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 the 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.

We’ve picked Ranger Steve’s brain to help you plan your next visit.

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

I should probably say one of the new 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 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 some sections of the Gorge Hike 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 boys. It’s one of the best things you can do with your children as they learn so much and it makes them so happy and relaxed. No fences, no concrete, no stress. Just trees, grass and 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 new Punchbowl Lookout. The views are spectacular and it’s only a 20 minute walk from the carpark via the new 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’ll say site 9. 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.

Site 9, Pink Gum Campground

What’s your favourite campfire recipe?

Campfire Nachos!

You’ll need:

  • 1 bag corn chips
  • 1 x 400g can refried beans
  • 1 x jar black olives
  • 225g cheddar cheese, grated
  • 2 tomatoes
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 1 x 225g jar salsa
  • 1 x 400g can sweet corn
  • 1 x 100g jar jalapenos (if you like it spicy!)


  1. Place a layer of chips in the bottom of a cast iron pan, and top them with half of the beans, olives, cheese, tomatoes, onion, salsa, corn, and jalapenos.
  2. Place a second layer of chips on top of the other ingredients, and then top these chips with the remaining ingredients, finishing with the cheese on top.
  3. Cover the top of the pan with a sheet of foil, and place the pan over some hot coals.
  4. Let the nachos cook, maintaining the hot coals for 10-15 minutes or until the cheese is melted. Move the pan and allow nachos to cool for a few minutes. Enjoy!

Throughout the month of September, 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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