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Exploring the Scenic MacDonnell Ranges: A Hema Maps Guide to Free Camping in The Northern Territory


The rugged and striking landscapes of the MacDonnell Ranges is the stuff Australian cliches are made of. Extending east and west of the popular Red Centre town of Alice Springs in the Northern Territory, the MacDonnell Ranges are a hot destination for adventurers and tourists who appreciate the cultural significance of this ancient landscape.

The sites and sights along the West MacDonnell Ranges are jaw-dropping and awe-inspiring. Major attractions include Simpson’s Gap, Standley Chasm, Ellery Creek Big Hole, Serpentine Gorge, Ormiston Gorge and Glen Helen Gorge. All of these picture postcard locations can be accessed on sealed roads within an easy drive of Alice Springs. There are a plethora of walks and hikes in this region, perhaps the most famous the Larapinta Trail from Alice Springs to Mount Sonder, or parts thereof.

The original owners of the land, the Arrernte people, in their Dreamtime stories believed that the MacDonnell Ranges were once created by giant caterpillars who then later became the stunning ridges of the East and West MacDonnell Ranges either side of Alice Springs.

From the West MacDonnell Ranges, adventurers can drive the Mereenie Loop around to Hermannsburg or continue on to Kings Canyon and Uluru. Or head north west to the Tanami Desert, which is one of the most important biological areas in Australia as it provides refuge to several rare and endangered species. 

Quite unlike any other, this land of primarily flat and bumpy terrain, is home to the Kukatja and Walpiri people as well as the Tjurabalan tribe who live at the edge of this desert region.

Just south of Alice Springs, Rainbow Valley is renowned for its scenic sandstone bluffs and cliffs. This stunning feature of natural and untouched nature is particularly mesmerising in the early morning and late afternoon where the rainbow-like rock bands are highlighted.  .

Map 431 of the Hema Where to Camp Guide Australia has details of a number of free and  low-cost camps in MacDonnell Ranges and areas surrounding Alice Springs as well as a number of caravan parks:

  • Batton Hill Camp, Hay River Track, Anatye 0872 (Map 445 E12). Toilets inc disabled, campfire, camper trailer and tents only, shower and drinking water, tables and shelter, wood barbecue, camp kitchen, bin, pet friendly, fee applies.

  • Bush Camping, Serpentine Chalet Dam Road, Burt Plain 0872 (Map 447 B8). Campfire, camper trailers only, wood barbecue.

  • Ellery Creek Big Hole, Ellery Creek Road, Namatjira 0872 (Map 447 B9). Toilets inc disabled, camper trailer and tents only, non-drinking water, tables and shelter, electric barbecue, fee applies.

  • MacDonald Downs Station, Mt Swan Road, Hart 0872 (Map 445 D10). Toilets inc disabled, campfire, camper trailer and tents only, shower and drinking water, 4WD access, tables and shelter, wood and electric barbecue, laundry, bin, swimming pool, pet friendly, store, fee applies.

  • Rainbow Valley, Hugh 0872 (Map 447 D11). Toilets, campfire, camper trailer and tents only, tables and shelter, wood and electric barbecue.

  • Rocky Bar Gap, Larapinta Walking Trail, Mount Zeil 0872 (Map 446 A7). Toilets, tents only, hiking access, drinking water.

  • Simpsons Gap Campground, Darken Drive, Burt Plain 0872 (Map 447 B11). Toilets, tents only, drinking water, tables, electric barbecue.

  • Ti Tree Roadhouse, Stuart Highway, Ti Tree 0872 (Map 444 D7). Toilets inc disabled, camper trailer and tents only, powered site, shower and drinking water, tables and shelter, wood and electric barbecue, laundry, bin, store, fee applies.
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Don’t forget to take a copy of the Hema Maps Where to Camp Guide Australia which contains details of more than 5500 campsites and caravan parks on 180 pages of detailed maps covering the entire length and breadth of our great land.

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At Hema Maps, we strive to provide the most comprehensive and accurate maps and guides for outdoor enthusiasts looking to explore Australia's natural wonders.

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