Simpson Desert Conservation Park and Regional Reserve

  • Campfires Permitted
  • Camping
  • 4WD
  • Bird Watching
PDF Park Brochure
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Simpson Desert SA map

Seasoned 4WD travellers can explore the endless landscape and the ever-changing environment of the Simpson Desert. Red dunes, salt-crusted lakes, vast stretches of grasslands, dense scrubland and tall stands of hakea and gidgee. Visit after the rains to see the spectacular colour show as the wildflowers bloom across the sand dunes.

Please note, it is mandatory to purchase a Desert Parks Pass to enter and camp in Simpson Desert Conservation Park and Simpson Desert Regional Reserve.

Simpson Desert SA map

Seasoned 4WD travellers can explore the endless landscape and the ever-changing environment of the Simpson Desert. Red dunes, salt-crusted lakes, vast stretches of grasslands, dense scrubland and tall stands of hakea and gidgee. Visit after the rains to see the spectacular colour show as the wildflowers bloom across the sand dunes.

Please note, it is mandatory to purchase a Desert Parks Pass to enter and camp in Simpson Desert Conservation Park and Simpson Desert Regional Reserve.

About

Located within the driest region of the Australian continent, the Simpson Desert Conservation Park is in the centre of the Simpson Desert, one of the world's best examples of parallel dunal desert.

The Simpson Desert's sand dunes stretch over hundreds of kilometres and lie across the corners of three states - South Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory.

The Simpson Desert Regional Reserve, just outside the Conservation Park, features a wide variety of desert wildlife preserved in a landscape of varied dune systems, extensive playa lakes, spinifex grasslands and acacia woodlands. The reserve links the Simpson Desert Conservation Park to Witjira National Park.

Simpson Desert parks in South Australia and Queensland are closed in summer from 1 December to 15 March. Vehicles are required to have high visibility safety flags attached to the front of the vehicle.

Opening hours

Open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Simpson Desert Conservation Park and Regional Reserve are closed from 1 December to 15 March each year.

Access may be restricted due to local road conditions. Please refer to the latest Desert Parks Bulletin for current access and road condition information.

This park is closed on days of Catastrophic Fire Danger and may be closed on days of Extreme Fire Danger.

Listen to the local area radio station for the latest updates and information on fire safety. 

Contact details

Natural Resource Centre - Port Augusta

Phone: (+61 8) 8648 5300
Email: DesertParks@sa.gov.au

Desert Parks Information

Phone: (+61 8) 8648 5328
Email: DesertParks@sa.gov.au

Outback Road Report

1300 361 033 (24-hour automated service)
Northern and Western South Australian Outback Roads Temporary Closures, Restrictions and Warnings Report

When to visit

The most enjoyable times to visit the Simpson Desert are autumn, winter and spring. Simpson Desert Regional Reserve and Conservation Park are closed annually between 1 December and 15 March. This closure is to ensure public safety as temperatures can exceed 50˚. A breakdown during this time could be fatal.

Getting there

Simpson Desert Conservation Park is located 957km north of Port Augusta. Access may be restricted due to local road conditions. Please refer to the latest Desert Parks Bulletin for current access and road condition information.

It is accessible via the following routes:

From Kulgera: Travel via Finke to New Crown Station, then via Charlotte Waters to Mount Dare Homestead in Witjira National Park, through Dalhousie Springs and Spring Creek to Purni Bore.

From Oodnadatta: Travel via Hamilton Station and Dalhousie Springs, Spring Creek then Purni Bore.

From Birdsville: Enter via the QAA line to Poeppel Corner. Depending on the road conditions, the 160km journey from Birdsville to Poeppel Corner may take you 6-8 hours as it travels over some of the biggest sand dunes in the desert. Allow plenty of time. Travel via the Shire road which leaves the inside Birdsville Track just southwest of Birdsville. This joins the QAA Line at Big Red sand dune 33km from Birdsville and heads west into the park.

If you are travelling through this area for the first time, it is recommended that you cross the reserves from west to east to take advantage of the gentler upsweep to most dunes. Reserves of fuel, water and food, as well as basic vehicle spare parts and recovery equipment, must be carried.

Pets in parks

Pets are not permitted within this park. There are however, a number of South Australian National Parks where you can take your dog on a lead. 

Facilities

The only services available between Oodnadatta and Birdsville are at Mount Dare in Witjira National Park.

Useful information

Outback Road Report

1300 361 033 (24-hour automated service)
Northern and Western South Australian Outback Roads Temporary Closures, Restrictions and Warnings Report

  • Important: Collection of firewood within National Parks is prohibited.

Traditional owners

In the 19th century, most Simpson Desert Aboriginal groups were concentrated around the watercourses on the desert boundaries. Prior to this time, the Wangkangurru actually lived in the desert; and to the west of their traditional boundary the Lower Southern Arrernte lived on the edge and partly in the desert. Family groups were generally concentrated around native wells, or ‘Mikiri’ which provided the only permanent source of water.

In good seasons, they could spread out away from these sites, taking advantage of groundwater and the flush of new life that rain brings to the desert.

Aboriginal groups living in this area were hunters and gatherers, but they also traded extensively with groups to the north and south. Ground-edge axes from quarries in Queensland were traded, as were sandstone grinding stones and ochre from the North Flinders Ranges. Some stone implements and workings can be seen in the park, but are not common. All Aboriginal sites are protected, so please do not disturb them.

Aboriginal South Australians are the first peoples of our State and have occupied, enjoyed and managed these lands and waters since the creation. For SA's First Peoples, creation ancestors laid down the laws of the Country and bestowed a range of customary rights and obligations to the many Aboriginal Nations across our state. 

Aboriginal peoples' oral histories and creation stories traverse the length and breadth of Australia’s lands and waters, including South Australian Parks. These stories interconnect land and waters with complex meaning and values and hold great cultural significance. We recognise and respect Aboriginal people's ownership of their stories and that they hold rights and obligations to care for Country. It is through these rights and cultural obligations and a shared goal to protect the environment for generations to come that DEWNR is committed to meaningful collaboration and involvement with Aboriginal peoples in the management of our shared parks.

History

European settlement brought about the decline of Aboriginal occupation of the desert. White settlers introduced influenza to the Aboriginal groups, decimating the population. Groups were displaced as pastoral properties took over their land, while other Aboriginal people were attracted to work on properties and to towns and communities.

The first European to see the grandeur of the Simpson Desert was the explorer Charles Sturt in 1845, but the desert was not fully recognised and named until the 1930s when another explorer and geologist, Cecil Thomas Madigan, named it after Allen Simpson, the sponsor of his subsequent expedition and then president of the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia (South Australian Branch). The explorers who came after Sturt, mainly government surveyors, named a number of the familiar landmarks in the area. 

Notable among the early surveyors was Augustus Poeppel who surveyed the junction of the borders of Northern Territory, Queensland and South Australia in 1880. The original peg marking Poeppel Corner was removed to Adelaide for preservation in 1962 by Dr Reg Sprigg and now forms part of the History Trust of South Australia's Historic Relics Collection. On 25 August 1968, Bill Haylock of the SA Geodetic Survey placed the current steel and concrete post to mark Poeppel Corner. In 1989, the Friends of the Simpson Desert Parks erected a red gum replica of the original peg near the corner post.

The first successful European crossing of the desert was in 1936 and is credited to E. A. Colson, who, with Peter Ains (an Aboriginal companion) and five camels, travelled from Mount Etingambra eastwards via Poeppel Corner to Birdsville. Geologist Reg Sprigg and his family completed the first motorised crossing in 1962, with Dr Sprigg’s Geosurveys of Australia company. 

In 1936, the French Petroleum Company was contracted to conduct seismic surveys and explore for oil and gas deposits. These workers spent months at a time in the desert, building what are now known as the French and QAA lines, Rig Road and other tracks, thus opening up the desert for other explorers, pastoralists and tourists to follow.

The Simpson Desert Conservation Park was originally proclaimed as a national park in 1967, but changed to conservation park classification in 1972. The regional reserve was established in 1988, linking the conservation park with Witjira National Park. The enormous size of the parks (the regional reserve covers 29 191 sq km, the conservation park, 6 881 sq km) allows a wide cross-section of diverse flora, fauna and sand ridge formations to be protected.

See and do

Rangers recommend

We have picked the brains of our park rangers to find out what they would recommend you see and do whilst visiting this park.

  • Visiting the lone gum - the thriving Coolabah that stands alone alongside the Rig Road. The solitary tree, far from the nearest watercourse, generally grows in heavy clay soils. There is no other tree of its kind in the region, how it comes to be here still remains a mystery.
  • Photographing the Approdinna Attora Knolls - the rare gypsum outcrops which were once the highest dune crests in the area. Due to fragility and great scientific importance, management works have been undertaken to protect them from the impacts of vehicles and animals.
  • Standing in three different states at the same time at Poeppel Corner, in the Simpson Desert Conservation Park. A replica of Augustus Poeppel's original marker stands near the current surveyors peg (the original is now in Adelaide, as part of the South Australian Historical Relics Collection) where these three states meet. Not far away you might find some of Poeppel's original mileposts and historic markers.

Bushwalking

There is currently no bushwalking information available for this park, please contact the park office for more information. 

4WDriving

Cross the Simpson Desert and explore parallel red sand ridges that extend across an area of up to 500 km. The best time to cross the Simpson is from mid-March to mid-August when the temperature is milder.

Vehicle flags are now mandatory in this park. Read more about park safety requirements under the Safety tab.

You must have a Desert Parks Pass to do this trip.

Stay in the park

Camp out under the stars and experience the beauty of the outback. The best camping spots are towards the salt lakes in the central region where gidgee woodlands provide shade, shelter and soft ground for pitching a tent. You can camp within 50 metres of the public access tracks in the Simpson Desert, but there are no facilities.

A separate camping permit is required if you intend to camp in Queensland en route to Birdsville through Munga-Thirri National Park.

There are no services between Oodnadatta and Birdsville, unless you take a detour to Mount Dare Homestead. A campground with toilets and showers is available at Dalhousie Springs and Purnie Bore in Witjira National Park.

Important information for campers:

 

Flora

On the crests of the sand dunes small grasses and herbs, such as Sandhill Cane-grass thrive, while on the more stable sands Triodia species like Lobed Spinifex and other small grasses and shrubs dominate. These spinifex tussocks can often grow to form large donut-like shapes as the centre of the plant dies out, while new growth continues at the outer edges.

Desert vegetation depends on seasonal conditions. Many plants have short life cycles, growing, flowering and setting seeds within a couple of months of rain. After rain the sand dunes can become covered in a veritable carpet of wildflowers, as the long dormant seeds of Poached-egg Daisies and Fleshy Groundsel spring into life.

The swales between the sand dunes collect more water and nutrients than the sand dunes and so can support larger shrubs such as eremophila, grevillea and acacias like Mulga and Gidgee – particularly around Poeppel Corner where low open woodlands of Gidgee spread out to the horizon. The playa lakes in these swales also support small clumps of salt-tolerant samphire and other herbaceous plants around their periphery.

Fauna

More than 150 species of birds inhabit the Simpson Desert. Common birds include crested pigeons and zebra finches, while galahs and corellas are often seen congregating away from the midday sun in a tree overlooking a waterhole. The desert is home to several species of birds of prey such as the mighty wedge-tailed eagle (often seen soaring on the desert thermals), as well as black kites, nankeen kestrels and brown falcons.

Look carefully for the eyrean grasswren on the slopes of sand dunes, scurrying from one sandhill canegrass clump to another. Following a good season, the Simpson Desert can become a birdwatcher’s paradise as flocks of birds arrive to take advantage of the water and abundant food, particularly around the playa lakes and temporary waterholes. Watch out for waterbirds, chats and the rare Australian Bustard. To escape the searing heat of the day, many of the Simpson Desert’s mammal inhabitants only come out at night. Small marsupials including dunnarts and ampurta come out to feast on insects, while Dingoes are out searching for bigger prey such as rabbits. If you’ve got a good field guide handy, try to identify the different tracks on the sand dunes in the morning. The desert is also home to feral animals including rabbits, camels and foxes.

As you drive, remain on the lookout for some of the reptilian inhabitants of the desert. Australia's biggest lizard, the perentie, can be found out here as well as the more common sand goanna. painted and central bearded dragons can be found sunning themselves next to the track, while the desert python (the woma) and smaller beaked geckos and desert skinks may be seen if you take the time to look.

Volunteering

If you think you might be interested in volunteering opportunities within this park please contact our Volunteer Support Unit.

Mountain biking

Mountain biking is currently not permitted in this park. 

Safety

Bushwalking

The international Trail Users Code of Conduct is to show respect and courtesy towards other trail users at all times.

Ensure that you:

Camping

When camping in a National Park, it's important to remember the following:

  • Always let someone responsible know your travel plans, especially when travelling in remote areas. It's a good idea to let them know when you expect to return.
  • Check the weather forecast before you leave, including overnight temperatures on the Bureau of Meteorology. Even during very mild weather, the nights can get very cold. 
  • The quality and quantity of water cannot be guaranteed within parks. Please bring plenty of water and food to be self-sufficient.
  • Always camp in designated sites (where applicable) - do not camp beneath trees with overhanging branches, as they can drop without warning. It's also a good idea to check that there no insect nests nearby.
  • Check to make sure you're not camping in a natural waterway, flash floods can happen anytime.
  • If camp fires are permitted, you must bring your own firewood, as the collection of firewood within National Parks is prohibited. Extinguish your camp fire with water (not sand or dirt) until the hissing sound stops.
  • Ensure that you are familiar with the fire restrictions for this park.

Fire

This park is closed on days of Catastrophic Fire Danger and may be closed on days of Extreme Fire Danger.

Listen to the local area radio station for the latest updates and information on fire safety. 

Fire restrictions

  • Wood fires and solid fuel fires are permitted outside the annual Fire Danger Season.
  • You must bring your own firewood, as the collection of firewood within National Parks is prohibited.
  • Gas fires are permitted through the year, other than on days of Total Fire Ban.
  • Ensure you are familiar with the fire restrictions for this park.

4WD and safety flags

Safety flags

All vehicles must be fitted with a safety flag when travelling in the Simpson Desert Conservation Park or Simpson Desert Regional Reserve.

Flag requirements:

  • minimum 300mm wide by 290mm high
  • made of fluorescent materials, red-orange or lime-yellow in colour.

Vehicles

  • With front bullbar - flag pole attached to the bulbar, with top of the flag a minimum 3.5 metres from the ground.
  • Without front bullbar - flag pole attached via bracket at the front of the vehicle, with top of the flag a minimum 3.5 metres from the ground; alternatively flag pole attached to the front of the roof rack, with top of the flag a minimum 2 metres from the roof of vehicle.

Motorbikes

Motorbikes are currently exempt from having to display a safety flag, however headlights must used at all times during travel.

When 4WDriving in the park, it is important to be aware of the following:

  • Standard road rules apply when driving anywhere in the park, including the laws for speed limits, drink driving, vehicle registration and seat belts.
  • Take extreme care when driving in the park – be aware of blind corners, crests and narrow two-way tracks.
  • Observe all track and safety signs, especially 'No public access' signs.
  • Do not take your vehicle off the designated tracks. Wildlife can be threatened and precious habitat and indigenous sites can be damaged by off track driving.
  • Make sure you know what to do in the event of getting bogged and always carry a shovel.
  • When driving on sand, deflate your tyres as appropriate for your vehicle. Don’t forget to reinflate your tyres to the manufacturer’s recommended pressure before leaving the park. Take care when lowering tyre pressure as there is risk you could roll the tyre off its rim. Also, remember that lower tyre pressure can mean a change in how the vehicle handles.

Know before you go

Every national park is different, each has its own unique environment, it is important to be responsible while enjoying all the park has to offer.

Please ensure that you:

  • leave your pets at home
  • do not feed birds or other animals, it promotes aggressive behaviour and an unbalanced ecology
  • do not bring generators (except where permitted), chainsaws or firearms into the park
  • leave the park as you found it - place rubbish in the bins provided or take it with you
  • abide by the road rules (maintain the speed limit)
  • respect geological and heritage sites
  • do not remove native plants
  • are considerate of other park users.

  • Important: Collection of firewood within National Parks is prohibited.

  • A Desert Parks Pass is required to enter and camp in Simpson Desert Conservation Park and Simpson Desert Regional Reserve.

Fees

Entry fees

Single day entry is not available for this park, you are required to purchase a Desert Parks Pass to enter this park.

Entry and camping (for up to 21 nights at a time in a designated camping place) is covered by the purchase of a Desert Parks Pass.

Park pass

Desert Park Pass

Heading to the outback? Purchase a Desert Parks Pass which entitles you to 12 months vehicle entry into seven selected desert parks. 

The pass also allows you to camp for periods of up to 21 nights at a time in the desert parks (excluding Wabma Kadarbu Mound Springs Conservation Park, where camping is not permitted). 

Camping and accommodation

Entry and camping (for up to 21 nights at a time in a designated camping place) is covered by the purchase of a Desert Parks Pass.

Single day entry is not available for this park.

A separate camping permit is required if you intend to camp in Queensland en route to Birdsville through Munga-Thirri National Park.

Other fees and permits

There are no other fees or permits associated with this park.