Deciding which Karijini campsites to stay in and what to do in Karijini National Park?
It’s just as breathtakingly beautiful as everyone claims it to be and even better, the campsites are within the national park itself.
I had so much fun exploring the various gorges and scrambling over rocks to get to different swimming holes. And you don’t have to endure long days driving down an unsealed road to get there like the Gibb River Road in The Kimberley.
Read on for my guide to all the Karijini campsites and how to spend 3 days exploring everything Karijini National Park has to offer.
Where: The Pilbara, Western Australia (WA)
Getting there: 15 hours drive (1,380 km) from Perth; An 8.5-hour drive (712 km) from Exmouth via Paraburdoo (in order to stick to the bitumen) and 10 hours drive (980 km) from Broome.
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You can camp within Karijini National Park itself at Dales Gorge and Karijini Eco Retreat campsites, as well as other free camps if you are self-sufficient. If you wish to base yourself somewhere and drive out to each attraction then I suggest doing this at Dales Gorge campsite. This is because it’s within walking distance of Fern Pool for an early morning or sunset swim and that is what I did.
Alternatively, if your set-up is easy to pack away you can cut down the driving time by staying at Karijini Eco Retreat after visiting Weano and Hancock Gorges and Joffre Falls. This is what I would do if I were to return to Karijini.
Dales Gorge campsite
For a more rugged bush camping experience, Dales Gorge campsite is the best of all the Karijini campsites to base yourself.
Considering the open landscape inside the park this campsite has been designed nicely. There is a lot of capacity too with 153 sites across six different loops.
The sites are generally large and spread out for enough privacy from your neighbour with enough (drop) toilets to never be too far away from one. Some allow generators and others do not so check this before you book online at exploreparks.dbca.wa.gov.au.
The cost is $11 per adult per night with the largest sites allowing up to12 adults and 3 vehicles on them. There is an overflow camping area for emergency accommodation but during the peak June-Sept season, you are best off booking in advance to secure a site across consecutive nights.
If you plan to visit during the school holidays make sure you book well in advance.
Karijini Eco Retreat campsite
Karijini Eco Retreat is a bush camp too but with more facilities including a cafe and restaurant. It costs $22 per adult per night for unpowered so it’s double the price of Dales for two adults. You don’t get a lot more for the price outside of the amenities (flush toilets instead of drop toilets and a shower) because it’s ultimately still a bush camp in the middle of a national park.
It can still make sense however to split your time between Dales Gorge campground and the Karijin Eco Retreat in order to save on the drive time – and fuel – between the two areas. If you fancy treating yourself they even have safari tents available to book.
Buddhas Overnighter free campsite
A 5-minute drive from Hammersley Gorge car park is this fantastic free camp.
Set off the road, it’s quiet and large enough to find your own private area away from other campers. There are no facilities here except some bins so you need to be self-sufficient but the views of the surrounding ranges are spectacular.
It was a special place to wake up to when visiting nearby Hammersly Gorge (a must-do) but it would also make a good base if you needed one.
Find its location – and other free camps in the area – on the Wikicamps app.
Camp at free Karijini campsites
Based on my experience at Buddhas, and hearing from others, you can free camp in this area if you can’t book into the popular Dales and Eco Retreat campsites.
Given the distances you need to travel between each gorge and area of the national park, this is a good option and doable if you’re fully self-sufficient.
Karijini National Park 3-day itinerary
With three separate sections to the park it pays to organise your days well in Karijini National Park. You have travelled far to be here after all. Here’s my suggested 3-Day itinerary for exploring all three areas.
Day 1: Dales Gorge Campground
Drive into the National Park and head to Dales Gorge. If you have time, stop at the visitor centre on the way for an interesting information display on the flora, fauna and history of the park. Visit Fern Pool and Fortescue Falls via the Lower Gorge and Gorge Rim walks.
If you are camping at Dales Gorge campsite you can walk from the campsite to the car park in 5 minutes.
Day 2: Weano, Hancock and Knox Gorge and Joffre Falls
Drive to Weano Gorge car park and from here visit both Hancock and Weano Gorges in the morning. Then drive back to the turn off for Karijini Eco Retreat to visit Joffre and Knox Gorges in the afternoon.
If you are camping at Karijini Eco Retreat you can walk to Joffre Gorge from the campsite.
Day 3: Hammersley Gorge
Drive out of Karijini National Park and go via Tom Price town to visit Hammersley Gorge. It’s on the way to Broome so if you are travelling from Boome it makes sense to do this itinerary in reverse and visit Hammersley Gorge on the way into the area.
Either free camp at Buddhas Overnighter free camp (find it in the Wikicamps app) close to the entrance of Hammersley Gorge or in Tom Price.
Best things to do in Karijini National Park
Spend a morning or afternoon exploring Dales Gorge.
From the car park, or even Dales campsite itself, you can walk and pick up the lower Dales Gorge route. This is where the path descends after the Circular Pool. You walk along the bottom of the gorge for 1km before reaching Fortesque Falls.
Stop for a dip and then climb over the ridge to immediately pick up the track to Fern Pool. It’s less than 10 minutes before you get there for another swim.
Head back towards Fortesque Falls to pick up the staircase leading you out of the gorge to a lookout. This is where you can pick up the Gorge Rim walk and eventually, back to camp. It’s 1.2km and takes less than an hour.
The whole loop including swimming took me 3.5 hours. If walking directly from the campsite to Fortescue Falls and Fern Pool, it’s an easy 30-minute walk.
A 5-minute walk from the car park, down manmade steps, is Fortescue Falls.
This is the only permanent waterfall in the park and the pool is deep enough to swim in. Natural steps around the falls and pool create a good base for your stuff and to get changed into your swimmers.
A 5-minute walk from Fortescue Falls is the sublime Fern Pool and my favourite swimming hole in Karijini.
Taking the walking track to the right of the manmade staircase, you pass through a beautiful section of ferns, grasses and trees, which opens out onto something that looks out of a fairy tale.
A new decking area (opened in June 2022) keeps this area looking natural and even spa-like. Enter the pool via the ladder and swim over to the falls (the water gets warmer the closer you get to them).
Catch this place early in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid the crowds and have it all to yourself. Particularly easy if you are staying at Dales campground.
This place has special significance and there is a sign requesting you do not dive into the pool or climb under the falls.
This was closed when I visited due to a previous rock slide but is another swimming hole along the walking track loop.
Hancock and Weano Gorges
Both walks in the Weano and Hancock Gorges leave from the Weano picnic area and car park.
Be aware, the last 10km or so of the road is unsealed and in terrible condition. It’s 2WD accessible but one of the most corrugated roads I’ve driven on so drive to these conditions and take your time. It’s still be worth what’s at the end of the track.
Hancock Gorge to Kermits Pool
This is Class 5 (1.5km return) walk with a deep pool you can jump into. You need to wade through water with slippery rocks underfoot to get to Kermits Pool but it’s a lot of fun jumping in.
It’s not far to walk but with stops to take off your boots, tread a careful path through the rocks, wade slowly through the water and get changed after swimming; it takes about 2 hours in total.
Prepare to get your legs wet and pop your electronics and valuables in a dry bag inside your backpack (you’ll need your hands free for climbing the rocks). This is just in case you slip and land fully in the water.
If you don’t want to risk it, leave your bag and phone before you start wading through the water and walk in with your swimmers on already (a lot of people do) and take your go pro.
If the forecast is for rain or there have been heavy rains recently, I would not advise doing this walk.
Lower Weano Gorge to Handrail Pool
This is another Class 5 (1.2km return) walk where you pop out at a deep sinkhole surrounded by impressive red rock.
This place definitely has the wow factor and you’ll find yourself sitting on the edge of the water gazing up at the well-like sides and to the sky above.
For this walk you keep your boots on the whole time until you want to swim. The exciting bit is at the end where the gap in the rock face narrows and you pop out at the sinkhole where there is a handrail (hence the name) to help you descend into the swimming hole.
There are enough rocks around the sides of the water to get changed into your swimmers there. Again, it’s not far to walk but allow 1.5 hours to get there and back.
For a longer walk, you can take the Upper Weano Gorge Walk (1km return) but this is separate to the section which leads you to the Handrail Pool.
Situated in the northwest corner and an entirely separate area of the national park, it’s worth the extra journey to see this one. This is because compared to the other gorges, the colours and shapes in the rock face at Hammersley are fascinating. Swim to the popular Spa Pool and you can really see how the power of water has shaped and smoothed the rock over time.
Hammersley Gorge is 67kms from Tom Price and closer to the turn-off to the private Rio Tinto access road which you can take to Millstream National Park and onto Broome. So whether you are travelling from, or to Broome, it makes sense to visit Hammersley Gorge either first or at the end of your time in Karijini National Park.
The last 40km to Hammersley Gorge is unsealed and accessible by 2WD. It’s a dusty track so take your time but it’s certainly not as rough and as corrugated as the unsealed road into Weano Gorge.
From the car park take the path past the lookout and down into the gorge.
From Hammersley Waterfall, turn right and walk up the rocks to reach the Spa Pool. You need to swim to the opening and climb up over the rocks to get into this secluded, small plunge pool with water flowing into it. It’s quite amazing and my favourite little secluded swimming spot.
Turn left to swim in the pool at the bottom of Hammersley Waterfall. Swim through the gap in the rock for the best tour of a gorge – actually swimming through it! You can swim for about 10 minutes before reaching shallow rocks and the place to turn around.
Planning your trip to Karijini
It is no small feat to get to Karijini. Wherever you’re travelling from. Even if you add it as a stop to your road trip you’ll still be going a long way out of your way getting here.
Is it worth it though? Absolutely.
Considering the location it’s best to make Karijini an extra stop on your road trip from Perth to the Exmouth, or a stop on your way from Perth to Broome.
Navigating Karijini National Park
As I’ve discovered with a lot of the best national parks (for example, Uluru-Kata Tjuta, West Macdonnell Ranges, Kalbarri), be prepared to do a lot of driving. Both to get to the park and between the main attractions once inside the national park.
For example, it is an hour’s drive from Dales Gorge to Weano and Hancock Gorges. Even the visitor centre is in the middle of the two main areas with a bit of a detour required. And for Hammersley Gorge, you’re best driving all the way out of the park via Tom Price which is a good hour drive and 70 km away from the town.
Essentially, there are three main areas of attraction within Karijini National Park. These are around Dales Gorge campsite, Karijini Eco Resort and Hammersley Gorge. The 3-day itinerary gives a day to explore each section and depending on your set up, suggests either basing yourself in one area for two nights or staying in each individual area each night to cut the drive down.
Road conditions in Karijini National Park
The roads in Karijini National Park are a mix of sealed and terribly unsealed roads. Dales Gorge (and the visitor centre) are the only places you can access by a sealed road. All other attractions require driving an unsealed road. These can all be reached with a 2WD except Kalamina Falls which is at the end of a 4WD only track. However, they are extremely corrugated so be prepared.
You will need to take it slow. Whether you’re in a 2WD or a 4WD! Honestly, the road between Karijini Eco Retreat and Weano Gorge was one of the most corrugated roads I’ve been on. However, it’s still worth it to see both the majestic Handrail Pool in Weano Gorge and the fun of jumping into the Kermits Pool at Hancock Gorge.
Another point to note is the 4WD only tracks within the park look like short cuts between attractions but are not due to their poor condition. I was advised (and someone later confirmed) these roads are so bad it’s more comfortable (and quicker!) to kick out to the sealed road each time you move between the Dales campsite and Karijini Eco Resort areas.
When to go
This part of the Pilbara experiences hot days and wet weather between November through to as late as April. So plan your visit outside of these months. If you do you’ll be rewarded with balmy mid-twenty days and cool evenings. The roads are also more likely to be open (heavy rain can destroy the tracks) so you can get into the park.
What to expect and bring with you
These were questions I had before visiting Karijini National Park so here’s a list of what I took and what I would advise taking with you.
- Water shoes: If you have water or reef shoes with some grip, bring these. They are not essential though so I wouldn’t buy any specifically for visiting Karijini. The rocks are not sharp but they are very slippery in places so just be aware of this and tread carefully.
- A dry bag: This is to protect your electricals when visiting Weano Gorge and especially Hancock Gorge. You can walk into these gorges with a backpack on but a dry bag is an extra precaution you can take in the event of losing your grip and falling into the water.
- A rash vest or wetsuit: As you approach the Winter months (June-August), the water in the gorges will be cold. Especially in those permanently in shade. If you get cold in the water, you can get around this by putting on a rash vest or even a light wetsuit.
Karijini National Park, is it worth it?
I think so! It’s a special place made even more spectacular by just how remote it is and the effort involved in getting here.
And the colours are just incredible! With red rock similar to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park and the greenery of the West Macdonnell Ranges in the Red Centre. Topped off with the deep teal colour of the water.
I hope this guide helps you spend your time wisely in Karijini National Park and have as much fun there as I did.
If you’re looking for more camping itineraries then you may find my other guides useful:
- Camping on the Gibb River Road – 7-Day Itinerary and Planning Guide
- Camping in Darwin and Around the Top End – 7-Day Itinerary
- Tasmania Camping Road Trip – Two Week Itinerary
- Sydney to Byron Bay Road Trip – Two Week Itinerary
- Sydney to Fraser Island East Coast Road Trip – Two Week Itinerary