Whenever I think of Australia I immediately begin to reminisce on the time I spent hiking and exploring in Tasmania. If you’re heading in that direction, and you have the time to go to this incredibly beautiful island, definitely do it. There’s so much to do and see there if you love the outdoors; the landscape and wildlife is so uniquely Australian. Where else can you see adorable wallabies hopping away in the morning light along the trail?
One thing I love about writing blog posts on where I’ve been is looking back to remember what I did. When I recently came across some photos I took in Tasmania, I searched my blog wanting to read up on the hikes I did there, to see that I never wrote any (oh procrastination)… So here it is, three years late (oops) but I doubt the trail has changed much so the information will still be relevant. Remember to still do your research and check official websites for the latest information (useful links near the end of this post).
One of the hikes I did was Cradle Mountain Summit. Located at the northern end of Cradle Mountain – Lake St. Clair National Park, this National Park contains several hikes and walks that are available for varying fitness levels but all have beautiful views. One of the more famous hikes in this park is the Overland Track, a 65km stretch of trail through the park that takes about 6 days to complete. My trip to Tasmania was actually inspired by a photo I saw online from someone who had completed the Overland Track. Unfortunately I didn’t bring all my backpacking gear, so I wanted to try some day hikes in the area which led me up Cradle Mountain.
- Cradle Mountain is located in the northern end of Cradle Mountain – Lake St. Clair National Park. There are two widely separated entrances in the North and the South of the Park, with no road cutting through. So if you wanted to visit Cradle Mountain and Lake St. Clair, logistically it would be easier to do them on different days.
- You need a Parks Pass to enter any of the National Parks in Tasmania, they have a very reasonably priced Holiday Pass for $60 AUD which includes 1 vehicle and 8 occupants inside that 1 vehicle that is valid for 8 weeks. This is the pass I purchased for my trip.
- The hike up to Cradle Mountain starts at Dove Lake.
- To reduce the environmental impact of cars and ease traffic, there is a free shuttle bus service (included in your park fees) from Cradle Mountain Visitor Centre to Dove Lake. The shuttle bus operates between 8:30am and 4:30pm each day over winter (1 April to 30 September); and 8:00am to 6:00pm over summer (1 October to 31 March).
- *Important Note* For private vehicle access, you can still drive and park at Dove Lake parking lot, but only during the non-shuttle bus operating hours. So you will need to drive in early morning, and you can only leave later in the evening after the shuttle bus stops. This is what I did, but I can imagine during the summer the lot fills up quickly, so the easiest thing would be to take the shuttle bus.
Hiking Time & Difficulty
- I mentioned previously there’s a few more gentle hikes in this area that would be suited for folks not interested in scrambling up a giant hunk of rock to reach a summit where the views I feel are the same as when you walk around the lakes instead. Or if you are short on time, there are loops that go around Crater Lake or Dove Lake that are beautiful.
- To hike up to Cradle Mountain Summit, the loop below throws in all the best parts – when returning from the summit, I chose to go right and walk around the outside of Dove Lake back to the parking lot instead of cutting inside like the map shows below. You got options!
- The hike to Cradle Mountain summit and back is about 13km, with 600m in elevation gain. It takes on average 8hrs return to hike the trail.
- Most of the trail isn’t too difficult, the section from Dove Lake parking lot to Marions Lookout and up to Kitchen Hut is relatively easy going. Things start to get a lil spicy heading up towards the summit with sections of exposed scrambling. Returning, the Face Track trail is a little more rugged and steeper.
- Trail was obvious to follow with enough signage and trail markers.
- I did this hike in mid-November which was “Spring” and there was still snow up the mountain. The scrambling section near the summit was covered in snow, making it exposed and slippery. This was the most challenging section for me on the hike more mental than physical; the scramble was exposed, the snow made it slippery, and I was hiking alone. In the summer snow free months, it’s probably not as freaky.
I hit the trail at 8am, with the skies overcast but thankfully no rain. I had most of the trail to myself, making it for a very peaceful and scenic hike. I decide to make my way towards Cradle Mountain via Wombat Pool and Marions Lookout which has gentle elevation gains and comfortable boardwalks. I would recommend doing it in this direction since on the return trip looping around on the Face Track trail is more rugged and steep but it’s downhill.
After two hours of hiking, I see the intimidating ridge of Cradle Mountain rising up ahead, and it still didn’t register in my head that there would be snow along the trail. Looking ahead I probably thought the snow looked scattered about and no big deal. But the closer I got to the mountain, the patches of snow became more common. I reach Kitchen Hut and take a little snack break before continuing on.
With a happy stomach I continue onwards and the trail continues to be friendly but I can see Cradle Mountain inching closer, looming on the horizon with its somewhat intimidating ridges. White pole markers with red tape at the tips appear as I gain elevation to ensure I stay on course. Soon I’m scrambling atop snow covered boulders wondering if this is really a good idea to do alone. The scramble is quite exposed with holes between boulders large enough to fall through. I wasn’t feeling that nervous, but I wasn’t super confident either. I consider turning back, but then spot a couple ahead of me which gives me the mental comfort to continue.
Cradle Mountain is made of dolerite rock and up close on the summit the shape is unique to me – a collection of jagged rectangular rock protruding upwards. At the summit you’ll find a cairn with a fancy plaque on top that points you in the direction of all the surrounding mountains and landmarks. I admit when I got to the top the view was somewhat underwhelming, but I think the hike is fun overall so I would happily do it again with friends if they wanted to.
Going up to the summit with the snow covered scrambling felt a little unnerving, so going down the same way was a little worse. With slow and steady footing, I was relieved to reach the end of the boulder field and be back on the trail. It took me about 2.5hrs to hike up and back to this point just like the sign at the junction said pointing towards Cradle Mountain summit.
From the junction leading up to the summit, I make my way back to Dove Lake parking lot via the Face Track trail and Hanson’s Peak. This section of the trail is a little more rugged and steep, so it was nice to be able to do it downhill. After another two hours of hiking, I make it back to the parking lot at 3.30pm. Since I wasn’t able to drive out with the shuttle bus still in service, I enjoyed an early dinner cooking some instant noodles at the back of my rental car with the hatch popped open. And then savoured a mug of hot chocolate while appreciating the view. Couldn’t wish for more in life at that moment!
I had planned my entire trip to Tasmania around hiking and exploring, sleeping in my rental car so I could save money and also get early starts on the trail. Looking out at Dove Lake with Cradle Mountain standing tall in the background, I remember feeling so grateful for the opportunity to be there, never expecting I’d ever visit Tasmania but now having been and knowing it’s one of the most memorable places I’ve travelled to. I am yearning to return to hike the Overland Track!
Other Info & Useful Links
- Visit Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service for all the latest news and alerts
- Don’t forget to purchase your Parks Pass when visiting the National Parks in Tasmania, the Holiday Pass is a great deal if you will be visiting more than one park and it’s valid for 8 weeks
- The official Cradle Mountain page has a great interactive map that highlights all the trails within the area if you are short on time or want a walk that still has beautiful views and less elevation
Disclaimer: Everything written here is based on my experience and is my opinion. While I’ve provided all the information to try and be helpful, it doesn’t replace you doing your own research and making smart decisions based on your overall levels of experience and fitness. Stay safe and have fun out there!
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