At the time of writing this post, it’s late May 2020 and Australia is going through a staged process of coming out of isolation. The world is striving to manage human health needs during the COVID-19 pandemic. I’m seeing and hearing a lot of enthusiasm from people to get out and socialise more, but also to reconnect with outdoor spaces and places. That includes people who haven’t been especially interested in the outdoors before. I think people have become more aware of the role that getting out and about and connecting with the outdoors has on mental health and well-being.
Lots of people have been asking questions about how to find parks where they live, where they can go, what walks are around, how to get to places, what facilities are available in different locations, whether particular trails are suitable for young families or people with mobility issues, how to get started bush walking and so on.
In this article I’m going to begin answering some of those questions. I’ll give you a run down on what types of parks we have in Australia that you can access for outings, picnics, walks, bush walks and other activities. We’ll look at what the differences are between National Parks, State Forests, Regional Parks and privately managed parklands and what sorts of activities can you do there.
I wrote last year about the Goomburra Section of Main Range and in future posts I’ll share information about some of my other favourite parks as well.
What are National Parks?
National Parks and reserves are publicly owned landholdings that are protected and managed by Federal or State authorities. Many National Parks are open for public recreation activities and have infrastructure such as toilets, picnic shelters, campgrounds and marked walking trails. Some National Parks have designated mountain bike (MTB) trails and locations for abseiling, rock climbing, bouldering, and other adventurous activities. There are some National Parks with no facilities and some that are not open to the public.
If you want to know what National Parks are in your area, what facilities are there, what activities you’re permitted to do and so on, you can start by looking up the National Parks website in your state and check the Parks Australia website for information about the National Parks that are managed at the federal level. Here are some clickable links to help you find a National Park:
Visitor Information Centres are dotted around the nation and are a great source of information about the National Parks in their areas.
Regional tourist associations will also have information including accommodation and hospitality options nearby.
Social media groups is another way to find out more about National Parks and other parks as well. Many people love to share their knowledge of different parks so this can be a fantastic way to get first hand information about people’s experiences and to ask questions that you might have. But don’t forget to check with National Parks for up-to-date information as well, especially about current closures. National Parks can be closed for maintenance, bushfires, extreme weather and other reasons so I recommend checking every time before you set out for a visit.
There are entry fees for visiting some National Parks and for camping which you may need to book ahead. Some National Parks have an online booking system for camping, and others are first-in-first-served. In certain circumstances you may need to apply for a special permit well ahead of time if you want to undertake activities such as running organised events or commercial tours.
What are State Forests?
State Forests are publicly owned lands that are designated for multiple uses and which may be managed by your state National Parks, plantation companies or other enterprises. There is a lot of variation in what activities are permitted in each state forest. Mountain biking is popular in some State Forests, as well as walking, bouldering, and 4WDing.
State Forests are also subject to closure for harvesting timber and other reasons, so once again it’s best to check what’s on offer before heading out. My suggestion is to get on the Internet and search for State Forests in your area to find out more. Very generally there are fewer facilities and less infrastructure provided at State Forests than in National Parks so you need to be prepared to be self-sufficient.
What are Regional Parks?
There are lots of other public parks and reserves that are not National Parks or State Forests. Many of these are managed by regional councils or other local authorities so we’ll refer to them here as Regional Parks. They could also be managed through partnerships between different authorities and even with the private sector. Because the management can vary from place to place, you’ll need to look up your local council government website, or contact your Visitor Information Centre or your regional tourist association for more information about what’s around and what you can do there.
I want to give another plug for Visitor Information Centres. They can be a wealth of information about all sorts of local attractions, not just parks. And they should be able to tell you or give you brochures about local marked or signed walks, places where you’re allowed to take your dog, and parks where there are public toilets. Information Centres are often staffed by volunteers who are enthusiastic about sharing their knowledge of their area.
How do I find out about privately owned places that I can visit?
There are some privately owned or managed properties that the public can access for recreation, often for a fee. I’m thinking here about campgrounds, bush retreats and farm properties which allow you to camp and/or use the property for bushwalking, bike riding, climbing, bird watching, photography, picnics and so on. These properties are usually required to comply with certain regulations or have a licence and insurance to allow visitors. Once again you can find out about them through Internet searches; social media groups; Visitor Information Centres; and travel, tourism and accommodation platforms.
Your mental health will thank you for it!
I hope this article has given you some helpful information about how to find parks in your region and what the differences are between National Parks, State Forests, Regional Parks and privately managed park lands. All of these parks offer a different range of outdoor experiences and activities. It’s absolutely vital for your mental health and overall well-being to get out, to be active and to connect with nature. And my aim is to help you to do that in ways that are safe and health-giving as well as good for the environment.
Listen to the audio version of this blog on the podcast!
You can listen here to the audio version of this article on the Outdoors is my Therapy podcast, or find it on your favourite podcast player and remember to subscribe so you won’t miss future episodes about places you can go to get your outdoor therapy!
Discovering mountain biking as life’s ultimate parallel universe in her middle age, Kathryn Walton shares information and reflections in ‘Daisy Spoke’ that inform, inspire and empower women to a healthy and active lifestyle.