On the 27th of March 1802, Matthew Flinders, sailing of the south coast of South Australia, sighted Mount Lofty. Some time after, in 1831, Captain Collett Barker and two associates, Kent and Davis, made the first European ascent of Mount Lofty. They noted in this climb that one tree had a girth of nearly 15 metres, which introduced the area for logging.
Construction of roads started in 1839 with the development of the Waterfall Gully Road and then Greenhill Road in 1858 allowing improved access. Land ownership is difficult to trace, however, in 1856, Arthur Hardy used the land for sheep grazing and was known for building Mount Lofty House. He was reputed as being one of Adelaide's richest men of the time.
Sir Samuel Davenport owned much of Cleland Conservation Park in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Davenport was instrumental in establishing orchards and gardens in the gullies, where he tried growing imported plants such as tobacco, mulberry trees for silk worms, and grapes. Davenport continued to graze sheep in the northern section of the park and employed a shepherd named John Keir, whose cottage ruins are still evident in Cleland today.
Despite many changes to the landscape from mining, logging and grazing, Waterfall Gully was noted as a place of amusement and recreation of the public. The area was managed by the City of Burnside and became a National Pleasure Resort in 1912. It was at this time the kiosk (Utopia restaurant today) was built. It wasn't until the 1960s and the continued efforts of JB Cleland to protect its conservation value that it became the Cleland Wildlife Reserve in 1963.