I’m going to make a big call and say that the Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park may be my favourite place in Australia. The beauty of the rugged and rocky mountain ranges in the park almost brought me to tears of happiness when I first arrived at Wilpena. And, even after weeks spent in and around the national park, I was still not completely ready to leave. This complete guide to the Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park brings together everything I know about the area and all the best parts that I got to explore during my time there.
From hitting the hiking trails to catching an incredible sunset, there’s plenty of things to do in the Flinders Ranges. If you’re considering a road trip up to this spectacular region in South Australia, this guide will help you plan your perfect trip to the national park.
About the Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park
The Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park covers 95, 000 hectares of the Central Flinders Ranges region. It’s one of the oldest landscapes in the entire country, having formed over millions of years. For this reason, it’s an important geological area and attracts those interested in admiring some of the ancient rock formations.
The Ikara-Flinders Ranges have been the traditional home to the Adnyamathanha people for tens of thousands of years. The pound area was known as Ikara or ‘meeting place’ to the Traditional Owners and the park has many culturally significant sites, including rock art. The national park is co-managed by the SA Government and Adnyamathanha Traditional Owners. The name of the park was successfully changed to incorporate Ikara in 2016 and the Wilpena Pound Resort was bought by the Adnyamathanha Traditional Lands Association and Indigenous Business Australia in 2012.
The Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park is South Australia’s premier hiking destination, with countless trails from the long-distance Heysen Trail to shorter bush walks. It’s also a popular camping and 4WD destination, as well as, attracting photographers and geologists for the unique landscape. There is really something for everyone to discover in this park.
When to visit the Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park
It’s pretty well accepted that the best time to visit the Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park is between April and September. The Flinders region has the same climate as outback Australia, with extremely hot summers and mild, dry winters. This makes the cooler months the best time to visit the Flinders Ranges.
While winter from June until August is definitely the most popular time to visit, you should still find clear, warm days and cool nights in late autumn and early spring as well. If you’re planning on doing any hiking, then you should definitely aim to visit during the winter months, when the weather is perfect for bushwalking. Temperatures can drop dramatically overnight in winter though (down to zero degrees!), so you must be prepared for a range of conditions.
How to get there
The Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park is easily accessible northwest of Adelaide. The mountain ranges of the Flinders really begin stretching north from Port Augusta, however, the official national park boundary begins just after Rawnsley Park Station on the Flinders Ranges Way. The central hub of the national park is Wilpena Pound, where you’ll find a resort, campground, fuel, small supermarket, information centre, restaurant and tour desk. Wilpena is accessed by a sealed road, but there are some parts of the national park that can only be accessed by dirt roads, with varying conditions.
Coming from Adelaide, you can either drive directly to Wilpena in one day. Otherwise, you can head to Port Augusta on the coast or further north Quorn to explore more of the Southern Flinders Ranges first.
Adelaide to Quorn: 337km or a 4-hour drive
Adelaide to Port Augusta: 310km or a 3.5-hour drive
Port Augusta to Wilpena: 160km or a 2-hour drive
Adelaide to Wilpena: 440km or a 5.5-hour drive (most direct route via RM Williams Way)
Essential information about visiting the Flinders Ranges National Park
Park fees: You will need a SA Parks Pass for the Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park. There are multiple options available including day passes from $12 per vehicle to $48 for two months covering multiple national parks in South Australia. Find out more and get your pass online here.
Road conditions: Many of the roads in the national park are unsealed. While some are 2WD accessible during winter, you should always check the road conditions before departing from Wilpena. If you’re considering leaving north of the Flinders Ranges towards Arkaroola, there is a regularly updated road conditions sign in Blinman.
Summer restrictions: Between December and March every year, many of the hiking tails in the national park are closed for safety. There is also a fire ban in the entire park area from October until April each year.
No dogs: Being a national park, there are no dogs allowed in the park including at Wilpena Pound Resort. If you have a dog with you, you can stay at Rawnsley Park Station or one of the other stations.
No firewood collection: To protect the environment, there is no firewood collection allowed. However, if you’re visiting during winter you can bring your own wood or purchase some from Wilpena Pound Resort.
Phone reception: There is limited phone reception in the national park. You’ll get 4G Telstra at Wilpena Pound. Otherwise, Optus reception is available at Rawnsley Park Station and in Blinman. There’s free Wi-Fi available at Wilpena Pound Resort for guests and visitors.
Where to stay in the Flinders Ranges National Park
If you want to stay inside the national park boundary, then you have two options for accommodation: Wilpena Pound Resort and Campground or the SA Parks campgrounds. Wilpena Pound Resort is definitely the most convenient, being right at the heart of the national park and home to all the amenities and services that you need for a stay. I stayed there for two weeks during my time in the national park and can’t recommend it enough.
Otherwise, SA Parks have a few bush campgrounds with basic toilets if you want to get away from the crowds. Dingley Dell isn’t too far from Wilpena, while Aroona is a really nice spot with access to a great hike. You can check them out here.
Outside of the park boundary but still close to all the best things to do, you can opt to stay at some of the private stations and working farms. These places usually offer camping areas, with some also having rooms available. Popular station stays include:
Things to do in the Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park
There’s so many things to do in the Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park. You could easily stay for weeks and still not quite get to do or see everything, but here are some of the best things to do:
Head off on a hike
Hiking is definitely the number one activity to do in the Flinders Ranges. There are a variety of trails to suit varying fitness levels, from easy strolls to tough scrambles up lofty peaks. No matter how much time you spend in the national park, make sure that you at least head out on one hike.
Many of the trails begin from Wilpena Pound Resort, making it a convenient base if you’re planning on doing some walks. For a relatively easy stroll, try the Wangara Lookout, or if you’re up for a tough climb that’s rewarded with incredible views, do Mt Ohlssen Bagge.
Outside of Wilpena Pound, you’ll find Arkaroo Rock, an easier walk that takes you to some rock art, or try the great day hike up to Rawnsley Bluff as well.
The 1200-km long distance walking trail, the Heysen Trail begins in the Flinders Ranges and continues south to the coast on the Fleurieu Peninsula. You may see thru-hikers staying at Wilpena as the trail heads straight through there. It’s possible to also do just a section of the trail in the Flinders, if you prefer.
Read next: 12 Best Walks in the Flinders Ranges
Cycle the Mawson Trail
If you’re more of a cyclist than a hiker, then the Mawson Trail is lesser known but the equivalent of the Heysen Trail on two wheels. The full trail is 900km long from the Flinders Ranges down to Adelaide, but you can easily head off and complete just a day of it from Wilpena. They also have bicycle hire at the resort there so you don’t even have to bring your own bike.
Enjoy the native wildlife
The Flinders Ranges are home to some of Australia’s favourite native animals. There are plenty of kangaroos around, that you’ll likely see them everyday that you’re in the park. On that note, make sure that you’re careful driving early in the morning or at dusk, as they hop onto the road without any warning. Another wildlife encounter you need to be careful of while driving is wedge-tailed eagles. These beautiful big birds can often be seen feasting on prey on the side of road, so slow down and be careful driving near them as they take off very slowly. Emus are also common; I saw a few around Aroona Campground area and on the Yuluna Hike.
The most sought after animal though in the Flinders is the yellow-footed rock wallaby. These little guys are commonly found around Wilpena Pound and Brachina Gorge, usually in the early morning and late afternoon. I wasn’t lucky enough to spot any but a couple of keen wildlife photographers thought they did.
Watch the sunset from a lookout
The colours of the ranges and the outback landscape are at their best at either sunrise or sunset. No guide to the Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park would be complete without encouraging you to make the effort to head out to at least one sunset or sunrise. There are plenty of lookouts and viewpoints in the park from where you can get a nice vantage point over a different part of the ranges.
My favourite spots include Razorback Lookout on the unsealed Bunyeroo Road or the popular Stokes Hill Lookout. But if you’re staying at Wilpena Pound Resort, you can find one of the best sunset and sunrise spots just a few hundred metres from the campground. It’s a small hill just behind the unpowered section and is an unofficial spot but it offers incredible views of St Marys Peak and the pound wall.
Spend the night under the stars
Once the sun has set, star gazing is obviously a popular thing to do in the Flinders Ranges, with such minimal light pollution. Whether you’re into astronomy or not, the beauty of the nigh sky in the outback is incredible. You can either head out to a lookout if you’re wanting to snap a few photos, or simply just camp for the night under the stars.
You can choose the popular Wilpena Pound Resort Campground or even head out more remote to some of the SA Parks campgrounds like Aroona. Camping is definitely one of the best ways to really appreciate the region and it’s perfectly set up for everything from caravans to tents.
Drive down the Brachina Gorge Scenic Road or Bunyeroo Road
There are some incredible drives through the park that offer outstanding scenery. The most famous of these drives is the Brachina Gorge Road. The unsealed road connects the Flinders Ranges Way with the Outback Highway straight across the national park through some of the most fascinating geological formations in the region. The road is a bit rough and recommended for 4WD, although the section from the Flinders Ranges Way in the east to Aroona Valley Road intersection is doable with a 2WD (which is around half of the Brachina Gorge Road). We took a campervan down it and it was fine, but it depends on the seasonal road conditions.
On the other hand, Bunyeroo Road doesn’t get as much attention but is almost better for those looking for fantastic views of the ranges. This is another unsealed road, which heads off the Flinders Ranges Way to the Bunyeroo Gorge walking trail, before connecting back onto the Brachina Gorge Road. We also did this in a 2WD campervan, but check the recent conditions before setting out. On the Bunyeroo Road you’ll find a few incredible lookouts, including Bunyeroo Valley Lookout and Razorback Lookout both of which offer some of the best panoramic views in the park.
Admire the geology of the gorges
It’s estimated that the Flinders Ranges began to form around 800 million years ago and was an ancient seabed for nearly 300 million years. The hills in the northern end of the ranges are home to some of the oldest fossil evidence of animal life in the world. The area attracts both amateur and professional geologists who come to admire the gorges.
There are geology information boards on some of the walking trails including Bunyeroo Gorge and Yuluna Hike where you can learn a bit more about the rock formations that you’re looking at. The Brachina Gorge Road is also a popular drive for those interested in geology.
Take a scenic flight over Wilpena Pound
You’ll likely see the small planes circling the pound all day long while you’re in the Flinders Ranges, so it’s no surprise that scenic flights are quite popular. There are a couple of options for scenic flights. Wrights Air operates out of Wilpena Pound Resort and Chinta Air operates from Rawnsley Park Station, both experienced and longstanding companies in outback Australia. Prices are under $200 for 20 minutes but there are itineraries for up to 4 hours incorporating Lake Eyre.
Obviously sunset and just after sunrise are the best times if you have a clear day. You can book online or at Wilpena Pound Resort reception or Rawnsley Park Station reception.
Learn about the Adnyamathanha people on the Sacred Canyon Tour
There are quite a few opportunities to learn about the Traditional Owners and their culture. If you’re staying at Wilpena Pound Resort, I can highly recommend going to the daily Welcome to Country talk on the front lawn of the resort. You can also head to Arkaroo Rock to admire some incredible rock art.
However, the best way to really get to know the Adnyamathanha people and appreciate country is to head out on the Sacred Canyon Tour or Yura Mulka. The 3-4 hour tour takes you to the culturally significant rock art site of the Sacred Canyon. It was officially closed to visitors in 2020, and is now only accessible on tour with a Yura guide. You can book the tour at Wilpena Pound Resort, which gives you an incredible insight into the Adnyamathanha people and their stories.
Read about the history of the early settlers
If you’re into some more history, then you can take a look into the early settlers of the Flinders Ranges. There are a couple of good spots to head to read up on some of the people who settled in the area and established the first stations. Check out, Aroona Ruins in the northern end of the park, Appealinna Ruins not far from Stokes Hill and the old Wilpena Station Homestead near the resort.
3-day Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park itinerary
This is an itinerary guide to the Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park for three days for those looking to get the most out of the park in a short time.
Day 1: Drive up to the park and head to Wilpena Pound Resort to check into either the resort or campground. If you have the energy in the afternoon, stroll along to the Wangara Lookout and then back to the campground in time for sunset from the lookout on the hill behind the unpowered camping area.
Day 2: Get up early and head off on the Mt Ohlssen Bagge hike for panoramic views. Head back down to the resort area for lunch and then take off on an afternoon drive along Bunyeroo Road and Brachina Gorge Road. On your way back to Wilpena, stop at Stokes Hill for sunset.
Day 3: Leave Wilpena and start heading back south again, but make time to stop at Arkaroo Rock on the way. There’s a good cafe in Hawker called Flinders Food Co if you’re after a nice lunch stop.
Where to next?
If you’re thinking of heading further north in South Australia, I’ll have blog posts on Arkaroola and Coober Pedy soon!
Heading down to the coast? Read: 10 Best Places to Visit on the Fleurieu Peninsula