Dandenong Ranges

Ultimate guide to things to do in the Dandenong Ranges with kids

Take the winding Dandenongs Tourist Road through towering forests to the stunning Dandenong Ranges, just half an hour east of Melbourne, to explore the great outdoors at its best.

Get back to nature on an easy trek through the Dandenong Ranges National Park to lush Sherbrooke Falls or soar through the treetops along flying foxes, tight ropes and obstacles at Trees Adventure, where you will find exciting ropes courses to suit all ages. Make the descent through the shady canopy of Mountain Ash trees down to the picturesque lake and pretty boathouse at Alfred Nicholas Gardens at Sherbrooke, or visit the William Ricketts Sanctuary to find the mysterious clay sculptures that have been hidden amongst the trees.

Healesville Animal Sanctuary

One of the area’s most iconic attractions is Puffing Billy, a century-old steam train that runs along an original mountain track from Belgrave through forests, fern gullies and farmland to Gembrook. Highlights of the journey include the magnificent 15-span wooden trestle bridge over Monbulk Creek, a visit to the carriage repair workshop at Emerald and a stop at the picturesque Emerald Lake to enjoy a paddleboat ride.

Animal lovers should head to Healesville Sanctuary to spot Australian animals in their natural habitat and visit Warroock, a 100-year old working farm, for encounters of the farmyard kind.

Stop at the charming village of Olinda for a Devonshire tea or pie and chips at the award-winning Pie in the Sky.  And at Sassafras, kids will love Geppetto’s Workshop, a quaint toy shop specialising in wooden toys including marionettes and hand puppets, spinning tops, wooden puzzles and games.

Top things to do in the Dandenong Ranges

With heritage, nature, art, fine food and more to enjoy in the Dandenongs, here are our top recommendations

  1. Take a ride on the iconic Puffing Billy steam train 
  2. Explore the Dandenong Ranges National Park
  3. Enjoy the views of the Dandenong Ranges and surrounding foothills from Kalorama Lookout
  4. Visit the Burrinja Cultural Centre
  5. Breathe in the natural beauty of Marysville and surrounds
  6. Visit Healesville Sanctuary to see Australian animals in their natural habitat
  7. Browse the pretty stores and boutiques in the charming village of Olinda
  8. Take in the view from SkyHigh Mount Dandenong and its scenic lookout
  9. Visit Oaklands Barn for farmyard fun
  10. Explore one of the many markets

Things to do in the Dandenong Ranges with…

Take a road trip, stopping to soak up views. Let the kids stretch their little legs in gorgeous gardens and along some of the safe forest trails. Stop at farm gates to gather and taste the freshest and best local produce and pick bucketsful of berries and cherries. Then stop to enjoy the spoils on a family picnic surrounded by flower gardens or forests of towering trees.

Explore the charming villages of Sassafras and Olinda for a babycino and snacks from the bakery, and be sure to take your tots to explore Geppetto’s Workshop, a traditional style toy shop full of the charm of yesteryear and overflowing with wooden trinkets, toys and puppets.

A ride on Puffing Billy, a century-old steam train that chugs its way from Belgrave to Gembrook, will have Thomas the Tank Engine loving tykes in a tizz.

A visit to Healesville Sanctuary, a wildlife park focusing on local conservation and indigenous culture, is a must. The sanctuary is a place for people to experience close-up encounters with some of Australia’s unique animals, including koalas, kangaroos, platypus, dingoes, wombats and emus. There is also a free flight presentation featuring Australian birds, a world-first interactive Platypus show, and the opportunity to meet the keepers and observe vets at work, all in a stunning natural Aussie bush setting that allows humans and animals to reconnect with nature.

Or take a step back in time to meet the animals at historical Warrook, a 130-year old working farm. Kids can milk a cow, learn to crack a stockwhip, watch sheep shearing in a historic shed, bottle feed baby calves and learn how to make damper and billy tea. There’s also the chance to spot native animals and birdlife. Tours showcasing the history of the farm are run daily.

The William Ricketts Sanctuary is one of the Dandenongs’ more iconic experiences and another must visit for kids. The inspiring sanctuary is a unique space with surprises hidden in the pure forest setting. The kids will love spotting the more than 90 different sculptures, some carved into rocks and tree trunks, that depict Aboriginal people connecting with nature and the earth.

Or for something to get the heart pumping, take to the trees at Trees Adventure, a high ropes course in the beautiful Glen Harrow Heritage Gardens at Belgrave. There are five different courses to suit all ages, each with tree-top obstacles and high-speed flying foxes. If you’re a fan of the high life, head to Sky High, the highest natural viewing point in Victoria at an elevation of 630-metres, to soak up the views of Melbourne’s skyline and beyond. There’s also a restaurant and garden complete with maze to explore.

Hire a bike and enjoy an adrenaline filled mountain bike ride through the rainforest at the site of the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games mountain biking course.  Or explore the area’s national parks by foot on one of the many hiking trails that lead through fern-filled forests. One of the best is the Dandenong Ranges Tourist Track, a 17-kilometre, 6-hour trek over ridges and into the cooler valley. In winter, there’s snow in the mountains and at Lake Mountain and Mount Donna Buang you can test your cross-country skiing skills.

For bigger thrills, head to Melbourne Cable Park, where you can wakeboard, kneeboard and waterski all year round on one of two full-size overhead cable systems. The Cable Park is also the home of Climb Melbourne, five levels of high ropes thrills, and the wild and very Ninja Aqua Park, a brand-new inflatable obstacle course, where you can bounce, slip and splash your way course across bridges, down slides and off trampolines.

Credit: Bound Round

Best time to visit the Dandenong Ranges as a family

Rising to 633 metres at its highest point – The Dandenong Ranges is always a little cooler than nearby Melbourne. But no matter what season you visit, the forest, towns, communities and attractions are superb. 

There are four distinct seasons offering an array of things to see and do. In summer temperatures can reach a staggering 40 degrees Celsius, while Spring and autumn are the most colourful time to visit with gardens and parks bursting into an array of glorious shades as the seasons turn.  Winter is generally mild and wet, and it is known to snow on the mountain top a few times during the season, so prepare to layer up the winter woollies, especially if you are planning to head out at night. Regardless of the mild temps, winter is still the best season for tackling some of the area’s longer hikes.

There are 360-degree un-obstructed views in the cabins and on a good day you can see as far as Mount Macedon, Arthur’s Seat and the Dandenong Ranges (up to 40 kilometres away). Credit: Bound Round

Family-friendly places to eat in the Dandenong Ranges

It is all about high-quality produce within the Dandenong Ranges. You’ll find everything from fine dining and contemporary cuisine, to restaurants and cafes offering a range of international cuisine and traditional fare. Often with magnificent views or hidden down pretty streets.

Some of the best spots for families include The Piggery Café, housed in a restored piggery and stables at Burnham Beeches, while the Cuckoo Restaurant, which opened in 1958, is renowned for its fun Bavarian atmosphere. Bam Bam Italian is another excellent choice for kids. Open for breakfast lunch and dinner, it even boasts a children’s playground. And if you like a little mystery with your meal, Miss Marple’s Tearoom plays tribute to Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple.  And be sure to stop in at Pie in the Sky at Olinda for one of Australia’s best pies.

Grants Picnic Ground is a great spot for a picnic amongst the birds. Located in Sherbrooke Forest, access to bird feeding costs $4 and provides a perfect way to finish off a family picnic.

Victoria’s Junior Ranger program allows kids to explore and learn from the environment. Picture: National Parks Victoria

Things to do for free in the Dandenong Ranges

  • The Dandenong Ranges have a little something for all ages to do for free. Within this scenic locality there are lookouts with gigantic views, beautiful parks and gardens for a picnic, walking trails, galleries, festivals and quaint villages to visit.
  • Check out the Burrinja Cultural Centre, which offers a broad range of arts and cultural experiences from to music and theatre. There are many free gardens to explore but two of the best are the National Rhododendron Gardens, which sprawls over 42 fabulous hectares and the Pirianda Garden, which contains many significant Australian plants. Another fabulous botanical place is the R J Hamer Arboretum covering over 120 hectares and offering amazing views over the Yarra Valley and out to Silvan Dam.
  • The Dandenong’s forest walks are another free favourite. Check out Parks Victoria and their range of activities and free things to do from cycling to walking, picnic grounds and other regularly scheduled activities.

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