As you cross the boundary of the Watarrka National Park, you’ll see the turn-off to Kathleen Springs, where a walk (90min return) takes you to a sacred Aboriginal waterhole. Once used to corral livestock, it’s now a good place to catch sight of colourful birdlife.
Another twenty minutes’ drive down the road is the majestic KINGS CANYON itself, part of the magnificent George Gill Range. The big attraction is the three- to four-hour, 6km Rim Walk up and around the canyon, its scintillating views and complex natural history making it one of the Centre’s best hikes. Early morning is the most popular time, and for a couple of hours from sunrise, visitors swarm out from the car park along the track – if you don’t mind missing the sunrise, you might have the place to yourself in the late afternoon when the light is better, but avoid the heat of the middle of the day. The walk actually gets closed if temperatures are forecast to peak above 36°C (most commonly in Jan or Feb).
Undertaken in a now mandatory clockwise direction, the walk starts with a well-constructed stepped ascent (the toughest part of the walk), after which the trail leads through a maze of sandstone domes, known as the Lost City, where interpretive boards fill you in on the geology and botany. About halfway along, you clamber down into a cool, palm-filled chasm known as the Garden of Eden. Coming up the far side, there’s an easily missed detour downstream to a shady pool where you can swim. From here you get a blockbuster view of the sunlit south wall and the canyon below. Returning to the staircase, the walk comes to the very edge of the south wall and then descends gently to the car park. For a different perspective, the easy 2km return walk along the canyon bottom is also worthwhile.