If you’re planning to visit the Northern Territory, chances are hiking in Kakadu National Park is already on your “must-do” list. At 20,000 square kilometres Kakadu is absolutely huge.
There are so many highlights of Kakadu: incredibly preserved indigenous rock art galleries; thundering waterfalls and of course the wetlands teaming with birdlife (and crocodiles).
Hiking in Kakadu is simply the best (and often only) way to see many of the highlights. The official Kakadu National Park website lists 27 hikes, so how do you choose which to do?
We have visited Kakadu twice in the last 2 years, in both the winter/dry season and the tropical summer/wet season. In this post you’ll learn all about our best hikes in Kakadu, the highlights of each hike, and some other helpful hints and tips for hiking in Kakadu.
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Bardedjilidji Walk – the best short hike in Kakadu
Departs from: East Alligator River Upsteam (sealed road access)
Distance: 2.5km loop
Allow: 1-2 hours
Note: Parts of this walk are closed in the wet season.
This is one of our favourite walks in Kakadu and a great introduction to the different habitats. With some hidden gems to find along the way, this walk has something for everyone. This walk would be especially good for young families.
We chose to do this walk in a clockwise direction, which is the opposite of the way recommended on the sign boards.
Leaving the carpark walk down to the river and turn right, (upstream). There are a couple of places where you can walk up to look out across the river. We saw some egrets and other water birds. Remember this is crocodile territory, so pay attention to any signs and don’t get too close to the edge!
After walking along the river for a few hundred metres, you’ll head away from the river through a small section of monsoon vine forest towards a small billabong. The trail then leads you up to some sandstone outcrops. The habitat changes quite rapidly here as you move away from the water.
You will walk through a natural “tunnel” between several of these outcrops, and be amazed at the drop in temperature. After the tunnel, turn right. Look out for a little trail off to the right which takes you to the cave.
Caves and Rock Art
There is evidence of human habitation in this cave, from the grinding stones on the ground, to the handprints painted on the walls. We were amazed that we stumbled across this as there are no signs. Please respect the art and don’t touch.
Leaving the cave, you walk up and over a small outcrop. This is the only part of the walk that isn’t flat. Keep your eyes open for little trails heading off, there are a few more surprises to find.
You’ll see a split in the track and can walk in closer to the rocky cliffs here, take your time as there are several more pieces of art to find here. We stood in awe looking at this piece high on the cliff wall. How did the artist get up there to paint it? We also wondered how many other paintings we missed.
The walk finishes through the grassland and spinifex before arriving back at the carpark.
Sadly, we didn’t see any wildlife on this hike. If you’re lucky you might spot a barrk (black wallaroo). The highlight was finding the hidden rock art in the small caves and among the cliffs.
Ubirr Rock – the best sunset spot in Kakadu
Length: 1km loop with an optional 250m climb to the top of the rock.
Allow: 1 hour plus time for sunset
Grade: While the loop is easy and accessible for wheelchairs, the climb to the top of the rock is moderate
NOTE: Due to cultural reasons, alcohol is not permitted on Ubirr Rock, so you can’t take wine to have with your sunset picnic.
The Ubirr loop walk highlights some of the best Aboriginal rock art in the whole of Australia. The art here tells creation stories, and also features many of the foods eaten by the traditional people. Fish and turtles are painted in the x-ray style.
As you head further up towards the climb, you’ll be able to pick out the painting of the Thylacine (now called a Tasmanian Tiger). These animals have been extinct on the mainland for over 2000 years!
The climb up to the top of the rock is not too difficult, and many people head here every evening for one of the best sunsets you’ll see. Looking out over the Nadab plain and all the way to the Arnhemland plateau. We visited when there was a fire on the plains, and the smoke haze only intensified the sunset.
Barrk Sandstone Walk – the best long hike in Kakadu
Allow: 6 hours
Grade: 5 – Difficult
Leaves from: Burrungkuy (Nourlangie Rock) Carpark, Kakadu NP – sealed road access
Note: Signs said the Burrungkuy area is only open from 8am, however there were no gates. When we arrived at the carpark just after 7am, there were already 2 other cars parked there.
The Barrk Sandstone walk begins with a trail passing the Anbangbang Gallery at Burrungkuy. This is some of the best aboriginal art in Kakadu, and you should probably spend a couple of hours here .
We set off at 730am and we decided to skip the rock art gallery at the beginning so we could get the climb done as early as possible, thinking we would come back and see the gallery after the hike. Of course, we were way too hot and tired, so we came back the next day instead.
After the rock art gallery, there is an optional short climb up to Gunwarrdehwarrde lookout which is well worth the slight detour. If you’re here early in the morning the views with the sun lighting the rock face are incredible.
And then the Barrk walk really begins – with a warning sign! You will also find warnings on the fact sheet about the difficult nature of this walk. The track is unformed and remote. You won’t see many other people hiking it. In fact, we only saw 2 other parties the entire hike.
The trail continues up the escarpment. If you start the walk early in the morning you’ll be walking in the shade. The views kept getting better and better. From here you can see right out over Nourlangie Rock and all the way to West Arnhem Land.
You’re now in the stone country, with outcrops created over millions of years looking like a lost city, or a galleria. The trail wanders through these pillars. Do you feel like Indiana Jones?
The trail continues along the plateau. You’ll see large sandstone and conglomerate rock boulders surrounding you, and views appearing out to the west, across the savannah and the wetlands.
As you start to head down, look out for the huge imposing sandstone outcrop facing you. You might be able to see light coming through a small hole. We went to investigate and found a cave with a small opening out the back that exposed the sunlight. What an incredible shelter this would have made for a wandering family thousands of years ago.
You then pass an incredible rock pillar – we wondered how it was still standing. The trail then leads you down a steep slope along a dry river bed. This was probably the most difficult and technical section of the walk and may require some rock-hopping and butt-scooting. I found it quite tough on the knees.
Once down, the walking becomes quite a bit easier along the flat. You will be walking through low shrubs and spear grass – long pants would be a good idea here.
Nanguluwurr Art site
The “half-way” (in terms of distance) point of the hike is at the Nanguluwurr Art site. Normally to access this site, you would need to walk 2km from the carpark, however along this trail it is a short 300m detour. You will see some more incredible rock paintings, including hand-prints and the white ship.
This site also provided us with a cool, shady place to stop for lunch. It took us 4 hours to get to this point (of course, stopping for photos and filming slowed us down).
TIP: If you are travelling with friends and have 2 vehicles, you could consider doing a car shuffle, leaving one vehicle at the Nanguluwurr Car Park and finishing the walk there. There really isn’t that much to see from Nanguluwurr back to Burrungkuy.
The second half of the walk is relatively easy, most of it is a flat bush-walk so you will make good time. There is just one short outcrop to cross over which we found a welcome break from the monotony of the flat walk.
Post hike thoughts
We really enjoyed this hike, although it was difficult – mainly because of the heat. The signage all says not to underestimate this walk, and it is definitely the heat factor that makes it such a tough walk. We would recommend you carry as much water as you can, and if you can carry a frozen bottle, do. It will thaw out while you are walking, and the cold water will be really refreshing.
Sun protection is important as sections of this trail are very exposed. We both wore long sleeved shirts and wide-brimmed hats. A decent well-fitted day pack with a water-bladder will be your best friend on this hike. Carry plenty of snacks and even treats to keep your sugar levels up.
Orange arrows placed roughly 20m apart mark the trail. We only lost the arrows once or twice, and were able to find them again easily.
It’s hard to choose a highlight of this walk – the entire walk was a highlight! The hidden caves, the incredible rock formations, beautiful views and of course the rock art sites all made this walk our favourite in Kakadu.
Anbangbang Billabong – the best wetland hike in Kakadu
Departs from: Anbangbang Billabong car park (sealed road access)
Distance: 2.5km loop
Allow: 1-2 hours
Note: This walk is closed in the wet season
The Anbangbang Billabong is a wildlife lovers paradise, especially for bird lovers. I couldn’t tell you what birds I was looking at but there were many different varieties. A quick check with our bird book, or the signs around the billabong tells me they were magpie geese, cormorants and egrets. Oh, and some black cockatoos too.
The billabong is surrounded by bush, featuring an abundance of plant and animal species. We did this walk in the late afternoon and saw wallabies coming out of the bush to feed on the plain.
The trail is flat and even, making this a great walk for those who are less mobile or with small children.
Maguk (Barramundi Gorge) – best waterfall hike in Kakadu
Departs from: Maguk Car Park – this carpark is 10km down a dirt road
Allow: 1 hour plus swimming time
Grade: moderate – there is a bit of rock-hopping on the main trail
NOTE: Check the conditions of the road before you head down to Maguk – it can be very corrugated. If so, take it slow.
The walk to the Maguk swimming hole and waterfall follows the river for around 1km. You will see plenty of crocodile signs on the way, which can be a bit disconcerting. Park rangers monitor the waterhole and only open it once any salties have been removed.
Even in August we found there were a few wet patches on the trail. You’ll need to be nimble here to avoid getting wet feet.
Halfway along the trail the arrows direct you to cross over the creek (there are stepping stones here) and the rest of the trail involves rock-hopping along the edge of the creek. You can continue straight here and walk through the forest for another couple of hundred metres which brings you out to a flat rock where you can sit and enter the water.
This was one of our favourite places for walking in Kakadu – having the reward of a cooling swim on a hot day was amazing. There is an access track to the top of the waterfall, but we did see a sign saying “Access Prohibited” when we visited in August 2023.
There are several walks in the Yurmikmik area, which all leave from the Yurmikmik carpark, which is 23km down a dirt track. These are great walks for the tropical summer wet season, as there will be water in the falls here, which are dry in the dry season.
Boulder Creek Falls Walk – the best wet season walk in Kakadu
Departs from: Yurmikmik Carpark
Allow: 45 minutes plus swimming time
We have done this walk twice – the first time in August when the waterfall was completely dry. We loved the walk to Boulder Creek Falls in March, where we had the waterfall and rockpool all to ourselves and enjoyed splashing under the waterfall.
The trail follows a marked track through the spear grass and across a creek. You’ll come to a fork in the trail, go right for the waterfalls. The trail passes through the monsoon forest before heading up the hill to the waterfalls. You’ll hear it before you see it.
There are two waterfalls, one above the other, and you can access both. We found the second pool more comfortable to swim in, it was easier getting in and out.
Yurmikmik Lookout Walk
Departs from: Yurmikmik car park
Length: 5km out and back
Allow: 1.5 hours
This walk leaves from the same carpark. You will walk along a formed trail through open woodland before heading up a short steep hill to the lookout. From the lookout you will see out over the southern hills and ridges.
To be honest we were underwhelmed by this walk, and probably wouldn’t recommend it.
Jim Jim Falls Hike
Departs from: Jim Jim Car Park
Length: 2km out and back
Allow: 2 hours
During the dry season Jim Jim Falls slows to a trickle, and you can walk along the creek to get to the plunge pool at the bottom of the falls. After walking through forest, you’ll need to climb over boulders for the last half of the walk.
At the end you will be rewarded with views of the 200m cliffs surrounding you.In the wet season, the only way to see Jim Jim Falls is by a scenic flight – an experience we highly recommend.
NOTE: The road to Jim Jim Falls is 50km of rough dirt, which is often corrugated. In addition there is a creek crossing that can be quite deep. Only drive down this road if you have a high clearance 4×4 vehicle. Check the Kakadu Access Report for further info.
Essential information for Hiking in Kakadu
Be prepared – it can be very hot out on the trail and you won’t always have shade. You will need to carry plenty of water (the recommended amount is 1 litre per hour of walking), so a well fitting day pack with a water bladder will be your best bet.
Good sturdy hiking shoes are a must as many of the trails are rough and uneven. Wearing hiking boots with ankle protection is recommended for the more difficult walks in Kakadu.
Plan ahead and start your Kakadu walks early in the morning to avoid hiking in the hottest part of the day.
While walking in Kakadu, stick to the marked trails. Several trails pass through areas that are sacred to the indigenous Binninj/Mungguy people. Don’t touch any rock art you may see, the oils in our skin can damage the paintings.
Remember to leave no trace: Carry out all your rubbish, and if you can’t find a toilet, bury your waste at least 15cm (6 inches) deep and 100m (30 feet) away from any campgrounds or waterways.
What is the best month to visit Kakadu?
Kakadu experiences two main weather seasons. The winter (dry) season lasts from May to October and the tropical summer (wet) season lasts from November to April.
Most tourists visit in the cooler months of July and August (though it is still hot – we had temperatures up to 35 degrees in August 2022). This is the time when most access roads, hikes and waterholes will be open for the dry season.
How many days do you need at Kakadu?
To really get the most of the park, we recommend spending at least three days here. If you have more time you will enjoy some of the lesser visited sites and hikes.
Can you stay overnight in Kakadu?
There is a variety of accommodation in Kakadu, ranging from hotels and resorts, to simple bush camps. Most of the organised accommodation is located in Jabiru or Cooinda, with campsites scattered throughout the park.
Can you free camp in Kakadu?
There are three levels of campsites in Kakadu. Managed camps which have a host and facilities including toilet and showers; bush camps with basic facilities like drop toilets and no host; and free camps with no facilities. The free camps are more remote.
Fees (ranging from $6 to $15 per person) apply to the managed and bush camps, and will either be collected by the camp host or you can leave them in an honesty box.
What permits do you need for Kakadu?
You will require a Kakadu park pass to enter the park. You can buy the pass online or at the Bowali Visitor Centre. The pass costs $40 for an adult for 7 days, with concessions available.
As Kakadu is administered jointly by the traditional owners and the Australian Federal Government, entry to this park is not covered by your Parks NT pass.