The West MacDonnell Ranges is located west of Alice Springs along half of the 644-kilometre-long mountain range known as the MacDonnell Ranges.

The area is a popular attraction for tourists and travellers due to its accessibility.

West MacDonnell Ranges is some 250 kilometres in length and covers an area of more than 2,000 square kilometres.

Visitors come to bushwalk, swim in the oasis waterholes, see the unique natural environment and explore the area’s cultural history.

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Things to see in West Macdonnell Ranges

Natural Attractions 

The popularity of the Western MacDonnell Ranges is due to the stunning natural attractions.

These include Simpsons Gap, a picturesque gap home to a clan of small rock wallabies.

Standley Chasm, a narrow chasm with incredible photographic opportunities.

Serpentine Gorge, where swimming is not allowed but the views are incredible.

Ormiston Gorge, a narrow gorge with beautiful views and a permanent waterhole.

There are also a few popular swimming spots worth seeing such as Glen Helen.

This is another permanent waterhole with views that have seen it placed prominently on the area’s promotional materials.

Ellery Creek Big Hole is another worthwhile swimming spot.

It has the deepest waterhole in the entire West MacDonnell Ranges.

Ochre Pits and Tnorala Conservation Reserve

Before Europeans even started to work their way across Australia and discover the Red Centre, Aboriginal people had lived in the area for thousands of years.

Despite their nomadic lifestyles, Indigenous Australians have left many marks on the land that remain to this day.

Inside the West MacDonnell National Park, the two most-visited sites are the Ochre Pits and Tnorala Conservation Reserve.

The Ochre Pits are the location of ochre mining by local Aboriginal people for use in ceremonies and traditional events.

There are a number of ochre colours and the location is ideal to learn about the material’s significance.

Tnorala Conservation Reserve is a sacred Aboriginal site with a unique Dreamtime story that interestingly interprets what is thought to be an enormous comet crater about 20 kilometres across.


The West MacDonnell National Park is a haven for a large variety of wildlife.

Despite the increasing number of visitors to the area, the wildlife continues to be easily seen.

Visitors should keep an eye out for iconic Australian species such as cormorants, galahs, cockatoos, dingoes, wallabies and (if you’re lucky) peregrine falcons.

Around waterholes and rivers there are many frogs and unique central desert insect life.

Reptiles are also common, ranging from tiny native geckoes to swift-moving goannas.

Things to do in West Macdonnell Ranges

Larapinta Trail

One of the most recognisable and iconic activities in the West MacDonnell National Park is the Larapinta Trail.

This extended bushwalk, which stretches about 233 kilometres through the national park, can be undertaken in full or in sections over the course of several days.

Visitors, particularly those without equipment or knowledge of bushwalking safety, tend to travel with a tour if they’re planning to overnight on the trail.

However, shorter sections of the trail can be walked in a day regardless of skill level.

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The West MacDonnell Ranges area is an ideal place to camp.

Camping offers a unique perspective on the natural environment at different times of the day.

Camping fees range from $5 to $15 per person and are payable in cash at the various camping locations within the park.


Travel App

The Northern Territory Government, which manages the West MacDonnell National Park through the Parks and Wildlife sector, has put together an iPhone app for visitors.

The app aims to provide local insight into the area with destination information, videos, audio and images that help in understanding the wonder and significance of the various locations.

Tours and Talks 

Along with the app, you will find a number of downloadable audio podcasts available online.

These podcasts intend to provide both informational and narrative insight into the area, and can be downloaded to any mp3 player.

A more human perspective on the West MacDonnell Ranges can be found by joining with one of the free ranger talks, which run at both Ormiston Gorge and Simpsons Gap during the peak travel season.

Nearby Attractions

Although it certainly seems isolated and far from civilisation, the Western MacDonnell Ranges is actually located close to a number of other local attractions.

The most popular of these is certainly the Alice Springs Desert Park, but you might also consider spending time checking out the Alice Springs attractions such as the Alice Springs Reptile Centre and Anzac Hill.

How to get to West MacDonnell Ranges


Self-drive is certainly one of the most popular ways to get to the West MacDonnell National Park.

The first attraction in the park, Simpsons Gap, is located around 24 kilometres from Alice Springs, with the drive taking less than 30 minutes.


Part of the West MacDonnell National Park is accessible via bicycle.

You can take the 34-kilometre return trip to Simpsons Gap on the quality sealed bike track.

Less than average fitness visitors should not ride a bike.


For visitors without a car, it’s best to join a tour from Alice Springs.

A guide will take you directly to the best attractions in the area.

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For all new cities, I go overboard on my itinerary, just to see every major attraction. Countries I've visited include New Zealand, Singapore, Hong Kong, China, Cambodia, Japan and Thailand. Mostly Asian countries. Next target - Europe!