Australia's most iconic desert walking experience
The Larapinta Trail is one of Australia’s finest walks, situated just out of Alice Springs and spanning 223kms across the West MacDonnell Ranges. Divided into 12 different sections that can take between 12-14 days to complete, it is an unforgettable hike in Australia’s Red Centre and is an experience that will stay with you for years to come. Experience the scenic highlights of the trail, from the big blue skies that offer a stunning contrast against the sunburned landscape of the ranges, to some of the most spectacular geological formations in the region.
Described by Australian Geographic as “one of the world’s best long-distance arid-zone walks”, this spectacular Australian desert trek traverses the ridgelines of the West MacDonnell Ranges from east to west. Situated in Tjoritja, also known as the West MacDonnell National Park, the Larapinta trail includes many sites sacred to the Arrernte Aboriginal people, with highlights along the track including Simpson’s Gap, Ormiston Gorge, Ellery Creek Big Hole, Mount Sonder and more.
The diversity in the West MacDonnell Ranges offers an exceptional chance to experience Australia’s outback wilderness, home to nearly 600 species of flora, as well as birds, native wildlife and fascinating geological formations. Picture meandering through spacious gaps and sheltered gorges, rugged ranges, swimming in cool waterholes and sleeping under the stars.
We acknowledge and thank the traditional land owners, the Arrente people, for allowing us to walk on and enjoy this sacred land.
When to go
April – October
Larapinta Trail Development
The Larapinta Trail was first conceptualised in 1989 as part of a strategy to develop a national park in the West MacDonnell Ranges. The first section of the trail was opened in 1990, and was originally half as long as what it is today.
Original plans for the Larapinta Trail extended from the Old Telegraph Station just outside Alice Springs to the highest peak in the Northern Territory, Mt Zeil. However due to the remoteness and the rugged terrain spanning between Mt Sonder and Mt Zeil, it was decided that the trail should end at the equally spectacular Mt Sonder, one of the territory’s highest mountains. After many years of development and community consultation, the Larapinta Trail in its current form was finally completed in 2002.
The full 223km of the Larapinta Trail today spans between the Old Telegraph Station and Mt Sonder, covering some of the geographical and cultural highlights along the way including Standley Chasm, Euro Ridge, the Ochre Pits, Ormiston Gorge, and more. Many of these sites are sacred to the Arrernte people, who have permitted tourists and walkers to visit the sites.
The MacDonnell Ranges bio-region (the area traversed by the Larapinta Trail) is home to incredible diversity, including mammals both marsupial and placental, birds, reptiles and frogs and insects. There are more than 200 bird species in the region, and around 1500 plant species and numerous wildflowers that add colourful bursts of yellow, purple and red to the landscape. This is a surprise to many who expect a desert landscape to be devoid of life!
53 of the species found in this unique region are listed as threatened, including 14 plant species, 18 vertebrate species and 21 species of invertebrates. There are also a large number of species in the region that are found nowhere else in the world – including an incredible 15 species of land snails! This makes the bioregion an extremely important haven for wildlife conservation, and a very special place to experience.
The Black-footed rock wallabies (Petrogale lateralis) commonly spotted at Simpson Gap are extremely popular for wildlife watchers trekking the Larapinta Trail. These small, agile marsupials are less than a meter in height, and spend their lives on the rocky escarpments where they rely on caves and crevices for shelter. The main threat for these incredible creatures are introduced predators such as foxes, dogs and cats.
West MacDonnell Ranges National Park encompasses a significant proportion of the MacDonnell Ranges bio-region, and as such the Larapinta Trail passes through possibly the most significant conservation area in Central Australia.
The MacDonnell Ranges bio-region is a part of the Central Ranges xeric scrub, which is characterised by sandy plains, rocky highlands and grasslands. The MacDonnell Ranges are dominated by spinifex grasses and acacias, particularly mulga scrub. The landscape is dotted with sheltered gorges and waterholes, where microclimates allow many rare species to flourish.
The biggest threats to this delicate ecosystem are overgrazing by cattle, and the impact of introduced species such as foxes, rabbits and feral cats.
The West MacDonnell Ranges were formed during a major geological event called the Alice Springs Orogeny, beginning in the late Ordovician and continuing right through to the Carboniferous period (450 million to 300 million years ago). Folding, faulting and erosion have formed the ranges we see today.
Prior to this event, the area was covered by a shallow inland sea. Fossils can be found in many of the valleys along the Larapinta Trail that show evidence of this.
Whilst the ranges are made up of a variety of rock types including limestone, granite, sandstone and silicone – they are most famous for their peaks and gorges made up of red quartzite.