Read about walking track grades to work out what section is best for your fitness and ability. You will need to camp overnight to finish the section. It is a long distance with some steep ascents. Section 1 gives you views over Alice Springs and the surrounding lowlands, as well as good birdwatching opportunities.
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There are 3 main environments that make up the Larapinta Trail being riverbeds and riverbanks, mulga shrub lands and the rocky ranges and outcrops. The Larapinta Trail is something that has to grow on you as you need to truly immerse yourself within the surroundings. We made the choice in our planning that we would hike from Mount Sonder to Telegraph Station so we could walk straight into the pub and sip on a nice cold brew.
Mountains became my best friend and the flat sections tore me to pieces. From gorge to gorge we hiked, stopping at those we could swim in, refill on food then hit the trail.
There were nights which we spent gazing into the stars above, the most memorable night out was Waterfall Gorge after hiking a massive 30 or so kilometers to the point we decided to set up camp on a rocky patch besides a river gum.
I was either too tired or delirious to figure out how to set up my tent or if I had lost or misplaced equipment. In the end, I hopped into the shell of the tent with the mosquito net pressed against my face and I just lay and gazed into the Milky Way. It was one of the best nights I have spent out in a long time.
Caitlin and I were the only ones at the shelter and basically had all of Simpsons Gap to ourselves so we thought. After doing a bit of exploring and taking photos on our last day on the trail, dinner was eaten and we were soon off to bed, once again I climbed into the shell of my tent to keep the mosquitos out.
From the Simpsons Gap shelter, the views happened to be quite spectacular as the layers of the ranges dotted with spinifex and river gums. A breeze began to pick up on dark which rustled the inside of the shelter. The next thing I know, Caitlin wakes me up at midnight to inform me that dingoes were nearby. I was terrified to the point that I began tearing up. Despite having a few rough times on the trail, there were moments that were truly magical with distant storm clouds producing magnificent rainbows after a heavy downpour of rain upon the desert.
Gorges were lush with cycads creating places to seek shelter out of the ran to moments of hiking through something you would see in The Land Before Time. It literally is a must do if you are ever in the Northern Territory and the good thing is that you do not need to do a E2E end to end , you can hike which ever stage you like. Check out one of my other ultimate guides — hiking in New Zealand!
I hiked from west to east but for this article I have written it from east to west. There are sections of the walk about 10 kilometres into the trail which are quite boring with a lot of flat ground that sometimes pointlessly winds its way through mulga patches followed by the odd short hill climb.
Simpsons Gap can be seen through the vast patches of Mulga from the campground which is makes a hard day on the trail worth it. Once at the designated campground for hikers of the trail, be sure to take the walk down to the waterhole at beautiful Simpsons Gap. Swimming is NOT allowed here but being in awe of just how unique this place is, is totally acceptable. Enjoy the untouched nature along your hike.
There is an opportunity to camp at Mulga Camp about half way along section 2 but from experience, I recommend continuing on to Jay Creek where the facilities are much better kept and the scenery is quite beautiful.
A steep ascent out of Jay Creek is the preferred route despite being able to exit through the mount of the dried river bed. Once the trail meets back up a few tricky sections arise which require the use of your hands. Arriving into Standley Chasm is quite stunning a requires the traversing of lots of stairs.
Standley Chasm is privately owned meaning the price of camping skyrockets compared to the rest of the spots along the trail so make sure to bring cash or a credit card to pay the camping fee. But to get to Brinkley Bluff, be prepared for a hefty ridge traverse the whole way from once you leave Standley Chasm.
Brinkley Bluff will be the last place where you can get phone reception so use it wisely as it will be at least 2 or 3 days before reception is available. Descending from Brinkley Bluff is very steep, so expect to descend for upwards of 2 hours until the dry creek bed that leads to Birthday Waterhole appears.
Bouldering along the track. The trailhead begins by following a dry river bed full of rocks and boulders which requires constant attention. You will probably ascend for 2 to 2. Hugh Gorge is massive. Like really, really incredible but can be quite tricky to navigate with old gums, banks of course sand which can be quite annoying if it gets into your hiking boots. Otherwise from here on in it is all flat until Ellery Creek. A spectacular gorge on the Larapinta Trail.
You will be greatly surprised by just how hard and grueling section 6 is especially if you are coming from Ellery Creek Big Hole. My best tip for section 6 is to start as early as possible as this particular section is very lightly shaded to no shade at all.
Welcome to the Alice Valley. As soon as you leave Hugh Gorge, Mulga patches stretch for kilometres in every direction with a few sandy creek crossings that lead you to the base of a series of very rocky hills covered in grasses that like to attach to your socks. Given the length of section 6, you might want to consider breaking the hike into two parts.
Rocky Gully to the base of the saddle is quite flat but there are lots of sandy creek crossings which can get quite annoying but as you edge closer and closer to the West MacDonnell Range, things get a lot easier and less repetitive despite a small amount of climbs involved.
Ellery Creek Big Hole is a massive relief where you can swim, relax and stock back up food supplies as a storage room is available and the last opportunity to refill before Ormiston Gorge. Start your day early. Most of section 7 involves following a sharp ridge line past Trig Point and down into plantation-like sections of Mulga bush. Despite the shorter distant of section 7, the continuous ups and down prove to be difficult on the knees but overall, this is a beautiful part of the Larapinta Trail.
The highlight of section 8 belongs to the look out at Counts Point and the long ridge traverse that leads up to it. Descending can be quite rough on the knees so the best advice is to just take it slow on the down.
Once you are off the mountain, things are quite straightforward making your arrival into Serpentine Chalet is rather easy. Trekking the Larapinta Trail is one of the best experiences in Australia! Before you leave Serpentine Chalet, make sure all of your water bottles and packs are filled to the brim as there is no water until you arrive in Ormiston Gorge.
As soon as you leave Serpentine Chalet, you ascend along a narrow trail mostly through sparse mulga patches followed by incredible but spikey fields of spinifex grass. The Inarlanga Gorge is not only sacred, but it is one of the best kept secrets in the West MacDonnell Ranges to which is full of old cycads, gums and ancient rock formations. The Inarlanga Gorge acts as a passage way to the distant Waterfall Gorge some 2. Hiking parallel to these ranges during sunrise is truly spectacular as the surrounding ridge lines receive a dose of dark orange mixed in with the colors of the desert and the further benefits of hiking early in the morning means that there are less flies!
Given that this is one of the longest sections along the trail, there is an option to camp at Waterfall Gorge with various tent sites on each side of the gorge. Luckily I came across a stagnate pond of water at the base of Waterfall Gorge where I scooped water out as a micro-bat swooped me and thousands of insects swamped to my headlight. Another top tip is to put lids on your water bottles especially when there are sugars in them…ants love it.
Mount Giles delivers impressive degree views and phone reception in certain places. The summit of Mount Giles will give you the first views of Mount Sonder only a few days of trekking away.
Coming into Ormiston Gorge, things get very sandy as a section requires following a dry creek bed all the way to the Ormiston Gorge Kiosk. Ormiston is a piece of paradise as you now have the opportunity to cool off in the wondrous waters of this ancient place and refill your food supplies for the final few days leading into Mount Sonder.
Ormiston Gorge has a few sidewalks to consider such as the White Gum high above the waters of the gorge and a longer hike known as the Ormiston Pound Walk which requires you to sign into the rangers book at the Larapinta trailhead. Ormiston Gorge Kiosk is the last place to get hot food or cold drinks before you return back to Alice Springs. The West End of the Larapinta.
Section 10 is the shortest stage on the Larapinta Trail with a few small ascents and short descents making it a perfect day to take your time getting into camp. Hilltop Lookout is quite a nice spot and if you look hard enough you may be able to find the roof of the Finke River Shelter in the distance. There are a few opportunities to capture the sights of Mount Sonder to the west and the other times along the trail, you will duck in and out of small gullies followed by sections of dry riverbed before coming into Rocky Bar Gap.
Be sure to fill up your water supplies before continuing on to Redbank Gorge. The best time to do this section of trail is early morning so all you will need is a head torch, food, water and camera gear. You can leave your gear at the campsite to save the hassle of carrying it to the summit as camping is not allowed.
Sunrise from the top is the perfect way to finish off an epic adventure and what better way to do so than sit on the top of Mount Sonder and look back over the hills and endless plains of Central Australia. Getting Back to Alice Springs Given that you are now kilometers away from Alice Springs, you may need to pre-organise a lift back into town or if you are confident enough, hitch hiking will do the job just fine.
End of an epic journey. This Larapinta Trail packing list is what I used to take on the hike. Lightweight tent Sleeping bag and silk liner Worn in hiking boots Food supplies to last at least 3 days Water supplies to last at least 2 full days Portable gas burner and lighter A fly net Sunglasses, sunscreen and a buff Things To Know Before Hiking the Larapinta Trail The Larapinta Trail is not for the faint hearted.
I have done plenty of hiking throughout my life but the Larapinta Trail takes the cake as the hardest one I have done to date. Food Drops Food drops are your best friends on this hike and the good thing is that you can have 3 boxes of any size of whatever you want in them stored away in storerooms for access when you arrive at the destination.
You are best off buying 3 large boxes that are rat or mice proof from a hardware store in Alice Springs. This key will get you access to 2 of the 3 storerooms along the Larapinta Trail. What you put in these boxes is completely up to you but my recommendations are that you pack slightly more than you think you will need for each stage.
This is where careful planning needs to be considered from protein intakes to electrolyte intakes, everyone is different so plan accordingly. Water Water is probably your equal best friend with the food drops. Treat water like gold even if you are hiking during winter. Serpentine Chalet to Ormiston Gorge is the other section that has no places to refill your water bottles or packs so you will need to carry at least 10 litres of water on this section which equates to 10 kilograms of weight.
You can also find water at the start of all trailheads which comes in the form of water in large tin tanks. During peak season, water in these tanks are often used up by all of the hikers passing through but during the hotter months, there are opportunities to have a arms and face wash when there is more water available. Shelter Various locations along the Larapinta Trail such as trailheads have shelters which are elevated above the ground which are perfect for laying out a sleeping mat and sleeping bag.
If by chance shelters are full very common during peak season there are designated camping areas where tents can be pitched. Safety All safety precautions should be considered when planning to do the Larapinta Trail. I took a Eperb safety beacon which is an emergency beacon that can be triggered in times of danger to let your registered contact know that you are in trouble.
Maps are super handy and important to have. In your planning stages, be sure to print off a detailed map of the Larapinta Trail that shows everything from the trailheads, shelters, topography and distance as phone reception is not reliable along the trail. Pack a decent first aid kit with painkillers, snake bandages and band aids to name a few. Always let someone know where you are going or what section you are about to attempt.
Sections of the Larapinta Trail