As great as Australia’s cities are, it’s the country’s national parks that really make it a place like no other. However, with over 500 national parks on over 28 million hectares of land, picking which ones to visit can be a daunting task. From the coast to the deep outback, we have handpicked the best national parks in Australia to help you plan your next visit.
1. Kakadu National Park
Starting with the largest national park in Australia, the immense Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory is very remote. As such, despite being recognized as a World Heritage Site, it isn’t crawling with visitors. Thanks to its range of environments from wetlands to rugged cliffs, you’ll never run out of things to see here. One moment you could be admiring saltwater crocodiles and birds in Yellow Water Billabong; the next you could be paddling around in Gunlom Plunge Pool looking up at a waterfall. Kakadu also has a vital Aboriginal heritage, with prehistoric rock paintings found at Nanguluwur and other sites.
Visit Kakadu on a day tour from Darwin or as part of a three-day camping safari.
2. Purnululu National Park
Another UNESCO World Heritage Site, this time in Western Australia, Purnululu National Park. Found in the isolated Kimberley region, Purnululu boasts the striking Bungle Bungle Range. This sandstone rock massif is adored for its dome formations and the orange and black–striped rock formations. A unique way to experience the Bungle Bungles is in a helicopter flyover, which lets you see range’s strange beauty all at once. Otherwise, you’ll want to explore the rocks on foot, wandering down into canyons and gorges like Cathedral Gorge and spotting concealed rock pools. There’s no fear of getting lost as there are plenty of trails that take you through the national park, from the Domes Walk to the Mini Palms Walk.
3. Freycinet National Park
Easily one of the most picturesque places in Tasmania, Freycinet National Park is a great place to stop when visiting the southern island. Found on the state’s east coast, Freycinet is a beautiful peninsula that is home to mountains and beaches. Wineglass Bay is the park’s signature spot, thanks to the nearby panoramic view of two white sand beaches straddling either side of the peninsula. There are many other lovely seaside spots along Freycinet’s coast, including Honeymoon Bay and Sleepy Bay. Then there’s the wild feeling you get looking out over the endless Tasman Sea from Cape Tourville Lighthouse. Inland has its charms, too, especially thanks to the pink granite peaks of the Hazards, a mountain range that is just made for trekking.
Visit Wineglass Bay and Freycinet National Park on a day tour from Hobart or on a Wineglass Bay Cruise from Coles Bay.
4. Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park
There’s little doubt that Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa National Park in the Northern Territory is one of the most famous national parks in Australia. Home to the world-famous rock monolith Uluru, one of the most recognizable landmarks in the country, this park and UNESCO World Heritage Site is also home to the Kata Tjuta, a cluster of domed rock formations. Both Kata Tjuta and Uluru are sacred indigenous sites, so out of respect for the traditional owners of the land, it is no longer possible to climb Uluru. During your visit, you’ll find walking tracks around Uluru and Kata Tjuta that allow you to explore each site and see them both from different angles. The red color of the stone means that they’re best viewed at sunset as the rock glows, creating a stunning effect.
Visit Uluru and Kata Tjuta on a sunrise tour from Ayers Rock Resort or as part of a three-day camping tour from Alice Springs.
5. Kosciuszko National Park
Australia isn’t known for high mountains or alpine areas, but Kosciuszko National Park is the best option if you are looking for that. It’s here that you’ll find Mount Kosciuszko, the highest summit in Australia, at 2,228 meters, among the Snowy Mountains. The idea of reaching the highest point in Australia is what drives many to visit the park; it’s a feat you can manage quite easily in a day. Hiking trails run from the ski resort of Thredbo, and it is also possible to cycle as far as Rawson Pass, just 1.4 kilometers short of the summit. It’s best to do the climb in Australia’s warmer months, since the mountain is covered in snow during the winter. You’ll also be able to enjoy the wildflowers better in spring or summer and admire the view from the top in clear weather.
6. Great Sandy National Park
Spanning both the Queensland coast and Fraser Island is the Great Sandy National Park. On the mainland, the Cooloola Recreation Area – an area of the park – stretches from the popular beach town of Noosa Heads all the way up to another gorgeous beach spot called Rainbow Beach. This section of the national park boasts spotless beaches and massive dunes. The other section of the park, Fraser Island, is equally spectacular. Fraser Island is the world’s largest sand island and the only place in the world where tall rain forest grows in sand. Despite being an island, you’ll come across a lot of lakes here among the rain forests, woodland, mangroves, cliffs, and swamps.
Visit Fraser Island on a day tour from Hervey Bay or on a three-day 4WD tag along tour.
7. Cradle Mountain–Lake St. Clair National Park
An absolute must if you visit Tasmania and enjoy nature walks with a view is Cradle Mountain–Lake St. Clair National Park. Situated at the northern edge of the Central Highlands and undoubtedly one of the top 10 national parks in Australia, Cradle Mountain is known for its distinctive mountain peak and the ease with which you can visit. Most visitors start with the Dove Lake circuit walk, an easy walk that features great views of the mountain and takes you through various environments along the way. There are other trails in the area as well, including the challenging Cradle Summit track that takes you right to the top. Elsewhere in the national park, there are waterfalls such as the Pencil Pine Falls, as well as the chance to spot cuddly wombats on the Enchanted Walk.
Visit Cradle Mountain on a day tour from Launceston.
8. Daintree National Park
In the tropics of Far North Queensland lies one of the most beautiful national parks in Australia, Daintree National Park. Home to some of the oldest rain forests in existence, Daintree has been a recognized World Heritage Site since 1988. Many visitors choose to start their exploration of the rain forest at Mossman Gorge, home to rock pools that you can safely swim in. Running through the national park is the Daintree River, on which you can take a cruise and go in search of local crocodiles. Another creature you may want to look out for in Daintree are cassowary, a rare flightless bird also said to be dangerous. You’ll have plenty of opportunity to see wildlife as there are plenty of boardwalks that work their way through the dense nature. For more information, check out our Daintree National Park guide.
Visit Daintree National Park on a day tour from Port Douglas or Cairns.
9. Nambung National Park
Despite the region’s great size, there are some national parks in Western Australia – such as Nambung National Park – that can be reached on a day trip from Perth. Up the coast from the state’s main city, Nambung is best known for its fascinating Pinnacles Desert. This otherworldly spot features a sea of eroded limestone rocks jutting from the sand. As captivating as the landscape is during the day, the Pinnacles become even more magical at sunset, when they cast long shadows, and at night under a clear starry sky. In the coastal parts of Nambung National Park, you’ll find white sand beaches and even an odd dolphin or sea lion swimming about.
Visit Nambung National Park on a day tour from Perth.
10. Port Campbell National Park
While you may not have heard of the Port Campbell National Park in Victoria, you’ve most likely heard of its star attractions. After all, this is the region famed for the Great Ocean Road coastal drive and the iconic offshore rock stacks called the Twelve Apostles. Port Campbell National Park encompasses all of this coastal area in southwestern Victoria and its many eye-catching formations. Although the Twelve Apostles is what you see on postcards, it’s certainly not the only attraction. The park also features the London Arch, which was connected to the mainland until 1990; the Loch Ard Gorge and its imposing cliffs; and the window-like Grotto.
Visit the Great Ocean Road on a day tour from Melbourne.
11. Springbrook National Park
A great pick for those hoping to experience some of Australia’s primeval rain forest is Springbrook National Park in the Gold Coast hinterland. In addition to being a protected national park, the area is also part of a UNESCO heritage–listed area known as the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia. The rain forest here is so old that it predates the breakup of the super-continent known as Gondwana. Visitors to Springbrook National Park have much to look forward to, particularly waterfalls like Twin Falls and Rainbow Falls, as well as the waterfall and cave at the Natural Bridge. You can also get a sense of how all-encompassing this rain forest is from observation points above the treetops, like Best of All Lookout and Canyon Lookout.
Visit Springbrook National Park on a day tour from Brisbane.
12. Flinders Ranges National Park
A visit to the Flinders Ranges National Park will give you an idea of the diversity of Australia’s outback. This mountainous national park is one of South Australia’s most interesting destinations, thanks to its rugged landscape and Aboriginal heritage. Wilpena Pound, known as Ikara to the local Aborigine people, is a spectacular natural basin shaped like an amphitheater and is a highlight of the park. On the southeastern rim of Wilpena Pound lies Arkaroo Rock, where you can see ancient indigenous rock paintings and drawings. There are other picturesque natural landmarks in the vicinity of Flinders Ranges National Park as well, like St. Mary Peak and Rawnsley Bluff.
13. Litchfield National Park
Australia is known for epic beaches, but there are just as many awesome spots for swimming away from the coast thanks to places like Litchfield National Park. Not too far from the city of Darwin in the Northern Territory, Litchfield is celebrated for its waterholes and waterfalls. Think remote plunge pools fed by raging waterfalls surrounded by quiet outback forest, and you’ll get why those who visit Litchfield rave about it. To reach Florence Falls, Tjaetaba Falls, and all the other falls in the park, you’ll need to follow the tracks and boardwalks, but that’s hardly a chore with so much scenery to take in. You’ll also see some enormous termite mounds near the entrance to the park, some of which are as tall as two meters.
Visit Litchfield National Park on a day tour from Darwin or as part of a three-day camping safari.
14. Royal National Park
Just to the south of Sydney and perfect if you’re after a day trip is Royal National Park. Stretching from high coastal cliffs to bushland away from the shore, Royal National Park gives you the freedom to choose how you want to spend your day. If you want to check out hidden beaches and curious seaside spots, then the Coast Track is the way to go. Along it, you’ll see quiet spots like Marley Beach and Garie Beach but also memorable landmarks like the appropriately named Wedding Cake Rock. Follow the walking trails inland and your choices turn to pretty sights like Uloola Falls and the Karloo Pools. There’s even ancient Aboriginal rock art engraved at Jibbon Head, making this one place you can keep coming back to time and again.
15. Grampians National Park
Not many destinations can contend with Victoria’s famous coast, but one that does is the Grampians National Park. Located in Western Victoria, this expansive national park features sheer mountain ridges, ideal for fans of hiking and rock climbing. Before exploring all that the Grampians has to offer, first pay a visit to the Brambuk Aboriginal Cultural Center to learn about the park and its indigenous heritage. To explore the national park, there are all sorts of hiking trails that will bring you to great sights like the Mackenzie Falls and Silverband Falls. Then there are all the phenomenal panoramic views you’re rewarded with at the end of your hikes when you reach spots like the Balconies and Boroka Lookout.
Visit Grampians National Park on a day tour from Melbourne.
16. Moreton Island National Park
National parks can feel like playgrounds to those who enjoy the outdoors, and that’s really the perfect way to sum up Moreton Island National Park. Lying just off the coast of Brisbane, this national park covers nearly the entirety of the island, offering up fun both in the water and on land. On the shore, you’ll find gorgeous white sand beaches and gentle water that’s well suited to stand-up paddleboarding and kayaking. In the late afternoon, there’s even a chance you’ll spot wild dolphins in some parts. Inland, you can spend your time cycling or renting quad bikes, but a truly local experience is taking to Moreton Island’s large sand dunes for some sandboarding fun.
Visit Moreton Island on a day tour from Brisbane.
17. Kalbarri National Park
Yet another reason to head over to Western Australia is the chance to visit Kalbarri National Park on the state’s coast. There you can enjoy rugged landscapes far from civilization, both by the seaside and deep in the hinterland. A major focus when visiting Kalbarri National Park is the far-reaching Murchison River Gorge and all the rock formations found within it. Trails like the Loop, which runs for 8 kilometers through the area, offer up views of photogenic formations like Nature’s Window, as well as viewpoints like the Z-Bend Lookout. Over on the coastal side, the forces of nature have also been busy crafting dramatic cliffs that are now covered in lookouts. If you’re lucky, you may even spy whales and dolphins in the waters below and wedge-tailed eagles in the sky.
18. Karijini National Park
The bond between Australian National Parks and the traditional Aboriginal owners of the land can’t be understated. Take Karijini National Park, for instance, a sprawling national park in Western Australia that has great significance to the Banyjima, Kurrama, and Innawonga people whose traditional home it is. There’s evidence of their impact on the land stretching back 20,000 years, a legacy continued by the current Aboriginal-owned eco-retreat there. Karijini National Park features rocky mountains, gorges, plateaus, and all manner of critters that call the rugged terrain home. There’s plenty of hiking into the Weano and Dales Gorges and cool waters afterwards, including the rock pools beneath Fortescue Falls.
19. Whitsunday Islands National Park
For the most stunning white sand and crystal blue water in Australia, you’ll need to pack your bags for the Whitsundays, off the coast of Queensland. The Whitsunday Islands National Park borders Australia’s famous Great Barrier Reef, meaning you have your pick of fun in the sun or a trip down into the vibrant world below the waves. The Whitsunday Islands are best recognized for their gleaming white sand in places like Whitehaven Beach. The incredible brightness of the beach is thanks to its high purity of silica. A great option to explore the islands is to follow the Whitsunday Ngaro Sea Trail, a combination of kayaking and walking that makes island hopping easy. As for the underwater attractions, you can see manta rays, turtles, and plenty of fish while snorkeling and diving in the surrounding waters.
Visit the Whitsundays on a full-day catamaran sailing adventure from Airlie Beach.
20. Blue Mountains National Park
Not all of the best Australian national parks are completely remote, as proven by the Blue Mountains National Park, which is an easy drive from Sydney. The Blue Mountains are made up of rocky cliffs and gorges thickly covered in eucalyptus forest. together creating a truly Australian landscape. While quite expansive, most visitors begin a visit at the park’s star attraction, the Three Sisters, a series of three rock pillars breaking from the forest canopy. There are quite a few lookouts in the area to see the Three Sisters and the forest scenery from, such as Echo Point Lookout and Bridal Veil Lookout. Thanks to its many steep cliffs, the Blue Mountains also boasts several high waterfalls, including the Wentworth Falls, which drops 100 meters from a cliff.
Visit the Blue Mountains on a day tour from Sydney.
21. Wilsons Promontory National Park
Few places in Victoria combine peaceful coastal scenery and scenic nature walks quite like Wilsons Promontory National Park. This peninsula features the southernmost point on mainland Australia but, more importantly, has a whole host of unspoiled places to explore. Begin with the gorgeous sands of Squeaky Beach, where the beach actually squeaks underfoot thanks to the special quartz that’s in it. There’s more seaside scenery to enjoy over at Whisky Bay, where the beach there is littered with gigantic boulders. You also have your pick of nature walks at Wilsons Promontory National Park, with Lilly Pilly Gully Nature Walk and Mt. Bishop being two of the most common picks.
Visit Wilsons Promontory on a full-day tour from Melbourne.
22. Carnarvon National Park
Queensland may be known for its beaches and rain forest, but visit places like Carnarvon National Park and you’ll get to experience its mountainous side. Found in a quite remote part of central Queensland, this national park boasts impressive cliffs, plunging gorges, and links to its ancestral owners. Carnarvon Gorge, a lush oasis wedged within the gorge’s mighty rock walls, is the core around which the national park developed. There are also spots like Boolimba Bluff, with its cliff top views, and Wards Canyon, home to giant ancient ferns. If you’re interested in Aboriginal rock art, don’t miss Baloon Cave and the distinctive handprints that cover the rock shelf there.
23. Nitmiluk National Park
Another great destination to explore in the Northern Territory is Nitmiluk National Park, just south of Kakadu. Formerly known as Katherine Gorge National Park, this rocky landscape is defined by its series of 13 gorges that join together to form Nitmiluk Gorge. This is a destination affected by the region’s two seasons, as the gorges become connected by the Katherine River during the wet season but separate in the dry season; it’s possible to swim or canoe in the calm pools that form. While the freshwater crocodiles that call Nitmiluk Gorge home are harmless, the saltwater crocodiles that come with the wet season are decidedly not. Other options for seeing the park’s beauty include the Windolf Walk or even a helicopter flight.
Visit Nitmiluk National Park on a day tour from Darwin.
24. Boodjamulla National Park
Possibly the least known park on this list, Boodjamulla National Park in far northwest Queensland is an incredible place to visit. Known as Lawn Hill National Park in the past, this far-flung national park was once part of the enormous Lawn Hill cattle station. The park features stunning sandstone gorges, waterholes, and waterfalls, making it seem similar to other entries on this list. However, what sets Boodjamulla National Park apart is the fossil remains that have been uncovered there, making the park’s Riversleigh Fossil Fields Section a World Heritage Site as a result. Places like the flooded Lawn Hill Gorge or the Constance Range track are also great reasons to experience this underappreciated nature reserve.
25. Dorrigo National Park
It’s important to realize that the World Heritage Gondwana Rainforest spans more than one national park or state. While the Queensland side of the forest has Springbrook National Park, in New South Wales, you’ll find Dorrigo National Park. In Dorrigo, there’s a strong focus on the rain forest but also on the birds that call it home. To experience both, you’ll want to take the elevated Skywalk, a walkway that makes its way through the forest canopy. There are also quite a few walking trails along the forest floor, taking you to good bird watching spots or sights like Red Cedar Falls or Crystal Shower Falls.
This article should give you just about all you need to decide which national parks to see while in Australia. Really, though, whichever you pick from the list isn’t likely to disappoint.
Shaun Deer says
Lol. Coffin Bay and Flinders are stunner Ng and having just been again, you can walk through endless gorges in the Flinders and be almost alone. No crowds usually. So understated by this article by someone who hasn’t been to SA.