Walk Warburton and take the scenic route home
|Trail||Backstairs Track - Little Joe Loop - Tramway|
|Grade (if available)||Difficult (long) or Moderate (short)|
|Start||Warburton Main Street|
|Finish||Warburton Main Street|
|Distance||12 km (long) / 9 km (short)|
|Ascent||622 m / 500 m|
|Descent||566 m /500m|
|Max Elevation||469 m|
|Features||Historic Dolly Grey Park, lush fern gully on Backstairs Track, steep ascent and tall forests on Mt Little Joe|
|Facilities||Toilets: Warburton township Car Parking: Warburton township|
|Notes||Can be done any time of the year, although Backstairs Track, Little Joe and Tramways trail can get muddy and slippery in winter.|
For walkers who want to tick off a summit, here’s a trek 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.
The access to 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, the route swings 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). Steel yourself here because the wide track up Little Joe plows straight up very steeply to the summit. At least at the top you can catch views across the valley through stands of trees burned in Black Friday and Ash Wednesday as you catch your breath.
The route then loops back around passing under the north side of the summit, heading out to the rear-side entry of Little Joe. For a shorter walk (9km), from here you can head back down Backstairs track and into town. Or for 3km of extra exercise, take the diversion into Old Warburton where you can pick up an old benched tramway that edges along pleasantly back to the high side of the Warburton township. A leisurely drop downhill into town and it’s time for cafe rest-stop!
- Begin anywhere along Warburton Main St if you like, but a good spot to is Cog Cafe, as it has a car park and is where you need to pick up the Lilydale-Warburton Rail Trail
- Head west (towards Melbourne) on the Rail Trail, crossing Station R, for 800m until you cross over a high bridge at Scotchmans Creek.
- Immediately after crossing the bridge, take a sharp U-turn down to your left, exiting into a small car park.
- 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!
- 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 stunning fern gully.
- At the top, you will pop out on Old Warburton Rd. To your immediate right there is a gated trail. Skirt around the gate and pick up the 4WD track that sweeps around a gully and on to the rear flank of Mt Little Joe. [If you didn’t want to take on Little Joe’s significant climb, you can 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, see point 11.]
- 500m after turning on to 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. Put your engine into low gear and go straight up.
- 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 treeline, ravaged in Black Friday and Ash Wednesday.
- 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 and turn right onto Mt Little Joe Tk.
- 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 to re-join where you originally started your ascent to the top. Return to the junction of Backstairs Track and Old Warburton Rd.
- At Old Warburton Rd, turn right and walk up the gentle hill, keeping safe on the verge.
- Just under 600m later, on the high side of the road you will spy a small singletrack trailhead. Make a U-turn and head back along this. This trail will parallel the road you just ran up for a while, before veering away and widening out to what was an old tramway from the logging days.
- 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.
- Another 400m farther on take a left hand turn down Clarke Av – it becomes a no-thoroughfare for cars, but walkers can pass an it soon returns to being a residential street.
- At the end of Clarke Av turn left on to La La Av and left–right again on to Highfield Rd.
- Approximately 500m around the bend, veer off the road, taking a small singletrack that drops back on to the Lilydale-Warburton Rail Trail. A little further on you will return to the Cog Cafe and your starting point. And perhaps a soothing tea or re-invigorating coffee?
As mentioned, you can choose to 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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