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Ranger tips: Onkaparinga River parks

Get insider tips on the best places to visit and must do activities from Senior Ranger Steve Johnson.

Located 35 kilometres south of Adelaide’s CBD, Onkaparinga River’s parks offer something for everyone to enjoy.

There are two parks, the Onkaparinga River National Park and Onkaparinga River Recreation Park which have vastly different environments to explore and activities to enjoy.

The national park boasts hikes along ridgetops and through the spectacular Onkaparinga Gorge, rock climbing with amazing gorge views, waterholes, shared trails for bike riding, and a campground for overnight stays.

In contrast, the serene wetlands of the recreation park, located to the west of the national park, are a great place for a family picnic, fishing, bike riding, kayaking or bird watching while strolling along the boardwalks with your pooch.

To help you plan your next visit, here are some tips from Ranger Steve Johnson:

What’s your favourite walking trail in the Onkaparinga River parks?

I should probably say one of the newer ones like the Punchbowl Link Trail or River Hike, which are amazing, but I still love the Echidna Hike.

The Echidna Hike takes you through pristine sections of the national park, where you can experience a diverse range of rare and beautiful wildflowers amongst nationally significant Grey Box Woodland. There’s even a waterfall at the right time of year!

Download a park map before your trip to find the trail and where to park.

Gorge access trail via Echidna Hike (Image courtesy of @apexxfit, Instagram)

What’s the parks best kept secret?

I reckon it’s still the gorge and river itself because it’s so beautiful and so hidden – particularly right down in the gorge along the river. When you’re sitting by a waterhole amongst river red gums with cliffs towering overhead, it’s like you’re in the Flinders Ranges, but you’re a 10 minute drive from the southern suburbs!

I recommend the Gorge Hike to fully experience the gorge. Best time of year is late spring to autumn when the water levels are down and the river is a series of beautiful waterholes. Be aware that the Gorge Hike is recommended for experienced hikers as some sections of the trail are not well defined. 

Views from the Gorge Hike

What’s your favourite activity to enjoy in the park?

Well, I’m a keen bushwalker and bird watcher, but now that I’m a dad my favourite activity is to explore nature in the park with my family.

It’s one of the best things you can do with your children as they learn so much and it makes them so happy, relaxed and tired!.

No fences, no concrete, no stress. Just a natural playground with trees, flowers, water and lots of wildlife. Good healthy fun. Take a coffee and you’ve got it made!


Where’s the best spot to see views of the gorge?

I recommend the viewing platform at Punchbowl Lookout. The views are spectacular and it’s only a 20-minute walk from the carpark via the Punchbowl Lookout Trail.

Bikes, wheelchairs and prams are all welcome. Access is via the Punchbowl Lookout car park off Piggott Range Road in Onkaparinga Hills.

If you’re up for more views and a longer walk or ride, I recommend the Punchbowl Link Trail. Start this one from the Sundews car park at Gate 11, which is accessible from Piggott Range Road in Onkaparinga Hills.

Punchbowl lookout

What’s your favourite campsite in Pink Gum Campground?

I love campsite 9 as it has beautiful views of the park, it’s quite separate from the other sites and it adjoins the lovely grassy Pink Gum area in the centre of the campground.

If you have a young family site 10 is excellent. It kind of comes with its own fenced of front yard, which is full of trees and other natural features for the children to explore.

Site 9, Pink Gum Campground

What’s your favourite thing to do at Pink Gum Campground?

Given its close proximity to the spectacular rock climbing area in the gorge, climbers are loving Pink Gum.

I also recommend the beautiful River Hike down into the gorge. It has wonderful views across the gorge and there’s so much to explore once you reach the river.

A quick walk upstream and your amongst ancient rock formations, big river red gums and peaceful waterholes full of aquatic life. 

Throughout the month of February, Onkaparinga River National Park and Recreation Park are being celebrated as Park of Month. There are heaps of events and activities to get involved in and explore the park.

In the meantime, check out Your guide to camping at Onkaparinga River National Park for more insider tips on staying in the park.


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