Western Australia: Karijini National Park

Fortescue Falls
Fortescue Falls at Dales Gorge

Karijini National Park is the second largest national park in Western Australia. The park features incredible gorges, cascading waterfalls and crystal-clear pools. Karijini is absolutely stunning and a wonderful place to stop and immerse yourself in nature.

The impressive landscape boasts rock formations that are over 2.5 billion years old. It is filled with layered banded iron rocks that have been eroded into intricate dusty red gorges. The tropical semi-arid climate fosters wildflowers, trees and other interesting flora.

You can easily spend a week hiking the gorges and enjoying the lookouts in the park. I visited the park as part of a tour group, and we powered through several gorges during our three day stay. Each hike was unique and definitely worth the effort!

Gorges, Lookouts and Trails in Karijini

Dales GorgeThere are numerous trails around Karijini National Park to explore the dynamic terrain. The trails vary in levels of difficulty, and each one is assigned a classification. Be sure you stay on the marked trail while walking around the park. And only take trails where you meet the classification requirements. Do not underestimate the rigor of the journey.

Class 2 trails are well-defined walks and may have some steps and gentle inclines. Class 3 trails are defined and may have steps, loose surfaces, uneven ground and short steep sections. Class 4 trails are moderately difficult with variable surfaces and steep areas. Class 5 trails are the most difficult and require a high fitness level. The top classification means that trail markings are minimal, vertical drops are common, and there are likely areas you will have to wade through water to complete the trail.

Dales Gorge

Dales GorgeDales Gorge is my favorite. It has lots of vegetation growing in among the rocks with exposed roots winding their way through the formations. The gorge reminded me of walking through ruins that had been reclaimed by nature. Though, of course, the whole of the area is all natural!

There are also water rivulets running along the base of the gorge, with small waterfalls forming as layers of the rock drop down. Dales Gorge also features some lovely pools and the only permanent waterfall in Karijini.

Circular Pool

Circular PoolThe Circular Pool is a beautiful clear water hole that is surrounded by tall cliffs covered in vegetation. The Class 4 trail from Dales Day Use Area car park to the pool is a 2 hour return journey.

Or you can just take the quick 800 meter Class 2 trail to Circular Pool Lookout for an overhead view of the pool down below.

But I think the trail down to the pool is one of the most interesting trails in the whole park and should not be missed!

Fortescue Falls

Fortescue FallsOn the opposite end of Dales Gorge, Fortescue Falls flows year-round. The falls are about a two hour return trip from Fortescue Falls car park. The 1 kilometer trail goes from Class 2 to Class 3.

You descend a large metal staircase to the falls with great views of the cascade along the way. Eventually you end up at about the middle of the falls and can then continue down to the base where there is a small pool. The best views of the falls are either from the bottom or from above on the staircase.

Fern Pool

Fern PoolIf the pool at the bottom of the falls doesn’t appeal to you, continue on to Fern Pool. It was my favorite pool to swim in, because you can swim under a waterfall and the pool is surrounded by lush ferns. It also helped that the water was a bit warmer than the other frigid water holes!

The pool is quite deep, and you have to jump off of a little pier to get into the water, so you need to be a good swimmer for this one. If you get tired, take a break by relaxing on some of the rocks at the base of the waterfall on the edge of the pool. The 600 meter return walk from Fortescue Falls is a Class 4.

Hancock Gorge

Hancock GorgeHancock Gorge was another challenging, but incredible hike. It was my second favorite, because I felt like I had accomplished something impressive when finished with the trail. And it also had some unique rock formations along the way.

The trail into the gorge starts with a descent down a couple of ladders and stairs. Then you have to scramble along the rocks, crossing some narrow overhangs. Next you have to swim through to the Amphitheatre, which is a large opening with a natural stadium positioning of the rocks.

Hancock Gorge

Spider Walk

And while that is already a workout, it was nothing like the next step: the Spider Walk. This portion of the trail is intense! You have to straddle your arms and legs, and basically shimmy yourself along while bracing yourself across the gap. It was quite an adrenaline rush.

Kermit’s Pool

Once you’ve made it past the Spider Walk, you are rewarded with Kermit’s Pool. The pool marks the end of the area you can explore in the gorge. To continue on, you must be with a canyoning tour group. The whole trail from the top of the gorge to the pool is a Class 5. It is about 1.5 kilometers return and takes around 2 hours.

Joffre Gorge

Joffre GorgeThe hike into Joffre Gorge is pretty intense with some really narrow and slippery passages. One of our tour members actually fell off a ledge and into a shallow pool of water, but thankfully wasn’t hurt.

We walked all the way down to Joffre Falls, where we had our first swimming experience in the cold waters of Karijini National Park. I went for it and submerged my whole body, and it literally took my breath away. But it is part of the adventure!

The 3 kilometer trail to the base of the falls is a Class 4 until the last 150 meters where it increases to a Class 5. You can also view the falls and surrounding landscape from Joffre Lookout. The lookout is a short and easy walk down some rock steps.

Weano Gorge

Weano GorgeWeano Gorge is a beauty in and of itself, but I think that Handrail Pool is the true star. The pool is so named because you have to hold on to a handrail during the last bit of the hike in to get down to it.

The best thing to do is to walk backwards when going down the handrail, because it’s better to fall up into the rock than to tumble down the drop. The water in the pool was also frigidly cold. But it was worth the swim as it passes through deeper into the gorge and to another pool.

You get to Handrail Pool by hiking through Lower Weano. The 1 kilometer Lower Weano trail is Class 4 and the journey takes about 1 hour return. The path continuing on to the pool is Class 5 and takes at least an additional 30 minutes return. But you’ll want to add in time for swimming.

Oxer Lookout

Junction Pool LookoutThe short and easy trail to the lookout first passes through Junction Pool Lookout where you get a great view of Hancock Gorge. Continuing on to Oxer Lookout allows you to see where four gorges meet. Those gorges are Hancock, Weano, Joffre and Red gorges.

Once you’ve been down in the gorges and explored the treacherous paths, it’s incredible to have an overall view of the area. It really puts into perspective the magnitude of Karijini. I recommend saving the lookout as one of the last things you do to appreciate the grandeur of the park.

Knox Gorge

Knox Gorge is very steep and there aren’t any manmade additions to the trail. You basically just clamber down the rocks to the base and then walk along until you get to the slot canyon. There are a couple of pools along the way. We ended up skipping rocks for a while at one of the pools. The park has a plethora of flat rocks that are perfect for skimming water.

The 2 kilometer hike is Class 5 and takes about 3 hours return. If you’re not up for the adventure, the walk down to Knox Lookout is quick and easy. From there you get an impressive view of the gorge below, which is best viewed in the early morning or late afternoon.

Karijini Eco Retreat

Karijini Eco RetreatOur group stayed at Karijini Eco Retreat. The retreat has a range of accommodation options from basic campsites to fancy eco cabins.

We stayed in an eco tent with an actual floor and four bunk beds with very comfortable mattresses and pillows. I woke up to a gorgeous sunrise both mornings after a wonderful night’s sleep. It was basically a hostel version of glamping.

The retreat also has a restaurant, bar, solar hot water showers and flushing toilets. It is located within Karijini National Park, which makes it really convenient to get to the trails. The gorges are a fair distance apart, so it’s nice to cut out some of the commute time.

Karijini National Park Tips

Karijini National ParkThe best time to visit the park is late autumn, winter and early spring to avoid the suppressive heat and heavy rainfall of summer. Be aware that flash floods can occur in the park and have claimed several lives.

Always have plenty of water and wear sunscreen and proper hiking gear. I recommend bringing along a waterproof camera, swimsuit and towel. It’s helpful to have a small backpack to carry everything so your hands are free to help you travel along the dynamic terrain.

It takes rescue crews hours to respond to emergency situations, so use caution when exploring the park. Be sure you know your limits and don’t rush any of the trails. Really, you are best off to explore the difficult trails with a guide.

There is an entrance fee, so be sure to visit the Explore Parks WA website for information on the current cost and how to pay.

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