When you make your way down to Esperance for a holiday, place on top of your list a visit to Cape Le Grand National Park.
Firstly, in my opinion, it has the most beautiful beach in Australia called Lucky Bay. Pristine turquoise coloured water rolling over the pure white sandy beach. The beauty is mesmerising and serene.
Secondly, you will marvel at its wild and rocky coastline. There are opportunities to climb over rocks for vantage points overlooking the beaches/bays. And over the ocean where the Recherche Archipelago islands dot the horizon.
And lastly you can explore this rugged landscape by foot as there a few hiking trails about. Just in case you tire of swimming in the amazingly coloured beaches.
How to get there
It’s a 48km drive from Esperance town centre to the Cape Le Grand National Park entrance gates. Which takes about 40 minutes.
Then it's another 15km (10 minutes drive) to the popular Lucky Bay.
Simply drive east along Esperance’s main street, Dempster Street. It then changes name to Norseman Road as you pass RAC Caravan Park. Turn right into Fisheries Road. Then follow the signs to the national park. You cant miss them, you’ll only have two more turns to do.
There is no public transport to the national park. You’ll either need your own vehicle or book on a tour.
Entrance Fees & Maps
Park entrance fees are as follows:
One day pass - $15 per vehicle ($8 concession)
Five day pass - $25 per vehicle
If your stay in Esperance is short, then a one day pass will be sufficient. You can follow the suggested itineraries below to learn how to see the best of the national park.
If you have at least six days stay, then you will definitely be returning to Cape Le Grand to explore more in depth. Therefore I would recommend the five day pass. Take a look at the suggested two day itinerary below.
When you receive your pass to place on the dashboard, you’ll also be given a photocopy of a basic Cape Le Grand map. The Department of Parks and Wildlife (DPAW) no longer print the fancy brochures. However, you can download the brochure onto your phone from this link. Or scan the QR code at Esperance Visitors Centre before you leave.
Beaches & facilities
There are five main beaches to explore. But only one Cape Le Grand beach gets all the attention. And rightly so. I list the beaches below in order of beauty.
Make Lucky Bay your first stop for the most beautiful beach. Before you turn off into the carpark your eyes are mesmerised by its beauty. A long beach made of pure white sand with turquoise waters lapping onto its shore. Then the colour gradually morphs into dark blue the further you are from shore. We immediately stop the car to take some photos.
You can drive onto the beach if you have a 4WD or AWD. The sand is rock hard, so no chance of bogging. Although we did hear stories that it does occasionally happen. As we had our trusty Toyota Corolla, we walked the whole 2.4km length ourselves instead. At the other end, we found two beautiful little rocky alcoves. Felt like we had our own beach. Be warned, the water is freezing cold, but we couldn’t resist jumping in.
You will see a wooden stairway here. Two functions; it has a viewing platform and it’s the start of the Rossiter-Lucky Bay hike. If you’re not into long hikes but would like to see views from above, I would recommend walking up the trail for about 35 minutes to Mississippi Hill. This is where the path passes between two boulders. Stop and turn around for spectacular views overlooking Lucky Bay. Then walk back down. More details in the Hiking section below.
If you have time, hang around until 4pm. This is when the kangaroos come out of hiding and hop down to the beach. They don’t run away from people but be mindful to not touch or feed them. On day one we saw them feeding off the seaweed on the western end of the beach. On the second day, they hung around the shrubs around the carpark.
This is a smaller beach than Lucky Bay but there’s more action. The relentless crashing of big waves 30m from shore made it difficult to have quiet swim. Perhaps that’s why its called Hellfire.
There is a rocky outcrop at the start of the beach, where you can walk up for better views of the bay. Alternatively, you can visit the smaller and calmer Little Hellfire Beach. Follow the signs from behind the carpark. It’s a 20 minute walk through a beautiful scrubland. For higher views, you can continue following the trail markers up the granite rock for about 20 minutes. Here you will have commanding views over both Hellfire and Little Hellfire Beach.
This beach is about the same size as Hellfire Bay but the waves are not as rough. It all depends upon how windy the day is. But you can find spots where its safe enough to jump in and cool off.
If you would like to do a small hike, you could follow the Thistle Cove-Lucky Bay trail from the carpark. Heading eastwards for about 20 minutes, you will reach a rocky granite area. Pick a spot and watch the sun go down over the land.
Rossiter Bay is located the furthest away. It's another 6km on gravel road from Lucky Bay.
After seeing Lucky Bay, it can be underwhelming to see this beach. It’s a long stretch of a beach curving into a crescent shaped bay. There are no dunes to make the landscape interesting. However, it does seem to be sheltered by the winds. Of all the five beaches, this one had the calmest waters. Dead calm actually. Unfortunately, today it had a lot of seaweed washed upon the shore.
4WD can drive along this beach, if you feel exploring. No one was swimming here.
If you feel like a walk, you can trek the first park of the Rossiter-Lucky Bay trail. The trail starts from the upper carpark. It’s a 30-40 minute continuous gradual uphill trail to the first rocky boulder outcrop. Beautiful views of the large bay below.
If you’re limited for time, you wouldn’t be missing much if you skipped this beach. However, I would recommend to drive the first 1km on the gravel road, to the lookout point over Lucky Bay. It really is a special beach.
Le Grand Beach
We found this beach quite disappointing, especially after you’ve seen Lucky Bay. It is one very long and straight beach, lined by low lying scrubland. No rocky coastline or hills to make the backdrop interesting. To us it was quite unattractive and it had a strong seaweed smell on this particular day.
You can walk 50m up the beginning of the Le Grand-Hellfire trail, for a better views.
If you’re planning to see all the beaches, then see Le Grand Beach first. Because it will get better with each beach you visit thereafter. If you’re limited for time, you’re not really missing much if you skip this beach.
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I recommend this hike for the hikers or those who like to see views from the top. It’s a short but strenuous trail and definitely worth it.
Frenchman Peak was named as such by the first white man to discover it. The peak reminded him of the caps worn by the 1800s French soldiers. However, my friend and I thought it more looked like a running jaguar. What do you think?
If you are visiting in the summer time, I would highly recommend going early in the morning to avoid the Esperance heat/sun and wind. We arrived at 7.30am and were the first ones there. Thankfully it was overcast.
The signs say to allow one hour to climb, but we did it in 30 minutes, with lots of ‘catch our breath’ stops. The first 10 minutes is a walk along a path that takes you to the base of the granite rock. Then the rest of the trail is a steep climb (45-degree angle) up smooth granite rock. Hence the reason why to avoid the heat of the day with the sun beating down and reflecting off a rocky surface. There are markers nailed in the ground to follow. It's important to not veer off otherwise you will end up in very steep sections.
At the top, explore inside the open-air cavern. Some great photos to take overlooking the national park below. You can also climb over rocks to the top of the cavern, the top of the ‘French cap’. Great views overlooking the national park and the ocean in the distance. We ended up exploring the top for about 1.5 hours. We took way too many photos!
Obviously, the walk down will be steep and slow also. It took us 40 minutes to walk back to the car. A caution: do not attempt to walk this trail if it's raining or its extremely windy as it will be hard to maintain traction and balance.
TG Tip: If you need to cool down after the hike, go to the Hellfire Bay for a swim and use the amenities. It’s the closest beach & amentities. The road is directly opposite the Frenchman Peak carpark.
Cape Le Grand Coastal Trail
Cape Le Grand is famous for its beaches but not so much for its coastal trail. I only came across two other couples on the trail during my hikes over three different days. It’s such a shame because the hikes are a perfect way to explore the wild coastal scenery. A way to gain a different perspective of its rugged peaks, rocky coastline and sweeping ocean views of the archipelago islands.
To walk the whole Cape Le Grand Coastal Trail at once, it will take a good 8 hours. Plus you will need two cars, one parked at either end of the trail. However, the hiking trail can be divided up into 4 separate sections, each one separated by a walk along the beach.
Again you will either need two cars, so one can be parked at each end if you only wanted to walk one way. Or if you only have one car, then you can walk the section in reverse to return to your car. For a third option, in each section below I give you the ‘cheats version’ to see the best of the trail and views, without having to walk the whole length.
Le Grand Beach to Hellfire Bay
The technical details
6km one way, allow 3 hours.
Class 4 – hard walking
Probably the most uninspiring of all four trails. The trail traverses inland from Le Grand Beach. So the views are a mixture of sandy coastal plain and lots of bushland. There are sections of up and downhill at awkward angles and sections on granite slopes which can be slippery. But the only coastal views at the very beginning and end of the trails.
If you were short on time, it wouldn’t matter if you missed this section.
Cheats version: At Le Grand Beach, walk the first 50m up the gravel stairway for views over Le Grand Beach. At the other end of the trail, the western end of Hellfire Bay, you can walk up the first 30m before the overgrown bush starts scratching your legs. However, it was far enough for views over Hellfire Bay.
Hellfire Bay to Thistle Cove
The technical details
4.5km one way, allow 2 hours
Class 4 – hard walking
This was my favourite section of the whole Cape Le Grand Coastal Trail. It was the most scenic and adventurous. If you are short on time and can only hike one section, this would be the one to choose.
The first 20 minutes winds around to Little Hellfire Beach. Much calmer and more suited for swimming than Hellfire Bay. After a swim, continue walking the trail up a large granite hill, which is all sign posted with white posts.. From the top you have magnificent views over both beaches and Frenchman Peak in the distance. Looking in the other direction you have sweeping views of islands dotted randomly in the ocean.
The hardest part of the hike is the steep decline for 50m on smooth granite rock. Then the trail follows down into a rocky gully and forest. I had to wait for the ocean water to flow outwards so that I could cross the rocky coastline. Otherwise, you have to wade through water. At times, I had to jump down rocks to continue along the path.
The trail then crosses over and up the headland until you see the views of Thistle Cove. There is a small cove first that was full of seaweed. But one final walk over some rocks leads you into Thistle Cove proper. Time for a jump in and cool off in the refreshing water. But you still have to walk the whole length of the beach to get to carpark!
Cheats version: if you visit Hellfire Bay, then its worth doing the 20 min walk to Little Hellfire Beach for safer swimming. But while you’re there, walk up the granite hill for about 20-25min for commanding views over both beaches. And remember to look behind you for the view of the ocean and the archipelago.
Thistle Cove to Lucky Bay
The technical details
2km one way, allow 1 hour
Class 3 – easy walking
A nice easy walk, especially for those that don’t normally hike. I was able to walk it in my Teva sandals. This section was the second most scenic, after the Hellfire to Thistle Cove section.
The first half of the hike, including the peak, is mainly granite rock. There are steel post marking the way. Make a stop when you reach the top of the first rocky outcrop. Great spot to sit down at sunset time with views over Thistle Cove.
You also see glimpses of the ocean and its islands between the rocky boulders. The second half of the trail as you head down to Lucky Bay is mostly gravel man-made steps. You do see views of Lucky Bay when you’re higher than the tree line.
Cheats version: At Thistle Cove, walk the first 500m to the top of the first rocky outcrop. You have the best views over Thistle Cove with Frenchman Peak in the background. When in Lucky Bay, you can walk up the easy gravel man made steps for the first 15 minutes for views over Lucky Bay.
Lucky Bay to Rossiter Bay
The technical details
6km one way, allow 2 hours
Class 4 – medium walking
I liked this trail for the spectacular views at the beginning.
Firstly, you need to walk the 2.4km Lucky Bay beach to continue the trail over land. Once you reach the eastern end of the beach, start at the wooden walkway that leads into a sandy pathway. Continue walking for about 35 minutes to reach the top of Mississippi Hill. You cant miss it as you will walk between two huge boulders. Stop here and look behind you for the most scenic views over beautiful Lucky Bay.
Then the trail levels off with a walk through low scrubland and sparse vegetation to the next rocky outcrop. From here you have the best views overlooking the crescent of Rossiter Bay. From here is a continuous gradual decline to the carpark and then the beach.
Nothing too hard about this walk. Can easily do in sandshoes.
Cheats version: as the middle section between the rocky outcrops is boring, I would recommend to hike to the large boulders only at each end of the hike and take your photos. So from Rossiter Bay, the hike begins from the upper carpark and takes about 35 minutes to reach the top where the first large boulders are. And when you’re at Lucky Bay and you have either walked or driven to the eastern end of the beach, do the 25 minute walk to Mississippi Hill (the first large boulders) to get the best views of Lucky Bay.
With so much to see and do in Cape Le Grand National Park, it might be hard to decide what to do first and what to leave out. So I give you some suggestions below, based on one and two day itinerary.
One day itinerary:
Leave early in the morning so you can reach Frenchman Peak by 7.30-8.00am. Spend 2-3 hours hiking up the peak and do some exploring at the top.
Then head to the beautiful Lucky Bay carpark. If you have a 4WD or AWD, you can drive along the hard sand beach. Choose your spot and go for a dip. Then either drive or walk to the eastern end of the beach. There are a couple of small rocky coves for more picturesque swimming.
Walk up the wooden stairs to a small platform. Great for photos of the whole beach. Then continue along the sandy path behind for the 35 minute walk up to Mississippi Hill for even better views overlooking the whole beach. Return back to the beach and walk back to the carpark.
You can either choose to stay until 4pm in the hopes that some kangaroos make a visit for that classic kangaroo on a white beach photo. Or drive to Hellfire Bay, for the second most beautiful beach in this national park. The continual pounding of large waves is quite impressive.
Two day itinerary:
This two-day itinerary means you see the best the national park has to offer. You won't be missing much if you don’t see the remaining beaches.
On day one, drive straight to Lucky Bay carpark. If you have a 4WD or AWD, you can drive along the hard sand beach. Choose your spot and go for a dip. Then either drive or walk to the eastern end of the beach. There are a couple of small rocky coves for more picturesque swimming.
Walk up the wooden stairs to a small platform. Great for photos of the whole beach. Then continue along the sandy path behind for the 35-minute walk up to Mississippi Hill for even better views. Return back to the beach and walk back to the carpark.
Walk back to the western end. Behind the caravan park is the trail to Thistle Cove. It's an easy one hour walk over man made gravel steps and then granite rocks. You don’t even have to walk all the way down to Thistle Cove beach. It's just as nice to sit at the top and soak in the scenery below of the beach and Frenchman Peak in the background.
Follow the trail back to Lucky Bay and look out for kangaroos. Between 4.00-5.00pm they come out to feed and sometimes end up on the beach. You might be lucky to get that classic photo of a kangaroo laying down on the white sandy beach.
On day two, leave early in the morning so you can reach Frenchman Peak by 7.30-8.00am. Spend 2-3 hours hiking up the peak and do some exploring at the top.
As you leave the carpark, take the road opposite for the 4km drive to Hellfire Bay. Spend some time walking along the beach and watch the big waves. Take a swim if you dare. But make the effort to walk to Little Hellfire Beach. The 20-minute trail starts behind the carpark. Take a swim.
Then continue following the trail up the granite hill until you reach the top about 20 minutes later. Beautiful views of the two Hellfire beaches below and the Recherche Archipelago dotted in the ocean below.
For the hikers: continue following the trail all the way to Thistle Cove for the best views. You will have to walk back if you only have one car.
For the non hikers: walk back down to Little Hellfire and the carpark and drive across to Thistle Cove. You can do some swimming here. Or walk up about 500m on the Thistle Cove-Lucky Bay trail that starts behind the carpark. And watch the sun begin to set behind the bay and Frenchman Peak.
What else do you want to know about Cape Le Grand National Park
I spent three days in the national park and saw everything. So I hope my tips and suggestions help you design your visit to Cape Le Grand National Park.
Let me know in the comments below if you have any questions.