Rock climbing in the Grampians National Park
Spanning more than 165,000 hectares, the Grampians National Park’s natural beauty has captivated visitors for decades. Its extraordinary diverse landscape is steeped in a rich history and is a place of environmental, historical and cultural significance.
The Grampians National Park is the fourth largest park in Victoria and is recognised as the single most important botanical reserve in Victoria. It is home to one third of Victoria’s flora – some 800 native plant species. It also supports a wide range of wildlife with more than 40 mammals and an abundance of bird species. Due to its accessible nature, the park enables visitors to enjoy and appreciate Victoria’s natural and cultural values, and makes an important contribution to tourism.
Rock climbing is a significant recreational and sporting pursuit for many people. We acknowledge the physical, social and economic benefits rock climbing brings to our communities across the state.
More than 60 per cent of the park is available for rock climbing activity, constituting hundreds of sites already popular with the climbing community including Bundaleer, Mount Stapylton Amphitheatre, The Watch Tower, Wonderland Area, and Halls Gap Valley.
Parks Victoria is committed to protect and manage this land in partnership with Traditional Owners, government and the broader community.
To ensure this environmentally significant and sensitive landscape can continue to bring joy to people, and protect plants and animals well into the future, Parks Victoria, in partnership with Traditional Owner groups, is preparing a new management plan for the Grampians landscape, an area that covers the Grampians National Park and adjacent parks and reserves.
The new management plan will underpin strategic planning for the Grampians landscape over the next 15 years to ensure that precious environmental and cultural values of this iconic landscape are preserved for future generations to enjoy.
The scope of this project includes environmental conservation, cultural heritage and protection of Aboriginal rock art, recreational activities, tourism opportunities, safety and visitor experience.
Information about this project is maintained on the Engage Victoria website, where you can also register your interest and find details about upcoming engagement opportunities.
Changes to rock climbing in the Grampians National Park
In recent years, rock climbing in the Grampians National Park has increased and contemporary rock climbing activities, such as bouldering and the use of fixed protection (bolts and chain anchors), have emerged, creating risk to irreplaceable environmental and cultural values.
To ensure the protection of these values, in February 2019 Parks Victoria announced it would be strictly enforcing the existing restrictions that were created to protect the park’s highly sensitive areas called Special Protection Areas. This decision meant that activities such as rock climbing could no longer take place in a Special Protection Area, with the exception of a current exemption for existing licensed tour operators that offer rock climbing and abseiling at Summerday Valley in the Grampians National Park (see below) until 31 March 2020.
More than 60 per cent of the national park is outside of Special Protection Areas, which are clearly shown in the maps and climbing information (PDF).
In June 2019, Parks Victoria announced that tour operators offering rock climbing and abseiling at Summerday Valley in the Grampians National Park had been issued a variation to their existing licences.
The variation provides strictly conditional authorisation for existing Licensed Tour Operators to continue undertaking their activities (rock climbing and abseiling) in three designated areas – Barc Cliff, Back Wall, and a section of Wall of Fools – within Summerday Valley. This conditional authorisation has since been extended until 31 March 2020.
The decision allows existing Licensed Tour Operators who offer rock climbing and abseiling in Summerday Valley to continue to do so while working with Traditional Owners to understand and protect Aboriginal cultural heritage unique to the Grampians.
The agreement will also allow Parks Victoria, Traditional Owner groups and key stakeholders additional time to work together to ensure the ongoing review of the national park’s management plan is thorough and considered.
Climbers wishing to climb in this area will need to register with tour operators.
Grampians Landscape Management Plan
In partnership with Traditional Owner groups, and consulting with a wide range of park users including rock climbers, Parks Victoria is preparing a new management plan for the Grampians landscape, an area that covers the Grampians National Park and adjacent parks and reserves.
While this plan is not being developed directly in response to changes to rock climbing access in the Grampians National Park, it will provide longer term direction on matters such as access and usage of the park.
The aim is to complete this review with extensive consultation within 12 months. Have your say on Engage Victoria.
Frequently asked questions
Where is rock climbing permitted?
No-impact rock climbing in the national park is permitted outside of the Special Protection Areas. Climbers must adhere to all National Park regulations.
See maps showing the protected areas are available (PDF). More detailed maps are being developed and will be available soon.
Rock climbing is currently permitted in three areas within the Summerday Valley area of the park - Barc Cliff, Back Wall, and a section of Wall of Fools - with a Licensed Tour Operator until 31 March 2020.
Rock climbing is also available in many other parks and reserves across Victoria.
What are the impacts of climbing on the environment?
Some rock climbing practices can have a negative impact on vegetation, including rare and endangered species, as a result of:
- the development of informal walking tracks, cutting scars throughout the wilderness, to gain access to hidden crags. This involves everything from incidental breakage of small tree branches to more intentional destruction such as using chainsaws.
- clearing away leaf litter and small plants at the base of a rock face to place a drop mat, which disturbs fragile ecosystems.
- clearing areas for bush camps and campfires in forested areas.
- damaging plants by pulling them from cracks in the rock to find better grip.
- damage caused by climbers scoring the rockface and leaving significant chalk remnants in places where moss and lichen would usually grow.
There is evidence across the park of cleared and compacted areas on the way to, or at the bottom of, boulders and cliffs. These cleared areas equate to hundreds of square metres of barren hard ground where plants can’t grow and the park ecosystem is lost.
These actions have accumulated as a result of the huge increase in climbing numbers in recent years.
Parks Victoria has begun implementing education and compliance measures to prevent further human impact and to help conserve the sensitive ecosystem.
What are the potential impacts of climbing on Aboriginal cultural heritage values?
The Grampians National Park and other areas such as Black Range, Mount Arapiles-Tooan, Red Rock and Mount Talbot, are deeply important cultural landscapes for Victorian Traditional Owners. They contain many important cultural places including the majority of surviving Aboriginal rock art sites in south-east Australia.
Protecting cultural heritage is not just fundamental for Aboriginal people’s identity and wellbeing, it is also important to all Victorians. It is a part of Victoria’s heritage – our shared story of how we have grown and evolved as a society. It can help us understand the past so we can prepare for the future and it can connect us to the past in profound ways that arise from the spiritual values of these places for Traditional Owners. Some Traditional Owners describe these places as their cathedrals.
Since 2013 about 40 rock art sites have been rediscovered in the Grampians, taking the tally in the area to about 140, which is about 90 per cent of all known such sites in Victoria. Some of these sites date back more than 20,000 years.
Aboriginal rock art can be clear and obvious, but some can be very difficult or impossible to see with the naked eye, although it may be visible with imaging technology. The same is true of other cultural places such as quarry places and places holding other cultural artefacts.
Rock climbing can result in damage to rock faces – and this precious cultural heritage including rock art - through use of bolts and chalk and from the weight of people putting pressure on small ledges causing pieces of rock to break away.
Will I be penalised or fined for climbing in a Special Protection Area or no climb area?
Across the park, whether within or outside Special Protection Areas, action may be taken against any person breaking the National Park Regulations. This includes littering, destroying vegetation, driving off defined tracks, damaging park infrastructure including signs and barriers, damaging rock faces, illegally camping and lighting fires and disobeying or obstructing Authorised Officers.
Why hasn’t Parks Victoria restricted access to these Special Protection Areas previously?
Previously, these sites did not experience the high levels of visitation and impact they have in recent years. The increase in activity and changes in techniques have impacted irreplaceable cultural and environmental assets to a level where enforcement is now necessary to preserve these special places
Are Licensed Tour Operators permitted to operate in Special Protection Areas?
No, with the exception of a current exemption for existing licensed tour operator that offer rock climbing and abseiling at Summerday Valley.
These operators have been issued a variation to their existing licences, providing strictly conditional authorisation to continue undertaking their activities in three designated areas – Barc Cliff, Back Wall and a section of Wall of Fools – within Summerday Valley until 31 March 2020.
There are no other exemptions to the existing restrictions within Special Protection Areas in the national park.
Parks Victoria is building the Grampians Peaks Trail in the national park – is this damaging rock art sites and the environment?
The alignment of the track has been mapped out in partnership with Traditional Owners and conservation scientists, and complies with all necessary environmental and cultural heritage assessments.
Will the Grampians Peaks Trail allow people special access to the restricted climbing areas?
Rock climbing is not permitted in the Special Protection Areas irrespective of how a visitor arrives at or travels through the park. The Grampians Peaks Trail is a walking experience and does not offer rock climbing tours. People can walk the trail for free, and stay overnight at bookable campsites.