West MacDonnell National Park: Don’t Forget Your Camera!
The West MacDonnell National Park has been a big part of my life as a ranger.
I’ve spent many years living and working in the park.
The West MacDonnell Ranges (or West Macs as we locals call them) stretch for over 200km west of Alice Springs.
They’ve been made famous by the art of Western Arrernte artist, Albert Namatjira, the Larapinta Trail and amateur photgraphers from everywhere!
The West MacDonnell Ranges are a place to spend a week or a day exploring the many gaps, gorges, waterholes and just watching eye-popping scenery.
On this page, you’ll find how to get there, the Park’s highlights, information about accommodation and links to loads more info and tips.
How to get there
From Alice Springs, drive directly west along Larapinta Drive, and in minutes you’ll find yourself in the West MacDonnell National Park.
On the way to the Park, you’ll pass:
- The Alice Springs Desert Park
- Flynn’s Grave, a memorial to the Reverend John Flynn, who founded the Royal Flying Doctor Service
- The start of the Red Centre Way
- Standley Chasm
- Owen Springs Reserve – a must for campers, 4WDers, history buffs and birdwatchers
For the next 150km or so following Larapinta and Namatjira Drives, you wind in and out of the Park.
The roads are mostly sealed, but a few of the access roads into different areas of the Park are unsealed. In good weather, most of the must see places in the Park can be accessed by a normal (2WD) car.
You can also enter the Park from the south-west, via the spectacular Red Centre Way and Watarrka National Park. As this is mostly a gravel road, I recommend that you use a 4WD for this leg of the trip.
Ok, I alluded to it above, but I find the diversity of things to see and do in the West MacDonnell National Park is what attracts visitors.
The stunning scenery, the plants and animals, and the sense of solitude that you can find in so many outback locations is here, too.
Even a short drive through the ranges just out of Alice Springs is spectacular.
At various times of day, the sunlight turns average scenery into a photographic masterpiece.
- Simpsons Gap -ranger station, visitors centre, hiking, BBQs & toilets, wheelchair access
- Ellery Creek Big Hole – camping, swimming, hiking, BBQs & toilets, wheelchair access
- Serpentine Gorge - hiking, swimming, BBQs & toilets
- Serpentine Chalet - bush camping, hiking, fireplaces, historic ruins
- Ochre Pits – Aborginal site, hiking, BBQs & toilets
- Ormiston Gorge – ranger station, visitors centre, camping, swimming, hiking, BBQs & toilets
- Two Mile (near Glen Helen) – free bush camping, no facilities
- Glen Helen – accommodation, fuel, meals, camping hiking, swimming, BBQs & toilets
- Roma Gorge – 4WD only, Aboriginal site, hiking
- Redbank Gorge / Mt Sonder - bush camping, swimming, hiking, BBQ & toilets
- Mt Zeil - The Northern Territory’s highest mountain. Experienced hikers only, bush camping. No facilities
Accommodation, Sightseeing and More
As you might have gathered, these are fantastic to swim in after a hot day in the sun. If you’re visiting in the summer, there’s also a great place to meet locals!
The West MacDonnell Ranges are also full of history and culture.
They are full of important sacred sites for Central and Western Arrernte Aboriginal people.
In fact, every major waterhole, mountain and tourist destination in the Park is located at a sacred site!
The entire landscape is alive with Dreamtime stories and living Aborginal culture.
As well, there’s walks ranging from a short walk to a waterhole to the incredible Larapinta Trail, a long distance walk of over 220km, and one that generally is more suitable to the experienced hiker.
An amazing sealed bike path connects Flynn’s Grave with Simpson’s Gap for a distance of 17km. If you have the time, hire a bike and cycle the path. It’s well worth the effort.
There are a range of camping sites throughout the West MacDonnell National Park. These offer varying levels of facilities: from very basic to hot showers and flushing toilets.
Park camping fees vary with the category associated with each area and the level of maintenance required to keep them at an appropriate standard.
There are Ranger Stations at Simpson’s Gap and Ormiston Gorge and each, usually from April-October, offer ranger guided activities which are a great way of better understanding the area you are visiting.