Surrounded by a sea of reds, oranges and greens (if it’s been raining), Alice Springs has a vibrant local riding community and a sprawling network of trails weaving their way through the extraordinary landscapes of Central Australia.
You could be forgiven for thinking the terrain around Alice Springs is an endless sunburned wasteland, but this could not be further from the truth. The landscape is anything but flat, sprinkled with crumbly escarpments, jagged rocks, and plenty of grippy red dirt. The trail surface evolves like the explosion of colours during the twilight hours, with an ever-changing mix of rock, quartz, sand, and shale. One moment you’re picking your way through techy rock features and then trying to float over high-speed sand traps around the next bend.
During the summer months, the days can be sizzling hot, but once the sun dips below the horizon, the locals don their lights and take to the trails. Come winter, the Alice is met with blue skies, 28-degree days and there is over 200km of singletrack, tantalisingly close to the centre of town.
Watch as Vandy and Jackie take on Alice Springs trails under lights
It’s been a while since we’ve been out to the Red Centre, but with NT border restrictions easing after the new year, we thought we’d check in with some Alice locals to see what’s cracking.
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What’s new on the trails?
Instead of the giant man ferns, grass trees or the ghost white skeletons of gumtrees we usually find at riding spots around Australia, Alice Springs is a desert destination through and through. With big red rocks, sweeping open trails and deep blue skies, it feels a bit like Moab or Fruita.
And just like Moab or Fruita, mountain biking is ingrained in Alice Springs, with a buzzing local riding community, an active club, group rides throughout the week, and junior programs like the Dusty Demons to get grommets on bikes.
“It’s now a town that’s known for mountain biking, there are more and more people riding, and we are even getting people moving here just to mountain bike,” says AusCycling NT Participation Coordinator Georgina Landy.
With the trail centres branching out from town in the shape of a three-leaf clover, you’re never too far from civilisation, but it sure does feel like it. Depending on which local you talk to, you’ll hear wildly varying numbers for how much singletrack there is in the Alice, but with the odometer well into the triple digits, there is more than enough to keep you entertained for days on end.
Check out some of the best trails Alice Springs has to offer
The trails on the east side of town are a little smoother, a bit flowier, with a sandier trail surface. Make a trip across to the west side, and the terrain gets chunky, rocky and techy. Regardless of which side you ride, there are trails catering to riders of every level.
Since we last put rubber to red dirt, there hasn’t been a boatload of new trail development going on, because the newly formed trail crew have been busy looking after what’s already there. Alice Springs local, and cameraman extraordinaire James Tudor tells Flow the Central Australian Rough Riders formed an official trail crew about 12-months ago, and has been working hard to keep the network in tip-top shape.
There is one new trail, however, the Yeperenye Track between Anthwerrke/Emily Gap and Atherrke/Jessie Gap. Named for the large rock painting featuring the Yeperenye or caterpillar dreaming at Anthwerrke/Emily Gap, the track was funded, constructed and maintained by the Traditional Owners, this is the only formalised trail on the southern side of the ranges. While it’s not singletrack, the shared-use path is bike-friendly, and Landy tells Flow it’s a lovely journey through the outback. She rates it as one of her favourite rides around town.
Also new is consistent signage throughout the east and west networks. Local shredder Owen Chenhall tells Flow these navigational aids have gone in over the last year or so, thanks to continued investment from the state government and Parks and Wildlife NT.
“Now we’ve got proper signposts, boards and arrows, which have been really good for the trails. Previously you had to use Trail Forks, but the trails don’t always seem to connect on the app, and it can be a little bit hard to find your way around if you’re not local,” he says.
David Atkins, President of the Central Australian Rough Riders continues, “Parks have continued to signpost the officially sanctioned trails. They’ve added these 20x20cm, burned rusted looking, solid steel posts at all the major trail intersections, and each one now has grid references on them (to help emergency services find you).”
We should note that while there is an extensive network of sanctioned trails, there is also a vast network of unmarked trails. So come prepared, make sure you have a map, or when in doubt, grab a local. Hardcopy maps can be picked up at the Alice Springs Visitor Information Centre, bike shops in town — or you can download a copy here.
Red Centre Adventure Ride
One significant trail development that is happening near Alice Springs, is the Red Centre Adventure Ride, a 200km multi-day trail connecting Alice Springs Desert Park to Glen Helen in Tjoritja/West MacDonnell National Park. The ride will be designed to suit riders of all skill levels, showcasing the breathtaking environment and the cultural significance of the region.
It’s still going to be a while before riders can tackle this adventure, but the project is bubbling away in the background. TRC Tourism has mapped out the trail alignments and submitted a design to the Traditional Owners, Central Land Council and the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority for approval. Covid has slowed the process down; however, TRC Tourism tells Flow it expects to hear back early next year.
Yep, you read that right, there is heli-biking in Alice Springs. James Griffiths, Chief Pilot at Alice Springs Helicopters, came up with the idea after a trip to Canada where he met a heli-ski operator.
“I said, ‘what do you do when the snow melts,’ and he said, ‘we’re still here, it all becomes downhill mountain biking,'” he says. “I thought there was no reason we couldn’t do something similar in Alice Springs.”
Once word got out about what he was planning, Griffiths says he was inundated with people trying to book a heli-biking flight — this was before he’d even had permission to land near the trails.
Think of this service as a bit like jumping on a shuttle, but instead of a stinky old van, it’s a freaking helicopter! Rather than rolling up a bumpy shuttle road, you get to see Alice Springs and the MacDonnell Ranges from above. As it stands, Griffiths has three landing sites, two on the west side (along the Hell Line Trail) and one in the east (near Road Train), but he’s working to add another four around the network.
The choppers can ferry up to four bikes at a time — or two e-Bikes — and the landing pads are within 50m of the trails.
Watch as we take a birds-eye-view of the Alice Springs trails
What about events?
The Central Australian Rough Riders are gearing up for another running of Easter in the Alice from 15-18 April 2022.
“The club ran the race for the first time this year. They did a really good job and are looking to build on the success of what was a very well attended event, even in the midst of all the Covid craziness,” says Tudor.
The three-stage race typically covers about 120km over three days, with a Midi half-length option and single-stage entries also available. But it’s not just about the racing; there are parties, movie nights, and there’s even a pool. For the 2022 event, Easter in the Alice will also double as the NT state champs.
“It’s going to be tacked onto the first stage of the Easter in the Alice,” says Landy. “It’s been in the pipeline for a while, and the idea is that it will alternate each year — so next year it will go to Darwin.”
Also returning will be The Redback, set to run from 18-21 August 2022. In the past two years, this classic event has fallen victim to snap lockdowns and Covid border restrictions, but the team from Rapid Ascent are working hard to deliver the four-day stage race.
Registration for Easter in the Alice and The Redback is open now, and they sell out quick.
Uluṟu by bike
A little under five hours from Alice Springs is Uluṟu-Kata Tjuta National Park. Measuring 348m tall and 9.4km around, it is the world’s largest sandstone monolith and a profoundly spiritual place to the Aṉangu Traditional Owners.
Around the edge of the massive red crag is a 15km loop where our friends at Outback Cycling run tours. It’s a family-friendly ride, you can pedal at your own pace to take in your surroundings, and check out ancient rock art and water holes around the base of the rock.
Outback Cycling shuts down annually through the summer but will be back up and running in March 2022, offering bike rentals and transfers from Alice Springs.
When we asked our friends up in the Alice what their must-ride trails would be, Pegasus was the resounding favourite. Pegasus is the amalgamation of what used to be called Eagle Horse and Stimson.
“When you get up on the easternmost ridge, you have amazing views across the West MacDonnell Ranges. It’s a good mix of long sustained flowy sections, switchbacks, and some gnarlier drop-offs back into the valley,” says Tudor. “You go through a couple of different natural areas and get a bit of a taste of the region.”
For those looking for an adventure and the outback experience, commit to the West Macs ride, which locals call the Hell Line.
“It’s a decent loop, it’s over 30km, but the trail isn’t all that difficult or technical. I just love the journey of it,” says Landy.
Tudor also said Road Train is one of his favourites. Summing up all the sides of Alice Springs in a nutshell, it follows the Stuart Highway and the railway for a section before heading out into the backcountry.
“You’re in and out of rivers, crossing creeks and into some steep bermed trail work. It runs very close to the Larapinta Trail and in the last section you end up coming back along the Larapinta Trail to the Telegraph Station trailhead,” says Tudor.
A few other highlights our Alice locals mentioned are Bus, Aherre, Skyline, Unyerre, Wilga, and Bob Gnarly.
Check out Black Slabbath, the final descent on the fun and rowdy Bus Trail
Where should you eat?
A trail town wouldn’t be a trail town without a brewery, and the Alice Springs Brewing Co has been pumping out cold ones since 2018. The brewery isn’t just slinging suds, they also run The Hideout restaurant with everything from burgers to pizzas and hot wings. Located on the southern side of Heavitree Gap, we hear quite a few evening group rides end up here.
The Alice Springs Bakery or “The Bakery” has just revamped and expanded its shop space in the Todd Mall, but they’re still serving delectable pies and pastries, fresh-baked sourdough and doughnuts, and locally roasted coffee. The Goods and DeYu Coffee are also great stops for a pre-ride caffeine boost.
For those looking for a brew with a view, the Epilogue has a rooftop bar with live music, or Casa Nostra to do some carbo-loading with a big bowl of spaghetti.
Then there is the Jump Inn, a hostel/Asian fusion restaurant that hosts live music and weekly events like leather crafting, Latin dancing, and they even have a swimming pool.
Things to do off the bike?
Everybody talks about Alice Springs’ sunsets — for a good reason, they are spec-freaking-tacular — and the classic viewing spot is the top of ANZAC Hill. But according to Landy it’s not the best spot in town, she tells us Spencer Hill is the prime location to watch the sun go down.
A bit north of ANZAC Hill, on the other side of the Todd River, if you’ve ridden the Ilentye Trail you rolled around the base of Spencer Hill. Landy tells Flow a ten-minute walk gets you a view of the city’s eastern suburbs, the river, The Gap, and the West MacDonnells.
Alice Springs is three hours from anywhere in Australia, and it’s also surrounded on every side by natural attractions. If you’re going to make the trip out there, it would be silly not to road trip down to Uluṟu-Kata Tjuta National Park and Kings Canyon or spend the day out in the West MacDonnell Ranges exploring the waterholes.
Landy also says the Bird Show at the Alice Springs Desert Park is a must-see. The Desert Park has one of the best nocturnal animal exhibits in the country, and you can learn about the flora and fauna that make this part of the country so special.
We already mentioned Alice Springs Helicopters, and beyond the heli-biking, they also do sightseeing tours covering everything from the West MacDonnells to Simpsons Gap and Uluṟu.
Another option to see Alice from above is a hot air balloon ride.
“It’s a really impressive experience, the stillness of the desert as day breaks, sailing across in a hot air balloon. And then you finish with a champagne breakfast, it’s pretty great,” says Tudor.
The best way to take in all of Alice Springs is from above, luckily there are plenty of ways to get up there.
Have you ever truly ‘heard’ Alice? Enjoy this ASMR experience of riding the Red Centre
If you need spares or a tune-up there are plenty of bike shops around town including the MyRide Alice Springs which offers rental bikes.
There are tonnes of social rides happening in Alice Springs, and Atkins encourages anyone coming to town to check the calendar on the club website and come along. There are also non-club associated rides like the Park to Pints and the Dirt Divas that go out weekly.
Atkins also tells us the local BMX club has added a mountain bike category to its Friday night racing.
For info on mountain biking in Alice Springs, tours, prebuilt itineraries and more, check out the Discover Central Australia website.
Photos: Flow MTB, Tourism NT/Travis Deane, Tourism NT/Jackson Groves, Tourism NT/Oliver Eclipse, James Tudor/Forktail Films