The Complete guide to Kings Canyon NT

Are you planning a trip to Kings Canyon Australia?  If you’re travelling to Central Australia you’re sure to have people recommending you visit Kings Canyon. And it’s not surprising, Kings Canyon is definitely one of the highlights of the Northern Territory.  

We have been travelling around Australia for the last 3 years, and have visited Kings Canyon twice in that time.  You’ll find all you need to know about Kings Canyon NT in this post.

Kings Canyon is one of the most impressive sights in the entire country.  With red cliffs towering 300m high and the lush gullies filled with palm trees and birdlife.  The Kings Canyon Rim Walk is one of our all-time favourite hikes. You should not miss this place!

Kings Canyon was created hundreds of millions of years ago.  At that time, all of central Australia was underneath a vast sea, and there is evidence today in the sandstone.  Over the millenia, the sandstone weathered away, leaving the incredible landscape that we see today.

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kings canyon rim hike

Best time to visit Kings Canyon NT

The best time to visit Kings Canyon is during the cooler winter months from May to October.  While the nights can get a little chilly, you will be much more comfortable hiking during the cooler days.  

How to get to Kings Canyon NT

Kings Canyon is located in the Watarrka National Park in the Northern Territory. It is around 5 hours drive from Alice Springs or 4 hours drive from Yulara/Uluru.  

If you have your own vehicle and wish to drive from Yulara/Uluru to Kings Canyon, simply head back on the Lassiter Highway and turn left at Luritja Drive.  Alternatively, AAT Kings offers a Day Tour of Kings Canyon from the Ayers Rock Resort in Yulara.

There are several ways to get to Kings Canyon from Alice Springs.   Your best route will depend on what you are driving, and how adventurous you’re feeling. Please note that Google Maps will probably send you down one of the two dirt roads mentioned below, as they are significantly shorter in terms of kilometres, but will probably take you longer.

If you’re driving a 2wd vehicle, or prefer to stay on sealed roads, head south to Ghan (Erldunda Roadhouse) then west towards Uluru before turning off to the north along Luritja Road. 

If you have a 4wd and are happy to drive on an unsealed road the most direct route is down the Ernest Giles Road.  Turn right about 130km south of Alice Springs, and drive 100km along this dirt road before joining the Luritja Road.

If you’ve visited the West MacDonnell Ranges, the quickest route may be down the section of the Red Centre Way known as the Mereenie Loop.   This road can be very rough and corrugated, and may take you a lot longer than heading back out along the sealed highway.  

You will need a permit to drive along this road, which you can get from the Info Centre in Alice Springs. If you don’t have your own car or a hire car, you can take a luxury coach transfer to Kings Canyon from Uluru (Ayers Rock Resort).

Map with 4x4 and 2wd suitable routes from Alice Springs to Kings Canyon
Alice Springs to Kings Canyon Map

How long do you need in Kings Canyon?

It is possible to visit Kings Canyon on a day trip, and AAT Kings offers a day tour to Kings Canyon from Yulara/Uluru. However, we recommend spending a couple of days here to really soak in the majesty of the place. 

Where to stay in Kings Canyon

The closest accommodation to the canyon is the Kings Canyon Resort.  You will find a variety of accommodation here from unpowered tent sites to the luxury glamping Safari Tents.  We stayed in the Safari Tent on our most recent visit to Kings Canyon and absolutely loved it

There is also accommodation at the Kings Creek Station about 30 minutes away from the Canyon.  This Station offers powered and upowered sites, and cabin-style accommodation.

The closest free camp to Kings Canyon is at Ginty’s Lookout Camp, which is about 30km from the canyon. This camp is about located about 10km along a dirt road (the Mereenie Loop). You will need a permit to drive on this road. (Mereenie Loop permits are available from the Kings Canyon Resort general store for around $6).  You also need to be fully self-contained as there are no facilities here.

Kings Canyon Safari Tent, Central Australia

What to pack for Kings Canyon

If you’re travelling to the desert, staying cool and comfortable is key.  Even on the hottest days, the climate is quite dry here at Kings Canyon.  You’ll be most comfortable in loose-fitting, cool clothing.  

If you’re hiking you should make sure you’re well protected from the hot sun.  We wore long-sleeved hiking shirts which helped wick the sweat away.  You’ll also need a hat, as there is very little shade if you are hiking the rim of the canyon.

You will also need to carry several litres of water if you’re hiking the Kings Canyon Rim Walk.  We found taking a water bladder in a daypack the best way to carry our water, along with the all-important hiking snacks!

The flies can be pesky at any time in Central Australia, so having a fly net that fits over your hat is a great idea. These are available for purchase at almost every service station or convenience shop in the area.

Things to do in Kings Canyon

Hiking

The best way to see Kings Canyon is by hiking into it, or up and over it.  There are several hikes to do at the canyon:

Kings Canyon Rim Walk

The Kings Canyon Rim Hike is one of our favourite hikes in the entire country.  This 6km loop hike is the best way to get up close to the canyon.  We have done this hike three times in the last year, most recently we did it for sunrise, which we highly recommend.

The hike begins with an ascent up around 500 uneven steps, which sounds tough, but there are several places to stop and rest along the way. The views are just incredible as you get higher and higher up the canyon.

You will find two detours on this hike, both short out-and-back sections of around 600 metres.  We highly recommend doing both.  

Cotterill’s Lookout

The first, to the Cotterill’s Lookout will give you some of the best views down the canyon from the rim.  You also cross over a small bridge across Priscillas Crack (made famous in the movie Priscilla, Queen of the Desert) on your way up to this lookout.

When you come down from this lookout, keep your eyes peeled for signs pointed out the waved rocks which geologist say is evidence this area was once at the bottom of a sea.  There’s a cool poem here from Judith Wright too.

cotterill lookout, kings canyon NT
Garden of Eden, Kings Canyon NT
Garden of Eden

The second detour goes down to the Garden of Eden.  You will climb down some wooden steps into a gully, and back up the other side before heading off to the right to the Garden.  The plant and bird life in this area is amazing.  While you can’t swim in the waterhole (for cultural reasons), the Indigenous people say its OK to splash your face to cool down.  We thought the Garden of Eden was a great place to have lunch.

After visiting the Garden of Eden you will walk up some more wooden stairs and go through a gate (which marks the end of the South Rim Walk coming from the other direction) and walk along the south rim.  I actually think this side of the canyon is even more spectacular.

The views of the sun on the sheer wall are incredible.

We have done the full rim walk three times on our last two visits, the last time we did it for sunrise.  It is definitely worth getting up early, so long as you have a good head torch for the climb up.  (The other bonus with going at sunrise is you can’t see how high the steps are and how far up they go!)

You should allow 3-5 hours for this walk.  Be aware that on days when the weather is forecast to be above 36 degrees, you need to start the walk before 9am.

South Rim Walk

This is a shorter walk, and up and back to the south rim lookout.  This is a great walk to do at sunrise, as the canyon walls change colour as the sun is rising.  When we visited in March the sun was rising right at the end of the canyon.

You should allow 2 hours for this walk.  The steps up are not as steep as on the other side.  There is a gate at the head of the canyon, as it’s not permitted to continue on and walk the Rim Walk loop in this direction.

Kings Canyon NT
Kings Canyon South Rim

Kings Canyon Creek Walk

This easy graded walk takes you into the canyon, along the creek bed (usually dry).  The contrast of the green gum trees with the red rocks is just beautiful here.

There is a platform at the end with a few stairs to climb for the best views.  This is a good walk to do if you’re not feeling up to walking up to the rim of the canyon or if you have mobility concerns. Families with small children would also enjoy this walk.

Free Ranger-led Activities at Kings Canyon

If you’re visiting Kings Canyon (or any of the NT Parks) between May and August, check out the free guided activities on offer from the Parks Rangers.  We did a couple of these activities in Central Australia. We really loved the guided walk with the ranger at Kings Canyon. 

Karrke Aboriginal Cultural Experience

The Karrke Aboriginal Cultural Experience was one of the best experiences we had in Central Australia! Siblings Peter and Natasha have set up an authentic indigineous experience just outside of Kings Canyon.

On this 1 hour immersive tour you will walk from one shaded shelter to the next as you learn all about local aboriginal culture. The demonstrations include bush tucker (food), bush medicine, hunting weapons, dot painting and other art, and a sacred fire.

You may take photographs although video and voice recording is not allowed. We found both Peter and Natasha really welcoming, and they were happy to answer any questions we had.

The road out to Karrke is unsealed for a couple of kilometres. A 4×4 is not required, just take it slow.

karrke, kings canyon NT

Scenic Helicopter Flights

Professional Helicopter Services offer helicopter flights over Kings Canyon. This is a spectacular way to get a unique view of the canyon.

Light Towers at Kings Canyon Resort

New for 2023, this art installation from renowned British artist Bruce Munro is an immersive sound and light experience featuring 69 two metre towers.  The towers change colour in time with the music which was composed by Orlando Gough.

You can book tickets to visit Light Towers at sunrise, sunset or night, with sunset being the premium experience.  Food and drinks are included in the price of your sunrise or sunset experience.

The light towers were being installed during our last visit to Kings Canyon in March 2023, so we haven’t checked them out yet.

Watch our Kings Canyon Travel Video Guide

Check out our YouTube episode featuring Kings Canyon via the Mereenie Loop, the Kings Canyon Rim Walk and the Karrke Aboriginal Culture Experience.

Essential Information for Kings Canyon NT

IMPORTANT NOTE: As of 3 April 2023, visitors to Watarrka National Park require a Parks Pass. Passes can be purchased online. (NT residents do not require a pass)

Driving around Kings Canyon Watarrka National Park

The roads around the National Park and Kings Canyon Resort are all sealed. Fuel is available at the Kings Canyon Resort and Kings Creek Station. You should exercise caution driving at dawn, dusk or night-time due to wildlife straying onto the road.

Food and Water

Drinking water is available in the welcome shed at the beginning of the Kings Canyon Rim Walk and other walks. Water is also available at the Kings Canyon Resort, or for purchase in the convenience store at the resort.

There is a restaurant at Kings Canyon Resort which is the only place to get food if you aren’t self-catering. We have eaten dinner there several times and to be honest the food wasn’t great any of the times we ate there.

Basic groceries and snack foods are available in the convenience store.

There is a Dump Point within the campground at the Kings Canyon Resort.

Phone and Internet coverage

There is phone and internet coverage around the resort and also at the Kings Canyon Carpark (where the walks start from). We found the internet in the carpark to be the best.

There is coverage at the resort, but even in the low season it gets very congested and slow. We were unable to connect to the wifi both times we stayed at Kings Canyon Resort in the last 2 years.

FAQs

Do you need a 4wd to visit Kings Canyon?

You can drive to Kings Canyon from either Alice Springs or Yulara/Uluru without needing to leave the sealed road, so no 4×4 is required. However, please be aware that if you’re driving from Alice Springs, Google Maps will probably direct you down one of two unsealed roads. You need to drive south all the way to Ghan/Erldunda Roadhouse before turning off to remain on the sealed road.

How long do you need to spend in Kings Canyon NT?

We recommend spending two to three days at Kings Canyon. One day to do the Kings Canyon Rim Walk, another day to visit Karrke Aboriginal Cultural Experience and perhaps do the Kings Canyon Creek Walk.

If you have an extra day (or perhaps early on your day of departure) doing the south rim walk for sunrise was one of our favourite experiences at Kings Canyon.

How far is Kings Canyon from Uluru?

The Kings Canyon to Uluru drive will take you around 3 hours. You will probably want to stop off on the way to look out over Mount Connor. We recommend the Curtin Springs Roadhouse – their veggie burger and chips is delicious!

How far is Kings Canyon from Alice Springs?

There are several routes to get to Kings Canyon from Alice Springs. See the maps above for your options. To drive Alice Springs to Kings Canyon on the sealed road (via Ghan/Erldunda Roadhouse) will take you around 5 hours.

Where to Next?

Complete the Red Centre Way Loop with a visit to Uluru, the heart of Australia

Heading north? Check out our West MacDonnell Ranges Itinerary

Need help planning your Kings Canyon Itinerary?

We offer a personalised road trip itinerary planning service. Leave us a comment below or get in touch and we will get right back to you.

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