joining Lloyds Rd. Continue on straight ahead following the Walk Into History signage.
  23. You will come to Blake St. Cross over and find a small yard to your right down the side of a church hall. Continue on to the main road, crossing over to pick up the footpath heading west alongside the Yarra Junction–Noojee R.
  24. Follow the path until you reach the trailhead car park and Powelltown Picnic Area, obvious for the interpretation signage.


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.

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