Guide to Visiting the East & West MacDonnell Ranges

The MacDonnell Ranges are the closest mountain range to Alice Springs the highest mountain range in Central Australia is the MacDonnell Ranges. They can be divided into two sections called the West Macs or East Macs. Each section offers its attractions.

While the West MacDonnell Ranges are known for swimming holes and gorges, the East Macs have a great cultural heritage. The MacDonnell Ranges offer endless opportunities for hiking and swimming in deep gorges.

This region was our half-lap through Australia in June. We spent a week there. We have visited every gorge and attraction in the MacDonnell Ranges firsthand.


The MacDonnell Ranges stretch 644km across Australia’s Northern Territory. The Ranges, which border Australia’s Red Centre and surround Alice Springs in the outback, is situated. The West MacDonnell Ranges are west of Alice Springs, while the East MacDonnell Ranges are naturally to the east.

Hours of Operation, Passes, and Permits

The year-round accessibility to the West MacDonnell National Park, East MacDonnell Nature Parks and East MacDonnell Nature Parks is possible. Heavy rainfall during the wet season (November to April) can lead to road closures. Before you go, make sure to double-check park openings.

All MacDonnell Ranges parks can be visited for free, except Standley Chasm. The park is privately owned and requires an adult to access. To enjoy the parks, you don’t need any special permits.

Best Time to Visit

The best time to visit West MacDonnell Ranges is in the cooler months. It is unlikely that you want to hike in the January heat, so plan your trip from April to September. You can enjoy the many swimming holes in the shoulder season.

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How to Get to The West MacDonnell Ranges

By Car

From Alice Springs, you can access West MacDonnell National Park via Larapinta Drive or Namatjira Drive. Both roads are sealed, and attractions begin within 15 minutes of Alice Springs.

To access the unrestricted Mereenie Loop, which is located along the Red Centre Way, you will need a permit if you are coming from the south. Permits for the Mereenie Loop cost $5. They can be purchased at Kings Canyon Resort or the Alice Springs Visitor Centre.

By plane

Visitors from other parts of Australia can fly to Alice Springs to hire a car. Daily flights depart from Brisbane, Sydney and Adelaide.

Take a Tour

A West MacDonnell Ranges tour is an excellent option, whether you’re flying or driving to Alice Springs. This full-day tour covers all the highlights and includes transportation from Alice Springs.

How to get around

Car travel is the best way to explore the MacDonnell Ranges. To drive the West MacDonnell Ranges by yourself, you don’t necessarily need 4WD. However, you will need it if you want to visit the East Macs.

We recommend joining the 4X4 Tour of East MacDonnell Ranges for a full day of exploration.

Things to Do in The West MacDonnell Ranges

Redbank Gorge

At the west end of MacDonnell Ranges, Redbank Gorge is a stunning gorge and chasm. A vehicle with high clearance is recommended to reach the trail’s beginning. Follow the 2km walking path from the parking lot to the breathtaking waterhole at Mt Sonder. You will see many different species of animals and plants along the way. Swimming in the gorge is allowed but be prepared for freezing water. You can also camp at two Redbank Gorge campgrounds for basic amenities after your swim.

Mt Sonder Lookout

You can stop at Glen Helen Gorge on your way to Glen Sonder to take in the stunning views of Mt Sonder. The lookout, located just off Larapinta Drive, shows the beauty of the area’s scenic landscape. Catch the sunrise here if you are an early bird. If not, you can always catch it at sunset.

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