Woman walking in the red center, Uluru,Northern Territory

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Alice Springs is often regarded as Australia’s outback capital, surrounded by vast desert landscape and bushland, and the closest major town to arguably our most recognisable natural landmark, Uluru. The wild and rugged beauty of nearby national parks make Alice Springs an outstanding destination for keen hikers wanting to immerse themselves in a true outback experience.

We’ve selected five of the best places to hike around the Red Centre to get you started, all within a comfortable driving distance from Alice Springs.

1. Uluṟu-Kata Tjuta National Park

Uluru (Ayer's Rock) in Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park is a massive sandstone monolith in the heart of the Northern Territory’s arid "Red Centre", Australia. Photographed: July 2019.

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Of course, a trip to Alice Springs wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Uluru (or Ayres Rock). Uluru is situated in the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park and while climbing Uluru is strongly discourged (and will be prohibited from October 2019), the park does provide visitors with the option of exploring the rock from its base. Most notably, the Uluru Base Walk comprises a 10 kilometre trail that circumnavigates the entire base of the rock. Join the ranger-guided Mala Walk and make the most of the opportunity to learn about the life and culture of the Anangu people of the Uluru region and their deep connections to Uluru, and the native flora and fauna surrounding the rock. Visitors to the park can also explore the slightly less famous but breathtaking Kata Tjuta, or ‘the Olgas’ via a number of walking trails. Most notably, the Valley of the Winds Walk takes hikers through the variously shaped rock domes and offers spectacular views.

2. Larapinta Trail

Ellery Creek Big Hole in West MacDonnell National Park, Alice Springs.

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The Larapinta Trail is fast gaining a reputation as one of the best hikes in Australia and the world. The trail extends for 223 kilometres and is divided into twelve separate sections with multiple entry points, allowing hikers to choose between day or overnight walks of various lengths. The trail begins at the Alice Springs Telegraph Station and cuts through the West MacDonnell Ranges on its way to the summit of Mount Sonder at its conclusion. Explore some of the ranges’ spectacular natural attractions along the trail, including Simpsons Gap, the Finke River and the waterholes at Ellery Creek Big Hole, Ormiston Gorge and Glen Helen.


3. Ormiston Pound Walk

Ormiston Gorge in the West MacDonnell National Park

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Ormiston Gorge is the entry point for sections 9 and 10 of the Larapinta Trail and provides hikers with access to Ormiston Pound Walk, touted as one of the best half-day walk in the West MacDonnell Ranges. Beginning and ending at the Ormiston Visitor’s Centre, visitors can marvel at the towering walls of the gorge and the important array of flora and fauna that make their home amongst the rocks. Finish the 3-4 hour trail with a swim in the near-permanent waterhole located 500m from the end of the trail.


4. Trephina Gorge Nature Park

Trephina Gorge, Northern Territory

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Trephina Gorge Nature Park is located in the East MacDonnell Ranges and is known for its sheer quartzite cliffs and for being home to Central Australia’s largest Ghost Gum. The park has walking trails of various length and difficulty for hikers to explore. For a longer walk, try the Ridgetop Walk; a 9 kilometre, one-way walk offering spectacular views of the ranges and all the way to Alice Springs from Turner’s Lookout. The Chain of Ponds Walk is a shorter but equally challenging hike with outstanding views of the gorge along the trail, while the Gorge Stroll is an easy 500 metre ramble to the semi-permanent waterhole located within the gorge itself.


5. Finke Gorge National Park

Palm Valley, Northern Territory

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The ancient landscape of Finke Gorge National Park is located 140 kilometres from Alice Springs and is only accessible by four-wheel drive. The park is home to the 350-million-year-old Finke River, believed to be one of the oldest rivers in the world. Learn about the culture of the Western Arrernte people along the 5 kilometre Mpaara Walk, the longest walk in the park. Explore the famous Palm Valley along the Arankaia Walk, and marvel at stunning sandstone amphitheatres and gorges. Here, you’ll also find the Red Cabbage Palms for which the valley is named, a remanet from Australia’s ancient past when the Red Centre was covered in tropical rainforest. For more spectacular views of the park’s sprawling sandstone landscape, head up to the Kalaranga Lookout, an easy 20-minute walk.