Olney State Forest: Everything you need to know about camping in the Central Coast Hinterlands

Located on the cusp of the Central Coast and Lake Macquarie Olney State Forest is one of the best locations for free camping north of Sydney. The Watagan Mountain region is a beautiful area in the Central Coast hinterlands which makes up of several state forests as well as the Watagan National Park. Olney State Forest is an unusual area in this region as for 100 years the area has been used for logging and the harvesting of pine trees. The area is now showing great signs of regrowth as the lush rainforest and European-style pine trees are thriving in the area.

Olney State forest map
Olney State Forest map

Today in the Olney State Forest sustainability is one of the most important implementations of forest management. To do this they have implemented eco-friendly toilet systems and sustainable logging practices.

On top of this Olney State Forest is a dog-friendly camping and hiking location. This state park encourages users who bring dogs to keep them on a lead, clean up after their dog and ensure that their dog does not endanger any local wildlife. However, they are free to use the park as anyone else enjoying the area can, which is refreshing for dog owners in NSW as few dog-friendly locations are left.

Olney State Forest is a fair drive for most people, located 1-hour southwest of Newcastle and 2 hours northwest of Sydney it’s not the easiest place to get to as you drive through kms of patchy roads through the mountains, however, the breath-taking wilderness and tranquillity of the forest make it worth the drive. Enjoy switching off for a few days in this state park where you can get back to nature.

In this article, we will be discussing the free camps Olney State Park offers as well as the hikes in the area to help you enjoy the park and make the most of your time. At the base of this article, there are also tips to make the trip more enjoyable. This park also has very limited reception, it could be worthwhile investing in a PLB for your time in Olney.

Olney state forest walks
one of the walks located near the Pines Campground

Olney State Forest Camping Options

The free camps

There are many Olney State Forest camping options, however, you will be pleased to know that there are no booking fees or camping fees associated with camping in Olney. Many people do not know but you can camp for free in state forests. Here in the Olney State Forest, it works on a first come first serve basis and for the most part there are no assigned camping sites and you are free to camp in the designated camping areas where you see fit. Below are the best campsites in Olney and what you need to know about each site.

The Pines Campground
the pines campground Olney State Forest
The pines campground

The largest campground in Olney State Forest provides remnants of the logging history of the forest. Here you will camp under dense pine trees and watch as the cloud form at the tips of the pines in the mornings and nights. This area was used as a trail planting area during the 1920s and 1930’s and there are many different species of pines around this campsite.

Throughout this campsite, there is direct access to the Pines Picnic Area via a 500m walk through the rainforest as well as the Turpentine Camping area. The campsite itself has 2 eco-friendly toilets, a picnic area, firepits, and a range of swings made from rope and sticks.

The nitty gritty

  • no reception
  • no running water
  • no power
  • shaded campground
  • the campground is a slope
  • 2 waterfalls at the campsite
waterfalls watagan mountains
waterfall close to the turpentine campground and the pines campground
Turpentine Camping Area

Located close to the Pines campground you’ll find the Turpentine Camping Area. This heavily shaded campsite is ideal for small groups and families looking for a little more privacy on their trip. Here, there are many sheltered sites set amongst the rainforest, many of which have handmade swings at them.

Do not rely on solar power at this site as it will be hard to come by. It is also important to note that this is a remote campsite and there are no toilet facilities at this site. You will need to walk to the Pines Campgrounds to access toilet facilities. Access to this campsite can be found at the base of the Turpentine Campground.

The Nitty Gritty

  • no toilets
  • no reception
  • must be fully self-sufficient
  • high chance of seeing wildlife at this site
Casuarina Camping Area

Located not far off the main road in the Olney State Forest you’ll find the Casuarina Camping Area. This camping area is set amongst eucalyptus trees and is perfect for RVs, campervan trailers, and those requiring a little more space. However, it is also well suited to individual campers. This site is located only a 5-minute walk from the Pines Picnic area where you can pick up some of the hikes in the state park

The nitty gritty

  • eco-friendly toilets
  • fires permitted
  • picnic area
  • must be self-sufficient
  • no reception

Olney Headquarters

Named adeptly due to being the location of the old office for the forest the Olney Headquarters is the most accessible of all campsites in the park. Located directly off of the main road it is the perfect spot to stop for a picnic or to set up camp for the night. Here you’ll find plenty of space for each campsite and you’ll find, BBQ and picnic facilities. On top of this, there is also a disability-access toilet available at this campsite.

The nitty gritty

  • BBQ and picnic facilities
  • Accessible toilet
  • located on the main road
  • no reception
  • short walk to hikes in the area
camping olney state forest
fog setting in at the pines campground
The Basin

Located approx 30 minutes from the Pines Picnic Area is the Basin Campground which is best suited to large groups. After a bit of a rugged journey along a dirt road, you’ll be greeted by a large, open, and grassy campground. This campground has easy access to free-flowing creeks which during the summer are perfect for wild swimming and also has direct access to an easy hike which will be a hit with kids and dogs alike featuring many caves and small waterfalls.

The nitty gritty

  • no reception
  • eco-friendly toilets
  • must be completely self-sufficient
  • sunniest of all campsites in Olney State Forest

What to do in Olney State Forest

Olney State Forest Hikes

Hiking in the Watagans is probably the most popular activity and this is also the case in the Olney State Forest. There are countless trails and hikes on which you can take your dogs on and do some exploring! However, we will be going through the 3 main hiking trails in Olney State Forest. Remember when in the park there is no reception, so safety must be considered very important on your hike.

The Pines Walking Track
the pines walking track

The Pines walking track starts in the popular Pines Picnic Area and follows Dora Creek throughout Olney State Forest. This relatively easy hike can become difficult due to a lack of navigation and signage however is beautiful nonetheless. Along this hike, you will see multiple waterfalls, pockets of eucalyptus and rainforests as well as multiple rockpools which during the summer will be perfect for a quick swim.

Abbotts Falls
Abbotts Falls photo
Abbotts Falls Olney State Forest

One of the best Olney State Forest hikes is the Abbotts Falls walking track. Located a short walk from the Pines Picnic Area you’ll find the Abbotts Falls walking track, which is a gruelling 4km hike through dense bush and eroded tracks you’ll find Abbotts Falls. This tranquil waterfall looks like it’s been plucked straight out of a fairy tale. This is one of the best Central Coast waterfalls you will find and this hidden gem is seen by very few due to the grade of this hike.

To find this waterfall check out our hiking guide, as you cannot find this waterfall without prior planning, research, and preparation. It’s not a waterfall you can just stumble upon. Get the hiking guide here.

Rock Lily Walking Track

Located at the base of the Basin Campground you’ll find the Rock Lily Walking Track. Here you’ll transverse through thick patches of rainforest, geebungs, rock lilies, and ferns. Along this track, there are many caves and rock overhangs, which given the right circumstances will make for some great photographic opportunities. This track also meets with the Great North Walk for a small amount where you have the option to extend your hike and complete part of the GNW.

Olney State Park is a popular 4×4 area as well as trail riding. There are countless roads and tracks in the park which are suitable for both of these. Whilst it is a lot of fun, it has also caused a lot of devastating erosion to the area, which can be seen at the start of the Abbotts Falls Track. One thing to keep in mind when engaging in these activities is the impact you’ll have on the environment due to the current track conditions eg wet/soft tracks have a high chance of future erosion.

Need to know

Olney state forest hikes
  • Olney State Forest is a dog-friendly park
  • No camping in picnic areas
  • There is no running water in the forest. You must bring ample water for your trip
  • No power in the forest
  • Leeches are common
  • Limited reception in the park. Telstra users may receive small waves of reception however it should not rely on
  • reception may be available at the Pines picnic area
  • You must be fully self-sufficient to camp in Olney State Forest
  • You may collect firewood from fallen branches only
  • If no toilets are unavailable, dig a hole and bury your waste.
  • Use the bins provided or take the rubbish out of the park with you.

Looking for more to do on the Central Coast? Check out our guide for the area, and find the best things to do on the Central Coast here.


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