The Dandenong Ranges (not to be confused with the suburb of Dandenong) are just a short drive from Melbourne (around an hour from the CBD). Discover the best things to do in the Dandenong Ranges and start planning a visit.
The Dandenongs, as they’re also known, are a popular day trip from Melbourne for those living in the city (and there’s plenty to do, to justify making your trip there a weekend getaway).
You’ll find cosy pubs, crafty shops, wild nature, curated gardens and some epic views.
Pack a picnic, hit the road and discover why this is one of Victoria’s top regions.
Here’s what you can get up to while you’re there.
And if you want to extend your trip, head on to the nearby Yarra Valley, which is renowned for both its outstanding beauty, and food and wine scene.
How to get to the Dandenong Ranges
It is easiest to get to the Dandenongs by car, but it’s also possible to reach the region via public transport.
Take the train to Upper Ferntree Gully Station, where you can catch a connecting bus. You can also train it to Belgrave Station, for buses.
You can also access the forest from either station. Or simply make a day of it in Belgrave.
If you don’t have a car and don’t want to take public transport, consider jumping on a day tour to the Dandenong Ranges and Yarra Valley, to see the area’s main highlights.
Top things to do in the Dandenong Ranges
Jump aboard the Puffing Billy Steam Train
Puffing Billy is consider to be one of the Dandenong Ranges best attractions.
The train has been chugging along its tracks since 1900 – and it’s still going (despite a brief interlude in 2020 and 2021 for obvious reasons).
Generations of Melburnians and visitors alike have jumped aboard the steam train, letting their legs dangle out from the carriage stills as it passes the verdant plant life the region is renowned for.
Explore small towns in the Dandenong Ranges
Perched above Melbourne are some gorgeous towns and villages, surrounded by nature, and with plenty of nooks and crannies to explore.
Olinda is one of the highest villages in the Dandenong Ranges. It’s the gateway to some of the best natural attractions in the region and a great place to stop for a bite to eat, in between explorations.
Top highlights in Olinda include:
- taking the Olinda Falls Circuit to see the eponymous waterfall
- visiting the Dandenong Ranges National Park (more on this in a moment)
- wandering the Dandenong Ranges Botanic Garden
- grabbing a meal at the Pig & Whistle Tavern
- coffee and/or lunch at Olinda Cafe.
Walking into Sassafras, you’d be mistaken in thinking you’d entered an English Tudor village.
Things to do in Sassafras include:
- grabbing a devonshire tea at Miss Marples Tearoom
- playing with puppets at Geppetto’s Workshop
- stocking up on tea at Tea Leaves
- stopping to smell the roses at Alfred Nicholas Gardens or George Tindale Memorial Gardens
- making friends with ferns and chase waterfalls at Sherbrooke Forest.
Things to do in Belgrave include:
- riding the Puffing Billy Steam Train
- grabbing a Sunday roast at Cognoscenti
- relaxing at the Micawber Tavern.
Discover other small towns in Victoria worth exploring.
Take to the trees at Treetops Adventure in Belgrave
This high flying adventure park has everything from high ropes courses to ziplines for a range of ages and abilities.
You’ll climb through and fly by rare trees, including a 150-year-old Algerian Oak.
Book onto a mystery picnic
Let your belly lead you on a self-guided journey to local produce stores and food vendors, to pick up cheeses, meats, fruits, crackers and more.
Once you’ve collected all your gourmet goodies, you’ll be taken to a final picturesque location, to throw down a blanket and gorge to your heart and stomach’s content.
Mystery picnics are an excellent way to explore a destination.
Find out what it’s like to go on a mystery picnic in Melbourne.
Hit the trail in Dandenong Ranges National Park
Keen to stretch your legs? Head straight to this national park.
This cool temperate rainforest is home to Mountain Ash trees, the world’s tallest flowering plant. You’ll also probably see plenty of native wildlife, from lyrebirds to echidna and wallabies.
There’s plenty of walking trails to tackle, including the Dandenong Ranges Tourist Track, the Olinda Creek Walking Track, or the Margaret Lester Forest Walk, designed with accessibility in mind.
The park is picnic-perfect, so pack some snacks and a blanket.
Noting the park was battered by quite severe storms in 2021, so make sure you check conditions before you go.
Visit Doongalla Homestead
Or rather, the former Doongalla Homestead. A 32-room mansion resided on the spot in 1892, but burned down a few decades later. The gardens remain, as a lovely spot for a picnic, along with the mansion’s stone steps.
Check out Sherbrooke Forest
Abundant plant and wildlife, wonderful walking trails… you’re probably getting the idea now.
You’ll find Sherbrooke Forest within the national park. Top spots include Sherbrooke Falls, the Sherbrooke Track and Grants Picnic Ground.
There’s enough to see to make a day just for this Dandenong Ranges attraction!
Conquer the 1000 steps of the Kokoda Track Memorial Walk
This somewhat challenging walk is one of the most popular things to do in the Dandenong Ranges.
It’s named such as WWII veterans likened the walk to the Kokoda Trail in Papua New Guinea. Plus, there’s 1000 steps to climb.
To get here, you walk from Ferntree Gully Picnic Ground and up a steep path. There’s spectacular views from the top and you can complete this loop via the Lyrebird Track.
Expect it to be packed on the weekend, so if you want a bit of peace and quiet, consider visiting either midweek or first thing in the morning.
If you’re lucky, you might see (or hear!) a Superb Lyrebird.
Explore the local gardens
One of the best things to do in the Dandenong Ranges, is to explore one, any or many of its spectacular gardens.
Here’s some worth putting on your list.
Alfred Nicholas Memorial Garden
This gorgeous garden is renowned for its water features.
There’s a picturesque boathouse and plenty of spots for a picnic.
It’s also dog friendly, so you can bring Fido along for the day (perhaps after riding on Puffing Billy?).
Located upon volcanic loam soil at the top of the Dandenongs is this giant garden, 25 smaller gardens which are divided by stone walls and hedges. It’s a must-visit for any gardening enthusiast.
Those with a green thumb (or just feeling particularly inspired) can drop into the nursery, run by The Diggers Club.
There’s also a restaurant on site, aptly named Seasons.
George Tindale Memorial Garden
Located near Sherbrooke, within this petally paradise you’ll find rhododendrons, azaleas, fuschias, hydranges and magnolias, among other plants.
It’s lovely to visit anytime of year, as there’s always something flowering.
This garden is home to an unusual array of plants, making its collection quite unique.
While lovely in spring, visit in autumn for fantastic fall foliage, as its maples, birch and other deciduous tree start prepping for the cooler seasons.
William Ricketts Sanctuary
This sanctuary is a peaceful place for reflection.
You follow ferny paths lined with fantastic sculptures, the work of artist William Ricketts.
Note: While William Ricketts Sanctuary is one of the top Dandenong Ranges attractions, it remains closed after the damaging storms of 2021. Check the Parks Victoria website for updates regarding its reopening.
Dandenong Ranges Botanic Garden
Also known as the National Rhododendron Garden, these gardens are most popular during their spring flowering season.
Along with rhododenrons, there’s camellias, daffodils and azaleas, among other beautiful plants.
Mind you, I’ve been there in the dead of winter and they were just as pleasant (and quiet!).
On my last visit, an echidna waddled across my path, oblivious to us and intent on its own business.
Chase a waterfall or two
Due to being a mountain range, covered in temperate rainforest, the Dandenong Ranges have a couple of waterfalls worth seeing.
Olinda Falls is located in the Dandenong Ranges National Park and is best accessed via the Olinda Falls Circuit. Note: this area may currently be inaccessible due to storm damage. Check before you head out.
Sherbrooke Falls Trail will lead you through sassafras, mountain ash trees and ferns to (you guessed it) Sherbrooke Falls.
For more, check out my guide to the best waterfalls in Victoria.
Check out the views
You’re travelling up a mountain range. Naturally there’s some epic views begging to be eyeballed.
From Burkes Lookout you can see Mount Macedon, the You Yangs and both the Bellarine and Mornington Peninsulas.
Kalorama Lookout offers views across the Warburton Ranges and Silvan Reservoir.
Or take it sky high at Mount Dandenong Observatory, where on a clear day you can see Melbourne in the distance. There’s also colourful gardens, short walks, a living hedge maze and a cafe onsite.
Relax at a day spa
There’s something about being surrounded by nature that makes you just want to relax.
And when you’re not participating in the Japanese practice of Shinrin-yoku – forest bathing, with opportunities aplenty in this part of the state – why not drop into a day spa?
Balance Mountain Day Spa in Olinda offers massages, body wraps and scrubs, facials and hydrotherapy spa among other treatments.
Book in with a pal or your other half, for one of the more romantic things to do in the Dandenong Ranges.
If day spas and bath houses are your thing, plan a trip to Daylesford and Hepburn Springs, to soak up the vibes.
Tiptoe through the tulips at a flower festival
Time your trip with a flower festival. It’s one of the best things to do in the Dandenong Ranges, particularly with kids.
In early spring, you can have a bloomin’ beautiful time at Tesselaar Tulip Festival.
Autumn arrives with a boom – a Kabloom, to be exact. Strips of colour from many different types of flowers line the fields of these gorgeous gardens.
If flowers are your thing, the regional city of Bendigo also has a fantastic tulip display each spring.
Lift your spirits at KILLIK Handcrafted Rum
KILLIK distillery is perched on the edge of Sherbrooke Forest.
Visit for a coffee, brekky or lunch, or simply rumble in for tasting.
For the full experience, order a rum cocktail or indulge in a tasting paddle.
Grab fresh fruit along the U-Pick Trail
Get in the market for some fresh produce along the U-Pick Trail, where you can load up your basket with locally grown goodies.
Explore local farmgates or follow the trail through to the Yarra Valley.
Take a High Tea
Set within 17 acres of forest and gardens is Olinda Tea House, a modern Asian fusion restaurant.
This lush setting is ideal for a high tea, on offer from September through to May.
You can also drop in for lunch or dinner. The venue caters to vegans and has plenty of gluten-free options too.
Walk or ride the Lilydale to Warburton Rail Trail
Victoria is home to many rail trails – old railway lines that have been converted into recreation trails for walkers, cyclists and horse riders.
This is one of the most popular rail trails, close to Melbourne.
Starting at Lilydale, the trail stretches for 40 kilometres into the Yarra Valley, finishing in the town of Warburton, which is well worth exploring in its own right.
So there you have it, some of the best Dandenong Ranges attractions. Plenty to keep you busy on a day trip or weekend getaway.
What can you do in the Dandenong Ranges for free?
Free things to do in the Dandenong Ranges include:
- visiting the Dandenong Ranges National Park and hitting its walking trails
- the Dandenong Ranges Botanic Garden
- checking out local waterfalls
- some lookouts including Burke and Kalorama Lookout
- the Alfred Nicholas Gardens
- William Ricketts Sanctuary (when open).
What are the best things to do in the Dandenong Ranges?
Short on time? Here’s what I recommend prioritising:
- a ride on Puffing Billy
- lunch at Olinda Tea house
- check out the flower festivals (if they’re on)
- explore the Dandenong Ranges Botanic Garden
- walk the 1,000 Steps Kokoda Track Memorial Walk.
Where to stay in the Dandenong Ranges
For more on Australia, see my Australia Travel Guide.
The Dandenong Ranges are located on the lands of the Wurundjeri People of the Kulin Nation. We acknowledge them as Traditional Owners and pay our respects to their Elders, past and present.