On Top of the Outback at Kings Canyon in Australia’s Red Centre

A view of the South Rim of Kings Canyon in Australia's Watarrka National Park
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Uluru probably drew you to Australia’s Red Centre, but Kings Canyon Rim Walk will give you an unforgettable 360-degree panoramic view over the landscape. The red sandstone walls soar 100 m above Kings Creek to create a manageable family-friendly half-day hike with striking views. Kings Canyon is in Watarkka National Park. We visited as part of our Explorers Way road trip, but it is also easy to combine with a visit to Uluru.

Hiking Kings Canyon in Australia’s Watarrka National Park

Kings Canyon lies inside Australia’s Watarrka National Park, about halfway between Uluru and Alice Springs. With this remote position, it’s tempting to skip a visit. Don’t! A climb to the top of the ancient red canyon walls reveals sweeping views across the canyon and the outback landscape. We didn’t find another hike like it in the Red Centre.

Kings Canyon Rim Walk

Kings Canyon Rim Walk is the signature hike and the one we recommend! The Kings Canyon Rim Walk is a 6 km hike along the canyon’s entire rim. Here are some “good to knows” before we dive into the details:

  • Suitable for all ages and a reasonable fitness level. The hike is not difficult. Our kids hiked it at 8 and 9 and we saw even younger kids. You should be able to walk on uneven ground and handle mild step-ups.
  • Allow 3-4 hours for your hike. It took us 2.75 hours, including both side trails and photo stops. We must move more quickly than I realize!
  • Hike early for comfort and to avoid trail closures. Between September and March, access to Kings Canyon Rim Walk closes at 9:00 am when the forecasted temperature exceeds 36°C. In any weather, you are exposed on top of the canyon. Sunrise is supposed to be the most beautiful time, but we didn’t wake up that early.
  • Mind the cliffs. Kings Canyon does not have any guardrails. Only good common sense stands between you and a 100 m fall.
  • Carry one litre of water per person per hour of hiking. Watarrka National Park is hot and remote. You do not want dehydration problems! We also recommend a hat and sunscreen.
  • Flies are for real in the Australian outback! Prepare to be swarmed. Bring a hat with a fly net if you can’t cope.

The Kings Canyon Rim Walk starts with the most (and really the only) strenuous part. You have to get from the bottom to the top somehow! A 500-step scramble puts you on top of the world. Take your time and stop to admire the view if you get tired. It’s a good one!

Two children ascending the 500 steps at the start of the Kings Canyon Rim Walk in Australia's Watarrka National Park
Known to locals as “Heartbreak Hill”, the first 500-ish steps ascend steeply to the rim of Kings Canyon. The breathtaking views of the canyon and the surrounding landscape are worth the effort!

After you ascend “Heartbreak Hill”, the terrain levels off into “The Lost City.” You make your way across flaking sandstone slabs and through a maze of weathered sandstone domes dotting the canyon’s top.

A trail marker showing the way on the Kings Canyon Rim Walk in Australia's Watarrka National Park
With the canyon on one side, you are unlikely to get lost. Should you feel disoriented, look for the handy trail marker arrows.
"Priscilla's Crack" on the Kings Canyon Rim Walk in Australia's Watarrka National Park
If I had known I was photographing a famous movie scene, I would have done a better job. Later, I learned that this rock formation you clamber through is known as “Priscilla’s Crack” from the closing scene of The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.
Two children hiking the Kings Canyon Rim Walk in Australia's Watarrka National Park

Kings Canyon Rim Walk has two optional side trails. The first is near the end of the North Rim at Cotterill’s Lookout. The 600 m return trail to Cotterill’s Lookout ends with an unobstructed view towards the mouth of the canyon. Parts of the Cotterill’s Lookout trail are extremely close to the edge. Stay 2 m back and keep an eye (or better yet, a hand) on young kids.

A cliff safety sign on the Kings Canyon Rim Walk in Australia's Watarrka National Park
You are on top of a canyon without guard rails. Keep young kids close, remind older kids to stay 2m back, and resist cliff-edge selfies!
A child leaning on an "end of marked trail" sign for Cotterill's Lookout on the Kings Canyon Rim Walk in Australia'sWatarrka National Park

A short way past the Cotterill’s Lookout turnoff, a set of stairs and bridges take you over the gap to the South Rom. The structures are sturdy and well maintained.

Staircase leading up to the South Rim of Kings Canyon in Australia's Watarrka National Park

Just before you finish the stairs back up, you can turn off for The Garden of Eden, which is the second optional side trail. The 600 m return walk leads you to a year-round waterhole surrounded by lush plants. Garden of Eden is a shaded, refreshing spot in the hot weather. Please do not swim as this is a sacred location for the Traditional Owners.

MacDonnell Ranges cycads in Kings Canyon at Australia's Watarrka National Park
Watarrka National Park isn’t *all* dry desert. Sheltered gullies harbour plant life, including the rare MacDonnell Ranges Cycads. This one is 400-years old, but they have been in this area since dinosaurs roamed the Earth!

Continue walking along the South Rim. You will pass through a one-way gate (this is the turnaround point for the South Wall Return Walk described below) and follow the trail as it slowly descends towards the car park.

A view of the North Rim of Kings Canyon in Australia's Watarrka National Park
After the one-way gate, the trail passes quite close to the canyon’s edge. From this perspective, you get a great view of the North Rim including Cotterill’s Lookout jutting into the canyon and all the tiny people standing on it.
A picture of the trail and sandstone domes on the Kings Canyon Rim Walk in Australia's Watarrka National Park
The initial bit of the South Rim walk traverses quite close to the cliff’s edge. Carefully enjoy those views while you can as it soon cuts inland for a meander among the knobbly sandstone domes.

More Watarrka National Park Hiking Routes

Although we recommend the Kings Canyon Rim Walk, Watarrka National Park offers several other hikes if you need something shorter, stroller-friendly, or wheelchair-accessible.

South Wall Return Walk (4.8 km return, 2 hours)

This hike is identical to the last 2.4 km of the Rim Walk. You hike from the car park up a steep climb (but not nearly as steep as the beginning of Rim Walk) and meander along the top of the South Rim through The Lost City. A one-way gate blocks you from accessing the Garden of Eden or the North Rim.

The Kings Canyon Rim Walk is a more compelling hike with more varied views, but this would be the next best choice if you arrive after Kings Canyon Rim Walk closes for high temps.

High Temp Closure. On days when the forecasted temperature is above 36°C, you must start hiking before 11:00 am. This is likely most days between September and March.

Kings Creek Walk (2 km return, 1 hour)

A family-friendly meander along the Kings Creek. The walk provides a different perspective on the canyon as you gaze UP at the towering sandstone walls.

This walk remains open even when heat closes Rim Walk or South Wall Return Walk.

The trailhead signs for various hikes in Australia's Watarrka National Park
An extended hiking option would be to complete the Kings Creek Walk and then continue on the Kings Canyon Rim Walk. From the end of the Kings Creek Walk, you would continue along the trail to the start of the Kings Canyon Rim Walk. A fantastic way to see Kings Canyon from all perspectives!

Kathleen Springs Walk (2.5 km return, 1 hour)

A wheelchair-accessible and stroller-friendly walk to a permanent, spring-fed waterhole. Along the walk, learn more about the heritage of the park, including sites used by the Luritja and Arrente Traditional Owners of the land. Today, Kings Canyon is part of Watarrka National Park. The trailhead is ~19 km drive from the Kings Canyon car park.

Giles Track (22 km, 2 days)

Are you looking for an overnight hike or a SERIOUS day hike? If yes, then the Giles Track is for you. The Giles Track links Kings Canyon and Kathleen Springs. If you are considering this bushwalk, check out the official website.

How to Get to Kings Canyon, Australia

Kings Canyon is a 3-hour drive (300 km) from Uluru and a 4-hour drive (475 km) from Alice Springs. The easiest option is to self-drive. We visited Kings Canyon as part of our Explorers Way road trip from Adelaide to Darwin. Try to arrive at Watarrka National Park the night before your hike. That way you can wake up early and hike before it’s hot.

If you are staying in Uluru without a car or just want to save the hassle of self-driving, AAT Kings Tour offers a full-day tour from Ayers Rock Resort. The tour stops at Kings Creek Station for breakfast and allows time to hike Kings Canyon Rim Walk.

Where to Stay Near Kings Canyon

We stayed at Kings Creek Station (click here for photos and current prices), which is a working cattle and camel station 36 km from Kings Canyon. They have a range of accommodation, from camping to luxurious glamping. We stayed in the 2-person safari tents. We loved the laid back vibe and isolated feel amongst desert oaks. The station has fuel, a convenience store, and a small cafe.

A 2-person safari tent at King Creek Station in Australia
Our family of four needed two 2-person safari tents at Kings Creek Station. They were simple but comfortable with lighting, fans, and heating. You can prepare food in the communal kitchen tent.

Kings Canyon Resort (click here for photos and current prices) is the closest accommodation to Kings Canyon. If you’re looking for a hotel-feel, Kings Canyon Resort offers both lodge and resort rooms in addition to camping and glamping. They even have a swimming pool!

Kings Canyon Helicopter Tour

If you’re looking for a bird’s-eye view of Kings Canyon, a helicopter tour is just the splurge! We didn’t do this at Kings Canyon as we already spent our splurge money on an Uluru helicopter tour. Professional Helicopter Services, the same company we used at Uluru, offers helicopter tours from Kings Canyon Resort.

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Pin showing the South Rim of Kings Canyon and titled "Hiking Kings Canyon Australia"