The West MacDonnell Ranges: A Hiker's Paradise


Taking an adventurous excursion through the Australian outback is one of the best ways to tour Australia. The MacDonnell Ranges is undoubtedly one of the top destinations in the outback and offers easy accessibility to one of the most spectacular and diverse areas. Impressive gaps and gorges give way to splendid waterholes providing the perfect atmosphere for outdoor enthusiasts. Only a short drive from Alice Springs, you’ll find plenty to experience, whether you choose a day-trip or a multi-day camping venture. Read this article on the best things to do and tips for travel so you can enjoy the best features of the West MacDonnell Ranges.

West MacDonnell Ranges facts

Location: Northern Territory
Distance from Alice Springs: Ranging from 20 km to 200+ km west
Size: 39,294 sq. km
Entrance fees: No fee to enter; USD 2.80* per person fee for overnight camping; USD 8 per person to enter Standley Chasm
Best time to visit: May to September

What to do in the West MacDonnell Ranges

Standley Chasm in West MacDonnell Ranges.
Standley Chasm is the most stunning on a noon on a sunny day.


Encompassing some 223 km of terrain, the famous Larapinta Trail provides some of Australia’s best bushwalking and intensive trekking experiences. Divided into twelve sections, hikers can enjoy one of the most diverse areas in the Australian outback. Pass along vast ridge-lines, through gaps and gorges, through plains, and up to Mount Sender, one of Australia’s highest peaks. The trail is perfect for day or multi-day treks and has areas of varying difficulty levels. Standley Chasm is also a popular, short hike trekking through a narrow passage of dramatic red sandstone walls. The USD 8* entrance fee to enter this privately owned Aboriginal land helps to cover costs of preserving this important site.
This 5-day tour in the Australian outback takes you hiking through Uluru, Kings Canyon and the West MacDonnell Ranges.


Riding along the foothills of the outback is not only an enjoyable activity, it is an incredibly efficient and personal way to explore the MacDonnell Ranges. A short 17 km trip from Flynn’s Grave to Simpson’s Gap is a popular biking option through open outback and bush areas. Larapinta also sports a fantastic 380 km bike route suitable for a multi-day tour riding mostly sealed roads along the mountain. Of course, plan for short detours to some of the famous landmarks, such as Standley Chasm and Ellery Creek Big Hole along the way.


The rugged terrain of the MacDonnell Ranges is truly an adventurer’s playground. While many top sites in the ranges can be accessed by regular vehicle, taking a 4-wheel-drive will give opportunity for off-road adventures in remote areas. We also recommend booking a West MacDonnell Ranges tour for a convenient experience venturing off the beaten path in the outback.

Wildlife watching

As you walk, bike, or ride taking a tour through the desert habitat, you are sure to catch a glimpse of some of Australia’s notable wildlife. Wallabies, wallaroos, kangaroos, echidnas, bats, reptiles, and insects are some of the frequent sightings in the MacDonnell Ranges bioregion. Over 200 species of birds also make this an excellent destination for birding enthusiasts.

Glen Helen Gorge in West MacDonnell Ranges
Glen Helen Gorge makes for a refreshing escape on a hot summer day.


One thing is for sure, however you plan to venture through the outback, a dip in some of the park’s waterholes will be a welcoming refresher in mid-day. And with unmatched scenery surrounded by red cliffs and gorges, you may not want to leave. Excellent choices for swimming include Ellery Creek Big Hole, Ormiston Gorge, Redbank Gorge, and Glen Helen Gorge. Consider taking an inner tube when visiting the swimming holes. Redbank Gorge in particular, is quite narrow and better enjoyed from a tube.

Hot-air ballooning

The sights from the ground are breathtaking, but from above, the immense landscape is even more impressive. Taking a hot-air balloon ride is becoming a popular way to relax while drifting over the outback, giving a completely unique perspective. Several companies based in Alice Springs offer this experience.

History and culture walks

Featuring multiple historical sites, this range is significant for its deep Aboriginal history. Serpentine Chalet, Roma Gorge, and Ochre Pits are just a few of the areas considered sacred in the Aboriginal culture. Tours with an experienced guide provide excellent insight into the importance of different sites as well as cultural immersion as you walk through the park.

Where to Stay


Ormiston Gorge in MacDonnell Ranges
Ormiston Gorge is a great place to watch the wildlife of the West MacDonnell Ranges.
  • West MacDonnell National Park offers multiple public campsites with basic facilities at Ormiston Gorge, Ellery Creek Big Hole, Woodland-Redbank Gorge, and Ridge Top-Redbank Gorge. Designated primitive campsites are also found at Serpentine Chalet and Finke 2-mile. Fees vary, starting at USD 2.80 per person per night.
  • Glen Helen Homestead Lodge provides a true outback experience at the MacDonnell Range Caravan Park. In addition to camping and caravan options, the lodge offers rustic bunk rooms and motel rooms in an old cattle station. Facilities include a restaurant, outdoor BBQ areas, bar and beer garden, swimming pool, laundry, gift shop and fuel. Rates start at USD 9.60 per night per person.
  • Big 4 MacDonnell Range Holiday Park provides award-winning West MacDonnell Ranges accommodation just 10 km outside the national park. It features a range of options from camping and caravan sites to private cabins and villas. Facilities include camp kitchens, laundry facilities, pools, gym, supermarket, and fuel station. Rates start at USD 33 per site per night.

Good to Know

  • West Macdonnell National Park offers many facilities including public toilets, picnic areas, barbecues, ranger stations, and visitor centers. Glen Helen offers lodging, a restaurant, and fuel.
  • Ranger-led activities are available April through October from the ranger stations at Simpson’s Gap and Ormiston Gorge.
  • Most sites can be accessed with a 2WD vehicle via sealed roads. However, a 4WD should be utilized if entering the park via the gravel road of Red Centre Way from the south-west.
  • Do prepare for your trips into the ranges with plentiful food, water, and sunblock. In this desert climate, it is important to prevent dehydration.

Heading into the rugged Australian wild doesn’t get more accessible than this. With a trip to the MacDonnell Ranges, you’ll find a spectacular natural playground to suit your love for the outdoors and gain a lasting impression of Australia’s beauty and history along the way.

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  • Brett Eldershaw
    Brett Eldershaw
    Travel Expert in Australia
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    Cameron Kangaroo
    Travel Expert in Australia
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    Kevin Mattaboni
    Travel Expert in Australia
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