Cox's River Loop

ROUTE: A 38km loop in the Blue Mountains, two-thirds of which is walking and a third paddling. Park at the end of Megalong Valley Road, walk to Cox’s River via Ironpot Ridge, then paddle downstream 12km to camp at Konangaroo Clearing. The next day, walk back to the car via the Wild Dog Mountains

MAPS: Jenolan, Kanangra

DATE: Jan 6-7, 2012

BOM river height data for Jan 6: Cox’s River at Lithgow, 1.02m. Cox’s River at Kelpie Point, 0.16m

Day 1: Picked up an epirb from Blackheath NWPS, drove to the very end of Megalong Valley Road and parked at Dunphy’s Campground (this spot is also referred to in some guidebooks as Carlon’s Farm or Green Gully). Started walking at about 10.45am. Misty and cool conditions. Ironpot Ridge is a great route down to the Cox’s River – it’s quicker than the more commonly used Carlon Creek/Breakfast Creek track, and has better views too – but you need to pay close attention to the navigation (I didn’t, and wasted an hour after getting sidetracked). The last half-hour is a strenuous descent to the river. Arrived at the Cox’s at 2pm, and was happy to see the river level looked fine for a packraft trip. (The Cox’s is usually shallow, clear and fast flowing, but determining the likely river level involves some guesswork - the BOM gauge at Kelpie Point, way downstream near the junction with the Kowmung, usually registers a minus figure, bizarrely, and the BOM gauge at Lithgow isn’t much of a guide either, as it’s way upstream near the river’s source). Anyway, as I inflated my Alpacka on the bank I could see the recent rains had dealt me a good hand: the river was definitely high enough to paddle.

I’m familiar with the section of the Cox’s upstream from the Breakfast Creek junction, from trout-fishing trips in recent years – it’s a great spot for an overnighter from Sydney – and was really excited at the prospect of seeing what lay downstream. It was super relaxed paddling for the first two hours, being helped along by the current through pools and down gentle rapids. High mountains on either side but the forested banks mean you don’t see much of them, except when they’re directly ahead. Saw a couple of feral pigs, a bunch of cormorants and a big bird of prey (think it was a White-Bellied Sea Eagle) on its perch above the river. The boat bottomed out on rocks a few times going over rapids, but nothing too bad; I only had to get out a couple of times, and that was to walk the boat around fallen trees. There are plenty of sandbanks on which to stop.

A couple of hours into the trip the rapids start to become a little bigger, and they stay that way for the rest of the paddle. Still, they’re very tame compared to, say, the Colo; this isn’t an adrenaline-rush sort of trip, more of a relaxed float down a very pretty (and pretty remote) river. It would be a different story when the Cox’s is in proper flood, though – I saw that a couple of years ago and it was absolutely thundering; no doubt some people would love to paddle it like that. After four and a half hours I took out at Konangaroo Clearing, a parcel of land next to the junction with Kanangra Creek that apparently was selected in the 1860s by a 16-year-old, which is amazing. These days there are three little shacks there (private, and padlocked) and a nice bit of grass on which to set up camp. Nobody else about but a few kangaroos. Cooked up dinner and crashed as the sun went down.

Day 2: Up at 5.30am, very misty but you could see it was going to be a hot one, and it’s an 18km walk across the mountains to get back to the car. I wanted to get going early in order to tackle the big climb of the day – the 600m ascent of Mount Yellow Dog – while it was still cool. First, though, back into the boat for the 700m paddle downstream to the crossing point. On the way you pass the junction with Kanangra Creek, a crystal-clear little brook in these conditions but obviously a monster in flood, judging by the fan of big rocks pushed out at the mouth of the creek. About 250m past this, just before a small set of rapids (GR 398470), I took out on the left bank and packed up the boat. From here a trail winds through the forest for 100m or so to a small campsite, and shortly afterwards begins the climb up Yellow Pup Ridge. I started climbing at 7am. It’s a beautiful ridge walk, quite hard at times, although big switchbacks ease out the toughest gradients. Good views of the morning mist burning off the sides of big, forested peaks… Mount Strongleg, Mount Nurla Morella and Mount Jenolan looming large.

Reached the top of Mount Yellow Dog at 8.30am, then set off along the gently undulating ridge towards the west side of Mount Dingo. Beautiful eucalupt forest around here, alive with morning birdsong. A giant goanna swaying down the path in front of me shot up a tree to let me pass. Stopped briefly at Mobbs Swamp to collect water (it had a sulphurous smell, though; I took a litre of it for emergencies, treated with a double dose of Aquapure, but didn’t need it). About 2km after Mobbs Swamp a small cairn (easily missed) marks the start of the track heading NNW along Black Horse Ridge, a possible route back to the car – but that would involve a 400m descent to Breakfast Creek/Carlon Creek, then a corresponding climb out again, and my legs weren’t up to that. Instead I followed the path on to Medlow Gap, where I picked up the firetrail that leads back to Dunphy’s Campground. Got back to the car at 2pm.

It was a really great trip. A little more flow in the Cox’s would have been perfect, but it’s still doable (and enjoyable) at this height. For somewhere so close to Sydney, it feels pretty remote – I didn’t see another person the whole trip. And it’s a beautiful part of the Blue Mountains. A quick note about water: the Cox’s River, despite its arcadian looks, is polluted by run-off from farms upstream; good water can be taken from Breakfast Creek and Kanangra Creek, or any other side creeks you can find.

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Great report Ross. Hadn’t considered paddling the Cox’s river and it’s great there is a section that is doable. Haven’t walked that section myself - have only done the Dunphy’s Carpark - Breakfast Creek - Wild Dog walk.

Nice detailed report Ross! Thanks for including the gauge heights etc.

I have very hazy memories of heading down Galong creek then Cox’s from “Packsaddlers” about 20 years ago. Pre packraft days meant the dreaded lilo and larger than necessary load. Watching all the black snakes slide into the water as you paddled past was unnerving.

Might have to head back and revisit the area soon.

Nice report!
It’s got me thinking about some loops in the area. Maybe winter time after a few days of rain would be a good time to run the river.

Could it be done with a bike on the front in place of a packraft to speed up the time spent hiking or are the rapids a little too bumpy?


You’d probably want to try that out on flat water first… bear in mind you’re going to have a pack as well as a bike on the front of the raft, and that’s going to be top-heavy and unwieldy. Also, it’s a lot of nasty stuff to get tangled up in, potentially, if you flip.

I’m pretty sure the route out via the Wild Dogs is Schedule Two land (because it’s near the Warragamba catchment area); if so, you wouldn’t want to get caught biking there.

Why not try it first with a day-pack and your bike on somewhere like the lower Colo? Nice road access following the river, would be a great day out.


Nice report Ross, I used to fish through there a lot (years ago) pre packraft days, it is an obvious packraft river with the levels up, great area.


Thanks for the feedback guys

Re fishing, there are quite a lot of carp in the Cox’s these days (I paddled right over the top of several on this trip; nothing seems to spook them). Trout fishing there is still good though, when they’re on. I last went in October, around Grand Bluffs (a couple of k north of the Breakfast Creek junction); they were really biting well on red celtas (spinners). Beautiful camping there too, on a big flat just past the Jenolan River junction

It would be good to do a winter packrafting run on the Cox’s, to coincide with the trout spawning run; would be bloody cold though!


Good stuff Ross. The riverside vegetation looks interesting, nice trees. Most of the rivers I paddle seem to be infested with blackberries!

Sounded awesome. I wander if I could take the misses? do you reckon she could handle the the 600m ascent of Mount Yellow Dog? She likes to bushwalk but is not really fit (neither am I ha) and loves to complain. The half-hour strenuous descent even sounds too much for her.

Yeah give it a go. Yellow Dog actually isn’t too bad, thanks to the switchbacks. You could always camp at Mobbs Swamp to break up the long walk-out.

I saw your reference to paddling the Shoalhaven from Horseshoe to Tallowa Dam … would love to read more about that, are you going to do a trip report? Sounds really good


I am definitely going to do a winter Hike/Packraft/Tenkara trip on Cox this year.

Thanks yeah I think well give it a go next chrissy.

New to this but yeah I think I will.