Cape Range National Park is one of a kind, it’s not often you have rugged rocky gorges and crystal blue ocean in one place. Where you can relax on a beach in the morning and hike trails in the afternoon, marvelling at 100 million-year-old marine fossils preserved in rock.
This place has it all, and to make the most out of it, we recommend spending at least 3 or 4 days here to explore the park without rushing.
Plus you want enough time for some bright sunny days to come by. Giving you enough time to do most of the activities on this list.
Camping here for at least one night is a must as well, to make your trip even more unforgettable. You’ll find our favourite campgrounds and other planning tips below!
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12 Things to do in Cape Range National Park
1) Discover Ningaloo Reef’s underwater world
The Ningaloo Reef is one of the largest fringing coral reefs in not just Australia, but the world. It stretches more than 300km along the North West Cape of Western Australia. It’s also the most accessible reef, at no more than 50m – 100m from the shore.
Permanent residents of these waters include manta rays, reef sharks, dolphins, sea turtles, and over +500 species of fish. It’s a great place to enjoy at any time of the year, although some months may be better than others.
Either hop in the water straight off the beach, we would recommend Turquoise Bay, Oyster Stacks or Lakeside in the National Park. Or for even better experiences join a tour. We share our recommendations below.
Keep reading: When is the best time to visit the Ningaloo Reef?
2) Swim with manta rays, whale sharks or humpback whales
If there’s one thing you absolutely must do in Cape Range National Park it is to go on a tour and swim with the majestic creatures here. The tours are absolutely worth the money and you get very well cared for on it!
Whale sharks come to these coasts to feed between March and August. While around 30,000 humpback whales migrate through here from June to October. Manta rays are pretty much always here!
If you want to swim with these gentle giants, there are several humpback whale and whale shark tours available. Just make sure to book them beforehand, spots fill quickly!
3) Check out the world-renowned beaches
There are many to choose from but here are the main beaches of the Cape Range National Park:
The most famous of all, Turquoise Bay is one of the best spots for snorkelling and scuba diving in the North West Cape.
You can either snorkel off the beach or let the currents take you through the reef (this is called “drift snorkelling”). It feels like watching a movie, but be careful as the current is strong. Follow the safety signs as you come in.
Here’s the famous Osprey Bay campground – the biggest camping location in the park. Apart from staying here, you can swim, snorkel, and go kayaking and canoeing. It’s within walking distance from Sandy Bay, making it a great spot to stay at.
This is the place to be if you want to either relax with the family or do windsurfing and kite surfing… or both! You can also do recreational fishing.
The Lakeside Sanctuary Zone is a great spot for snorkelling, especially for beginners, as the currents aren’t as strong as in Turquoise Bay. It’s also a much quieter area, where you can also go kayaking, canoeing, and fishing.
This is a great spot for beginner surf and kitesurfing when the winds up! We wrote a whole guide for visiting this beach, check it out here.
4) Do the Mandu Mandu Gorge hike
This trail will take you up to the gorge rim, and the views are breathtaking, to say the least. You’ll be walking through the geological history of Cape Range National Park.
Aim for an early morning or late afternoon hike, it can get hot in there! Plus, the sun’s rays strike and highlight the intense colours of this rugged landscape, giving a stark contrast to the spectacular Ningaloo Reef.
It’s a class-4 walk and 3 km long, with steep inclines. Bring sturdy hiking boots and plenty of water! A lot of the walk is on round rocks, so be careful not to slip or injure yourself.
5) Visit the unique Yardie Creek
Yardie Creek is a unique feature in the southwest of Cape Range National Park, as it is the only gorge with permanent water. The sealed road from Exmouth ends here.
A 2WD can reach Yardie, but you will need to park and walk around. Only 4WD vehicles can cross the creek and take the dirt road continuing from here to Coral Bay.
There are boat tours available which will show you the gorge, the creek and the rock wallaby inhabitants too.
Our recommendation: Yardie Creek Boat Tours.
We recommend at least walking through the Yardie Creek Nature Trail – an easy stroll along a path with an impressive outlook over the creek and the Ningaloo Reef.
Or, you can ramp up the adventure factor by continuing to the Yardie Gorge Trail, a class 4 hike. Scramble up the rocks high above the creek for unforgettable views, only once appreciated by the traditional owners, the Baiyungu, Thalanyji and Yinigurdira peoples.
6) Drive through Charles Knife Canyon
The drive along Charles Knife Gorge road will take you to the eastern side of the Cape Range National Park, ending in the lookout.
From there, you can do the Badjirrajirra Walk, a hiking trail where you can see the Charles Knife Gorge and Shothole Canyon.
7) 4WD through Shothole Canyon
Drive through one of the most rugged areas of the Cape Range, the unsealed road at the bottom of Shothole Canyon.
It’s a 12-kilometre drive that will take you through the colourful rock layers of this famous spot. You can even see the fossils on the walls!
Seismographic explosive charges in the 1950s left holes in the walls of this canyon, giving it its name.
8) Witness the wildflower season’s colours
From July to October, the natural environment of the Cape Range explodes into colour, as the wildflowers blossom.
During that time, you’ll see these flowers everywhere, particularly driving in and out of town, in both Shothole and Charles Knife Canyons, Mandu Mandu Gorge, and Yardie Creek.
9) Go to Pilgramunna for a scenic seaside experience
This spot sits between the mouth of a creek system and sand dunes, it’s both gorgeous and peaceful. Pilgramunna Beach is a great place to walk or fish. On the right tides, you can even launch a small boat from the shore.
There are many rock pools that you can look into and see an abundance of sea life, you can even hop in a snorkel! Just be careful with the conditions here and check safety signs first.
10) Watch the birds in Mangrove Bay
This place is a paradise of unique bird species. It has a bird hide overlooking the lagoon area, where you can watch as pelicans feast on marine life in the shallow waters. Or, wait until a late low tide to marvel at the thousands of seagulls returning to their nests for sunset.
Bring tonnes of mosquito protection, though. Also, other activities are prohibited, so you are most likely to be sharing your space with like-minded souls and local wildlife.
11) Go to the Milyering Discovery Centre to learn everything about the park
This is a one-stop shop in the heart of the park for all you need to know about both Cape Range National Park and Ningaloo Marine Park.
The Milyering Discovery Centre is a unique and environmentally friendly building, created from rammed earth and powered with solar energy – the first of its kind in Australia.
National Park rangers are on hand to assist in the centre, which is open every day except Christmas. There is so much to do here, from a museum about the town including information about a devastating cyclone that came through, and an aquarium, gift shop, cafe and more.
12) Visit Exmouth!
You’ll drive through this town anyway, so you might as well check it out! There are:
- Great beaches near Exmouth, like Bundegi Beach or Town Beach.
- Amazing eating spots that fit any budget – from luxurious restaurants to quirky food trucks.
- Take kitesurf lessons, among other things to do if it rains during your stay.
- Check the Jurabi Turtle Centre or the Ningaloo Visitor Centre to learn more about the incredible wildlife of the area.
- Visit Vlamingh head lighthouse, a popular viewpoint pictured below.
How to plan your trip to the Cape Range National Park?
Now that you know the must-see spots in Cape Range National Park, it’s time to plan the rest of the trip. Here are some tips to help you figure that out:
Decide when you want to visit
The best time to visit this area is during winter. The temperatures are ideal for hiking, and this coincides with whale shark, humpback whale, AND wildflower season!
But, these months tend to be the busiest, so make sure to book tours and accommodations ahead.
National Park Fees
To enter Cape Range National Park the fees are:
- Standard Vehicle: $15.00
- Concession: $8.00
- Motorcycle: $8.00
You can read more about fees here.
If you want to stay in the park, there are many campgrounds and other accommodation options available. You have to book in advance and pay a camping fee.
The biggest campgrounds in the park are:
- Mesa campground – 23 campsites.
- Kurrajong campground – 35 campsites.
- Osprey Bay campground – 46 campsites. The most scenic option – our pick of them all!
You book these through the National Park website. It can be hard to get a spot so book well in advance.
That said, we recommend staying at Yardie Homestead. It is a great location for the National Park, situated just outside of the park.
Here are other acccommodation options to choose from:
For caravan parks:
For cabins, hotels and similar:
For more luxurious stays:
Keep in mind that staying outside the park means you’ll have to pay the entry fee each time you enter.
How to get to Cape Range National Park
The only way into the park is by a coastal road that starts in Exmouth, or by 4wding from Coral Bay and crossing Yardie Creek.
You can also get to Exmouth by flying into Learmonth airport, or driving from Perth or Broome.
Keep in mind that fuel is not available within the National park, so make sure you factor that into your itinerary.
Park entry fees do not apply to either Shothole Canyon or Charles Knife Canyon, as you access them through a road south of Exmouth.
If you purchase a Holiday Park Pass, print it out and keep it displayed on the dashboard of your vehicle. However, this pass does not cover the camping fees.
Also, drive carefully throughout Cape Range National Park, especially around dawn and dusk. As in most national parks, wildlife may be encountered at any time on the roads.
Did you know?
The Cape Range National Park area was once underwater, but there was a gradual uplifting from the sea floor. This, combined with the wind and water erosion, shaped the range into the canyons and stunning beaches we have today.
How do you get to Cape Range National Park?
You get to the entry of the Cape Range National Park by driving 30 minutes from Exmouth.
Do you need a 4WD for Cape Range National Park?
No, you don’t need a 4WD to enjoy most of Cape Range National Park. But you won’t be able to drive through some spots, like Shothole Canyon or across Yardie Creek.
How long to stay in Cape Range National Park?
We recommend staying at least 3 days in Cape Range National Park to enjoy the main attractions without rushing.
The bottom line
The Cape Range National Park is the adventure of a lifetime. It has pristine beaches mixed with rugged limestone ranges and breathtaking deep canyons.
If possible, try visiting this area in winter, preferably between March to June. This way, you’ll enjoy most of what this park has to offer – megafauna, colourful wildflowers, and incredible weather to make your hiking experience as comfortable as possible.
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