Litchfield National Park is often the highlight of many traveller’s visit to the Top End. The spectacular park is home to the ancient sandstone plateau of the Tabletop Range which is carved out by tumbling waterfalls, natural swimming holes and magnetic termite mounds. At just 100km from Darwin, it’s one of the must visits while exploring the Northern Territory. While you can visit on a day trip, I would highly recommend spending at least a night or two to really explore all the best swimming spots and waterfalls in Litchfield National Park.
I was staying in Berry Springs during my time around Darwin, meaning I could easily pop in and out of the national park over a number of different visits. All up I spent just over a week inside the park itself, exploring the waterfalls and swimming holes sometimes multiple times. It has such a tropical vibe all year round, and is the ultimate place to sit back and relax and jump in the water whenever you start to feel the Top End’s heat.
Here are all the best swimming spots and waterfalls in Litchfield National Park to explore with a 2WD, including the best campsites to stay at and how to get around.
About Litchfield National Park
The national park covers around 1500 square kilometres, with many of the attractions being within close proximity to each other. This makes it a super easy and relaxed place to explore from Darwin, enabling you to see multiple waterfalls within a day.
Litchfield is the traditional home of the Koongurrukun, Mak Mak Marranunggu, Werat and Warray Aboriginal people.
There is no parks pass required for Litchfield National Park, unlike Kakadu National Park. The park is free to explore and is open all year round and at all times.
Litchfield is an incredibly popular place to visit and can get extremely busy in high season (dry season). This means you should expect mass crowding at places like Wangi Falls and Florence Falls from June to August. However, if you choose to camp the night in the park, this gives you the chance to be at some of these places before or after the crowds have gone. Sunrise and sunset are particularly beautiful times to be up and about in Litchfield.
There is limited phone reception covering the national park, however, Wangi Falls and Florence Falls has some Optus coverage but no Telstra.
You should plan on being fully self sufficient if you want to camp the night in Litchfield. There are no shops or petrol stations throughout the park, until you reach Berry Springs or Batchelor at opposite ends of the main road. Pack enough food and drinking water for your visit, although there is a kiosk at Wangi Falls open limited hours serving hot food and some snacks.
How to get there
It’s ideal if you have your own car, as the national park is just over an hour from Darwin. This way you can explore the best parts of the park at your own leisure and spend as much time as you want swimming. There is one main road that runs right through Litchfield National Park and it is now sealed! This means that most of the main attractions are accessible by 2WD, with only a handful of places left now that require a 4WD.
If you’re short on time, then you can also opt to take a day trip to Litchfield National Park. These are common for solo travellers or backpackers without their own vehicle, and usually includes a stop at the main highlights, including Wangi Falls, Florence Falls and Buley Rockhole. Check some out below:
When to visit Litchfield National Park
Litchfield National Park is technically open all year round. However, depending on the season, there are some changes to be aware of.
During the Top End’s dry season from May until October, the waterfalls and swimming holes are generally open all the time. This is when the weather is warm but dry and it’s ideal for exploring, swimming and camping out.
From November onwards, the wet season brings heavy rainfall and flooding throughout the Top End. During this time the waterfalls are absolutely pumping and it can be a very unique time to see them. However, road closures are common and generally swimming is off limits due to the likelihood of saltwater crocodiles entering from the rivers and oceans.
In saying that, swimming can be banned at any time of the year if the water levels are considered too high!
Bush fires are also common in the dry season. When I was there in August there was a bush fire through Florence Falls Campground, so keep your eye out for updates. Rangers will close the campgrounds down if it becomes dangerous.
Best swimming spots and waterfalls in Litchfield National Park
Here are the must visit places in Litchfield that you should add to your itinerary while exploring the Top End:
1. The Cascades
The secret is out! The Cascades rarely makes people’s list of best things to do in Litchfield National Park, but I have to say I think it was my favourite spot. It’s one of the first major attractions you’ll come to if coming from Darwin, just an hour and a half from the city centre.
The Cascades are a series of rock pools and small waterfalls in a dreamy kind of dense monsoon forest. It does require a bit more effort than some of the other waterfalls and swimming spots in Litchfield which is why you’ll likely only ever see a handful of people there. But it’s worth it, trust me!
The Cascades are divided into what’s referred to as Upper and Lower Cascades, with a walking trail that links the two in a 3.3km loop walk. It’s a bit more challenging that you might expect, so I’d recommend wearing walking shoes for this one. The trail can be slippery and muddy in sections.
After a flat and easy stroll from the car park, you’ll come to a junction. You can either head directly to the Lower Cascades to your left, but I recommend doing the full loop walk by heading to your right for the Upper Cascades.
The Upper Cascades are more shallow rock holes on top of an escarpment. They are much more shallow in the dry season, but you’ll almost have the place to yourself.
The Lower Cascades are deeper rock holes at the base of small waterfalls amidst dense forest. These are beautiful places to swim, and you can pick and choose your favourite spot. The best spot requires a bit of rock hopping up the river, so be careful, but I had the place to myself for an hour, so it’s definitely worth it.
2. Wangi Falls
Undoubtedly the most popular place to visit in Litchfield National Park. This is by far the biggest swimming spot in the park, with a huge plunge pool at the base of tumbling waterfalls. It’s the easiest and most accessible place to reach, as you’ll find a huge car park area and a paved flat footpath just a couple of hundred metres to the falls.
It’s an impressive sight, even outside of the wet season. The swimming here is safest in the dry season, but even then it can be closed at any time, if water levels are too high. The pool is extremely deep, so many people bring floating devices to swim across to the base of the waterfalls.
If you want to get away from the crowds, then I recommend you head off on the Wangi Falls walk, which is a 1.6km loop hike around to the top of the falls and down again. There are a couple of nice viewing platforms, but stick to the path and don’t try and get too close to the rock edges!
Wangi Falls Campground is a great place to stay as well, especially if you want to see the falls at sunset and sunrise, which I highly recommend.
3. Tjaetaba Falls
Another hidden gem of Litchfield National Park, Tjaetaba Falls is a sacred site for the Aboriginal Traditional Owners. Accessing the base of the falls is prohibited, however, there is a walking track known as Greenant Creek which takes you up to the top of the falls.
The 1.3km steep one way hike takes you to the rocky top of the waterfall, offering views through the trees over the landscape below. You’ll also find an incredible plunge pool and infinity pool right at the edge of the waterfall. While swimming at the top of the falls is permitted, it’s not recommended for kids as it could be quite dangerous if they got too close to the edge.
4. Tolmer Falls
Tolmer Falls is one of the tallest waterfalls in Litchfield National Park. It’s located just off the main road and is an underrated place to visit. While swimming is not possible at Tolmer Falls, this shouldn’t deter you. The single drop waterfall is incredibly mesmerising and the view from the platforms makes the walk worthwhile.
There are two purpose built viewing platforms for seeing the falls from different angles. While you can walk to the closest one in just a few hundred metres, I would recommend doing the 1.6km loop walk which takes you to both.
The walk takes you around towards the top of the falls and then back towards the viewing platforms. It was actually difficult to follow the trail a couple of times, as it crosses over some rocks. I met a couple of people who got a bit lost, so take care and try to follow the arrows!
Tolmer Falls is actually best to see in the wet season when the waterfall is full of water. However, it’s still a special sight at any time, especially if you want to get a nice view of the escarpment.
5. Florence Falls
Definitely one of the prettiest waterfalls in Litchfield National Park, Florence Falls is a real highlight. The stunning cascades plunge over some cliffs into a natural pool at the bottom. It’s one of the dreamiest places to see in the Top End and is a sight that appears to belong in a tropical fairytale.
There’s a couple of ways to access the falls and swimming spot. The most direct is walking down the 160 steps to the base, passing by a wonderful viewing platform over the top of the waterfalls. The other longer option is through monsoon forest via the 1km Shady Creek Walk.
Either way you’ll come to the bottom of the falls, which is one of the picture perfect views of the Top End. You can either enter the water over the rocks or by the new metal stairs. It’s possible to swim right up to the waterfalls and then float back as you look up at the tumbling water.
It’s an extremely busy place though, with a mass crowd descending on the swimming spot in dry season. There’s not a whole lot of room to sit and relax near the falls either, so I recommend getting there very early. The Florence Falls Campground at the top is a great way to see it without the visitors. Sunrise and early in the morning is the best time to get the place to yourself, although the water may be a little fresh then!
6. Buley Rockhole
Next door to Florence Falls, Buley Rockhole has emerged as one of the most popular places to visit in Litchfield National Park. Rather than just a single rockhole as the name suggests, it’s actually a series of natural cascades and plunge pools along a river. They’re not very big, but the pools are one of the most relaxing spots to sit and enjoy a natural spa bath!
There’s plenty of spots for everyone to enjoy, but it does get very busy in the dry season. There’s a small carpark for Buley Rockhole, but you can also access it by walking from Florence Falls. I would highly recommend this, as by walking you can explore some of the hidden spots along the way that many people don’t get to see.
Buley Rockhole is open most of the year, but does get closed after severe rainfall.
7. Magnetic Termite Mounds
So these aren’t swimming spots or waterfalls, but the magnetic termite mounds are still one of the most popular places to visit in Litchfield. It’s mind-blowing that such small creatures build these towering mounds all across the Top End. However, Litchfield is home to some of the biggest you’ll see.
There’s now a purpose built car park and viewing area for the termite mounds, just after Florence Falls. Scattered across the landscape, it makes for a very unique sight and a classic Top End photo op.
4WD-only waterfalls in Litchfield National Park
If you’re lucky enough to be driving around the Top End in a 4×4, then you should also add a visit to Tjaynera Falls, Surprise Creek Falls and the Lost City in Litchfield. Tjaynera Falls (Sandy Creek Falls) also has a campground with basic facilities for a more remote feeling without all the tourists. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see these places, but hopefully I’ll return one day with a 4WD.
Where to stay in Litchfield National Park
Litchfield National Park accommodation is mostly confined to camping in the parks campgrounds. However, if you prefer something a bit more comfortable, then you can stay at Litchfield Tourist Park in Batchelor, just outside of the park boundary. They offer a range of bungalows for couples up to large groups, as well as, powered camping sites.
Litchfield National Park camping
Litchfield has two wonderful campgrounds to stay in. I camped at both multiple times in my van, and I highly recommend you do the same so you can enjoy some of the highlights outside of the busy middle of the day. They operate on a first in best dressed system, so it’s best to get there before midday during the dry season.
Wangi Falls Campground || Open all year round and accessible for all vehicles. There are toilets, hot showers and BBQ facilities. $10 per person per night. There are around 32 sites, all nice and flat for a range of set ups.
Florence Falls Campground || Open all year round. There’s actually two campgrounds, with toilets and showers available, one being 2WD and the other 4WD accessible. It costs $10 per person per night. There are 25 sites in the 2WD campground, with a shortcut trail leading down to the falls.
Things to do nearby
If you’re exploring more of the Top End, I can recommend a visit to the following places:
If you can’t get enough of the incredible swimming spots in the Norther Territory, then I highly recommend a stop at Berry Springs on the way to Litchfield National Park. Just 40 minutes from the national park closer to Darwin, Berry Springs is a natural hot spring amongst beautiful tropical forest.
The warm water is a fluorescent blue colour, which is an incredible contrast agains the green trees surrounding the edge. It’s not just one single spring though, with a series of water holes along a section of river. You can simply float from one end to the other and then walk back again, or simply jump in and soak up the warmth.
It’s only open during the dry season due to the presence of crocs in the wet season. It’s free to visit, and has a decent car park and paved footpaths to access the pools. Go early in the morning if you want to avoid the crowds! It’s open 8am til 6pm.
Kakadu National Park
Next to Litchfield, Kakadu is the other incredible national park just outside of Darwin. As one of the largest national parks in Australia, the ancient landscape and culture of Kakadu makes it a very special place to visit.
Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to both its natural and cultural values, the park is home to some of the most impressive Aboriginal rock art, unique flora and fauna and otherworldly landscapes. The rocky escarpments and floodplains of Arnhem Land make way for wetlands, thundering waterfalls and rock formations that can be explored over a number of days via both 2WD and 4WD.
Read my guide: A Travel Guide to Kakadu National Park Without a 4WD
Darwin is one of Australia’s most underrated capital cities in my opinion. The dynamic city has plenty of things to see and do, including Mindil Beach Market, Waterfront Precinct and the Northern Territory Art Gallery and Museum. The tropical city is also a great base for exploring the Top End, including Kakadu and Litchfield.
Edith Falls / Leliyn
If you’re heading south to Katherine and Nitmiluk National Park, then a stop at Edith Falls/Leliyn is a must. Another incredible waterfall and swimming spot in the Top End, this is an incredibly beautiful place to relax and cool off. You can also camp there, with a pretty campground and kiosk to keep you there for days. It’s 230km south of Litchfield National Park.
Read my guide: An Essential Guide to Visiting Edith Falls / Leliyn