Running trails in The Red Centre has a unique flavour to it – Jayden’s spent some time running on Outback single track around Alice Springs and he reckons any keen trail runner should start planning their trip.


We acknowledge that this adventure is located on the traditional Country of the Arrernte people who have occupied and cared for the lands, waters, and their inhabitants for thousands of years. We pay our respects to them as the Traditional Custodians and recognise that sovereignty was never ceded.

When you think of The Red Centre, you probably think of blistering temperatures and harsh landscapes not well suited to any kind of outdoor adventure, and you’d kinda be right.

But while Central Australia does see the mercury creep into the extremes, it’s only for about four months of the year, and the remainder is perfectly suited to pulling on your trail runners and heading out bush.


A runner in Standley Chasm


Mparntwe /Alice Springs is a quaint town that’s often placed in the media for the wrong reasons. But as you fly into this heat-scarred Centralian landscape, it’s evident that there’s so much more to this place.

Filled with character, the charming town is surrounded by two ancient, jagged, spinifex-covered mountain ranges, and the running trails are the veins that pump ochre blood into the body of a booming running scene.

With something to cater to everyone, from the trail running rookie all the way to the ultra legend, there are so many reasons that The Red Centre is the perfect place to trade asphalt roads for red dirt trails.

Culture of Country

Many people already know about Central Australia’s rich cultural climate, but to properly understand the power of the landscape it truly has to be seen and felt, and what better way than to take on the mountains by foot.

Locals who run along the jagged ridges of Tjoritja / West MacDonnell Ranges explain that there’s a euphoric, ethereal feel to it that no one quite seems to be able to put their finger on.


The last rays of sun on the Larapinta Trail | Calumn Hockey


To run the risk of falling into a classic outdoor adventure cliche, I would agree that there really is a special energy associated with running in these mountains as the sun drops towards the horizon, painting the desert a deep red, leaving you feeling like you’re part of a living, breathing landscape.

Read more: West MacDonnell (Tjoritja) National Park Road Trip

Mparntwe is home to the Arrernte people, and the Arrente Dreamtime stories revolve around the Caterpillar Dreaming.

This land was created by giant caterpillars whose bodies eventually became the stunning ridges of Tjoritja / East and West Macdonnell Ranges that encircle Mparntwe.

As you run through ranges that used to stand taller than Mt Everest, and over the world’s oldest river, you may find various sites containing ancient Indigenous rock art that provides an insight into the dreaming and traditional ways of life in Mparntwe.

Ellery Creek Big Hole is a gorgeous spot for swimming | Calumn Hockey

Accessibility and the Range of Trails

A quick peak on AllTrails will reveal over 75 different trails around Mparntwe and Tjoritja, and that’s barely scratching the surface.

Pulling on the trail runners in the town centre will allow for a nice five minute warm up jog along the Todd River towards the outskirts of town, where the fun really begins.

As you enter the East Side or Telegraph Station trail systems, you’ll find yourself absorbed in a create-your-own adventure of well-maintained, dry, rocky trails that vary in length from 2km to as far as your feet will take you.

Immediately feeling like you’ve left any form of civilisation, these trails are flat, hilly, rocky, sandy, and everything in between.

Weaving your way between the native Ghost gums, they’re a great place to spot native birds, rock wallabies, and listen to the dingoes howl at dusk.

If you’re feeling a little more adventurous, head 15 minutes east and jump on the recently created Yeperenye trail.


The sweeping landscape of the East Macdonnell Ranges


It’s a 7.5km winding, undulating trail that wraps along the southern side of the East Macdonnell Ranges between Emily and Jessie Gap. Many people choose to double back and end at the local watering hole nestled in Emily Gap for a refreshing cool down swim.

Then there’s the adventure for the real trail frothers to tackle, the Larapinta Trail. We’ve all heard of the Larapinta, but who knew that you could run it?

With access points at 12 different locations along the ranges, you can put on the running vest, fill up the bladders, throw in some nutrition gels and tackle trails that take you the top of ridges, the bottom of valleys, through natural waterholes and to some of the most remote campsites Australia has to offer.

Read more: 10 Things You Need to Know Before Hiking The Larapinta Trail


A stunning ridge in the West Macdonnell Ranges | Calumn Hockey

The Social Scene

Running in wide open landscapes with no noise pollution, at paces that allow for conversation, while a bunch of endorphins pump through your brain. Mmm.

Trail running with friends is recipe for healthy conversation and building strong connections.

With a booming scene of expats and young professionals who have travelled to The Red Centre from all over Australia and the world, Alice is filled with kind, open minded, adventurous, social beings that just want to explore, make friends and experience The Red Centre for everything it has to offer.

At 1,600km to the nearest city, the isolation plays into the charm of The Red Centre. A lot of effort is put into social clubs and events, creating arguably the strongest sense of community I’ve experienced anywhere in Australia.

There are multiple trail running clubs filled with friendly locals and expats who’ll introduce you to the vast trail network on offer, and sit down for a coffee afterwards.

West Macs Monster

Tjoritja is home to one of the toughest, most exciting trail running races in Australia. The West Macs Monster takes place in May each year, as the temperatures begin to drop and the trail running community springs into action.

Athletes from all around Australia compete in races of 25km, 65km, and 128km distances, as well as the gruelling 231km non-stop monster of an ultra race that runs the entire Larapinta Trail.

The Larapinta Trail is a famous hike on many people’s bucket lists and it attracts thousands of trekkers every winter.


Mt Sonder in the distance


Now it’s on the list for trail runners around the world with a unique single track, end to end, fully supported stage race where runners can soak up Tjoritja’s vistas over three days and two nights of staggered trail running.

The 231km race begins by climbing up Mt Sonder, the second highest mountain in the Northern Territory, giving runners a glimpse of the jagged mountain ranges they’re about to battle, before joining up with the other runners as they make their way along the Larapinta and through iconic central Australian locations like Ellery Creek, Standley Chasm, and Simpsons Gap.

Read more: 4 Wild Swimming Holes in The Red Centre (You Need to Jump In)

It’s a true test of grit. Runners wrap up at the Alice Springs Telegraph Station regardless of their distance and finish together on the Sunday.

Waiting by the finish line, it’s evident which runners have taken on the longer distances, staggering across the line, a journey that takes most two weeks took these runners 60 hours with limited sleep.


An expansive view of a section of the Larapinta Trail | Calumn Hockey


If you’re new to trail running, looking to explore new landscapes, meet like-minded adventurous friends or take on one of the most scenic and gruelling long distance ultra marathons, then you’d better pack your bags, pull on your trail runners and head to The Red Centre.


Feature photo by Calumn Hockey