Where are the best hikes in South Australia?
Caution: before any hike, always check relevant park management websites for updated information on track conditions, closures or dangers.
Some of the below hikes may have been affected by bush fires and may be closed for hikers. Please help those affected by fires by donating to The Red Cross, who work to provide aid during an emergency, conflict, disaster or crisis.
Despite being the flattest state in the country, there is still a stunning array of hikes in South Australia to choose from. From the rolling Flinders Ranges to its pristine white sandy beaches, South Australia offers hikers some incredible variety. In fact, South Australia today consists of 21,123,000 hectares of parkland, including 19 national parks, which covers 21.5 per cent of the state’s land surface. That’s a lot of parklands to explore, and with hikes tailored for those just wanting to escape the city for a few hours through to those looking to spend days or months in the wilderness, South Australia offers something for everyone. Here are just some of the many SA hikes you shouldn't miss.
Waterfall Gully Hike
Features: eucalypt forest.
Rating: moderate, owing to some steep sections along the 475m climb.
Length/Time: 7.8km return, 3 hours.
When to go: all year.
More information: head to Walking SA for more information. Note that on busy weekends, parking at Waterfall Gully can be limited.
Located just 10km from Adelaide City Centre, the Waterfall Gully Hike is an excellent option for people wanting to immerse themselves in nature without having to travel too far. Winding its way towards the summit of Mt Lofty, the trail is relatively short, but the payout is huge. The views from the summit are spectacular, sweeping over the city of Adelaide and Gulf Saint Vincent.
The trail is also notoriously busy, attracting everyone from those out for a casual walk or hardcore trail runners to those in training for more extreme hiking routes around the world. No matter the pace, you’re bound to find yourself short of breath and with burning calves at the top. As an added bonus, the cafe at the top is the perfect spot to refuel before making your way back down.
Marion Bay to Gleesons Landing
Features: clifftops and beaches, with the trail passing some of SA’s best surf spots.
Length/Time: 60.5km one way, 3 days.
When to go: all year.
Child-friendly: children with decent fitness will manage on this trail.
More information: to find out more about this section hike, visit Walking SA.
Image: Jordan Condon
If you’re already familiar with hikes in South Australia, then you’ve no doubt heard of the Walk the Yorke trail. This 500km walking and cycling trail was opened in December 2015 and explores the Yorke Peninsula and the Innes National Park via pre-existing walking trails as well as beach and road walking sections. The trail has been designed to allow hikers to walk select sections instead of the entire trail. One of the most picturesque 'snippets' is the 60.5km portion between Marion Bay and Gleesons Landing.
Sticking predominantly to the coastline, this trail provides access to some stunning beaches, many of which host popular surfing and fishing spots. Unfortunately, the trail does incorporate some long road walking sections, but this is a necessary evil in order to connect the unique sections of the trail. If you’d rather just commit one day to the Walk the Yorke trail, that is also possible, with many hikers instead choosing just to walk from Marion Bay to Gym Beach, which is a lengthy 30.4 km section requiring approximately 7-8 hours, or from Gym Beach to Gleesons Landing, which is a little more enticing at 22.7km, or 5-6 hours.
Mambray Creek to Alligator Gorge
Features: river red gum, native pine forests, red stone walls.
Length/Time: 13km one way, 5 hours.
When to go: all year.
More information: visit Walking SA for more information.
Situated within Mount Remarkable National Park, the trail from Mambray Creek to Alligator Gorge meanders through native bush and through a striking gorge of towering red stone walls that includes the stunning 'Terraces' – geological patterns formed in the rock from cascading water. This walk can be done one-way if hikers are able to leave a car at Alligator Gorge, otherwise, fit hikers should be able to hike out and back in one day.
A great introduction to overnight hiking in South Australia, turn this trail into a multi-day hike and a very special night under the stars. Begin at Mambray Creek Campground and follow the Kingfisher track to Alligator Gorge. From here, take the Alligator Gorge Walk and set up camp at either the Longhill or Eaglehawk campgrounds. The next morning, retrace your steps to Mambray Creek, adding in a little detour to Hidden Gorge. Do note though that this side trip will add another four hours to your trip, so if you’re not camping overnight, it might be a bit ambitious to add into an out-and-back walk.
Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail
Features: rugged coastline, native wildlife.
Rating: moderate. The trail is long but not altogether demanding.
Length/Time: 61km, 5 days.
When to go: the best time of year in September/October and March/April.
More information: visit the Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail website.
Image: Pasquale Cardo
One of the newest hikes in South Australia, Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail is a multi-day experience that showcases some of the state’s most remote and remarkable coastlines. Weaving through Flinders Chase National Park, Kelly Hill Conservation Park and the Cape Bouguer Wilderness Protection Area, this trail passes some of the island’s most popular sites, including Remarkable Rocks, Admirals Arch and Kelly Hill Caves, while also exploring some truly pristine beaches.
Best of all, despite its length, the trail is highly accessible for walkers of all skill levels. As Alison Buck, the Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail Manager, notes, the relatively flat nature of the trail makes it ideal for those walkers who are perhaps not overly experienced in the wilderness. “It’s a good starters trail,” she says.
Other than the natural terrain, another highlight of the Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail is a chance to come across some of the island’s native inhabitants. “The wildlife encounters you get here are pretty special,” says Alison, noting that the island is home to kangaroos (obviously), echidnas, wallabies, goannas, fur seals, sea lions, and so much more. In fact, considering that only 48 people are allowed to commence this trail on any one day, you very well could come across more creatures than humans on your journey.
This sense of seclusion is further enhanced by the design of the trail. “You get the feeling that it’s just you and your friend on the trail,” Alison continues, noting that the hikers won’t find themselves walking in endless straight lines. “You could have someone walking 100m ahead of you and not actually see them.''
Another bonus of the trail? No reception. “It’s a digital detox,” says Alison. While this disconnection from the ‘real world’ may seem unappealing to some, Buck notes that even those hikers who found it a bit challenging at first reported having truly loved the chance to escape the constant beeping of their phone by the end of the trail.
Despite the ‘alone time’ you will experience on the Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail, there is also a wonderful community presence here, which is aided by the four carefully designed camps. Each one is skillfully worked into the existing bushland, and consists of tent platforms, toilets and sheltered cooking areas.
One final caveat: if this trail sounds perfect to you, book now. With a short peak season and limited spaces available each day, the campsites fill up fast, so be sure to book now.
Heysen Trail South Coast Section
Features: coastal landscapes, remote headlands, cliff lines and beaches.
Length/Time: 73km one way, 4-5 days.
When to go: accessible year-round.
Image: Greg Scales
Despite being one of the most exciting and unique hikes in South Australia, at 1,200km, the Heysen Trail in its entirety is only for the elite hikers among us. As such, if you don’t have the time or inclination to hike the entire trail from Cape Jervis to Parachilna Gorge, your best option for exploring this incredibly beautiful and fascinating track is by tackling just a section of it. And in our humble opinion, one of the best sections of the Heysen Trail is the South Coast.
Beginning at Cape Jervis, just one and a half hours from Adelaide, this trail follows the coast along the Fleurieu Peninsula towards Victor Harbour, winding through Deep Creek and Newland Head conservation parks and Granite Island recreation park. So spectacular is this section of the Heysen Trail that the SA government this year announced plans to invest $6m into the trail and transform it into the Great Southern Ocean Walk. This will see the existing campsites upgraded, and a day visitor facility constructed at Deep Creek conservation park to ensure adventurers with disabilities will also be able to explore this striking landscape.
In the meantime though, the undulating trail is your ticket to a truly special pocket of SA. There are currently six campsites along the route, allowing hikers to plan their itinerary based on their fitness level and time frame. Keep an eye out for echidnas along the way, and be sure to stop by Deep Creek waterfall for your lunch stop.
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