While exploring all that the West MacDonnell Ranges have to offer, you are sure to come across the Serpentine Gorge. At the end of the kilometer long trail from the carpark you will find a winding body of water between the two massive gorge walls. In addition to enjoying the view from down below, you can also head on the lookout trail, where you will get some of the best views of the West MacDonnell Ranges landscape. Read on to learn about everything you need to know about Serpentine Gorge.
1) What is the Serpentine Gorge
The West MacDonnell Ranges, also known locally as Tjoritja is an area just west of Alice Springs that is full of gorges, watering holes, hikes, viewpoints, and much more natural beauty to enjoy. One of the stops that you can add onto your road trip in the ranges is the Serpentine Gorge.
Here you will find a couple different trails including one to the watering hole that sits below the heavitree quartzite walls, and another track that veers up to a viewpoint spot, where you can take in the landscape from above.
According the information boards at Serpentine, the gorge was named because of the snake like course that the creek has cut through the ranges. It is a place where many rare plants can be found, and a variety of animals can be seen drinking from the watering hole throughout the year.
Hours: Serpentine Gorge is open 24/7 and can be visited at any time
Facilities: Toilets & Picnic Facilities
Price: The area is free to enter
↔ You may not swim in the watering hole as it is an important refuge for Australian wildlife
↔ No fires are allowed here for cooking or heating food
↔ No camping is allowed is the area either. The closest campsite is Serpentine Chalet Bush Camp, located 10km from the gorge
2) Where is Serpentine Gorge
The main highway that makes its way through the West MacDonnell Ranges is Namatjira Drive (route 2). The turnoff for the gorge is approximately 100 km from Alice Springs and sits right between the nearby attractions of the Ellery Creek Big Hole to the east and the Ochre Pits to the west.
As you make the turnoff from the main highway, you will then need to drive 2 km down a sandy unpaved road. 2WD will be more than fine to handle this terrain unless there have been heavy rains in the area.
To make your way to Serpentine Gorge and the other attractions of the West MacDonnell Ranges, you have a couple main options:
Rental Car – having your own car is not only a great way to explore Serpentine Gorge and the West MacDonnell Ranges, but is also a great option for those that want to do somewhat of a road trip between Alice Springs and Uluru. You will be on your schedule, take part of the activities and attractions that you want to do, and will not need to worry about any others.
» The Red Centre Way Uluru Itinerary goes over a potential Outback route for you to take part of
» The Uluru Car Hire Guide talks more about how to go about renting a car in the Outback
Tour Option – if you do not want to rent a car, your next best option here is to do a guided tour of the West MacDonnell Ranges. With a tour, you will stop at several attractions in the area, however I have not been able to pinpoint one that stops at Serpentine Gorge.
Below is a highly rated West MacDonnell Range tour option to choose from, along with a longer Red Centre Way trip as well that stops at the major attractions in the area:
West MacDonnell Ranges Day Trip: West MacDonnell Day Trip from Alice Springs
Multi Day Outback Option: 5 Day Uluru, Kata Tjuta, Kings Canyon, West MacDonnell Ranges Tour
3) Where to Stay Nearby
When visiting Serpentine Gorge, you really have two main options to choose from – Alice Springs or the Glen Helen Lodge.
Alice Springs will be the more popular option here as that is the closest major town to the West MacDonnell Ranges. In town you can find a variety of accommodation options along with plenty of restaurant and dining options. Below are a few top hotels to choose from that come highly rated:
Luxury | DoubleTree by Hilton Alice Springs
Mid Tier | Crowne Plaza Alice Springs
Budget | Alice’s Secret Travellers Inn
On the other hand you can also spend the night at the Glen Helen Lodge (directly next to the Glen Helen Gorge), and just a 25 minute drive from Serpentine Gorge. You may be inclined to stay at the lodge if coming from / going to Kings Canyon via the Mereenie Loop or if you just want to spend a night in the middle of the Outback.
Learn more about this potential road trip scenario in the Red Centre Way Itinerary linked above!
4) A Visit to Serpentine Gorge
After making your way down the sandy road to the parking lot, you can get ready for a bit of a hiking trail. There are two main tracks that you will see on the map – the first is the Serpentine Gorge via the Service Track, and the second is the Lookout Walk (a turnoff point right before reaching the gorge itself.
A) Serpentine Gorge Service Track
You can first head down the 1+ km trail from the parking lot right to the Serpentine Gorge. It is a very simple and easy walk to follow as you will pass by some helpful information boards along the way.
The trail is made up mostly of red sand and small rocks and should not take you longer than 20-30 minutes to reach the gorge itself.
As you approach the end of the track, you will see a sign pointing you up the right hand side labeled “Lookout”. I would recommend first heading to the gorge and head up to the lookout after.
Once you reach the Serpentine Gorge, you will be welcomed to the watering hole surrounded by the beautiful red rock. While Serpentine is a bit less impressive than some of the other highlights of the ranges, it is still a peaceful and scenic spot to enjoy.
When I arrived at the gorge, I was the only person there. That is something I wasn’t able to experience at any of the other places I visited during my time in the West MacDonnell Ranges.
B) Serpentine Gorge Lookout Walk
After enjoying some time down below, head back a few minutes and take that turn (now on your left hand side), up to the Lookout Walk. The walk up will take about 15 minutes along on a rocky and uneven ascent. Be sure to watch your step here as you don’t want to misstep and hurt yourself.
Once you arrive to the top of the lookout track, you will be welcomed to some incredible views of both the gorge in one direction and the surrounding landscape of the ranges in the other.
The viewpoint was a definite highlight for me during my time exploring the area and I highly recommend you head on up there for yourself during a visit.
Note – you will also see signs in the Serpentine area pointing you in the direction of the Laripinta Trail. The trail is a 223 km long trek that makes its way through the Northern Territory, and passes by the Serpentine Gorge along the way.
Once you have had some time relaxing at the Serpentine Gorge and then at the viewpoint, you will need to head back down to the service track and then back to the parking lot, where you can continue on with your day.
Are you wondering what some of the other highlights are of the West MacDonnell Ranges? Check out the next section below!
5) Other West MacDonnell Ranges Attractions
There are several more attractions that you can visit as part of a 1-2 day trip to the West MacDonnell Ranges. Below is a potential one day route that you can take part of, which can also be split up into two if you would like to spend more time at each attraction:
1. Depart Alice Springs
2. Simpsons Gap -> Visit Gap & Cassia Hill Walk Option
3. Standley Chasm -> Visit Chasm & Viewpoint Options
4. Ellery Creek Big Hole -> Visit Watering Hole
5. Serpentine Gorge -> Visit Gorge & Climb to Viewpoint Option
6. Ochre Pits -> Visit Pits
7. Ormiston Gorge -> Visit Gorge & Ghost Gum Hike Option -> Learn more about the Ormiston Gorge
8. Glen Helen Gorge -> Visit Gorge
9. Back to Alice Springs
That about wraps up a guide to the Serpentine Gorge of the West MacDonnell Ranges. If you have any additional questions or comments, feel free to add them in below. Also don’t forget to check out the other Australia itineraries and guides up on the site like the 3 Week Australia Itinerary.
Have fun out there and safe travels!