Towing a Caravan on the Alpine Way; is it safe?

New South Wales has some hills that are absolutely massive, and that are best avoided when towing a Caravan. Does this include the Alpine Way? I was keen to find out.

The Alpine Way has signs suggesting that Caravans are not recommended, and prior to our arrival, I was keen to research and see what people’s thoughts were. Can you safely tow a caravan on the Alpine way?

Interestingly, I found two trains of thoughts; some people said it was fine, and others said you were completely mad to do so. How can the thoughts be so far apart? We’re very experienced at towing, and have done a huge amount of the Victorian High Country, where you’re on single lane, gravel roads with hundred metre drops off the edge and I was keen to see how the Alpine Way actually compared.

Is it actually a terrible idea to tow a caravan on the Alpine way, or are people just over exaggerating and making a mountain out of a mound hill? Yeah, that pun was intended.

Driving the Alpine Way with a Caravan
Is it safe to tow a caravan on the Alpine Way?

Starting with the legalities

When you see a sign that says Caravans are not recommended beyond this point, what does it actually mean? If you ignore it and continue, and have an accident, is your insurance company going to say cheers for your premiums, but see you later?

I have no doubt there’s probably some grey area, but not recommended is very different to not permitted, and when you add in the fact that the local rangers regularly accept, and go to no effort to deter people from travelling through this part of the world with a caravan, it makes it even less clear.

On the NSW parks website, it says that vehicles towing large caravans are not recommended between Khancoban and Thredbo, but there’s nothing specifically saying its not allowed, or legal. Still, there’s a line somewhere between legal and sensible, so where is it?

Alpine way with a caravan
There’s nothing specifically saying its illegal to tow a caravan on the Alpine Way

What’s the road really like?

We left from Khancoban, heading down past Geehi Flats, Tom Groggin Campground and then Thredbo Diggings, before arriving at Jindabyne about a week later. The road is absolutely steep up and down, and its certainly dangerous in the wrong hands, but there’s also worse roads that you can take caravans on.

Road condition

The Alpine Way is completely sealed, and in really good condition, with very few pot holes, bumps or problems. This does mean that using low range for most 4WD’s is a big no, as you’ll get transmission wind up and break something, unless you can keep the centre differential disengaged.

The Alpine Way is beautiful, and well maintained
The actual road condition is very good

The only exception to this is the potential for rock falls, and you may find some small, and larger ones scattered on the road if they’ve dropped, so pay attention.

Road width

There’s no doubting that the Alpine Way is not as wide as most roads, and when you see how its been constructed, I’m not in the slightest surprised. It’s wide enough in most places for two caravans to pass each other at slow speed, with care, but there are some tight spots where it could get sketchy very quickly.

Of course, if you’re travelling fast and you meet another caravan owner coming around a corner and you aren’t both right over there’s a chance of a collision, so its everyone’s responsibility to be cautious and stay in their own lane, and to pass each other carefully.

We heard chatter from trucks further up, and I have no doubt they’d also push the friendship of the lines at times, which highlights the importance of a good UHF radio, on channel 40.

On that note, we had a motorbike rider come around a blind corner with his head well into our lane, and whilst he did manage to correct and move over, I can see great potential for something to go wrong here too!

The road width on the Alpine Way is not great
The road is quite narrow in sections, with the corners being the most risky


There’s no denying that this is steep country, and towing a caravan up a big hill is a recipe for disaster with the wrong vehicle, accessories, weights or driver. Even with our transmission cooler, we saw automatic transmission temperatures up to about 117 degrees, which is the hottest we’ve had it anywhere in Australia, and higher than I ever like to see.

If we didn’t have a transmission cooler we’d have been stuck on the side of the road (which there is limited places to pull over) waiting for it to cool down on several occasions. We did stop once near the top of Thredbo (from Tom Groggin) just to let it cool a bit.

Dmax pulled over on the Alpine Way
We stopped once to let the automatic transmission cool down a bit

If you are towing a heavy caravan, without an external, aftermarket transmission cooler, lockup kit or at the very least an understanding of temperatures and how hot your vehicle gets and the ability to measure it, you should not tow a caravan over 2 tonnes on this road.

The bigger ascent though, is from Tom Groggins Campground heading towards Thredbo, where it goes from some 600m above sea level to around 1600m, in maybe 12 kilometres of road.

Tom Groggin Campground river
The road starts going up not long after Tom Groggin, heading to Thredbo


What goes up, must go down, right? Yep, and you go down some pretty lengthy descents on the Alpine Way, and once again, with the wrong setup, driver and understanding things can go bad very, very quickly.

This primarily relates to excess speed and overuse of brakes, causing them to get hot, fade and ultimately for you to end up with no brakes at all. We had a caravan and car combination (that wasn’t that big) pass us the other way not far up the range from Khancoban, and it stank terribly of cooked brakes. I tried to call them on the UHF, but got no reply.

At the very least, you might damage your brakes, or cook the wheel bearings on your caravan. Worst case, you lose brakes and cause an accident, or have to run your vehicle off the road to slow down.

If you don’t understand engine braking and how to descend a hill properly towing a caravan, stay off the Alpine Way. It’s not hard to learn, and its not something you know unless you’ve been told (4WD owners learn it quickly when off road), but there’s a lot of people who have absolutely no idea.

We literally had a person walk up to us at Tom Groggins Campground to ask us how we’d gone towing our camper on the road, and they’d never even considered flicking the gears to manual and using the engine braking as a suitable means of maintaining a slow speed.

Our recommendation when towing anything on the Alpine way is to use first gear on all significant descents, and use the brakes as little as possible.

Driving down the Alpine Way
There’s some very long, steep sections on the Alpine Way
Trucks and buses must use low gear
These signs really apply to people towing caravans too

Snow and ice

This post is written around dry weather towing only. I have no doubt that with a bit of snow and ice, things could get dicey real quickly, and towing a caravan on the Alpine way is probably not a good idea. It might not even be legal; I don’t know what restrictions they impose. I would probably avoid this section of road towing anything heavy in winter.

You are required to carry snow chains between the June and October long weekends on 2WD vehicles, and its recommended for all vehicles.

Snow and ice risk area with a snow chain fitting spot
If you come here in winter, be prepared for snow and Ice

Is it the Alpine Way safe to tow a caravan?

The Alpine Way is a beautiful part of the world, that I would highly recommend people check out. However, I’m going to say its not safe  to tow a caravan on, unless:

  • You have a UHF radio on channel 40
  • A thorough understanding of weights (and have a suitable tow vehicle for your caravan)
  • Knowledge of transmission temperatures with the ability to monitor it, and an external transmission cooler (if it’s an automatic vehicle)
  • A thorough understanding of engine braking, and how to descend steep hills in a suitable low gear. We recommend first gear for all of the steep descents.
  • Patience and care

If you meet all of the above criteria, and are confident in towing, then in my opinion its acceptable to tow a caravan on the Alpine Way. We towed our 2.3 tonne Reconn R2 Hybrid Camper through without too many issues and saw a lot of caravans as well.

Disclaimer though; this is my opinion only, and you’d do well to do your own research!

Have you driven the Alpine Way with a Caravan? What did you think of it?

The Alpine Way is stunning
The Alpine Way is a magic drive, but do it very carefully

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