Finke River 2 Mile – the best bush camping area in the West MacDonnell Ranges

Finke River 2 Mile – A complete guide to the best free bush camping area in the West MacDonnell Ranges, along the Red Centre Way.

The Northern Territories Red Centre is blessed with some truly beautiful places. There’s just so much to see and do here and no where more so than the West MacDonnell Ranges. But when it comes to where to stay, the West Mac’s has fewer options. It’s really a choice between different ‘category’ campgrounds scattered throughout the Red Centre or day trips from Alice Springs. And for us camping wins every time, especially the bush camps, which invariably standout out in the memory. Having run and participated in overland trips all around the world, we’re always on the lookout for quiet, basic bush camping spots on our travels. And Finke River 2 Mile Bush Camping Area was certainly one we loved. Getting a little off track, away from the tourist hordes for a night at this rustic spot, was definitely a highlight of our 14 Day Red Centre Road Trip.

About Finke River 2 Mile Bush Camping Area

Finke River 2 Mile is a hidden gem in the Northern Territories West MacDonnell Ranges. Here you’ll find a free scenic bush camp right on the Finke River. It’s favoured by locals, grey nomads and self-sufficient campers, all wanting an un-touristy outback camping experience. If the nearby, super-busy Ormiston Gorge Campground is too much and you’re seeking a quiet, offbeat camping spot nearby, then look no further!

Finke River 2 Mile Bush Camping Area

Where is Finke River 2 Mile Bush Camping Area

As the name suggests, the Finke River 2 Mile Bush Camping Area is on the banks of the Finke River in the West MacDonnell National Park. It’s found 133km west of Alice Springs just off Namatjira Drive, almost directly opposite the Glen Helen Gorge turnoff. The Ormiston Gorge turnoff is located only a few kilometres west. Click HERE to bring up its location on Google Maps.

Views over Finke River 2 Mile Bush Camp to Mount Sonder

Getting to Finke River 2 Mile Bush Camping Area

If travelling from the east (i.e. Alice Springs), the turnoff’s on the right hand side, around 100m past the Glen Helen Lodge turnoff (to the left). Unlike the many major tourist attractions, there’s no large signage advertising the camping area. Instead, there’s a two slat sign (pictured above) right by the discreet track. If you aren’t paying attention, it would be easy to miss the turnoff. Those travelling from the west (Red Bank Gorge etc), the turnoff is immediately on your left after crossing the Finke River. If you reach the Glen Helen Road turnoff, you’ve gone too far!

Driving into Finke River 2 Mile Bush Camp

This is NOT a paved track. It is a predominantly sandy track recommended for 4WD’s (or at least high clearance vehicles). The first section of the track is quite narrow. But it then opens up with various off shoots leading down to the riverbank. It’s a bit maze like but don’t worry, the off shoots all lead to the river, some steeper than others.

Do’s & don’ts at Finke River 2 Mile Bush Camping Area

You can’t miss the information board (below) upon entering the Finke River 2 Mile Bush Camping Area. It clearly displays rules and recommendations about this part of the West MacDonnell Ranges. But there’s a few things which are important to be aware of before arriving so you are prepared:

Finke River 2 Mile Bush Camp sign
  • 4WD’s are recommended for this site. Although the first section is likely doable in a 2WD, it is sandy and high clearance is advisable. We saw a low AWD bottom out while scoping out camping spots here.
  • This is a ‘bush camp’. For those who are unfamiliar with the term, this means there are NO facilities. You WILL need to be completely self-sufficient.
  • To quote the signage ‘observe the bush toilet code – Move at least 50m away from the river bury your waste in a shallow hole.’ Not only is it revolting to leave it on display, but there are other consequences you may not have considered. According to Leave No Traceproper disposal of human waste is important to avoid pollution of water sources, minimise the possibility of spreading disease, and maximise the rate of decomposition‘. So don’t be a filthy git, dig a pit for your shit!
  • If you’re planning on bush camping anywhere in the world, having a trowel/spade is essential. A small trowel can easily dig a sufficient hole of at least 6-8 inches deep. We were disgusted to see so much toilet paper around the fringes of previously used camping spots.
  • As with the majority of parks in the Red Centre, you cannot collect firewood from anywhere within the area. So make sure you bring your own wood. And remember to always extinguish your fire with water, not soil/sand. If your campfire is ‘cool to touch’, it is safe to leave.

Camping at Finke River 2 Mile Bush Camping Area

As depicted on the Information signage board, camping is permitted alongside the eastern side of the river for 3km. After passing through the initial narrow section of track, you can turn off to reach the first stretch suitable for camping. You can also head back to the main track and head further down the river. If like us you arrive in good time on a week day, you’ll likely have ample spots to choose from. So it’s worth doing a short recce and picking a spot best suited to your needs and setup.

Camping at Finke River 2 Mile Bush Camp

Here’s a few of extra tips:

  • Get in early. This gives you plenty of time to choose an appropriate spot. It’s also not the sort of place you’d want to be driving to and through in the dark.
  • 2 mile is said to be a local’s favourite. It can get busy on weekends and holiday periods in peak season. Now more so than ever with the longterm closure of Glen Helen Resort (from Aug 2020 to at least June 2021) we imagine 2 Mile is getting increasingly busier with domestic tourists – sorry! Remember we are guests. So please please please respect this special place and leave it the way you found it so this local spot is not ruined.
  • Just to reiterate – this is a ‘bush camp’. This means there are NO facilities, so you need to be completely self-sufficient. There are no pit toilets, taps, fire pits or gas bbq’s etc.
  • Remember to read and adhere to the ‘Bush Camping Code’ and ‘Fire Policy’ on the info board.
  • Ultimately, use common sense and respect other campers and the environment so everyone and everything can enjoy this lovely spot!

Sunset at Finke River 2 Mile Bush Camping Area

As with so many of the sites we visited and stayed at on our 14 Day Red Centre Road Trip, the sunset was one of the highlights here! The sun sets directly across the river. So be sure to be watching as the sun descends, lighting up the river and surrounding landscape before it drops below the horizon (weather permitting). When nature puts on a show like this, for us there is nothing better than watching it, beer in hand from a beautiful bush camp!

Sunset at Finke River 2 Mile Bush Camp

Wildlife in the area

Being right on the river, this area is full of waterbirds like Darters, Herons and Ducks. We were also lucky enough to have several beautiful Major Mitchell Cockatoo in the trees around our camp, coming down to drink from the river during our visit. Other birds included a flock of Red-Tailed Black Cockatoo, Zebra Finch and a few different Raptors. As was the theme for our trip, we had some very colourful neighbours for the night with the numerous Budgies nesting in the tree above our tent.

Major Mitchell's Cockatoo
Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo (Pink Cockatoo)

Around dawn and dusk particularly, keep an eye out for some of the bigger mammals like the Dingoes. We saw one not too far back along the road earlier that day when driving on the Namatjira Drive from Serpentine Gorge to Ormiston Gorge. But we only heard them in the distance during the night from Finke River 2 Mile.

Dingo on Namatjira Drive
Dingo on Namatjira Drive earlier that day

Where to go for sunrise

If you want a really special sunrise it’s well worth making the short drive to the Mount Sonder Lookout. Found only a few minutes drive from Finke River 2 Mile, it’s super easy to reach. Drive out of Finke River 2 Mile Camping Area, turn right at Namatjira Drive and cross the Finke River Bridge. Shortly after take the signed right turn up to the Mount Sonder lookout. From here there’s plenty of car parks and a small covered pavilion where you can watch the sunrise. Make sure to get there early to witness the pre-sunrise colours too.

Mount Sonder Lookout pre-sunrise colours

From the Mount Sonder Lookout there’s also a short walking track that actually links to the Larapinta Trail. From the lookout, walk down the track for only a few minutes to small hill directly opposite Finke River 2 Mile Bush Camping Area. This is the perfect place to watch the sunrise over the Finke River 2 Mile.

Sunrise over Finke River 2 Mile Bush Camp

But as the name suggests this lookout is really about Mount Sonder (Rwetyepme). As the sun rises over the horizon, it lights the mighty Mount Sonder a beautiful reddish orange colour. And if you like the views from here, then checkout our blog – Mount Sonder Sunrise Hike, which we did the following morning. The vistas from up there were truly spectacular.

Mount Sonder at sunrise

As the sun rises higher in the sky, the golden hour rays lights up the surrounding scenery in all directions, creating that magical morning glow. Enjoy the whole sunrise show, from twilight to golden hour well after the sun has risen, with a thermos of coffee (or make some when you get there). It really is an awesome way to start the day!

Mount Sonder Lookout at golden hour

Nearby attractions

Finke River 2 Mile Bush Camping Area is a great base for some of the West MacDonnell Ranges many nearby attractions. To the west the aforementioned Mount Sonder Lookout is right on your doorstep! And further west Redbank Gorge is only about a twenty minute drive away.

Redbank Gorge

To the east, Glen Helen Gorge is literally a couple of kilometres away. And despite the big ‘closed’ sign spanning the road due to the closure of Glen Helen Resort (from Aug 2020 to at least June 2021) you can still access the gorge. There is clear signage and a map advising of the current temporary access route down to the Gorge on foot.

Glen Helen Gorge

A little further to the east, about a 10 minute drive is the ever-popular Ormiston Gorge. A great place for a cooling dip on a warm day, it also has some nice hike options. Head up the short track to the Ghost Gum Lookout, from where you can continue on the Ghost Gum Walk Loop or return the way you came. Or tackle the much longer 9km Pound Walk, a 3-4 hour loop taking in the western end of the ‘Pound’ – a massive amphitheatre surrounded by the hills and ridges. For more info on the places we visited in the area checkout our 14 Day Red Centre Road Trip.

Ormiston Gorge from Ghost Gum Lookout

In summary

Finke River 2 Mile Bush Camping Area was undoubtedly a highlight of our time in the West MacDonnell Ranges. It was one of the most memorable places we stayed on our 14 Day Red Centre Road Trip. If you too like getting a little off track, then camping here is something we highly recommend.

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