Explore Katherine Gorge National Park
The most popular way to see (a little bit of) Katherine Gorge National Park are the Katherine Gorge cruises.
Canoeing Katherine Gorge is in my eyes the best way to explore the gorge system. But there is a lot more to discover in Nitmiluk National Park.
This page is about the over 100 km of marked walking trails that wind through the park.
The walks around Katherine Gorge range from easy one to five kilometre walks to serious full day and overnight hikes. They take you to stunning views from lookouts at the rim of the gorge, to secluded swimming holes and waterfalls, through palm filled valleys and over rocky escarpments...
...well away from everybody else. Most people are in too much of a rush to go for a serious hike, and most of these hikes are serious. Wonderfully serious if you love bushwalking.
The walks through Katherine Gorge National Park will open after the wet season long before canoeing will be possible. Usually that's some time in May. When exactly depends on the amount of rain we had, so check with the Nitmiluk Visitor Centre.
If you want to see something of the upper gorge system and prefer a wilderness experience over being herded around with other tourists walking is the way to go!
Walking In Katherine Gorge National Park
All the information you need to go walking in Katherine Gorge National Park is available from the rangers at the Nitmiluk Visitor Centre. The Visitor Centre also sells a "Guide to Nitmiluk National Park" that includes information and topographical maps for all the walks. (You are required to carry a topographical map on the overnight walks and all overnight walkers must register as a safety precaution.)
You can also get the free brochure by the Conservation Commission which has detailed information about the walks. For any day walkers this will be sufficient.
All walks start from the Katherine Gorge National Park visitor centre/campground and are well signposted.
I already mentioned that these are real hikes, not boardwalks or paved walks as in many other national parks. You need to be prepared. Sturdy shoes, hat, sunscreen and enough drinking water, at least 2L per person.
There are some water tanks located along the way, and you can refill your bottles from the river at the end of your walk. (All walks lead down to the river in the end, and the river water is much better than the tank water, trust me...)
Katherine Gorge National Park Walks
The walks through Katherine Gorge National Park are divided into the Southern Walks and the Jatbula Trail, a 5 day hike starting on the northern side of the Gorge and taking you away from the gorge to Edith Falls/Leliyn.
The Southern Walks consist of one long trail following the rim of the gorge, with tracks branching of it and taking you down to the river at different locations. Walking along the rim of the gorge is easy enough, but as soon as you get onto those side tracks the going gets tough. Lots of up and down, loose rocks, some climbing... Keep that in mind when planning your walk...
The shortest track, and the only one in Katherine Gorge National Park that I'd describe as easy, is a 400 m steep climb near the boat ramp which takes you to a magnificent spot overlooking the start of the gorge. Officially the walk is rated medium, because it is so steep, but there are steps and handrails. So it's technically easy.
If you need to wait for the next boat cruise this is a great way to make use of the time. You can return the same way, or follow the loop down the other side of the hill back to the visitor centre. Allow 2 hrs.
Another popular because shorter walk. This one takes you to an even better lookout, Pat's Lookout, and then to the Southern Rockhole.
The Southern Rockhole is a beautiful waterfall and swimming spot at the start of the dry season, but it dries up quickly. But it's only a few metres from there to the river for a swim. Not particularly difficult, but you need to be fit and sure footed! Allow 3.5 hrs.
Butterfly Gorge and Lily Ponds
12 km and 19.8 km return, respectively, these two walks are rated difficult. But so worth it... Butterfly Gorge is a beautiful shaded valley with rainforest and, you guessed it, lots of butterflies. The walk to Lily Ponds leads along a creek, and if you are early enough in the season there is a waterfall. Of course you can swim at the end of both walks. Allow 4.5 hrs for Butterfly Gorge, and 6.5 for Lily Ponds.
Smitt's Rock and Eighth Gorge Walk
Smitt's Rock marks a huge fork in the river. The 23.6 km return walk to Smitt's Rock is the limit for day walkers in Katherine Gorge National Park.
This walk can also be done as an overnight walk. The Dunlop Swamp campsite is located where the track to Smitt's Rock branches of the main track (and it is a lot nicer than it sounds!).
The Eighth Gorge Walk (33.2 km, 39 km if you include the detour to the Aboriginal art sites in the Jawoyn Valley) is definitely an overnight walk, and definitely the most beautiful and rewarding of all the southern walks.
This is a wilderness trail. Though it is marked it is not always easy to find, especially if you are the first walker for the season like we were. But the country is so beautiful, you don't mind spending a bit of time backtracking and looking for the way.
Just don't stray too far away from the last marker you saw, it's easy to get lost there...
The campsite is located about half an hour before you get to the eighth gorge at the end of the walk. It has a gorgeous waterfall, rock pool, white beach... You will think it can't possibly get any better, but then it does...
Best go and see for yourself.
The Jatbula Trail
The king of all walks in Katherine Gorge National Park is the Jatbula trail, a three to five day hike to Edith Falls (now called Leliyn), the popular lake and waterfall in the north western part of Katherine Gorge National Park. The walk spans 66 km and leads away from the gorge. The country is very different, a lot of it is rough and dry, but it's beautiful nevertheless...
You will encounter spring fed creeks (beautiful drinking water, but you should still make sure you carry plenty of that!), waterfalls, wetlands and pockets of rainforest. Spring fed means the water is available all year round, it doesn't disappear towards the end of the dry season as it generally does in the Australian Outback and in other areas of Katherine Gorge National Park...
The walk is well marked and not technically difficult in any way. But it's a five day walk. Less if you're fit, but then you'd miss out on exploring around the campsites which are all located in areas well worth exploring. Some of them are so beautiful they tempt you to spend two nights...
Anyway, 3 or 5 days, you will have to carry a lot of weight in your backpack, and you will do a lot of stepping up and down along the rough, uneven country. Make sure your muscles are in shape for it!
If you wonder how to get back to your car which you left at Katherine Gorge, it shouldn't be a problem. Edith Falls is popular, it includes a caravan park and a kiosk and there is a lot of traffic. Usually some other tourist will help out or a tour bus driver will offer you the spare seats. (Once back in town you need to make your way back out to the gorge somehow, because unfortunately the shuttle bus is not operating any more.) So far nobody got stuck at Leliyn!
Read about other ways to explore Katherine Gorge and Nitmiluk National Park