Relax or get active at picturesque Manly Dam
Manly Dam is a beautiful place to relax or get active. The freshwater lake is surrounded by bush and provides picturesque picnic grounds and a playground for swimming, mountain biking, bushwalking and boating.
Created as a water reservoir for Manly in 1892, Manly Dam has been a recreational facility since WWII. A mountain bike track circumnavigates the lake while short, medium and long bushwalking tracks can be accessed from different points around the park.
The main entrance to Manly Dam and picnic area 1 are located at the end of King Street, Manly Vale. Drive on for picnic areas 2, 3 and 4. If you are on foot or two wheels, you can gain access to the park from the surrounding suburbs of North Balgowlah, Allambie Heights and Frenchs Forest.
Pack a picnic
Manly Dam is visually stunning and a great place just to relax.
With towering trees creating shade at the four picnic grounds, Manly Dam is one of our favourite spots to go for a swim and just hang out on a hot summer’s day.
Ranging from lawns to bushland settings, the picnic grounds provide tables, barbecues and accessible shores to get your feet wet.
For young kids
Picnic area 1 provides electric barbecues and a playground, lawns and near by parking and toilet facilities.
The dam wall is close to the entrance and a walk across makes for a fun activity for kids and adults alike. It provides stunning views across the water and kids love it because you’re up so high – especially when you look over the other side of the dam wall.
Give your kids a taste of the bush without leaving Sydney by following the track and walking to the foreshore on the Allambie side of the dam. It will only take about 15 minutes and is well worth the effort. Return the way you came or walk up the fire trail and return via the street.
A lot of birds and waterfowl, including magnificent black swans, tend to congregate in Picnic Area 1 (probably because a lot of people feed them, even though this in discouraged by the authorities), so if you intend on swimming, I would head to picnic areas 3 or 4.
And a word of warning: keep your food covered when unattended or you’ll find the birds will help themselves to your lunch.
Lunch on high ground
The water around Picnic area 2 is a non-swimming area and is cordoned off for motorboats and waterskiers.
If you don’t mean to get wet, this is a lovely elevated spot to eat your lunch.
Wood-fired barbecues (firewood is provided) and picnic tables overlook the lake and are in a secluded location on the rock platform under shady trees.
Although strictly not allowed, when the skiers are finished for the day you often see local kids swim out to the ski jump from here and use it as a giant slippery dip.
Picnic area 3 is in a bush setting with lots of beautiful trees to sit under. This is the largest of the picnic areas and has dozens of tables and wood-fired barbecues in a variety of locations, some with water views, others further back in the bush.
Area 3 is, in my opinion, the best area if you intend boating and swimming. It is an easy swim to the other side and a boat ramp for non-powered boats is located between picnic areas 3 and 4, so bring your SUP or kayak.
Dragons and swamp hens
Picnic area 4 is also in a bush setting but much smaller than area 3. It is a pretty spot, great for swimming and popular with young families.
You’ll find lots of water dragons here sunbaking on the rocks, and swamp hens using the lily pads as a breeding ground for their young.
The Circuit Walking Track joins this picnic area so it’s easy to go on a walk without a lot of fuss.
The track is a bit tricky at the start as you need to leap over a shallow stream to the rock on the other side, but we’ve managed it with young kids and often see older people striding across.
The full circuit takes several hours, however we generally just go to waterfall and back.
It would be a crime to visit Manly Dam without doing at least one of the short bushwalks.
Bushwalking tracks meander through moist, shady areas with lots of delicate ferns, and drier forests with stacks of colourful
wildflowers. In fact, there is so much vegetation variety at Manly Dam you can be assured of seeing wildflowers at any time of year.
Walking tracks at Manly Dam are numerous, varied in length (from 350m to over 7km), and start at different points (and suburbs) around the dam.
Several short walks start near the car parks at the picnic grounds, and most involve a bit of a hill. If you intend on walking all the way around the dam, give yourself a few hours and pack water and a snack.
My favourite walk is the Heath Track. Accessed from behind the tennis courts at Allambie Heights, it is in an elevated location and offers views over the dam, Manly Beach and across to Chatswood – and stacks of pretty wildflowers.
Quite a few animals call Manly Dam their home, so if you don’t make too much noise while bushwalking you may see anything from an echidna to a goanna. If your early enough, you may even catch a ringtail possum before it goes to bed for the day.
It goes without saying, the wildlife is wild, so don’t attempt to pick any up. We’ve sometimes seen snakes, usually pythons warming themselves in the sun. They won’t do you any harm if left alone. We’ve also come across lots of lizards, especially waterdragons, swamp hens, songbirds, echidnas, turtles and a wallaby.
BYO boat, board or bike
Manly Dam is a fabulous playground for water activities and mountain bikes.
A boat ramp for non-powered boats is located between picnic areas 3 and 4, so bring your SUP, kayak or canoe. Unfortunately waterskiing is limited to a privileged few, so don’t get any ideas about skiing at Manly Dam. I love paddling to the top of the lake. It is so peaceful gliding past reeds and waterbirds, and areas not accessbile by land.
For those who love a challenge, there is a pretty rugged mountain bike track around Manly Dam. It is narrow in parts, so you must ride in the direction indicated. This track is not something I would suggest for beginners or young kids, but saying that, a friend took his 7-year-old on the track and loved it.
I would recommend driving to Manly Dam. Buses do stop at King Street, but it is a pretty long walk to the entrance of Manly Dam, especially if you are loadaed up with food and swimming gear.
If driving, turn into King Street from Condamine Street. This is at the end of the Manly Vale shops if you’re coming from the city. Drive the length of King Street and you’re here.
Parking meters are located in all four picnic areas, alternatively park on the street near the entrance – however that means staying at picnic area 1. My advice is if you are in a car, drive the full loop and check out each area.