At more than 627,000 hectares, Karijini National Park is filled with everything you’d want from a national park, including unparalleled hiking, jaw-dropping gorges, quiet camping, dozens of waterholes, not to mention unique plants and animals.
We acknowledge that this adventure is located on Banyjima, Kurrama and Innawonga Nation, the traditional Country of the Banyjima, Kurrama and Innawonga people who have occupied and cared for this land and water for thousands of years. We pay our respects to them as the Traditional Custodians and recognise that sovereignty was never ceded.
- Breathtaking, quintessential Australian landscapes
- Some of the country’s best gorge hikes and swimming holes
- Good birdwatching, unique plants, and stargazing
While we’d been on the road for a few months, it wasn’t until we rolled into Western Australia’s Pilbara region that we saw the real red earth and soft sunsets on a harsh land.
Situated in remote northern WA, Karijini National Parkhas sensational seasonal swimming holes inside its deep gorges, and is without a doubt one of Australia’s best national parks – personally, I’d say THE BEST.
Here are some of the best hikes and swimming holes and how to explore them.
Duration: 3 hours
For us, this was easily the most spectacular hike in the park. I’d even recommend doing this hike last, so it doesn’t overshadow the others. But hey, we’re talking about 11/10 versus 10/10.
After scrambling down some sharp red rock drops, you quickly hit the surprisingly cool and lush gorge floor, lined with melaleucas, native grasses, and a small seasonal stream.
Halfway along is a beautiful waterhole with a few nice jumping spots. Most times of the year you will need to swim across this waterhole to get to the other side – but it’s certainly not a chore.
Read more: Staying Safe Around Swimming Holes
While it’s the journey that counts, in Knox Gorge the dramatic ending is a highlight. The trail ends when you can literally go no further, but you can glimpse through the closing gap in the huge walls into the next massive gorge.
Do this hike in the early morning or afternoon, when the red and orange hues in the rocks really start to glow.
Parks WA have listed this hike as a grade 5, which means there’s plenty of scrambling and some small climbs up and down.
The 2.3km return trail is recommended to take three hours. We found this was plenty of time, including swimming, chilling, and eating lunch.
Hancock Gorge and Kermit Pool
Duration: 2 – 2.5 hours
This hike is only just behind Knox in spectacular-ness, but I would say in terms of fun it is the number one hike at Karijini.
After coming down some steep steel stairs to the bottom of the gorge, you’ll see there are two strategies to this hike. Either spend most of your time wading through the stream or stay high and dry by shuffling along the rocky edges.
We chose the latter, despite the end goal being a swim in the refreshingly cold Kermit Pool.
While this track is only about 1.5km in length, it will take you a good few hours (with swimming) as you’ll spend a lot of time hugging and shuffling along the walls and wading in water.
Getting to the end is not for the faint-hearted, as it requires you to do the infamous spider walk down to Kermit Pool.
The grade 5 trail is well marked with blue markers. However, you still need to be very careful during this whole hike as the rocks are slippery, especially while wet, and you will without doubt be wet.
A dry bag for your electronics is a great idea for this hike and Karijini National Park in general.
Weano Gorge (and a great unlisted waterhole)
Distance: 3.8km (looped with rim walk and gorge walk)
Duration: 1 – 2 hours
This is one of the less famous hikes, with its less impressive walls and scrubby, crumbly rock trail to follow. Don’t let that put you off – I reckon that’s what makes this a gem!
This is one of the most peaceful walks in Karijini National Park. We only saw a few other people on the way, which is a rarity in Karijini as it’s a very popular place.
The best bit about this hike is the swimming hole – which isn’t listed on the trail guide.
Since the waterhole is at the very beginning, take this circuit in reverse. Take the rim walk from the car park first, then the gorge hike, so you can finish with a rewarding dip in this unnamed waterhole.
While this is also listed as a grade 5, it’s significantly easier than the other grade 5 hikes in the park
This trailhead is also the access point to the infamous Handrail Pool, which has been closed for safety reasons for a number of months.
Dales Gorge and the Pools
Distance: Rim Walk – 2km / Circular Pool Trail – 800m / Fern Pool Trail – 300m
Duration: Rim Walk – 1.5 hours / Circular Pool Trail – 2 hours / Fern Pool Trail – 20 minutes
This hike features – you guessed it – epic swimming holes and an impressive gorge! So make sure you chalk in a full day for this.
One of the best things about this hike is the trailhead is close to Karijini’s main campground, Dales Campground, and the swimming hole can more or less be your daily bath.
You can make the gorge and pools a circuit by first taking the easy rim hike (grade 2), which gives you great views into the gorge. At the end, drop down into the gorge and take the tricky scramble into Circular Pool (which was closed while we were there).
When you’re happily soaked, take the gorge hike back (grade 4). This will take you 1.2 kilometres along the lush creek bed, impressively walled by the gorge.
This trail ends at Fortescue Falls, which is the perfect spot for another swim and has plenty of space for a picnic.
After this you can head back up the stairs to the car park or stroll 300m up the return trail to Fern Pool, a truly picturesque swimming hole framed by lush foliage.
Keep in mind, this is a place of deep significance to the Traditional Owners, who ask that the place be treated with respect – which means entering the water silently and not jumping in.
Read more: Remember to leave no trace!
Distance: 1km return
Duration: 15 minutes + plenty of time for swimmin
This can’t really be called a hike, more a steep short walk down to a few swimming holes, which are probably the most famous and Instagrammable of all the spots in Karijini
In peak season, you’ll want to get here early to find a car park and get a piece of that tranquility. We got in about 8am and while the water was very cold, it gave us a few hours of peace.
It’s also worth checking out the photo-famous spa pool, which is just above the main swimming hole. This unbelievable natural feature is situated amongst swirls of ancient rock formed from millennials of water flow
It’s important to note that Hammersley Gorge is not accessed from the main part of the park, but rather by taking Bingard Road and then Nanutarra Road for about an hour north from the town of Tom Price. So do this gorge either before you enter or after you leave the park.
Karijini National Park has one camping area, Dales Campground, which is broken up into multiple small campgrounds.
While there are hundreds of sites, during peak season this is known to book out months in advance.
Don’t stress if you can’t get a spot! There’s also a huge overflow camping area that you can book online, or will be directed to by the campsite manager if you rock up and the campsite is full.
Karijini National Park has no water filling facilities or showers, but has drop toilets at the campgrounds and most trailheads.
There’s also a caravan park in the nearby town of Tom Price.
Driving Around Karijini National Park
There are a few important things to know about getting around Karijini National Park.
Karijini is a big place, so driving from east to west takes well over an hour on the sealed road, where you can go 110km/h.
With the Dales Campground on the eastern side, it’s best to plan your days by looking at the map and grouping the gorges into western, central, and eastern.
There’s also a dirt road connecting the east and west sides of the park, with some good gorges along it. This road is usually in poor condition and very corrugated, so if you’re driving it, make sure you lower your tyre pressure first.
We saw a ute lose its entire canopy from vibrations on the road and a few other cars blow their tyres.
With low tyre pressure and careful driving, this internal road is a lot quicker to get between the campsite, visitor centre, and the western side of the park.
- Hiking shoes
- Camping gear
- Enough fresh water for the length of your stay
- Camera, obviously
- First aid kit
How To Get There
From the west, Karijini National Park is about one hour drive from the town of Tom Price.
Hot tip: If you’re coming from west of Tom Price (around the Exmouth area), don’t follow Google Maps directions for the last few hundred kilometres, as it’ll take you on a very bad dirt road.
Instead, take the turn to Tom Price via Paraburdoo. While it’s longer in kilometres, you’ll probably find it quicker and definitely more comfortable.
Entering or exiting the park to the east is a good sealed road north to Port Headland or southeast to Newman.
Another top tip: If you’re coming or going via Dampier or Karratha, there’s a private mining road you can take which saves you a few hours driving. Go to the visitor centre at Tom Price or Karratha to get the pass for the Rio Tinto Access Road.
When To Visit
In the dry season (winter) the weather is pleasant, with crisp and clear days in the mid-20s and nights usually around 10 degrees celsius.
In the wet season (summer) it’s commonly above 40 degrees and the roads, campground, and hikes can be closed for months at a time. Keep an eye on the Parks WA Trails and Road closures website.