Australia is home to an astounding 681 national parks. Some are large; some are small. A few are world-famous while others are practically unheard of.
Many are located within easy driving distance from major cities, but some require more effort to access.
When it comes to exploring Australia’s National Parks, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the choices, which is why we’ve narrowed it down to our top picks from around the country.
Below you will find eight incredible off-the-beaten-path locations and some of Australia‘s best-kept secrets.
Top National Parks You Should Visit In Australia.
Great Otway National Park.
With The Great Ocean Road at its northern border, Great Otway National Park is an easy addition to the popular Victorian pilgrimage.
You can stay and explore for a couple of hours or a couple of days and campsites are located throughout the park for visitors interested in staying overnight.
The park itself is packed with things to see and do. A number of day hikes take visitors past stunning Great Ocean Road waterfalls, through old-growth rainforests and under the canopy of towering California Redwood trees.
The area is also full of wildlife. Look out for koalas snoozing in eucalyptus trees at the Kennett River Koala Walk, whales cruising along with the coastline and platypus swimming in Lake Elizabeth.
History buffs should visit the Cape Otway Lightstation to learn about the Gadubanud Indigenous People who lived, fished and hunted in this area for thousands of years.
Also, check out the lightkeepers lodgings and telegraph station which date back to the mid-1800s and the radar bunker built during WW2.
Port Campbell National Park.
Port Campbell National Park is famous for its rock formations; London Bridge, The Grotto and the iconic Twelve Apostles, Australia. Each of these stunning formations is the result of the rough southern ocean relentlessly battering the limestone cliffs that make up this stretch of the coast.
While you’re here look for Little Penguins, and Short-tailed Shearwaters onshore or see if you can spot a whale from one of the viewing platforms.
Those looking to challenge themselves might try the Great Ocean Walk, 104 kilometres of the coastal trail which connects Port Campbell National Park to Great Otway National Park and allows hikers to truly appreciate the full spectrum of the Victorian coastline.
Blue Mountains National Park
Blue Mountains National Park is located just outside of Sydney in the Greater Blue Mountains Area of the Great Dividing Range.
Huge eucalyptus trees cover the mountainous landscape, sending a fine mist of oil into the air which creates the blue haze that gives the region its name. Some areas of the park were affected by the 2019-20 bushfires, but visitors will notice signs of regrowth and repair already beginning to appear.
Mountain bike enthusiasts will appreciate the numerous cycling trails which offer access to some truly breathtaking sights. Trails vary in difficulty, and in the distance, so there’s sure to be something to suit most cyclists.
Stroll the easy Three Sisters walk, a wheelchair-accessible 0.8-kilometre path which takes visitors up close to the Three Sisters rock formations.
The three sandstone shapes are sacred to the Gundungurra and Daring People, the traditional custodians of this declared Aboriginal Place. Use this walk as a jumping-off point to longer bushwalks, be sure to pick up a map from the visitor centre.
Great Sandy National Park
To visit Great Sandy National Park is to experience the full range of Queensland’s biodiversity. Bushland, rainforest, beaches and mangroves offer a range of activities as well as an opportunity to spot all kinds of wildlife.
Bird watchers will be excited to witness rare red goshawks and grass owls; whale lovers should keep an eye out on the coast.
If you’re travelling with a 4WD vehicle (and you have the appropriate permit) driving a section of the Great Beach Drive is a must-try activity. Start at Noosa North Shore and travel north to Double Island Point.
From here you can continue to Rainbow Beach, home to dramatic multi-coloured cliffs. If you don’t have an appropriate vehicle, or just prefer to relax in the passenger seat, check out Great Beach Drive 4WD Tours for fun guided experience.
Just off the coast, you’ll find K’Gari, or Fraser Island, the largest sand island in the world and home to the Butchulla Aboriginal People.
With freshwater lakes, pristine beaches and lush tropical rainforest K’Gari has everything you could want in an island paradise. On land, you may see dingos, offshore look for dolphins and manta rays. Accommodation ranges from basic campsites to luxury eco-resorts.
The island can be explored on foot or by 4WD, and guided tours are available for those travelling without an appropriate vehicle. Keep in mind this is a sensitive natural environment which can be easily damaged, so stick to the designated tracks.
Alternatively enjoy the island at a slower pace by completing the Fraser Island Great Walk, a 90 kilometre/ 6-8 day trek which takes you through some of the island’s most scenic bits. Hikers must be fully self-sufficient and carry their own water.
Karijini National Park
Home to the three tallest peaks in WA, hidden pools and jaw-dropping waterfalls, Karijini is an impressive display of Western Australia’s wild side.
Summer days can come with extreme heat warnings, Winter nights are cold, and flash floods can occur after periods of heavy rainfall, so it is essential to travel safely, carry plenty of water and dress accordingly to the weather.
Guests staying at Dales campground will enjoy day trips to Dales Gorge. Walk the trail to Fortescue Falls, then continue along the gorge-rim trail, a short 2 kilometre trip with excellent views into the gorge.
Take the 300-metre detour to Fern Pool, a sacred location to the Indigenous People and a perfect spot for a refreshing swim.
If you prefer not to camp, the Karijini Eco Retreat is an excellent accommodation option which offers a unique experience in a rustic, sustainably operated setting. Be sure to visit the on-site restaurant for high-quality bush-tucker style meals.
Next door finds West Oz Active Adventure Tours whose team runs various trips into the restricted areas of the park. Tours are packed with high energy outdoor activities such as rock climbing, abseiling, hiking and inner-tube floats.
Flinders Ranges National Park
This area was originally home to the Adnyamathanha people, who used the red ochre deposits for medicines and sacred rituals. Today guests of the park can visit Arkaroo Rock and Sacred Canyon to see rock engravings and other Aboriginal art.
Guided tours explain the stories behind the carvings and cover some of the history and legends of the region.
Check out Wilpena Station, a historic pastoral station established in 1851. No longer operating, the station has been preserved as a window into the early days of Australia’s farming history.
The Flinders Ranges are a prime spot for mountain biking. If you’re really looking for an adventure, challenge yourself to complete the Mawson Trail, a 900-kilometre expedition which traverses forest, farmland and the Barossa wine region before reaching the Flinders.
Nitmiluk National Park
Nitmiluk National Park is known for the famous Katherine Gorge and the Katherine River which runs through the park. Over thousands of years, the river has eroded sandstone riverbed into 13 deep gorges.
The park is jointly run by Parks & Wildlife and the Jawoyn Aboriginal People who are the original inhabitants of this region. Historically, the river was an essential part of daily life for the Jawoyn people. Today visitors can enjoy the river via canoe or river cruises, viewing natural wonders, native wildlife and ancient Aboriginal rock art.
Another popular attraction is Leliyn, also known as Edith Falls. This stunning waterfall feeds three freshwater swimming holes, the perfect place to cool off after walking one of the hikes nearby.
The Leliyn Trail is a short loop with a number of lookouts, or if you’re looking for a full day of trekking, opt for the longer Sweetwater Pool Trail. Camping is available here, and there is also a picnic area with BBQs for day visitors.
Cradle Mountain-Lake Sinclair National Park
This beloved Tassie park is home to the state’s highest peak, Mt Ossa (1617m) and the country’s deepest lake, Lake St Clair (200m).
You’ll find day hikes to suit every level from the short and sweet Knyvet Falls Lookout to the gruelling but rewarding Cradle Mountain Summit, which (of course) offers stunning views into the valley. At Dove Lake, rent a kayak and go for a paddle or enjoy lakeside views from shore on the 6 kilometre Dove Lake circuit trail.
A visit to Waldheim Chalet provides a fun and interactive history lesson. This replica of the park’s original guest house takes visitors back to 1912, telling the story of Kate and Gustav Weindorfer, stewards of the land who lived here and hosted many guests over the years. For the full experience, book an overnight stay in one of the nearby Waldheim Cabins and wake up to the ancient temperate rainforest on your doorstep!
Each of these world-class Aussie parks has something special to offer. Visit one nearest to you or make it your goal to see them all!
Natasha is of the Great Ocean Road Collective. A website dedicated to sharing the beauty of the Great Ocean Road in Australia with travellers far and wide.
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