Red Centre Bucket List: Climb Mt Gillen

The view of the ranges as they continue west from the summit of Mt Gillen.

When it comes to Alice Springs, one of the most iconic geological features is Mt Gillen, the Western peak of the MacDonnell Ranges. This mountain range provides the backdrop for the town Alice Springs, and never ceases to amaze me by providing the most perfect silhouette for sunsets or storms that roll in from the North West.

What a lot of people don’t know is that you can climb Mt Gillen for some absolutely spectacular views of the local landscape. However, you need to be aware that it is not a walk in the park; it involves a certain level of physical capability, and is best done during the winter months (April to September) or crazy early in the morning during the summer months. The trail is unmarked and dominated by loose gravel and sand in many steep sections, so it is vital that you wear decent shoes. You might even want to invest in a couple of trekking poles to help you out along the way. This is something I wish I had done, because even though I have completed this hike before, this was my first time since recovering from a knee injury and some trekking poles on the way down would have made the whole journey much more comfortable on my knees. You also need to be aware that the last part of the hike involves some rock scrambling/climbing to make it to the top.

The Peak of Mt Gillen from the summit of the mountain.
The Peak of Mt Gillen from the summit of the mountain. It looks very different than from the base of the mountain or from the township.
The view north west from the ridge of Mt Gillen in the Red Centre.
Can you see where the Red Centre gets it’s name from?

Part of my decision to do this hike (again) with one of my girlfriends this morning was to do with my injury. You see, after completely rupturing my ACL in early 2018 I was frustrated at my inability to do many of the things I could usually do no problem. So for some extra motivation I set completing the Mt Gillen hike as my ultimate goal to prove to myself that I was well on the road to being mended.

So without further ado, here is my guide to completing the Mt Gillen hike.

Time: 2.5 hours return (gives you time for rest breaks and to enjoy the view)

Distance: 4km with a 300 metre vertical ascent

What you’ll need: Water, water water! don’t underestimate how much water you will need, especially in the summer months, hat, sunscreen, decent walking shoes, trekking poles (optional), head torch (if it’s dark when you set out).


The hike starts at Flynn Grave wich is located about 7km from the CBD (just past the Desert Park). Park your car here and walk west from the monument until you get to a chain-wire fence and gate. Enter the gate and follow the path to the base of the mountain. ta this stage of the hike the path is well defined and wide enough to allow you to walk abreast with another person. As the path begins to ascend it will narrow and become more slippery. Follow the track over a saddle to the north west that then leads you up a small gully in the mountain range. During this part of the hike you will find plenty of flat surfaces after minor steep climbs, so take a rest when you feel you need it.

Looking up at the rocks I need to scramble to reach the summit of Mt Gillen.
I’ve named that rocky outcrop just next to my head ‘God’s Chair’

At this stage it begins to become quite steep and the track transitions from loose gravel to small loose rocks that can be rather slippery, so take your time. As you get closer to the 300 metre vertical ascent the path becomes less clear and you will need to use your common sense to make your way up and engage in some vertical rock scrambling. There are plenty of finger and foot grips along the way to help you.

Once you rise above the rocks you will end up on the ridge of the mountain, where you can start exploring. There is a small, ill-defined path to the summit cairn a couple of hundred metres from where you summit. From here, to the north you will be able to see the township of Alice Springs, and to the south, if you position yourself correctly, you will be able to see the golf balls of Pine Gap.

Chasing Emma Lounging on a rock I've nick-named God's chair.
This rock is just below the last of the rock scrambling you need to do to get to the summit. I called it ‘God’s Chair’, and it made a great place for a quick rest break.

Make sure you take a small picnic with you since it truly is a beautiful location for a snack as you watch the sun rise.

The walk down is much easier, though more slippery, than the walk up, and will only take you around 40 minutes.

The view of the ranges as they continue west from the summit of Mt Gillen.
The view of the ranges as they continue west from the summit of Mt Gillen.

Have you been to the Red Centre before? Did you do this hike? Let me know below.

5 Comments on “Red Centre Bucket List: Climb Mt Gillen

  1. Pingback: 2019 Parrtjima: A Festival of Light – Chasing Emma

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  3. Pingback: Trephina Gorge Ridge Top Walk and Chain of Ponds – Chasing Emma

  4. Please note that it is HIGHLY Requested by the traditional owners that you do not climb Mt Gillen as it is a very important sacred site!


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