Australia’s nature in the Red Center is breathtaking. The wide open space, the starry sky and the nature is why we and many others visit the Red Center in Australia. Lately, we were often asked by other travelers what we would do if we had 2 weeks to explore Central Australia. So we thought it is time to put together a 2 week itinerary from Alice Springs. If we only had two weeks for a Red Center road trip starting from Alice Springs, that’s what we would do.
It’s already our third time in the Red Center. The reason why we come back is the amazing nature not the city of Alice Springs. But we started to like Alice even if it is not the kind of city we normally would spend too much time in. Alice Springs has more to offer than you might think. There are plenty of shops and you get nearly everything you need, there are great cafes in the Todd Mall and well, there is no other city close by.
Alice Springs is for many travelers the starting point to the big attractions like Uluru (Ayers Rock), Kata Tjuta (The Olgas), Kings Canyon and the East and West MacDonnell Ranges.
In this post you find recommendations for a 2 week Red Center road trip from Alice Springs. We write about our trip, what we’ve done and what is worth a visit. You can copy our itinerary or you can pick out the things you are interested in.
The best way to explore the Red Center is in your own vehicle. If you hire a campervan, a 4×4 vehicle with high-top or one with a roof tent, you will get the most of your trip, because you are flexible and independent. Of course, you can also travel with a tour group but then you are tied to the schedule.
Alice Springs – Day 1 & 2
It is worth to plan two days for Alice Springs. The Outback town has quite a lot to offer.
We are not so much into museums, but the School of the Air and the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) are totally worth a visit. It is extremely fascinating to see how people in the remote Outback deal with health issues and schooling.
It is hard to imagine how it works to teach children that live hundreds of miles apart from each other. In the School of the Air we learn how virtual classrooms and the school system work now and how it did work in earlier days, when the internet did not exist.
Also the Royal Flying Doctor Service is one of these institutions which are very valuable to people living in the remote parts of Australia. At the RFDS we find a little bit of home as well. They fly with Pilatus airplanes that are made in Switzerland.
Time for a coffee in the city. Our favorite cafes in Alice Springs are Page 27 and the Red Dog Cafe. Both cafes are located in the Todd Mall where you also find shops, restaurants and art galleries.
If this is your first trip to the Red Center of Australia, we highly recommend visiting the Desert Park. We’ve been here eight years ago to learn more about the plants and the wildlife in the desert. There are around 400 plants and more than 200 animals in the park which are living in the desert.
The entry fee for adults is AUD 32 (USD 24), for children AUD 16 (USD 12). It is quite expensive but if you are interested in learning more about the desert, it is worth the money.
Old Telegraph Station
You like to learn more about the history of Alice Springs? In the heritage buildings of the Old Telegraph Station you get lots of information about Alice Springs and what people did in the middle of nowhere in the early days.
For example, did you know that until the 1930s, the town’s name was Stuart?
Entry fee: Adults AUD 13.75 (USD 10.55), Children 6-12 years AUD 5 (USD 3.85), Children 12-16 years AUD 8.50 (USD 6.50)
Central Australian Aviation Museum
We already mentioned it before. We are not the ones going to every museum. But sometimes we can’t resist. In Alice Springs we visit the Central Australian Aviation Museum and we are quite impressed. It’s not a huge Aviation museum but pretty interesting to visit. In 1977 a group of locals started to collect information and put it on display. And of course, there are also some airplanes in the exhibition.
The museum is located in the original hangar of Connellan Airways, on the old airport ground. We enjoy learning more about aviation, especially here in the isolated Outback of Australia.
The historical airplanes and the old photos of earlier days are great. But the best is the video which you can watch inside the old DC3 airplane. We sit back in the airplane seat, relax and enjoy the show.
The entry is free of charge. A donation is very welcome.
The National Road Transport Hall of Fame
Roadtrains from the 1930s, an old workshop and more than hundred restored vintage cars and trucks are on display in the National Road Transport Hall of Fame.
Trucks and cars are not my thing but Marcel’s. After he returns from the museum he tells me enthusiastic how cool it was. The collection of historical cars and trucks is pretty impressive and learning more about the history of transport in Australia is very insightful. And it’s not only about the trucks and road trains, it’s also about the life of the ones who drove and lived in these vehicles.
The entry fee includes a visit of the Kenworth Dealer Truck museums. A visit is recommended as you get the chance to compare the past and the present. The development from the past to the today’s modern shape of the road trains is pretty interesting to see.
ANZAC Hill Lookout – The best view over Alice Springs
Do you want to see Alice Springs from above? From the war memorial on ANZAC Hill you get a great overview of Alice Springs. A great time to go up to the lookout is during sunrise or sunset.
Internet and telephone coverage outside of Alice Springs
If you want to check your emails or do some research on the internet, you can use the free WiFi in the Todd Mall in Alice Springs. There is also free WiFi in the library where you can connect with your own device or you can use the computers of the library.
Once you drive away from Alice Springs you will very soon have no more mobile phone coverage.
Nature is calling
The Red Center Road Trip can begin. Alice Springs is starting point of the popular tourist route, the Larapinta Drive, which goes to the West MacDonnell Ranges. A few kilometers out of town and you find yourself in the middle of nature. You are surrounded by rolling hills and magnificent landscape.
The West MacDonnell Ranges are great for hiking. You can choose from short walks to challenging hikes. Come with us and explore the fantastic Red Center.
Day 3 – Alice Springs to Serpentine Gorge (101 km)
Bye bye Alice Springs. See you later.
First stop Simpsons Gap
Just 24 km from Alice Springs we stop at the first natural attraction. From Larapinta Drive it is a side trip of only 8 km on bitumen. From the parking it is an easy 10 minute walk to the Simpsons Gap.
The Simpsons Gap is a natural gap in the ranges with a small waterhole. Check out the rocks across the walking path. If you are lucky, you may spot a rock wallaby.
Standley Chasm – A deep gap in the mountain range
The next stop along the Larapinta Drive is Standley Chasm. From the turnoff it’s another 10 km drive to the parking area. Around lunchtime the sun is shining into the 80 meter high gap. To witness this moment is spectacular.
It’s a 15 minute walk from the parking spot to get to Standley Chasm. There is another walking trail to a second chasm which takes about an hour return.
Standley Chasm is on private land and visitors have to pay an entry fee (AUD 12 / USD 9 per person).
Back on the Larapinta Drive we soon have to decide which way to go. We want to explore the highlights of the West MacDonnell Ranges and therefore, we turn off to the Namatjira Drive. This is one of our favorite drives in the Red Center. We are surrounded by the beauty of Central Australia. Red colored ranges, wildflowers and spinifex grass are dominating the landscape.
Ellery Creek Big Hole – 10 minutes (one way) – 400 m
The Ellery Creek Big Hole is easy accessible from the Namatjira Drive. We drive 2 km on gravel road and get to the parking area. A short walk takes us to the waterhole. The atmosphere is totally relaxing and so peaceful. The waterhole is big and very inviting to take a bath. We visit in the early morning and the water is ice cold. Too cold for us to hop in.
On our last visit Marcel had the chance to explore Ellery Creek Big Hole in a kayak. He really enjoyed it, especially to see the gorge from another perspective without getting wet.
You like to do another walk? If you got time, you could do the Dolomite Walk. The path is going through a dry riverbed and over overgrown hills with great views. You get back through the sandy riverbed. Plan about 1 to 1.5 hours for the 3 km (time depends on how many photos you take).
Serpentine Gorge Lookout – 20 minutes (one way)
Serpentine Gorge is the next stop on our tour. From the main road it is a 3 km drive on a gravel road.
The best to see more of the area is going up to the lookout. It only takes about 20 minutes to get to the viewpoint. The trail goes continuously uphill and we finally get rewarded for the effort with breathtaking views. There is a platform from where you can see down into Serpentine gorge.
Serpentine Gorge – 30 minutes (1.3 km)
The walk into the gorge is easy. The entry of the gorge is blocked by a waterhole. We enjoy the calm atmosphere and listen to the chirping birds.
It’s time to look for a camp. Close to Serpentine Gorge there is a free bush camp called Serpentine Chalet. The spots are in the bush and there is no infrastructure at Serpentine Chalet. But who needs infrastructure when you are surrounded by amazing nature and a starry sky. And, don’t forget looking for shooting stars.
Day 4 – Serpentine Gorge to Ormiston Gorge (38 km)
The Orchre Pits are just a few hundred meters off Namatjira Drive. Cool, how colorful the rock wall looks like. These colors are used by Aborigines for ceremonies. They paint their bodies and faces with it. The colors are also used for rock paintings.
Ormiston Gorge – The Highlight of the West MacDonnell Ranges
The next turnoff leads to the Ormiston Gorge. It is an 8 km drive on bitumen.
Ormiston Gorge is one of the most popular places to visit in the West MacDonnell Ranges on a Red Center Road Trip. We like it too. A must is the hike to the lookout. And if you have enough energy, don’t miss to do the Pound Walk which leads through amazing landscape.
Ormiston Gorge Ghost Gum Lookout (15 minutes to the platform)
It is not a long hike but a strenuous one. It goes straight up to the platform from where you have fantastic views overlooking the gorge. You can look down into the gorge, the waterholes and the riverbed.
If you continue, you are already on the Ghost Gum Walk. The path leads to the river bed and then back through the river bed to the parking area. The roundtrip of 2.5 km takes about 1.5 hours.
Pound Walk round trip (7 km – 3 to 4 hours)
Last time we did not do the Pound Walk because of the deep water level in one of the waterholes. We could have done the walk but we were not keen on swimming to the other side of the river. Afterwards we regretted that we haven’t done it.
This time we did this great walk again. Ok, we still don’t want to swim but this time the water level looks good. We do the Pound Walk clockwise and this is how we find out at the beginning of the long walk if we can walk through the water without getting too wet.
We first go up to the lookout, enjoy the great views and then continue on the Ghost Gum Walk. Once we get to the riverbed Marcel starts to wade through the cold water. The deepest point is close to a meter. I take my jeans off, slowly wade through the chilly water and manage to get to the other side of the river. Yeah!
We walk in the riverbed along the gorge. The walls are steep and the further we go the more it opens up. The landscape is changing and we suddenly stand in the middle of spinifex grass, surrounded by rolling hills. During the whole walk we only meet one other couple and lots of birds.
We recommend starting the Pound Walk in the early morning and in counterclockwise direction. If you do so, you will have the exposed part of the walk at the beginning during the cooler morning hours.
You can camp at the Ormiston Gorge. Costs for a night per adult are AUD 10 (USD 7.40). The infrastructure is great. There are toilets, showers, picnic areas with BBQ and gas grill.
If you need a treat, check out the kiosk. We heard about the delicious ice coffee. We did not try, but it sounds very tempting, especially after the strenuous hike.
To cool down you can also have a swim in the permanent waterhole. You get there on a walkway, just 5 minutes from the car park. Do not forget your swimsuit.
Great free bush camp – Just go there if you have a 4WD vehicle
Do you love bush camping as much as we do? Then check out the Finke River Two Mile Camp. It is just a few hundred meters from Glen Helen Gorge. The only thing you need to get to the camp spots in the river bed is a 4WD vehicle because the track is soft and sandy.
We found a spot under a big tree and views over the Finke River. There are even some waterholes where we can refresh ourselves. The sunsets are great and stargazing too.
Day 5 – Ormiston Gorge to Kings Canyon (246 km)
Glen Helen Gorge
Just a few hundred meters from the main road you can walk to beautiful Glen Helen Gorge. The permanent waterhole is surrounded by reeds which makes it even more beautiful. The color mix of the green reeds, the blue water and the red rocks is like a color explosion. We are flabbergasted.
The water attracts birds and therefore Glen Helen Gorge is a bird’s paradise. There are also nine species of desert fishes living in the waterhole.
You need a break and a coffee or a cold drink? There is a cafe at Glen Helen Resort. If you like to see the MacDonnell Ranges from a birds eye view, you can book a helicopter flight at Glen Helen Resort.
Another side trip off Namatjira Drive is the one to the Redbank Gorge. This ravine is less frequented than the others. Whether it is because of the bad road condition or lack of time, we don’t know.
It takes us half an hour to get to the gorge. We walk in the river bed and climb over big rocks and after 2 km we reach the waterhole. There is just one other couple and we can enjoy the quiet and peaceful atmosphere.
Should you have enough time to visit Redbank Gorge then do it. It is worth it.
Mount Sonder Lookout (5 km – 2.5 hours return)
There is more to see at Redbank Gorge. Another walk is starting from the parking area to Mount Sonder Lookout. For a fantastic 360 degree view you should not miss that walk. Start as early as possible. 5 km doesn’t sound like a lot but it is constantly going uphill and the path is exposed. Once you reach the lookout you can enjoy the unique landscape.
Mount Sonder Summit (15.8 km – 6 hours return)
The hike to Mount Sonder Summit is quite challenging. For the 15.8 km return you should plan for about six hours of walking. Same here, start in the morning as early as possible if you plan to climb to the top. The path is very exposed and does not provide shade.
We traveled in October and we had temperatures between 30-35 degrees during the day.
If you want to do the Mount Sonder Summit hike, we recommend staying at the Redbank Gorge Campground. Like this you can start your walk right after getting up. There are toilets and BBQ’s at the camp ground. Cost per person per night AUD 5 (USD 3.70).
You don’t feel like doing such a long walk? It is still early in the day? Than it’s worth driving a little further that you get closer to Kings Canyon.
Now we leave the MacDonnell Ranges behind us. The road turns south and we get on the Mereenie Loop Road. The Mereenie Loop Road is a gravel road and some sections are quite corrugated and sandy. It’s recommended to drive it in a 4WD but it is also possible to do in a regular car or campervan.
If you prefer to stay in a caravan park with facilities, you can stay at the Kings Canyon Resort. You can camp there and there are also rooms, a restaurant, a gas station and a shop.
Free camping is possible on the Tylers Pass. It is a 24 hour rest area about 24 km from Kings Canyon. There are no facilities on Tylers Pass lookout.
We like the spot a lot. It’s great for watching the sunset and the road trains crawling up the hill.
Day 6 – Kings Canyon
Kings Canyon Rim Walk – Circular track (6 km – 3-4 hours)
One of the best hikes in the Red Center is definitely the Rim Walk in Kings Canyon. We love all about it. The first climb is quite tough but once you get to the Canyon plateau, you get rewarded with spectacular views.
It’s best to start early in the morning to avoid the heat. On days where the weather forecast predicts 36 degrees Celsius or more, the Rim Walk will be closed after 9 am.
We wrote a separate post about the Kings Canyon. All about the walks, photos and tips here: Kings Canyon – A must-see on a trip to Australia
Day 7 – Kings Canyon to Yulara (302 km)
The road from Kings Canyon to Yulara is a well-developed road. Calculate at least 3.5 to 4 hours for the 300 km drive.
Yulara is a resort town and you get most things you need. There are restaurants, hotels, a shopping center and a campground (Ayers Rock Resort). In Yulara everything is more expensive, so be prepared to pay more.
It’s best to check-in first and then head to the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park for watching the sunset.
Sunset at Uluru
Follow the signs to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park and you will pass the ticket station on your way. You get your entry ticket which costs AUD 25 (USD 18.50) at the booth. The ticket is valid to enter the park for three days.
From here, it is a 12 km drive to the Sunset Viewing car park. We love to get here a couple of hours before the sun sets. We park our camper, grab a beer from the fridge, make ourselves comfortable in our camping chairs and enjoy the view before the tour buses arrive. As soon as the sun is getting closer to the horizon the show starts. Uluru is changing its color dramatically. Be prepared to fill the memory card of your camera.
Even if we are here for the third time already, we are fascinated by this natural wonder.
Day 8 & 9 – Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park
With the three day entry ticket you can explore the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park perfectly. It is worth to spend a day at Uluru (Ayers Rock) and a day at Kata Tjuta (The Olgas). You have enough time to watch the sunrise and sunset at Uluru and/or Kata Tjuta. Make sure you do the Uluru Base Walk to get a closer look at the giant rock. And the Valley of the Winds Walk at Kata Tjuta is amazing too.
In the post Why you should put Uluru-Kata Tjuta Nationalpark on your bucket list you find all relevant details and tips for your visit.
Day 10 – Yulara to Rainbow Valley (392 km)
It’s time to move on. With lots of photos and great memories we leave Yulara and you most likely will too. A full day driving lies ahead of us. Next stop is the Rainbow Valley which is 392 km east of Yulara. There is no rush as we have the whole day to get to the Rainbow Valley. The roads are in good condition, except for the last 24 km. From the Stuart Highway you drive on a gravel road which is sandy and corrugated in some parts. As soon as you get off the Stuart Highway the landscape is changing and you find yourself in the middle of nature, red sand and small trees.
From the parking and the camp area you can already see the amazing rock formations. Sunrise and sunset are great and there is also a walking track to the rock.
We love camping at the Rainbow Valley. There is a toilet, shaded spots with tables and benches, gas BBQs and fire pits. And it only costs AUD 3.30 (USD 2.45) per adult.
Day 11 – Rainbow Valley to Alice Springs (101 km)
It is time to stock up, fill the fridge, refuel and drink a cappuccino in the Todd Mall. Sounds good, doesn’t it?
In Alice Springs we usually stay at the G’day Mate Caravan Park. The owners are friendly, helpful and it’s safe. A campsite for a campervan costs from AUD 30 (USD 22) without power, from AUD 36 (USD 27) for powered sites (price depends on the season).
Day 12 – Alice Springs to Trephina Gorge (77 km)
Time to explore the East MacDonnell Ranges. They can easily be explored in a day but we recommend staying at least two days. From Alice Springs it is a 77 km drive to get to the Trephina Gorge. Along the way there are Jessie Gap, Emily Gap and Corroboree Rock which we will visit on our way back to Alice Springs.
The hike to the gorge is easy. We walk in the dry, sandy riverbed. In one of the overhangs we find aboriginal rock paintings.
There is great camping at Trephina Gorge with facilities like toilets, gas BBQ, fire pits and drinking water. Fees per adult AUD 3.30 (USD 2.45).
If you like ghost towns do not miss visiting the abandoned city of Arltunga. During the Gold Rush, Arltunga was a prosperous town. Today, you can visit the ruins and the restored buildings which give you a good insight into the life in the 1900s and how people coped with the harsh condition in this remote region.
From Trephina Gorge to the historical site of Arltunga it is 48 km. You will pass the information center where you can learn a lot about the abandoned place. The information center is not occupied but there are many information boards and some relicts in the backyard.
The circular route starts at the information center and leads to different sites like the old police station, the miner’s cottages, remains of mines and a cemetery. The paths are signposted but get a plan of the area in the information center for orientation.
Day 13 – Trephina Gorge to Alice Springs (77 km)
On the last day of the trip it is time to slowly get back to Alice Springs. There are a few more stops along the Ross Highway which are worth a visit. One is the Corroboree Rock, a solitary rock, where you can walk around. It only takes 15 minutes to see the rock from all sides.
Jessie Gap is the next stop. Just a few meters from the parking you get close to the gap in the range, a creation of nature. Our final stop is at Emily Gap, another gap in the range. From Emily Gap it is a 15 km drive back to Alice Springs only.
Day 14 – Departure from Alice Springs
A last coffee in Alice Springs and then it is already time to say goodbye to the Red Center.
Red Center Road Trip
The Red Center Road Trip is full of attractions, great walks and unforgettable moments. This 2 week itinerary helps you to plan your trip and get to the best places in the area.
More things do to in the Red Center
If you are planning a Red Center Road Trip, you can see the highlights in two weeks. Should you have more time you could easily stay a few more weeks. There is so much to see.
How about a cool 4WD track? We can highly recommend the Boggy Hole in the Finke Gorge National Park. Watch this movie and travel virtually with us:
Another great place to visit is the Palm Valley which is also in the Finke Gorge National Park. Or the Chambers Pillar, south of Alice Springs in direction Finke, another beautiful site with interesting history. In the East MacDonnell Ranges you could do the challenging trip to the Ruby Gap National Park or visit N’Dhala Gorge. For above trips you need a 4WD vehicle with high clearance.
Well, you see there are many options and it is definitely all but boring around Alice Springs.
Information about the MacDonnell Ranges
The MacDonnell Ranges stretches over 644 km east and west of Alice Springs. The West MacDonnell Ranges are much more popular for visitors as they are easy to combine with a visit to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park (Ayers Rock and Olgas). If you visit the East MacDonnell Ranges you will see fewer tourists and some places you may even have all to yourself.
Tips for hiking
Even if it is still cold in the morning, the heat can come incredibly fast in the center of Australia. The desert is extreme. If you go hiking it is worth to get up early and enjoy the cooler morning hours.
Best time to visit is April to October, in the cooler winter months. After November it can get very hot. This time we visit the MacDonnell Ranges, the Kings Canyon and Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park in October. The average temperature was 30-34 degrees Celsius.
Don’t forget your sun protection: Hat, sunglasses and sunscreen
How do you like our 2 week itinerary for a Red Center Road Trip? Have you been to Alice Springs? Tell us about it. Did you travel independent or with a tour group? We are looking forward hearing from you.