A rugged backdrop to the otherwise flat countryside surrounding Alice Springs, the glorious MacDonnell Ranges stretch for more than 100km to the west and east of the town. Although the East MacDonnell Range has many notable features, its western counterpart has most of the region’s famous attractions, including Simpsons Gap, Standley Chasm and Ormiston Gorge.
Just a short trip from Alice Springs are Simpsons Gap and Standley Chasm, the first highlights of the dramatic West MacDonnell Range. These popular sites are both great places to see the rugged red-orange cliffs for which this landscape is renowned. (As Standley Chasm is privately-operated an entry fee applies.)
Further west is a great spot for a cooling swim at Ellery Creek Big Hole, then Serpentine Gorge which is a perfect location to stop for a picnic. Just a short drive away is the Ochre Pits site, which is another intriguing place to visit with its bands of yellow, white and red.
The gorges just keep coming as you continue west, with the towering walls of Ormiston Gorge and its waterhole, which is a very popular spot to enjoy a swim.
There are some welcome facilities at Glen Helen Lodge, which offers accommodation and food. It’s also home to Glen Helen Gorge, which is another great location to get some respite from the heat with a dip in the waterhole.
At the westernmost point of the West MacDonnell Range is Redbank Gorge, at the base of Mt Sonder. It’s a bit of a walk to the waterhole, but it is a great spot to cool off with a swim after tackling some of the walks.
Although Redbank Gorge is often the last point visited in Tjoritja/West MacDonnell National Park, Tylers Pass Lookout is also worth a stop. The lookout provides panoramic views over the landscape, including Gosse Bluff crater.
Although these highlights of the West MacDonnell Range can all be easily explored by car, an amazing way to experience the less accessible sites is along the 223km Larapinta Trail. Even if you don’t take on the entire trail, there are plenty of shorter sections to try.