How to do the Larapinta Trail on the Cheap
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Ultimate Guide: Planning the Larapinta Trail on the Cheap
This is a list of budget tips to do the Larapinta Trail on the cheap, plus some commonly asked questions with budget-minded answers. Anyone can do a tour, but if you want to push yourself and do the Larapinta Trail on the cheap this is the place to start your planning! Scroll to the end of this post if you prefer to read a list of money-saving tips.
Can I do the Larapinta Trail without a guide?
Yes you can! And I recommend you to do it this way if you’re trying to do the Larapinta Trail on the cheap. The tours can get VERY expensive so I chose to do it solo even though I’d never done a multi-day hike without a guide before.
However, if you chose to do it without a guide make sure you have done a lot of research and organised everything before you go. This is a dangerous hike and you’ll be trekking in some of the most inaccessible terrain 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.
Can I hire equipment for the Larapinta?
Wild Island Hire is the ONLY company who will let you hire selected equipment for the Larapinta Trail from Alice Springs.
Apparently a couple of places used to hire, but due to lack of demand they stopped. I had to exhaust my detective skills, constantly calling and emailing before I found a company who hired equipment. The website says they are based in Tasmania but they actually hire in Alice Springs as well.
Self Guided Tours
Your only other option for hiring equipment for the Larapinta Trail is to pay for a self guided tour which includes pick up, drop off, equipment and food. These types of tours will cost over $1, 000 (for a 3-day trek). So I can’t really recommend them for doing the Larapinta trail on the cheap.
However, the self guided tours give 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 good value for money. But it is still much more expensive to do the trail this way.
What season should I do the Larapinta Trail?
Between April and September is the recommended time to trek the Larapinta. 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+ degree 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 but nights will be a lot warmer.
Can I do the Larapinta in reverse? (aka west to east?)
Yes you can go west to east, and I would highly recommend it! 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, do 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.
Larapinta Trail walking grades and ratings
|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|
What are the best parts 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 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 an “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.
What we did
We had 5 days and 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.
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.
Hands down, the best campsite we stayed in was Brinkleys Bluff (pictured above). This campsite has 360 degree views of the surrounding mountains and you can see sunset and sunrise from your tent!
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 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.
Larapinta trailheads you can get to by car or 4WD
|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 only company who do transfers to 4WD high range access trailheads such as Jay Creek, Birthday Waterhole and Huge Gorge.
Some of the transfers are really expensive. If you’re trying to do the Larapinta Trail on the cheap, I suggest getting picked up from a car access area.
How can I do the Larapinta Trail on the cheap?
- Get picked up at a car-accessible road: Paying for a 4WD transfer is VERY expensive (upwards of $250 per person)
- 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 $90 – $250).
- Trekking solo? Take a tour: Tours of the MacDonnell Ranges to Glen Helen Resort will cost you around $125 from Alice Springs. From Glen Helen Resort it is 25 km to the Redbank Gorge trailhead. You can get there by either walking or finding a lift.
- A simple transfer with a tour company will cost $170 just for the drop off at the Redbank Gorge trailhead.
Food Drop Offs
- Carry your own gear, food and water if you can: There will be a water tank about every two days of trekking. Food drop offs add extra in money, unless you can get a friend to do it for you.
- You can 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 costs.
- 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. Most of the 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!
- If you are dropping food somewhere else: make sure it is hidden and well protected from ants and animals.
Other Money Savers
- Don’t take a guided tour of the trail: The trail is well marked, so as long as you prepare properly, a tour is not a necessity.
- Consider hiring your equipment instead of buying it all: There is only one company that hire equipment for the Larapinta Trail.
More Helpful Sites:
- Larapinta Trail Equipment Checklist
- Hiking Food List
- Larapinta Trail section information
- How to choose a sleeping bag for cold weather
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 trekking or how to do the Larapinta Trail on the cheap. Everyone is very helpful and the page is relatively active.
Place: MacDonnell Ranges
Currency: Australian Dollars
$1 USD = $1.30
Please share any other money saving tips you have for hiking in the comments below?
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