A short 17 km drive out of Alice Springs is Simpsons Gap, located in the West MacDonnell National Park.
If you haven’t got much time in Alice Springs, this is the perfect place to visit to give you a taste of the West MacDonnell Ranges.
Entry is free and there’s lots to see and do.
Simpsons Gap is a stunning gorge carved out of the West MacDonnell Ranges by Roe Creek, where water flows through a small gap in the range.
The Gap is a sacred site to Central Arrernte Aboriginal people, and is called Rrengetyirpe (Rrung-GAH-chip-uh – trill the double ‘r’ as in Spanish) the local language. It’s a place that’s associated with Perentie (goanna), Eagle and Rock Wallaby Dreamings.
This page tells you how to get there, what to do and when to visit!
Turn onto Larapinta Drive from the Stuart Highway in Alice Springs, and head west for 17km (about 15 minutes drive).
Along the way, you’ll pass the Alice Springs Desert Park, Flynn’s Grave and Honeymoon Gap.
View Simpsons Gap in a larger map
Simpsons Gap is ideal if you don’t have long to spend in Alice Springs, but you’d like to get a taste of the West MacDonnell Ranges or combine it with a few other Alice Springs highlights.
Time needed: 1 hour
Drive out to Simpsons from Alice (15 minutes), walk down into the Gap itself and return to your vehicle (half an hour), drive back to Alice Springs (15 min).
Time needed: 3-4 hours
A popular half day trip we recommend is to visit the Alice Springs Desert Park for lunch, and spend 3 hours at the Desert Park. You WILL need 3 hours at least at the Desert Park to get the best value from everything that’s there.
After the Desert Park, drive west for 2 minutes and stop at Flynn’s Grave. You can read more about the history of this memorial here.
Leaving Flynn’s Grave, head west once more for about 10 minutes. Turn right at the Simpsons Gap sign, and call in at the small visitor’s centre. After this, head straight down to the Gap itself, in time for some great late afternoon photography.
Things to Do
The Gap itself is located at the end of Darken Drive, 6 km from the intersection with Larapinta Drive.
As you drive in, you’ll come to the ranger station and a small information centre with toilets.
Stop here and read about the park and chat to the rangers if they’re about.
There’s a short walk behind the ranger station called the Ghost Gum Walk, which is very easy and only takes about 15 minutes. Essentially, it’s a nature trail that introduces you to the flora, fauna and geology of the area.
Back on the road, after crossing Roe Creek again, you’ll come to carparks marking the trail heads of the Woodland Walk and Cassia Hill Walk.
The Cassia Hill Walk is a short loop walk of about 1.5km. It takes you through a variety of outback habitats onto a small hill, where you can take some fantastic photos of the West MacDonnell Ranges.
The Woodland Walk is 17 km return. It’s a very easy walk that takes you into some lesser-visited sections of the Park. The walk takes you out to Bond Gap, and returns via Section 2 of the Larapinta Trail.
Read the info on the signs at the beginning of these walks and always be prepared with adequate water, a hat and sturdy shoes.
Another few kilometres along the road and you’ll reach the Gap itself.
A short stroll takes you down to the Gap and the waterhole where you can marvel at the geology of this place. You can’t swim in the waterhole, but it’s a great place to hang out on a hot day, as the narrow gorge is shady and cool.
Keep your eyes ready, because small black-footed rock wallabies live all around the rocky slopes on either side of the creek.
They blend in with the rocks, but if you’re patient and willing to wait, you’ll be rewarded with a photo of one of these gorgeous little creatures.
Back at the carpark are toilets and a great picnic area with water, shelter and free gas bbqs.
Apart from the short walk down to the gap there are a few walks back down the road where you can get a better appreciation of the area.
If you’re out for a little more exercise and you have a bicycle, then an exceptional track runs 17km between Flynn’s Grave and Simpsons Gap. Lots of people ride this track even during a full moon!
When to Visit?
Because it’s so close to Alice Springs, Simpsons Gap is somewhere you can visit at almost any time of the year, and at any time of the day.
Even in the summer, it’s cool and shady, and is a very popular place for local to have dinner or evening drinks.
However, the best time to visit is either in the late afternoon or early morning, when the incredible reds and oranges of the sun on the ranges makes for some of the most incredible photographs you’ll ever take.
My wife and I visited simpsons Gap on our trip to the area way back in 2004 (I think it is time for us to return – camping this time). What struck me about Simpsons Gap was the feel of the rock especially on the left side of the gap. The wind, and other elements I assume, had polished the rock to a very smooth finish. It actually had a shine to it in parts. An awesome place to visit.