Gibb River Road Walks and Hikes
The Gibb river road is one of the most well known 4WD adventure tracks in Australia, and gives access to some truly incredible gorges, rivers and natural attractions. However, you can’t drive your 4WD to every amazing location; you’ve got to get out and walk.
Some of the walks are on relatively flat ground, but the majority of them require you to walk up and down steep slopes, around rocks and across slippery creeks. It’s extremely important that you have the right gear with you, to ensure you are safe, comfortable and that you enjoy yourselves.
In this post, we dive into everything you need to know about the walks and hikes. However, before we do so, know that we’ve written the ultimate guide to the Gibb River Road and Kimberley that you should check out.
In regards to the walks and hikes, the biggest tip I can give you is start early on the big walks. If you can be out and walking as the sun is coming up, you will thank yourself later on. The number of people who leave their camps at 8, 9, 10AM and then have a 4 – 5 hour walk ahead of them (return), is incredible, and the heat just saps your energy completely, and you end up at the gorge with 10 thousand other people.
Where can you walk on the Gibb River Road?
Things to take with you
You really don’t need much with you on this walk. If it is only a short visit, you can leave your water in the car, and we even wore thongs into the gorge. It’s easy going. A hat is a good idea if its during the middle of the day. There is some shade, but not once you get out into the middle of the gorge. Take your camera, a sense of adventure and have some fun.
The primary reason people visit Windjana gorge is for the freshwater crocodiles. You can see 30 – 100 of them at any time. If you go early in the morning you won’t see very many, but as the sun comes up and hits the river banks, they will slowly climb out of the water and sit there, soaking in the rays
The gorge itself is amazing too, as are the other animals; birds, lizards, insects and fish.
The walk itself
The walk from the campground or day use area into the actual gorge only takes about 10 minutes. From there though, you can walk 7km along the gorge. The crocodiles seem to hang around the first 500 meters of the gorge, and after that you are basically following a miniature river. It’s a lovely walk, but in my opinion probably not worth the extra effort. You get to the end of the trail, and you don’t arrive at anything; its just a sign in the middle of the bush that says ‘Trail ends. Quarantine area’.
It was a bit of a let-down, given the distance you have to walk, up a few steep bits, across soft river sand etc; we were expecting to arrive at a nice pool, or something you could look at!
Instead, I’d focus around the first 1km of the gorge; walk around, sit in the shade, admire the freshwater crocodiles, fish and birds, and take lots of photos.
There is nothing too difficult about this walk at all. It’s relatively flat (except one little descent going into the gorge), with either hard ground or soft river sand. You don’t have to climb up anything slippery or steep.
We really enjoyed Winjana Gorge, and would highly recommend it; the crocodiles are amazing to watch!
Things to take with you
As the name suggests, you’ll be going through a tunnel, and its often got quite a bit of water in it. You need a decent torch or head torch (and one as a backup is a good idea), water shoes or booties, or old sneakers. Take a bit of water to drink, although the walk is fairly easy and cool, and if you want to take photos you’ll 100% need a tripod.
It’s not very often you get to enter a cave, let alone one that is a long tunnel, with a couple of resident freshwater crocodiles and various other animals. The tunnel is truly amazing, and that’s all you need to know!
Tunnel Creek is another very well known attraction on the Gibb River road, some 35km away from Windjana Gorge. Again, the walk from the car park to the start of the tunnel is not very long; 10 minutes at least. From here though, you have to climb over a few rocks. The water level will vastly determine the next path. We saw the tour guides taking people around a big rock and straight into waist deep water.
Instead, we went over the top of the big rock (which isn’t very hard) and walked through some ankle deep water onto the soft river sand. You could walk to the end of the tunnel and back in half an hour if you wanted, but we took it slowly, taking photos and enjoying the scenery. We probably spent about an hour and a half inside the tunnel.
Look for the freshwater crocodiles (red eyes), bats (on the roof), little frogs (everywhere!), fish (everywhere) and little yabbies’.
Things to take
The walk to Bell Gorge is a bit longer, and more in the open. You need a comfortable carry bag, snacks, plenty of drinking water, a camera, sturdy shoes and a sense of adventure.
Swimming, relaxing in the water, enjoying the river and waterfalls. The wildlife here is amazing; we saw a big python and plenty of lizards swimming in the water.
The walk to Bell Gorge is split in two. The first part, from the car park to the top of the waterfall (and river that flows into it) is downhill, walking on plenty of rocks until you follow the creek (lots of river rocks), and arrive at the top of the waterfall. This will take 30 minutes at the most (we did it in about 15).
From here, you need to make a decision; you either sit at the top and enjoy the scenery and get wet, or keep going to the bottom of the waterfall. The walk is most certainly worth it. However, it is hard work, and requires some careful foot placements.
You walk up a small incline for a while, and then down some steep, sometimes slippery rocks right to the foot of the waterfall. It is an incredible walk that only takes about 20 minutes (allow more if you are going to take it easier), but you need to be very careful.
One wrong step and you will hurt yourself, badly. Don’t let that put you off though; small, slow steps will get you down safely. If you choose to continue onwards, you have to walk across the small river. Even in May, I managed to do it without taking my boots off (they did get a bit wet), but you may want to pull your shoes off for this section before continuing.
At the bottom, you are rewarded with an amazing place to swim. You can swim right up to the waterfall, or downstream to a couple of small waterfalls. Of course, once you are done, you have to make the walk back to your vehicle. We stopped at the top of the waterfall, and cooled off, before continuing.
This walk was again nothing too strenuous, but it is a more difficult walk than the one at Windjana and Tunnel Creek. Just take your time, stop regularly and drink plenty of water.
If you spend the night at Silent Grove, there is a small walk from the back corner that takes you down to a little creek. This is where the drinking water comes from though (it’s pumped from closer to the rangers station), so you are asked not to walk or swim in it. Keep it clean, or you will make people sick.
This walk is literally 5 minutes there and 5 minutes back. I believe its 200 meters. Once you get to the creek, you can continue upstream for about another 30 meters (you have to step over some logs) and you will get to a nice little pool, where you can sit and relax (but not swim!).
The walk to Manning gorge is very unique, and quite open and long. First, you jump in a little aluminium dinghy and pull yourself across the river. Then, you just follow the reflectors in the trees all the way to the gorge.
The signs say 1.5 hours each way. We probably did it in 2.5 hours return, but the speed you travel vastly depends on the time of day you are going.
This track is relatively rocky, and gets to be harder towards the end, with a few uphill and downhill sections and bigger rocks.
We started this walk at about 8AM, and found the walk in and out pretty tiring. The gorge is lovely though, and well worth the effort.
Much of this track is out in the open, so if you are walking when the sun is up and out there, you are going to lose a lot of energy, and water!
Take plenty of drinking water with you, some snacks, clothes for swimming and make sure you spend some time enjoying the gorge. If you are game, you can climb to the top and see a totally different pool.
There aren’t too many places on the Gibb river road that are serviced by helicopter. The first thing you notice when you drive into the Mitchell falls though, is 3 helicopters in the middle of the camp ground. These do tours all day long, and plenty of ferry rides to and from the Mitchell falls.
Why the helicopters? For two reasons; a gorgeous view, and the second reason, because the walk in is quite long and tiring. The signs in say 4 – 6 hours return. We did it in about 3.5 hours, but left very early in the morning to avoid the heat.
You can jump on a helicopter one way; either walk in and fly out, or fly in and walk out. This is a popular option, but I’d recommend you do at least one way.
A large amount of this track is under trees, which offer some protection from the sun and heat. Some of it is completely exposed though, so avoid travelling when its really hot!
El Questro; Zebedee Springs
For many people, being able to relax in a natural hot spring, amongst a pristine environment is a new experience, and a truly memorable one at that. Zebedee springs has developed a seriously high reputation, and for good reason.
The walk in and out is very easy; maximum of 10 – 15 minutes in, and the same out (hopefully after a while of soaking up the warm water).
The springs are basically a little creek, with several small waterfalls and holes that you can sit in. It is only open from 7AM to 12PM, but get in early. If you leave it until 8 – 9AM, its not even worth the visit; you will have people everywhere.
Essentially, find yourself a hole and sit in it, soaking up the atmosphere and enjoying the 28 – 32 degree water. It is magic. We spent many hours here, early in the mornings, just appreciating El Questros magnificent attractions.
You don’t need to take much in on this walk, and with the proximity of others you are better off leaving as much in your car as possible. Take a towel, and you can comfortably walk in with thongs on.
El Questro; El Questro gorge
El Questro Gorge is an amazing walk, and probably our favourite. You need to be quite fit and agile to make it to the end, but its a highlight of the Gibb River Road and El Questro by a long shot.
There is a big water crossing to do to get there, and you 100% need a snorkel to do it risk free.
It’s roughly 2 hours return to the halfway mark and 4 hours return with no stops to the end
We spent 5 hours and 20 minutes for us with lots of stops to eat, take photos and enjoy the surroundings.
You need decent footwear that you are prepared to get wet, or to remove to cross the halfway pool, which can be up to head height depending on the water levels. We carried things in backpacks and passed them up to someone else, and then swam across.
A lot of people thought we were mad taking an 18 month old up there, but we made it with no issues.
El Questro; Moonshine gorge
Not far from El Questro Gorge is Moonshine Gorge (also on the other side of the big water crossing). There’s a nice pool to check out, but the entire walk is around 2.5 hours return, and when we did it they had the markers around the wrong way. We didn’t mind the walk, but its got nothing on the others at El Questro.
Take plenty of water, decent shoes and a sense of adventure as their signage here was quite average.
El Questro; Emma Gorge
Emma gorge has a huge reputation. Many people refer to it as the best gorge on the Gibb River road, and as such, we had pretty high hopes. We were told us the walk to Emma Gorge was hard, but would have to disagree. It took about 40 minutes to get there, and the walk was actually fairly easy, minus a few rock steps and the last climb to get to the gorge.
The gorge is stunning, to be honest. Is it better than the others? I can’t say; they are all different. No matter how much I think about it, every gorge we visited was beautiful, in its own way.
I would say it is one you shouldn’t miss.
However, we were a bit sad to see the cane toads here, which seem to be taking over the place. I counted easily 10, and some were pretty big. I kicked at least 4 out of the hot springs, but I’m sure there were more hiding from me. Interestingly, we went back a few years later and there were a lot less, so they obviously can’t all survive in a small area.
The Kimberley is amazing on foot
You really need to spend a number of hours walking around, and soaking up the Kimberley to truly enjoy it. A 4WD will get you to the amazing locations, but to get closer to them you’ll need to walk, and its a heap of fun.
What was your favourite Gibb River Road walks?