How to Trek the Larapinta Trail Self-Guided
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Are you planning to trek the Larapinta trek self guided? Here’s everything you need to know about trekking Larapinta Trail solo.
TABLE OF CONTENTS LARAPINTA TRAIL SOLO
The Larapinta Trail was voted by National Geographic as one of the top 20 trekking experiences on the planet. It’s one of the best walks in Australia and it can easily be accessed from Alice Springs. Sleep under the stars, swim in secluded watering holes, marvel at views as far as the eye can see and challenge yourself.
The Larapinta walk is a 223-kilometre trail that traverses the arid red rock ranges of the West MacDonnell National Park. It is divided into 12 sections, many of which can be accessed by sealed road. This means going on and off the trail is easy and you can elect to do as many days as you want. Just one up to all 12 sections, it’s totally up to you.
Anyone can take a Larapinta Trail guided walk tour, but if you want to challenge yourself and do the Larapinta Trail on a budget, this is the best place to start your planning!
In this post, we will go over the different ways to do a Larapinta self-guided walk, as well as which sections to choose from and what you should pack for the trek. This is the ultimate guide to planning to trek Larapinta Trail solo.
Jump to the end of this Larapinta trail blog if you want to just read a list of money-saving tips.
Can I do a Self-Guided Tour of the Larapinta Trail?
Yes, you can! I did and I recommend you to do it this way if you’re trying to do the Larapinta Trail on the cheap. The guided tours can get VERY expensive. Because of this, I chose to do it solo even though I’d never done a self-guided multi-day hike solo before.
However, if you chose to do it without a guided tour make sure you have done a lot of research and organised everything before you go. This trail should be taken very, very seriously. If you haven’t done a solo hike before, I recommend you read this post on Hiking for Beginners.
This is a dangerous hike and you’ll be trekking in some of the most inaccessible terrains in the world. If something does happen, make sure you’re prepared. Beginner trekkers should always go with a friend and I HIGHLY recommend taking a satellite phone.
DIFFERENT TYPES OF SELF-GUIDED TOURS
⛺️ A few days on the trail, carrying enough food on you to last the whole trip
⛺️ Complete walk end-to-end, with food drops at certain trail heads along the way
⛺️ A self-guided tour organised through a tour operator where you have a choice of 9 sections and they provide transport, food and equipment
SELF-GUIDED TOURS THROUGH AN OPERATOR
Self-guided Larapinta Trail tours include Larapinta Trail transfers, trekking equipment and food drops. These types of tours will cost over $1, 000 (for a 3-day trek). So I can’t really recommend them if you are doing the Larapinta walking trail on a budget.
However, this Larapinta Trail walking tour gives you a choice of 9 sections and you can elect to be picked up from one of the high range 4WD only trailhead access points. By doing this tour for $1, 390 per person with equipment hire, food drop-offs and a 4WD pickup, you would be getting quite good value for money.
But it is still much more expensive to do the trail this way than organising the walk yourself, especially if you are sharing costs with a hiking buddy.
Can I Hire Equipment for the Larapinta?
Unfortunately, there are no companies that hire equipment for the Lapapinta Trail anymore. Apparently, a couple of places used to hire, but due to lack of demand, they stopped.
There is only one way you can hire equipment for a self-guided Larapinta Trail trek, and that is by paying for a self-guided tour. This may be worth it for you if you plan to trek 9 sections of the Larapinta hike, because Larapinta food drops are also included in the price, along with transport. I gave more information on this tour just above.
To see my checklist of all the equipment you’ll need for the hike; click to jump.
What Season Should I do the Larapinta Trail?
The best time to walk Larapinta Trail is between April and September. As with most of Central and North Australia, wintertime has the best temperatures.
Trekking between April and September will give you gorgeous clear and crisp days of 20+ degrees celsius. However, at night temperatures can get down to -5 degrees, so bring a warm sleeping bag. October temperatures can get as high as 30 degrees in the day, but nights will also be a lot warmer.
Summer is not a recommended time to trek the Larapinta. Daytime temperates can go above 40 degrees celsius and because of these temperatures, the hike becomes dangerous.
Larapinta Trail Sections
These are the walking grades and ratings of each section of the Larapinta Trail.
|Sec.||Trailhead Start||Trailhead Finish||Grade||Rating||Kms||Hrs|
|1||Telegraph Station||Simpson Gap||Moderate||Average||23.8||9|
|2||Simpson Gap||Jay Creek||Moderate||Average||24.5||8|
|3||Jay Creek||Standley Chasm||Difficult||Very Good||13.6||5.6|
|4||Standley Chasm||B'Day Waterhole||Very Difficult||Excellent||17.7||9|
|5||B'Day Waterhole||Hugh Gorge||Very Difficult||Excellent||16||10|
|6||Hugh Gorge||Ellery Creek||Moderate||Poor||31.2||11|
|7||Ellery Creek||Serpentine Gorge||Difficult||Poor||13.8||5.5|
|8||Serpentine Gorge||Serp. Chalet Dam||Difficult||Good||13.4||5.5|
|9||Serp. Chalet Dam||Ormiston Gorge||Difficult||Very Good||28.6||12|
|10||Ormiston Gorge||Finke River||Moderate||Average||9.1||4|
|11||Finke River||Redbank Gorge||Difficult||Good||26||9.5|
|12||Redbank Gorge||Mount Sonder||Difficult||Excellent||15.8||6|
Can I do the Larapinta in Reverse? (Aka West to East?)
Yes you can do the Larapinta Trail from west to east, and I would highly recommend it this way! We did it east to west and we found the sun was in our face every afternoon. This got real spicy right at the hottest part of the day. I asked a few people coming the opposite way and they all said the same; that the sun was hardly ever in their faces. Short answer, YES do the Larapinta Trail in reverse.
There’s another plus of doing the Larapinta Trail in reverse. If you’re doing the entire trail, doing it backwards means you can take your time and go as fast or slow as you like and return to Alice Springs at your own pace without having to organise a pick up.
Check out this Larapinta Trail map to get an idea of where each trailhead is along the main roads.
What are the Best Sections of the Larapinta Trail?
If you’re short on time and only have a set amount of days to trek, then this is definitely something you’ll want to know. According to the Larapinta Trail website, Standley Chasm to Hugh Gorge (sections 4 & 5) are both rated “Excellent,” along with Mount Sonder (section 12) due to their fantastic views.
Mount Sonder (section 12) can be done in the one day and can be accessed by car. This section is a fantastic day trip. It is rated “Difficult” but is not the hardest section of the trail.
STANDLEY CHASM TO BIRTHDAY WATERHOLE TO HUGH GORGE
Standley Chasm to Hugh George (sections 4 & 5) are a little more difficult. Hugh Gorge and Birthday Waterhole are both only accessed by high range 4WD. Trekking across these two sections will take you 3-4 days. If you want to save money and get picked up on car accessible roads only, you will need to trek from Standley Chasm to Ellery Creek (or reverse) which will take 5-6 days.
Note that these two sections have a “Very Difficult” grading. I did them both and I can definitely confirm this grading. Carrying huge backpacks along cliff edges and rocky trails, uphill to 12, 000 m and back down twice is definitely not something the faint-hearted should attempt.
JAY CREEK TO STANDLEY CHASM, AND SERPENTINE CHALET DAM TO ORMISTON GORGE
Other notable sections are Jay Creek to Standley Chasm (section 3) and Serpentine Chalet Dam to Ormiston Gorge (section 9) that are both rated “Very Good”. Both of these sections are graded “moderate” however they still have extensive uphill and narrow walking tracks.
The Parts of the Trail We Did
We had 5 days to trek the Larapinta trail self guided because that’s how much food we could carry on our person. We wanted to do the very best parts of the track, even if that meant doing the most difficult. The sections we did were from Standley Chasm to Hugh Gorge (sections 4 & 5).
To save money, we got dropped off at Standley Chasm and did a day trek towards Jay Creek and back for the night. This enabled us to see some of the section 3 sights as well without needing to access the Jay Creek trailhead.
The rating of Hugh Gorge to Ellery Creek (section 6) is “Poor” and it takes 2 days to do it. So we opted for a pick up from Hugh Gorge instead. Because Hugh Gorge is a 4WD access only trailhead, this pickup cost us $500 in total with World Expeditions. No other tour company will attempt to access this trailhead, even in a 4WD. Most people will continue walking on to the more easily accessed Ellery Creek.
Our Favourite Campsite
Hands down, the best campsite we stayed in was Brinkleys Bluff (pictured above) which was between Standley Chasm and Birthday Waterhole. This campsite is high up and has 360-degree views of the surrounding mountains. You can see sunset and sunrise from your tent! It’s magical.
Our Fitness Level
Both of us are of moderate fitness with little previous bushwalking experience so we knew this would be a huge challenge for us. Both of us did physical training and researched the Larapinta track as much as possible before we left. Even so, this was definitely one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done in my life.
I have seen on some forums people asking if they will be able to do the hike with only a moderate fitness level. I am proof that it can be done, but it will be a challenge. My best advice is to prepare as much as possible.
One note: we started to get very sore knees after a few days hiking up and down the difficult sections of the hike. I wish I’d known about knee braces and how they can help alleviate pain on hikes like these, so I could have brought some with me!
Larapinta Trailheads Car and 4WD Access
Use this table to decide where you would like to get access point transfers when walking the Larapinta Trail. Some trail heads may take more than one day to hike, so keep this in mind when planning your pickup. See my table above for more information on each section.
|Sec.||Trailhead||Dirt Road?||Car Access?||4WD Access?|
|1 / 2||Simpsons Gap||No||Yes||Yes|
|2 / 3||Jay Creek||Yes||No||Yes (HR)|
|3 / 4||Standley Chasm||No||Yes||Yes|
|4 / 5||Birthday Waterhole||Yes||No||Yes (HR)|
|5 / 6||Hugh Gorge||Yes||No||Yes (HR)|
|6 / 7||Ellery Creek||No||Yes||Yes|
|7 / 8||Serpentine Gorge||Yes (5km)||Yes||Yes|
|8 / 9||Serpentine Chalet Dam bush camp||Yes (3km)||Yes||Yes|
|9 / 10||Ormiston Gorge||No||Yes||Yes|
|10 / 11||Finke River Two-Mile||Yes||No||Yes (HR)|
|10 / 11||Glen Helen Resort||No||Yes||Yes|
|11 / 12||Redbank Gorge||Yes (5km)||Yes*||Yes|
HR = High Range 4WD access ONLY
* = Car access not recommended
LARAPINTA TRAIL SECTION TRANSFERS
World Expeditions is the only company who do transfers to 4WD high range access trailheads such as Jay Creek, Birthday Waterhole and Huge Gorge.
Some of the Larapinta transfers are really expensive. If you’re trying to do the Larapinta Trail on the cheap, I suggest getting picked up from a car accessible area.
How Can I do the Larapinta Trail on the Cheap?
We understand that trekking this rural part of Australia can get extremely expensive very quickly. Especially if you don’t have a friend to drop you at any of the trailheads or your own car to do food drops.
So the following is our tips on how to make cut a few costs and hopefully make the trail a little more affordable for you!
1. Get picked up at a car-accessible road
By a friend, a taxi or by a paid pickup. Car accessible roads are much cheaper than a 4WD transfer (which are upwards of $250 per person).
2. Trek with more people
If you do pay for a transfer, make sure you have a minimum of 2 people. Food drop-offs and transfers will be cheaper if there are a few people paying for the one drop off/transfer. Transfers cost between $110 – $460 depending on where it is.
3. Trekking solo? Take a tour instead of a paid transfer
Tours of the MacDonnell Ranges to Glen Helen Resort will cost you around $139 from Alice Springs. The tour will drop into a number of trailheads along the way (where you can tell the tour operator you will be leaving the tour to start trekking the trail).
The tours stops in at Glen Helen Resort at around lunchtime. From here, it is 25 km to the Redbank Gorge trailhead. You can get there by either walking or finding a lift (although hitchhiking is not permitted).
On the other hand, an actual transfer with a tour company will cost upwards of $170 just for the drop-off at the Redbank Gorge trailhead. This means if you can deal with a tour for half a day, you can save a few dollars by using one of the cheaper group tour companies.
LARAPINTA TRAIL FOOD DROP TIPS
1. Carry your own gear, food and water if you can
There will be a water tank approximately every two days of trekking. Food drop-offs make the trip much more expensive, unless you can get a friend to do it for you.
2. You can leave food in storage rooms yourself
To leave food in storage rooms at Ellery Creek and Ormiston Gorge, get a key from the Tourism Central Australia visitor centre. You will need to pay a deposit of $50, refundable when the key is returned. A non-refundable fee of $10 will be charged by Tourism Central Australia to cover the costs of food storage.
You can also book food drops with any of the following tour companies : Emu Run, Trek Support, Outback Elite Tours and Outback Tour Services. However, some of them only offer the food drop if you purchase a transfer too.
3. If you do want to drop off food in the storage rooms yourself
You could do it beforehand by doing the McDonnell Ranges tour I mentioned above. There are food drop-off points at Ellery Creek and Ormiston Gorge. You could bring all off your food and gear on one of the tours and drop off at each point, saving loads of money.
Many of the Larapinta Trail package tour companies will go to the food drops off points before finishing at Glen Helen Resort, so you can use this tour as a transfer to Redbank Gorge as well, saving money on both the food drops and the transfers.
4. If you are dropping food somewhere else
Make sure it is hidden and well protected from ants and animals. You don’t want to turn up hungry and all your food is ruined!
Larapinta Trail Checklist
✔︎ Backpack/Hiking Pack
A 70-90 litre backpack is recommended, however what type and functionality of backpack is mostly up to you. Most people will use a lightweight adjustable hiking backpack.
Whatever type of backpack you take on the Larapinta Trail, the frame should fit the body well and your back should be supported. Your hips (not your shoulders) should carry most of the weight. The back padding should breathe well. Tough outer fabric and zips are paramount on the pack. To organise the inside of the pack, what you can do is get a compression sack. The sack reduces the packed size of your sleeping bag or soft gear to free up more space, it also protects your gear from water and dirt.
✔︎ Waterproof Pack External Cover (Optional)
✔︎ Internal Pack Liner (Waterproof, Optional)
✔︎ Small pocket/bag
For key valuables and satellite phone. Keep within easy reach in case of an emergency.
✔︎ Resealable Plastic Bags
You must carry all your rubbish with you. It’s rare to find a bin along the trail.
For camp fees, restaurants and bars (only at some campsites).
✔︎ Key contact details
✔︎ Lightweight Tent
A lightweight, compactable tent that packs up small is vital. It should be durable with strong, lightweight pegs and poles. Vents for air are also desirable. Double skinned tents offer more protection from the cold and rain. Use your tent to store your gear away from dingo theft.
✔︎ Tent Pegs
Lightweight but tough for hard ground. Having a couple of spare pegs is essential.
✔︎ Ground Sheet (Footprint)
To protect the base of the tent from rough ground.
✔︎ Sleeping Bag
Make sure it will keep you warm for temperatures that can get as low as 0ºC.
✔︎ Sleeping Bag Liner
A sleeping bag liner gives a little extra warmth and comfort as well as stops your sleeping bag from becoming dirty.
✔︎ Sleeping Mat
The ground in which you will sleep will range from a sandy riverbed, to extremely rocky, shaley or gravely hard ground. In winter, the ground can be very cold. We recommend either a durable air mattress or a closed cell foam mattress. Lightweight is best, and be sure to bring a ground sheet and a puncture kit if you are sleeping on an air mattress! Insulated with a fabric surface with a non-slip underside is also recommended.
✔︎ Tarp (Optional)
✔︎ Inflatable Pillow (Optional)
✔︎ Tent Repair Kit
✔︎ Air Mattress Repair Kit
✔︎ Underwear (and spares)
Keep in mind creepy crawlies like ticks.
✔︎ Socks (and spares)
Hiking socks are best. Ensure you have some warm socks to sleep in.
✔︎ Pants or Shorts
You may want to consider hiking pants that zip off into shorts. I had these but I only used the shorts part once on the Larapinta Trail. The spikey spinifex grasses on the Larapinta meant I needed the length most of the time.
✔︎ Gaiters (Optional)
We suggest long sleeve, loose shirts for better sun protection.
Lightweight and microfleece, with a hood.
Lightweight and breathable. It rains on the Larapinta Trail occasionally.
✔︎ Buff Neck Warmer
These have many uses from keeping the dirt out of your mouth, as a sweatband, for warmth and loads of other things.
This is an essential piece of clothing. Wide brim for the best sun protection.
Lightweight and warm. You’ll need it in winter, especially at night.
Ensure they have UV lenses for sun protection.
✔︎ Fly Net (Optional)
If you really hate flies in your face you might want to consider this.
✔︎ Strong Hiking Boots
This is one of the single most important items you will bring on the Larapinta Trail. The terrain on the trail demands that you need strong, quality, supportive and comfortable hiking boots. This is paramount because the terrain of the trail can scuff, tear or puncture your boots and you feet can be twisted, rubbed and jabbed.
Make sure you check your boots before leaving to make sure they are of the in their top condition because one of the most common problems hikers encounter is soles of their shoes becoming damaged and coming apart.
We suggest also that you wear hiking boots that are a high cut with ankle support and very good grip and traction for the rocky terrain. They should also be breathable and waterproof.
✔︎ Contained Stove
No open fires are permitted under any circumstances. A lightweight stovetop that attaches directly to the fuel container is a great way to save on weight.
✔︎ Cooking Pot/Canteen
Just one 1.5-litre cooking pot that is used to both eat and drink from is a great way to save space on bowls and cups.
Fuel cannot go on planes so you must buy this locally in Alice Springs.
Bring one knife, spoon, and fork that is lightweight.
Or another heavy duty cleaning cloth.
✔︎ Snap lock bags
Extra leftover food storage.
✔︎ Mug (Optional)
✔︎ Plate / Bowl (Optional)
FOOD ON THE LARAPINTA TRAIL
If you are carrying all your food on you, make sure you calculate precisely how many meals you will eat and what you will eat for each meal.
Keep in mind that although hot lunches might sound nice beforehand, on the trail they are somewhat impractical and usually unwanted due to the heat and amount of time it takes to cook them.
For dinner, we really enjoyed putting a bit more effort into our meal. We would eat a dehydrated meal, a pasta dish or mashed potato and Jerky.
✔︎ Water Bottles (1 or 2 litre)
On average, a trekker should carry 4-6 litres of water per day. Be aware that some campsites do not have a water tank. In these cases, you should carry enough water until you reach the next water tank.
✔︎ Hydration Bladder
If you backpack allows for this type of setup then a 2-litre camelback type is best. However, to avoid crushing or damage to a bladder, you may want to carry a more durable bladder and store it in a place where it won’t be crushed or pop.
✔︎ Water Treatment
Carry water sterilisation tablets, drops or devices. The tank water at campsites is not safe to drink without sterilisation.
✔︎ Storage Room Key
You must pay for food drops and storage keys. Here’s more information on food drops. Food drops can become costly, so if you are trying to do the Larapinta Trail on a budget, you may want to trek only for the number of days worth of food you can carry on your back.
✔︎ Storage Containers
To pack resupply food into. Check with whoever you arrange food drops through, as they may organise containers for you.
GOING TO THE BATHROOM
There are no toilets or showers along most of the Larapinta Trail, which means you will need to take care of your “business” by burying it.
✔︎ Toilet Paper
✔︎ Sterile Anti-bacterial Wet Wipes
✔︎ Hand Sanitiser / Anti-bacterial Liquid
✔︎ Trowel or Digging Device
There is unlikely to be mobile phone signal on the trail. You should be prepared for any emergencies. Always carry some sort of signalling device in your packing. We recommend one in your bag and a smaller option always on your person.
✔︎ Satellite Phone and Recharger
This is the best form of communication along the trail. They have long battery life and you can make and receive calls and SMS messages worldwide. They also have GPS positioning, online tracking and an emergency SOS button.
Keep emergency phone numbers and any pin numbers with the phone in case someone else is using the phone.
✔︎ PLB or Personal Locator Beacon
This is essential on the trail. When activated it sends a distress signal that can be detected by satellites or nearby aircraft. A PLB should be digital 406 MHz and have a min 24-48 transmission period with GPS.
✔︎ Mobile Phone and Recharger
We recommend you do not reply on mobile phone coverage for rescue communications. Most of the Larapinta Trail has no mobile phone coverage at all. We recommend you carry a Satphone and/or PLB.
✔︎ Torch and Batteries
We prefer head torches. The one below is water resistant.
Excellent small signalling device to keep on you at all times. They can be heard from hundreds of meters away. Attach to clothing as opposed to around your neck to avoid strangulation.
✔︎ Cyalume Stick
These are a great cheap signalling option. They work well only at night. The green colour works best.
✔︎ Signalling Mirror (Optional)
✔︎ Strobe Light (Optional)
✔︎ Survival Blanket (Optional)
LARAPINTA TRAIL MAP AND PLANNING
✔︎ Larapinta Trail Map
Buy in advance online and study. Come up with a trek plan.
✔︎ A Trek Plan
Submit your trek plan to NT Parks or friends/family.
OTHER IMPORTANT PACKING ITEMS
✔︎ First Aid Kit
Know how to conduct first aid and ensure your kit covers at least the basics.
✔︎ Medical Warning Sheet
Including blood group, medical allergies, any conditions etc. Put these in your trek plan and with your personal belongings.
✔︎ Multi Tool
✔︎ Solar Chargers (Optional)
✔︎ Soap (Biodegradable)
✔︎ Equipment Repair Kit
✔︎ Heavy Duty Sewing Kit
✔︎ Electrical or Strapping Tape
✔︎ Spare Batteries
✔︎ Zip Ties
✔︎ Walking Poles (Optional)
✔︎ Insect Repellent
✔︎ Lip Balm
✔︎ Travel Toothbrush
✔︎ Pads or Tampons (Women)
✔︎ Camera Batteries (Fully Charged)
✔︎ Video Camera (Optional)
✔︎ Memory Cards
✔︎ Tripod (Wrap Around)
READ THE BOOK
Other Helpful Websites
Friends of the Larapinta Trail
Friends of the Larapinta Trail is a group of volunteers who maintain the trail. Their Facebook Page can be used to ask specific questions you might have about how to trek Larapinta trail self-guided. Everyone is very helpful and the page is relatively active.
Please share any other money-saving tips you have for hiking in the comments below?
Originally Posted: 23rd July 2017. Frequently Updated
Share these useful tips with your hiking friends!