New South Wales is home to more than 870 national parks and reserves, many of which are within a few hours’ drive of Sydney. Most of us are familiar with the Royal National Park, home to stunning Wattamolla Beach; the dramatic cliffs and calls of lyrebirds in the Blue Mountains; and the hidden coves and harbour views of Sydney Harbour National Park. Less well-known are the myriad other protected areas nearby where you can immerse yourself in nature and ancient culture – and they’re easily accessible for a day trip or weekend. We’ve rounded up five to visit this spring.

Garigal National Park
This peaceful park just 15 kilometres north of the CBD is accessible by public transport (or 40 minutes by car). From the Acron Oval bus stop at St Ives, a well-worn 3.8-kilometre one-way walk along The Cascades track meanders through red-gum and bloodwood forest. The park is teeming with native wildlife, such as lorikeets, rosellas, swamp wallabies and the occasional echidna. The area contains more than 100 Aboriginal sites, including rock engravings and cave art, revealing the ancient history of the land’s traditional owners. There’s also a bunch of mountain bike trails, and you can try canoeing or a guided kayak tour with Sydney Harbour Kayaks, exploring the coves and bays of Middle Harbour.

Dharawal National Park
Waterfalls, rockpools and swimming holes are the standout features of Dharawal National Park, a landscape abundant with rivers, eucalyptus bush and sandstone boulders south of Campbelltown. A 2.4-kilometre (return) walk leads you to Jingga pools, where you can plunge into the freshwater creek or relax over a picnic. If walking isn’t your thing, traverse the park by bike instead, following the unsealed 10B Cycling trail through open forest from the Appins Road entrance to the park. It’s a 30-kilometre return journey with a few short hills and a picnic rest stop on the way. The lookout over Maddens Falls is also worth a stop – surrounding vegetation and native wildflowers abound during spring.

Dharug National Park
The leisure and peace of kayaking up (or staying by) the Hawkesbury River is unparalleled. It’s the same tranquillity you’ll find all across Dharug National Park, which extends up the river towards Wisemans Ferry. Family-friendly Mill Creek campground hosts 31 sites, sheltered beneath large eucalypt trees and sandstone cliffs, with toilet and barbeque amenities. Spring is perfect for mountain biking along the park’s extensive trails – choose from the 18-kilometre Dubbo Gully loop or a 43-kilometre (one-way) stretch of Old Great North Road, built by convicts. Break up the journey by camping at the more secluded Ten Mile Hollow camp site.

Brisbane Water National Park
This beautiful national park encompasses sections of the Great North Walk from Sydney to Newcastle and offers secluded beaches, lush rainforests and cliff-top views over the central coast. At the southern end, take the three-kilometre track between Pearl Beach and Patonga through a fern forest, and reward yourself with a dip in the ocean or a cold one at The Boathouse Hotel next to Patonga Beach. Ferries between Patonga and Sydney’s Palm Beach leave regularly so you can embark on a beach pilgrimage in either direction. Further north, the Somersby Falls picnic area has free barbeques and picnic tables ready for a lazy lunch in a spacious, tranquil bush setting. Take the short walking track to the cascades to tie off your visit.

Budderoo National Park
Just 20 minutes drive inland from the south coast, near Kiama, lies the gorgeous Budderoo National Park. Watch the Carrington Falls drop dramatically to the valley below from one of three lookouts accessible from the nearby walking track and picnic area. Or camp beside the Kangaroo River at the simple Carrington Falls campground. Overlooking the expansive Kangaroo Valley, this park was damaged by recent bushfires, but spring promises new growth and regeneration. The Minnamurra Rainforest is untainted, though – here raised boardwalks and suspension bridges take you deep into a rainforest spanning subtropical, dry and temperate climates dense with ferns, strangler figs and orchids.

Check NSW National Parks for alerts and closures before you visit. All camping in NSW National Parks now require a booking in keeping with Covid-19 social distancing restrictions.