Australia has a truly spectacular landscape. From the rich red earth of the Outback, to the lush rainforest of the Daintree and craggy ranges of alpine regions; the Land Down Under’s outdoor clout is definitely one of its calling cards. Exploring this bounty – all at your fingertips – could be done as a series of day trips, part of a wider mini getaway, or a devoted escape for when you truly want to immerse yourself in Mother Nature.
So no matter if you’re looking to hike, feel the sand beneath your toes or sneak in some wildlife spotting, here are 10 of Australia’s best national parks:
Royal National Park, New South Wales
For a perfect weekend outing from Sydney, look to the Royal National Park in Bundeena, which stretches along 32km of Wollongong’s stunning coastline. The park’s diversity sees it offer open grasslands, walking tracks, swimming spots and pretty perches for picnics. It also happens to be one of the world’s oldest national parks – opened in 1879. Plus, there is whale-watching in season too. It is about a 50-minute drive from Sydney, so exploring Royal National Park is also a manageable day trip.
Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Northern Territory
Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park is home to some of Australia’s most awe-inspiring Outback scenery, including its namesake monolith. Seeing this sandstone marvel is a must for any Australian, and a visit here provides valued insight into local Indigenous culture and the traditional significance of Uluru. Climbing Uluru is not permitted, however the walk around the base provides more than enough opportunity for incredible photos and spots where you can stand back and admire it in all of its glory. Timing your visit with sunrise or sunset is especially popular.
Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park, Tasmania
Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park is named after its two biggest landmarks: the 1545-metre mountain that dominates the skyline, and Lake St Clair which is the deepest of its kind in Australia. One of the biggest draws of the park is the Overland Track; the full alpine trek covers 65 kilometres and usually takes about six days to complete. Visitors just wanting to spend the day in the park can follow a section of the Dove Lake Circuit, and look out for any of the park’s four-legged or winged residents, including echidna and quolls. There are a handful of Cradle Mountain accommodation options available, or you could base yourself in either Launceston or Hobart.
Daintree National Park, Queensland
The Daintree Rainforest is the world’s oldest rainforest in the world, so it’s little surprise this landscape is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. The national park that protects the rainforest is split into two main sections: Mossman Gorge and Cape Tribulation. Take a scenic cruise along the Daintree River to admire the rainforest from a watery vantage point, strap into a zip-line to see the region how the birds usually do, join a guided night walk, and cool off from the Queensland heat and humidity with a dip in one of the freshwater swimming holes. Best of all, the park fringes the Great Barrier Reef, forming one of the few places on earth where two World Heritage Site-listed areas meet. Discover the wonders of the Daintree from either Cairns or Port Douglas.
Mt. Kosciuszko National Park, New South Wales
Mt. Kosciuszko National Park may be best-known as a winter destination for lovers of snow sports, but there is much to tempt summertime visitors too. The whole park has seven areas, covering Tredbo-Perisher, parts of the Snowy River, the High Plains, and more. Strap on your skis or snowboard to tackle any of the powder-covered slopes during the winter season, or nurse warming mugs of mulled wine and hot chocolate while unwinding at one of the ski resorts. Here when there isn’t a snowflake in sight? Hit a mountain bike trail, settle into the saddle for a horseback ride, go underground at Yarrangobilly Caves, or camp along the banks of the famous Snowy River.
Litchfield National Park, Northern Territory
Only an hours’ drive from Darwin, Litchfield National Park is teeming with waterfalls and waterholes, 4WD tracks, and glorious swimming holes. The park can often be overshadowed by the scenic star-power of Kakadu National Park (another unmissable national park in Australia), but the things to see at Litchfield are no less breathtaking. See the incredible termite mounds (among the biggest in the NT), follow the Tabletop Track or Florence Creek Walk, amble through the rocky outcrops of the Lost City, and don’t forget to pack your swimmers so you can have a paddle in Buley Rockhole.
Flinders Chase National Park, South Australia
Located on the west end of Kangaroo Island, this park is a go-to for those seeking out incredible wildlife encounters and experiences. Look out for breaching whales in the water if you’re visiting during winter, spot fur-nosed seals lazing near Admirals Arch, keep a sharp eye for a fascinating ‘echidna train’, and listen for the calls and coos of owls, frogs and more. Other things to see in Flinders Chase National Park include Woodland Walk, Weirs Cove Ruins Lookout, Platypus Waterholes Walk, and Remarkable Rocks.
Please note that the park was damaged in the bushfires of January 2020, however signs of regrowth and regeneration are springing up. Guided tours will soon commence.
Grampians National Park, Victoria
Incredible lookout points, challenging hikes and treks, impressive waterfalls, and fascinating rock art are just some of what awaits in Grampians National Park in western Victoria. This park is a real year-round destination and can be explored from the car or on foot. In spring, there are gorgeous wildflowers in bloom; autumn is great for venturing out onto walks to the Venus Baths or The Pinnacle; and the warm days of summer make the prospect of watersports even more appealing.
Moreton Island National Park, Queensland
This national park covers almost all of the entire 37km-long sand island. It is a haven for day trippers, campers and 4WD enthusiasts. Wander along the idyllic beaches or scramble barefoot up towering sand tunes, wade through the crystal-clear waters of the island’s creeks and lagoons, and see Queensland’s first-ever lighthouse at Cape Moreton. You might even see migrating humpback whales if you are here between May and November. Discovering the park is an excellent day trip from Brisbane.
Cape Le Grand National Park, Western Australia
Come face-to-face with some of Western Australia’s most recognisable coastline at Cape Le Grand National Park. This marvellous park is located near Esperance, and its most enduring symbol is that of kangaroos lounging on some of the dazzling white-sand at Lucky Bay. The sun-loving marsupials are just one of the draws though, and other things to see and do in Cape Le Grand National Park include rock-climbing at Frenchman’s Peak, picnicking near Hellfire Bay and undertaking sections of the Le Grand Coastal Trail.