Are you planning a visit to the Top End of the Northern Territory and wondering which national park to visit? Perhaps you have limited time and are tossing up whether to visit Litchfield National Park or Kakadu. We have visited Litchfield three times in the last three years and we love this national park.
With over 80 national parks and nature reserves, visitors to the Northern Territory are certainly spoiled for choice. We rate Litchfield as the best National Park in the NT, for its sheer diversity, easy access and variety of things to do.
Although it’s close enough to visit on a day trip from Darwin, we recommend spending 3-4 days in the park. There are a variety of campsites throughout the park, though some are only accessible to 4wd vehicles. There are also several resort style accommodation options close by.
From giant termite mounds standing like sentinels on the plains, to the enigmatic lost city, outcrops of stone carved out by millions of years of floods and weathering, the landscape is varied and ruggedly beautiful.
Shady paths along creek beds lead to waterfalls that flow year-round, and provide plenty of opportunities to swim, cooling down from the heat of the day.
More adventurous travellers will enjoy hiking any of the many trails – most of which feature a swimming opportunity.
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When is the best time to visit Litchfield National Park?
The best time to visit Litchfield is during the dry season (May to October), as the weather is cooler and the roads will all be open. While the main roads in Litchfield are all sealed, some of the attractions are on gravel roads. (The Lost City and Tjaenara Falls to name a few). Some of these roads will be closed during the wet season (November to April).
However, during summer or the “green” season you can see the waterfalls in their full glory. We have visited Litchfield in September 2021, August 2022 and March 2023. It was incredible seeing the difference between the seasons!
Tolmer Falls during Dry Season – September 2021
Tolmer Falls during Wet Season – March 2023
How long should you spend in Litchfield?
In 2021 we visited Litchfield on a day trip from Darwin, in a 2wd hire car. Although we did a lot in that one day, the entire day we wished we had more time. (And that we had our campervan!). One of the best things about Litchfield is that you can visit the sights on a loop. This makes a day trip not only possible but convenient. Check out our One Day Litchfield itinerary HERE:
However, having much more time on our more recent visit, we were able to relax into our visit. We could spend more time at the places we loved, and visit some of the more off-the-beaten track sites.
Where to stay in Litchfield National Park
There are several campsites in the National Park, we stayed at both Wangi Falls and Florence Falls campsites. Wangi Falls is quite large, and an easy walk to the plunge pool beneath the falls. The sites are spacious and well spread out. Facilities include flush toilets and warm showers, along with BBQ and picnic tables.
Camping at Florence Falls is available at the 2wd campsite, and the “old 4wd” campsite. Apparently this used to be accessible only to 4wd vehicles, though now the road is sealed, so any vehicles can get there. There are flush toilets and cold showers at this campsite (water is on a push-button style tap). The water was quite warm enough when we were there.
The bonus of staying at the old 4wd campsite, is the 700m path leading directly to the Florence Falls plunge pool, meaning you won’t need to hike down (and back up) the stairs.
Traveller’s tip: There’s also a small “day use” car park at the beginning of this track. If you’re not keen on the stairs, you can always see if there’s space in this carpark.
As with all National Park campsites in the NT, since March 2022, you must book your site online before you arrive. At the time of writing, the system is rather user un-friendly. Most people can’t access the booking site on a mobile device, and need to use a laptop. Hopefully the NT Parks rectify this before the next busy season.
On our most recent trip to Litchfield National Park (March 2023) we stayed at the Hideaway Litchfield in the Wangi Cabin. This two storey converted shipping container cabin is the ultimate in secluded retreat. Located just minutes from Wangi Falls, the Hideaway Cabins are the perfect relaxing stay after visiting the waterfalls and swimming holes of the park.
Highlights of Litchfield National Park
The first time we visited Litchfield we didn’t even know about the Cascades, so we didn’t visit, and this was a big mistake. The Upper and Lower Cascades Hike is one of our favourite hikes in the NT! This hike has a bit of everything. A decent climb, views from a lookout (though it was a bit overgrown), and then walking down the cascades themselves.
We recommend walking the loop walk in an anti-clockwise direction. This way, you can get the climb done first, and then cool off with a swim. Hiking up and over the ridge, you will reach the upper cascades, and a sign advising not to continue any further upstream.
There are a couple of waterholes here where you can swim, before heading down the cascades. There is no marked path at this point, it’s simply a walk down the rocks (which is quite easy) until you arrive at Curtain Falls.
Although it’s only a small drop, we believe Curtain Falls is spectacular because of the rock ledge behind the waterfall. We absolutely love swimming under waterfalls, although with a lot of larger falls there is too much water pressure to make it comfortable. In this case, however, the pressure was perfect, and we clambered up onto the rock ledge and sat there for a few moments, enjoying the experience, and feeling present and grateful. What made it even better was having the pool and waterfall to ourselves. There was one couple leaving as we arrived, and another couple arrived as we got out of the pool. Bliss!
From Curtain Falls continue walking down the cascades, which is a fun rock-hop until you come to a couple of steel bridges before rejoining the main path again. While you certainly need a level of fitness and agility for this hike, it would be accessible to most people – we saw a family with young kids heading up the cascades as we were coming down.
See more about this hike HERE
The Lost City
Tucked away down a 10km dirt road is the Lost City – a collection of stone pillars that have been weathered away over the millennia that resemble ruined buildings.
Signage and the literature would have you believe this road is worse than it actually is, so we chose to leave the van at the beginning of the dirt road and ride our mountain bikes in.
The first 7km is down a wide, but corrugated gravel road, before you come to a T junction – left to the Central Valley, and right to the Lost City. The next 3km is more challenging, with some soft sandy patches and uneven rocky sections. We reckon we could have made it almost all the way, and in fact we saw a 2wd van the same size as ours parked about 1km before the end of the road, just by a particularly sketchy downhill stretch.
Arriving at the Lost City you will be struck with wonder at how nature has created this landscape. Like much of inland Australia, this area was once under the seabed, and millions of years of sediment being laid down and compressed created layers of sandstone. Over the years, as the continents moved and sea levels dropped, wind and rain have wethered the stone, exposing these pillars.
You’ll feel like Indiana Jones as you let your inner child roam free, climbing over the rocks, and through tunnels. This unique landscape will amaze you. The Lost City is a small area, the walking track loop is only a few hundred metres. You can easily spend a couple of hours here exploring.
Tjaetaba Falls and the Greenant Creek Walk
The short hike to this less popular waterfall is another of our favourite walks. Less popular, but no less beautiful. You can reach Tjaetaba Falls by hiking from the Greenant Creek car park.
Following the creek upstream, you will be amazed at the change of habitat, on one side is the monsoon rainforest, on the other side the woodland savannah which is more prevalent in Litchfield National Park. It’s a very clear demarcation line, and the path literally cuts between the two.
The indigenous land owners ask that we don’t visit or swim below the waterfall due to cultural reasons. However, there is a plunge pool at the top of the falls where you can cool off after hiking up the hill.
Suggested one day itinerary for Litchfield National Park:
Depart Darwin as early as possible.
Drive to Wangi Falls
You can start by hiking the 1.6km loop around the top of the falls for great views across the plain and down the waterfall. Then you can cool off with a swim in the plunge pool below. If you’re not a strong swimmer we recommend using a pool noodle. Don’t miss the little spa pool on the left waterfall, it’s a fairly easy climb up the cliff. NOTE: You should look for signs in case the presence of crocodiles closes the pool.
Wangi Falls has the only café in the park, so this is a good place to grab a coffee and a snack. There’s also a nice shady, grassy area for picnics or just relaxing near this pool, making it one of the most popular swimming spots in the park.
Drive to Tolmer Falls and hike around the Tolmer Creek.
You may not go down to the base of the waterfall or to swim here. Tolmer Falls is the habitat of the rare Orange Horseshoe Bat and Ghost Bat. We found Tolmer Falls to be one of the most stunning, with a well situated viewing platform. From the platform you can hike out along the short creek track to witness the landscape and for great views.
Drive to Florence Falls.
Florence Falls is one of the most popular swimming spots in Litchfield. You will need to walk down 160 odd steps to get to the plunge pool. Most of these are even steps on a steel stairway. The entrance into the pool is quite small, so it feels more crowded than it is. While it’s a nice place for a swim (especially going under the left hand waterfall), and exciting to watch young guys (and some older guys haha) jumping off the cliffs, we didn’t stay too long as there really isn’t anywhere to sit and relax.
Drive to the Buley Rockholes.
We didn’t really enjoy the Buley Rockholes, simply because they were so crowded. If you’re visiting mid-week, it might be more enjoyable. You will find quite a few rockholes to swim in, so if one pool is crowded, just walk up or downstream a bit.
The final stop is at the Giant Termite Mounds.
Travelling around Australia, you’ll see a lot of termite mounds. Here in Litchfield, you’ll see some of the only magnetic mounds. These flat termite mounds are oriented along a north-south axis. The termites build them like this to keep the temperature stable inside the structure. Isn’t nature incredible?
Just adjacent to the magnetic mound field, are a couple of giant termite mounds. One has a platform built around it, but another which is almost just as tall (at probably almost 3 metres) is unobstructed. This mound is a great photo location.
From here, you can exit the park near Batchelor and drive back to Darwin.
Watch our Litchfield National Park Travel Film
Other than the one café at Wangi Falls, there is no food or drinking water available in the park, so ensure you are well stocked up for the day. We visited the park on a day in the mid 30s so it was HOT. Even just the two short hikes we did were enough to have us drinking more than we would have normally.
If you have the time, we would definitely recommend spending longer in Litchfield. On our second visit, this time with our campervan, we stayed for three nights. We now recommend 3-4 days as an ideal time to spend in the park.
If you have a 4wd and want to visit some of the lesser visited attractions (which we didn’t) like Central Valley and Tjaenera Falls, perhaps add another day or two. However long you spend in the park, we’re sure you’ll love it just like we did.
Do I need a 4×4 to visit Litchfield?
The most common question we hear is “Do you need a 4wd to visit Litchfield National Park?” and the answer is a definite NO! While there are a couple of sites you will need a 4×4 (Lost City, Surprise Falls, Centre Valley) the vast majority of the park is on sealed road and you can get there in a normal 2wd vehicle.
We hope you enjoy your visit to Litchfield National Park, the best National Park in the Northern Territory!
Where to Next?
Heading south? Check out our guide to Driving the Red Centre Way.