Location and description
The Mount Lofty Ranges stretch from the southernmost point of the Fleurieu Peninsula at Cape Jervis northwards for over 300 kilometres (190 mi) before petering out north of Peterborough. In the vicinity of Adelaide, they separate the Adelaide Plains from the extensive plains that surround the Murray River and stretch eastwards to Victoria.
The Heysen Trail traverses almost the entire length of the ranges, crossing westwards to the Flinders Ranges near Hallett.
The mountains have a Mediterranean climate with moderate rainfall brought by south-westerly winds, hot summers and cool winters. The southern ranges are wetter (with 900 millimetres (35 in) of rain per year) than the northern ranges (400 millimetres (16 in)).
Unusual gold specimen from the old Victoria Gold Mine, probably the first gold mine worked in Australia, near Castambul
The part of the ranges south of and including the Barossa Valley are commonly known as the South Mount Lofty Ranges, and the highest part of this section is the summit of Mount Lofty (727 m or 2,385 ft). The part of the ranges nearest Adelaide is called the Adelaide Hills and, further north, the Barossa Range.
The ranges encompass a wide variety of land usage, including significant residential development, particularly concentrated in the foothills, suburbs of Stirling and Bridgewater, and the towns Mount Barker and Victor Harbor in particular. Several pine plantation forests exist, most significantly around Mount Crawford and Cudlee Creek in the north and Kuitpo Forest and Second Valley in the south. Several protected areas exist near Adelaide where the hills face the city in order to preserve highly sought-after residential land: Black Hill Conservation Park, Cleland Conservation Park and Belair National Park are the largest. The other significant parks in the southern ranges are Deep Creek Conservation Park, on the rugged southern shores of the Fleurieu Peninsula, and Para Wirra Conservation Park at the southern edge of the Barossa Valley.
There are many wineries in the ranges. Two wine regions in particular are world-renowned: the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale. Grapes are also grown in the Adelaide Hills and the Onkaparinga Valley.
Although no major mines operate in the southern ranges today, there are several large disused ones, and a myriad of small ones. An iron sulfide mine at Brukunga, northeast of Mount Barker, operated from 1955 to 1972, proving a valuable source for the production of superphosphate fertilisers vital for the postwar development of the State's outlying agricultural areas. The runoff from the mine unfortunately proved quite toxic for the local environment, and efforts have been underway since to alleviate the damage.
A small short-lived silver and lead mine in the foothills of the ranges at Glen Osmond was first opened just two years after the founding of the State in 1836: it is significant for being not only the first metal mine in the history of the State, but the first in all Australia. South Australia never experienced a nineteenth-century gold rush like those interstate, but gold was mined near both Echunga and Williamstown (in the Barossa). Other mines in the southern ranges include a nineteenth-century silver-lead mine at Talisker near Cape Jervis, which features many remaining old buildings, and the limestone mine at Rapid Bay, which ceased operations much more recently. Copper was mined at Kapunda, Truro and  and a zinc (and lead, silver and gold) mine is proposed near . Quarries dot the ranges, the most spectacular and massive of which are in the Adelaide foothills; they supplied much of the quartzite which is to be seen in the enduring "sandstone architecture" of early Adelaide.
Only one railway now crosses the ranges: the major Adelaide-Melbourne line, which was first constructed in the 1870s and has had only minor realignments since (the most significant of which was the boring of a new tunnel at Sleeps Hill). Passenger services used to run from the city to Bridgewater in the heart of the hills and ranges, but now stop at Belair in the foothills. A railway approaches the ranges at Willunga (although it was discontinued in the 1960s and has since been replaced by a cycling trail). The Mount Barker to Victor Harbor line (now used only for recreational purposes) largely skirts the eastern edge of the ranges. North of Adelaide, there is a railway to Angaston in the east of the Barossa Valley, and former railways to Truro and across the ranges near Eudunda to Morgan on the Murray River.
The ranges form part of the water supply for Adelaide, and there is an extensive infrastructure of reservoirs, weirs, and pipelines, on the Torrens, Onkaparinga, Little Para and Gawler River catchments. Mount Bold, South Para, Kangaroo Creek, and Millbrook reservoirs are the largest.
The northern ranges, often confused with the southern Flinders Ranges, and sometimes referred to as the "Mid-North ranges" or "central hill country", stretch from hills near Kapunda in the south to arid ranges beyond Peterborough in the northeast. The highest peak in this section (and in all the Mount Lofty Ranges - despite the name) is Mount Bryan (936 m or 3,071 ft). Other significant peaks include New Campbell Hill (714 m or 2,343 ft) and Stein Hill (605 m or 1,985 ft), which overlooks Burra.
The northern ranges include Belvidere Range,
Tothill Range and the Skilly Hills.
Mining, although totally absent today, was once a major industry in the northern ranges. The copper mine at Kapunda, just north of the Barossa, operated from 1842 to 1877 and was a major boost to the infant State's economy, but was soon overshadowed by the large workings at Burra, further north. The mine here operated from 1845 to 1877 with a few minor interruptions, and was superseded by even larger workings on the Yorke Peninsula. As testament to the volume of copper at Burra, however, the mine re-opened as an open-cut in 1971, before closing again ten years later.
The Clare Valley lies in a shallow fold of the northern Mount Lofty Ranges just southwest of Burra. It is yet another world-class wine-producing area, and is a very popular weekend tourist destination for people living in Adelaide. It is also home to the only conservation park in the northern ranges, Spring Gully.
The northern end of the ranges are home to two curiosities: a tiny township by the name of Yongala, familiar to South Australians for commonly being the coldest place in the state (being a hundred kilometres inland, and on a somewhat elevated plateau as with much of the Mid North). The other curiosity is a locality near Orroroo called "Magnetic Hill". The name stems from a reputation that if you take your car there, it will roll uphill.
Wind turbines northwest of Burra.