If you’re after a day hike in the East MacDonnell Ranges, the 9km Ridgetop Trail in Trephina Gorge Nature Park takes in the best parts of the park while presenting a hearty hike for Explorers after a challenge.

We acknowledge that this adventure is located on the traditional country of the Eastern Arrernte 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.


  • Traversing the length of Trephina Gorge Nature Park 
  • Cooling off in John Hayes Rock Hole 
  • Golden hour colours at Trephina Gorge


Looking over Trephina Gorge, Trephina Gorge Nature Park

The Best of Both Worlds

Trephina Gorge Nature Park consists of two main sections – Trephina Gorge and John Hayes Rock Hole – and the Ridgetop Trail links the two together. With 4WD access and campgrounds at either end, where you choose to start and finish is up to you! 

Prefer to cool off in John Hayes Rock Hole after five hours in the Central Aus sun? Fair enough! Best to kick things off at Trephina Gorge and finish at John Hayes. This way, the sun will be at your back, provided you start first thing in the morning.

If you’re keen to witness the orange glow of the range and bluff by Trephina Gorge at golden hour, flip the script and start at John Hayes. 

Either way, you’ll probably want to have two cars available to do a car shuffle to save yourself from walking the 4WD track and dirt road back to where you started from. 

Ok, logistics sorted, hiking shoes tied, sunscreen applied. Let’s dive in! 

Read more: Remember to leave no trace!

Starting Point: Trephina Gorge

Let’s say you’re starting your hike from Trephina Gorge itself (have just spent the night at the serene Bluff Campground). The trail starts from Trephina Gorge picnic area and immediately ascends up the side of the gorge. 

Pretty quickly you gain some very speccy views of the wide, sandy creek bed that runs through the gorge below, the lofty bluff you were just camping by and even the pound and ranges off in the distance. 

Spend some time taking it all in as soon you’ll be diverting away up onto the ridgeline. If you’ve got time, I recommend looping around the 2km Trephina Gorge Walk to get the full experience of the gorge.

Read more: Why The East Macs are The Red Centre’s Best Kept Secret

Traversing the Ridgetop

The name is a bit of a give away with this one, but after about 550m, the trail turns towards the ridgeline and continually climbs up, up, up. From here, the terrain is pretty sparse, rocky, and exposed.

The next 5km is a gentle ascend up and along the rocky ridgeline, taking in views of the park and the surrounding ranges along the way. This part of the trail can be pretty gruelling in the heat of the day so make sure you’re well-stocked with water and food and have all the sun safety measures in place.


Climbing up to the ridge, Trephina Gorge Nature Park


Read more: How To Hike in Hot Weather

Just before the trail starts to descend, there’s a short 600m return detour to Turners Lookout and your last chance to grab a sweeping view of the East Macs. 

Now get ready for a drop off! Over the next 2km the trail descends over 200m off the ridgeline and down towards a creekbed. If you’re lucky enough to be hiking after a drenching, the path could be quite overgrown, with long grass lining the trail, so be wary of snakes.

Linking to The Chain of Ponds

The trail then reaches an intersection where it links up with the Chain of Ponds loop track. You’ll spot a sign with two options to get to the Rockhole car park – a 30 minute walk via the walking track or a 60 minute walk via the gorge floor. 

I’m telling you, unless you’re in dire straits after the walk across the ridge, take the gorge floor. This is by far the most spectacular part of the whole hike and you’ll be kicking yourself if you skip it. 

The trail follows the dry creek bed for a few hundred metres before ruby, red rock suddenly stacks up around you as you enter the gorge. 

From here, the next kilometre or so is all rock hopping and jaw dropping between the colossal walls of the gorge. Keep an eye out for the many caves dug out way up top. 

The further you go the more you’ll be clambering down and around rocks as you begin to reach the ponds and the hefty drop-offs that come with them. 

If you’re visiting after a bit of rain like we were, some of the ponds might be deep and clean enough for a swim – trust me, you won’t be too fussy by this time. 

Read more: Staying Safe Around Swimming Holes

Eventually, you’ll reach a drop-off and water hole where there’s simply no safe way to scramble down. Close to here the trail climbs up the side of the gorge and back up onto an adjacent hill, before circling around above the would-be waterfall (if rain was consistent in The Red Centre!). 

From this perspective, you’ll be able to peer down to the last few ponds before hiking down the hill to John Hayes car park. Finito! 

Now wander 100m up the path to John Hayes Rock Hole to cool off and check out the end of the gorge you just scrambled through.

Read more: 5 Lesser-Known Waterholes of The Red Centre


Epic view, but if you get here, you’ve gone too far


This hike can easily be done on a day trip from Alice Springs, but why not rest your weary feet and stay the night instead?

Pitch your tent for the night at John Hayes campground or car shuffle back to Bluff Campground to witness that striking golden hour glow! 

Campgrounds in the NT now need to be booked in advance, so make sure you grab your spot!


Bluff Campground, Trephina Gorge Nature Park

Best Time to Visit

Any time between April and September is the ideal time to visit The Red Centre. Outside of these months, the daytime temperatures are fairly scorching, with less relief at night.

Essential Gear

  • 3L of water per person (more if possible!)
  • Lunch and snacks 
  • Sunscreen
  • Hiking shoes 
  • Hat (preferably wide-brimmed)
  • Lightweight long pants and shirt (sounds crazy but better than being crispy!)
  • Swimmers 
  • Lightweight towel
  • Camera
  • PLB (there’s no reception in the park and this hike is remote)
  • First aid kit

How To Get There

Trephina Gorge Nature Park is around an hour’s drive from Alice Springs. The trailhead starts at Trephina Gorge picnic area at the northern end of the park.

A 4WD is needed to access most of the park including both ends of the hike. 

Read more: How To 4WD For Beginners

Skill Level


Although not a huge slog, a lot of the hike is quite exposed with little reprieve from the elements. It’s also quite remote and involves a decent amount of rock hopping and scrambling.

Distance / Duration / Elevation Gain

9km / 5 hours / 380m

Photos thanks to @renaesaxby


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