If you’re visiting Tasmania, then Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park is an absolute must. The park is home to the world famous Overland Track; a trail which consists of 65km and six days of breathtaking hikes. However, it also caters perfectly for those looking for a day trip whilst trying to squeeze as much into their Tassie itinerary as possible. And there’s no better day trip spent here then hiking Cradle Mountain itself.

Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park is located in the Central Highlands area of Tasmania. It is part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. The park is open from 8 am-7 pm in the summer (October-March) and 8.30 am-4.30 pm in winter (April- Sep). This popular national park is packed full of walking trails, for every level of hiker, so if you’re staying for longer than a day, you’re going to be spoilt for choice. And then there’s an abundance of wildlife to see at every turn too, which makes the hiking experience here all the better.

Although Dan is Australian, this was his first trip to Tasmania, as well as mine, and so it was nice to enjoy and experience this hike together.

Hiking Tasmania’s Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park | Day Trip Guide

A hiker’s playground. The park area has an array of day hikes for all abilities. Of course, to summit Cradle Mountain itself is hard to beat. The visitor centre provides an excellent map to showcase the different walking routes and the various points in which they meet up. This means you’re free to follow the example routes given or, if you’re feeling adventurous, map out your own. Here’s our guide to a full day hike in this beautiful national park.

Hiking Preview

  • Type: Loop
  • Distance: 11km
  • Time: 5-6 hours
  • Accumulated elevation gain: 590m
  • Difficulty: Grade 4
  • Trailhead: Dove Lake Car Park

Difficulty graded by Tasmania Parks & Wildlife Service using the Australian Walking Track Grading System.

Dove Lake

Plan your own route. The Dove Lake circuit comes highly rated, with a recommendation to walk the loop in a clockwise direction. When beginning the hike from Dove Lake Car Park you’ll notice this takes you in the opposite direction to the sign postings for the Cradle Mountain summit. Don’t worry. All of the routes do seem to meet up and cross over at various points. However, we decided to combine the Dove Lake circuit with the Cradle Mountain summit.

Woman dressed in black, with a blue rucksack and her back to the camera stares across a still lake. The mountains in the hazy distance are reflected int the water. The sky is clear. This is Dove Lake at Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park.
Mirror views of Cradle Mountain & Little Horn.

We thoroughly enjoyed joining these two circuits together and highly recommend you do the same. The hike begins by following the Dove Lake Circuit track to the far end of the lake, a little passed Honeymoon Island. The trail consists of boardwalk and gravel pathways. It’s fairly level as you skirt the edges of the lake. We had such wonderful morning conditions. Dove Lake was serenely still, creating a beautiful mirror reflection of our feat to come- Cradle Mountain. It’s flat top instantly as recognisable from the water as it was looking directly at it. Speed hiking was easy in this section, for the obvious flat reasons. The Lake Wilks track to come was a little more taxing. Although not the traditional route to the summit, this combination of trails is still a popular option. The guys at Tracks Less Travelled did the same.

HOW TO SPEED HIKE? There is no hard or fast rule, essentially it is moving at a quicker rate than normal. The flat or downhill sections will be covered at pace, perhaps, on occasion, breaking into a light jog. Whereas the uphill sections of a hike will be tougher and exert more energy as you push yourself harder than normal. But remember, speed hiking is not trail running. It is not competitive or about finishing in a certain time. It’s mostly about the ability to cover more area.

Lake Wilks Track

Remember to enjoy the views. From the far end of Dove Lake, you’ll turn right onto Lake Wilks Track. It will be signposted. From here the hike becomes quite steep as you ascend this section of the trail. The views become ever wider reaching with every step you take, and so the effort constantly feels rewarding. As you navigate the rocky switchbacks, you’ll come across a couple of wide openings. Be sure to stop here, refuel and take in the lofty views back down over Dove Lake to your right, and a slightly more elevated Lake Wilks to your left.

Man in yellow t shirt and cap stands atop of a rocky outcrop looking down over two lakes whilst hiking Cradle Mountain. The mountains hills in front of him have patches of vegetation on them. The sky is clear yet hazy.
Along the Wilks Track overlooking Lake Wilks & Dove Lake.

Cradle Mountain Summit

A tough slog but worth it. At the top of Lake Wilks track, you’ll join Face Track and walk along this rim towards Kitchen Hut. This is where the Summit Track begins. The summit track is signposted and so not easily missed. Plus, it’s the only path that heads off in the direction of the mountain. The summit track is a single traffic path, so if you don’t start early you’ll meet a lot of people converging at this point having taken other routes to this final summit section. Basically, it can get quite busy from here.

The initial track to the summit follows a sand gravel path that turns into stone steps. It’s a tough slog, and speed hiking here really gets the heart rate up. However, the manmade path slowly disappears into a free climbing boulder section. It’s as exhilarating as it is technical. So essentially, the speed hiking stops and the rock scrambling begins.

Man in yellow t shirt and blue shorts scrambles up the huge boulders to the summit of Cradle Mountain, Tasmania. The ascent is steep and the rocks have patches of grass growing on them. The sky overhead is clear and blue. It is a very sunny day.
Cradle Mountain summit scramble.

Get Ready for a Rock Scramble

The mountainside is steep and exposed, so take care. There are red poles littered intermittently through the rock scramble to reference the route- always keep this in sight. The last few hundred metres of the hike turns into a continuous scramble over the large boulders. And sadly don’t be fooled into thinking when you reach the top of this section, you are there. You are very much not. The rock scramble descends slightly into a small valley before ascending back up the other side. Then, you have made it!

This final section gets quite technical and takes a lot of effort. Speed hiking is not something we’d advise over this section. Concentration and care is your main focus. At peak times I imagine there to be a lot of waiting on the mountainside to let people pass and vice versa. We experienced this a little on the way back down as more and more people joined the track. Luckily we’d started early enough in the day to not have this problem on our way up.

STORY TIME: Given the difficulty and technicality of this final scramble, we were very much surprised to encounter a fellow hiker covering this track barefoot. The mind boggles. Or perhaps he knows something we don’t. Either way, we would recommend wearing appropriate footwear, like a good pair of hiking boots. On this occasion though, we hiked in trainers, which were sufficient for the dry conditions on the day.

Are the Views Worth the Effort?

Well YES, you betcha! The views from the summit of Cradle mountain are breathtaking. As the summit is flat, you’re surrounded by a sort of rocky plateau that’s sitting high in the sky. Like a floating island if you will. There are two clear vantage points in which to capture your summit photographs. These will be easy to spot as they’ll always be fellow hikers hovering about them.

Cradle Mountain summit was the perfect place for us to crack out our lunch. Let’s face it, we’d earned it hiking up there. Be warned though, once you’ve stopped moving, and the sweat on your back begins to cool, it does start to get chilly. And quickly. If you want to hang around at the summit for a while, which you should given how much you put into getting there, then make sure you have some warm clothes to put on.

Our visit coincided with the devastating bushfires in Australia during the ’19/’20 summer. Although the day was clear, a thick layer of smoke haze sat on the horizon line obstructing our views below. However, it was still pretty spectacular.

A man and a woman stand at the summit of Cradle Mountain. They are surrounded by huge rocks. The sky is blue with a low mist on the horizon. The couple are smiling.
Cradle Mountain summit.

Descending the Mountain

On descending Cradle Mountain summit, we took the Overland Track back down to Marian’s Lookout. This is traditionally the route you would take up to the summit if you weren’t combining it with the Dove Lake Circuit. Marian’s Lookout makes an excellent spot to take a break, providing awesome views of Cradle Mountain and Little Horn. Lake Lilla and Dove Lake you’ll see are down below. Speed hiking obviously feels easier on the legs coming downhill too. A welcome relief.

From here, continue the descent via Wombat Pool, Lake Lilla and then finish the circuit at the Boat Shed, Dove Lake. Our entire hike, including breaks and photography opportunities, took around 6 hours. Once finished its easy enough to jump on the shuttle bus back to the car park.

A panoramic shot from Marion's lookout. A woman stands in the centre of the image, surveying the vast landscape in front of her. There is one large lake in the centre of the image and a smaller one on the left hand side. The landscape around the lakes is mountainous and very picturesque. The sky is blue and the sun is shining.
Marion’s lookout.

STORY TIME: As previously mentioned, there’s plenty of wildlife to be seen in this national park. I saw my very first Echidna as we walked past Wombat Pool. He was attempting a little dig in the solid ground. And I mean, SOLID. I’m not sure what his thought process was for trying to burrow into stone, but he was entertaining to watch and very cute all the same.

Hiking Cradle Mountain Recap

A thoroughly enjoyable day hike. To summit Cradle Mountain, enjoy a day in this beautiful national park and even have such wonderful weather for the occasion, was a real treat. Do we wish we’d been able to have longer than just a day here? Sure. So by that notion, if you can spend longer here then do. But, if you only have a day, like us, then we can wholeheartedly recommend hiking this same route we did. You’ll leave the park with a real sense of accomplishment and feeling extremely content. But be warned…you’ll be left wanting more. So back to Tasmania sometime in the future, it is!

Read on below for information on how to get to Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park, where to stay, total costs and bonus tips.

Tasmania National Parks Pass

Buy your Parks Pass in advance. To access Tasmania’s National Parks you must obtain a parks pass. There are different options available, but we recommend the holiday pass. This gives you access to all of Tasmania’s national parks for 2 months. The pass costs $60AUD ($38USD) to register your vehicle- up to 8 people, or $30 AUD/person ($19USD) if there’s just the two of you, like us. However, this price looks set to rise to $80AUD in mid 2020. Passes can be purchased online, at national park visitor centres or travel information centres. We purchased ours whilst passing through Port Arthur. Unfortunately, the parks pass cannot be bought from the airport arrivals hall, which we thought was a shame.

Getting to/from Cradle Mountain

Travel from Hobart. There are two ways to access the park, from either the north or the south side. We took the north route travelling from Hobart. This involved a very early start to beat the swathes of visitors. The cities of Devonport and Queenstown are much closer if you’re looking for a more convenient route in. The drive took around 4 hours with us parked up at Dove Lake car park for around 8 am.

You definitely need a car to get to Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park. We had hired a car for a week long trip in Tasmania through RentalCars.com. We use them the majority of the time when we don’t have access to our own wheels.

From the car park, there is a shuttle bus running to and from Dove Lake to begin hiking Cradle Mountain. During the shuttle bus hours (typically 8.30 am-6 pm) there is no access to drive the road to the lake in private vehicles. The bus is your only option unless you choose to walk the extra kilometres. You can, however, drive outside of these times. The park is looking to encourage bus usage though. Bus tickets are needed to board the shuttle. These can be obtained, for free, in the visitor centre by showing your parks pass.

Leaving the park is straightforward by either of the above mentioned routes in, depending on where you are headed to next. We drove on to Launceston, which was a 2 hour drive away.

Accommodation

Stay in Hobart. We visited Cradle Mountain at the end of a 3 night stay in Hobart. Through Airbnb we booked a small, self catering cabin for $70AUD/night ($45USD). Note, we visited during Australian summer holidays and so prices were unfortunately, yet inevitably, inflated.

Local Supplies for Hiking Cradle Mountain

Just bring a packed lunch. The visitor centre does house a cafeteria and you can find picnic benches and electric barbecues near the ranger’s station. As with most hikes we do though, it’s easier, cheaper and more convenient to take lunch, snacks and water to have on the go. That way, you can eat wherever. Like on the top of a mountain.

Our go-to grocery stores when travelling in Australia are Aldi and Woolworths. They should easily cover any basic requirements. However, Aldi surprisingly hasn’t made it to Tasmania. We stocked up at Woolies in Hobart before we left. However, you’ll find Woolworths in Launceston and Devenport too if more convenient.

Total Costs

  • Fuel: depends on start destination
  • Parks Pass: $60AUD ($38USD) or $30AUD (19USD)/person if split
  • Lunch: $5AUD ($3.50USD)/person

= $35AUD ($22.50USD)/person +fuel for 1 day trip.

Five Hiking Gear Essentials for Cradle Mountain

If you’re planning on spending the day hiking here, which we hope you are, then here are a few essentials we recommend and you may want to consider. For a more comprehensive packing list, please check out the Ultimate Packing Checklist. It’s a great general summary of everything you’d need for a trip. For even more information check out our 66 Travel Accessories That You Must Travel With.

  • Long sleeved shirt (or base layer) – if you’re starting out early, it can be quite cold, so we always recommend a good base layer for that extra warmth.
  • The North Face Venture 2 waterproof/windproof Jacket – if you stop at the summit for lunch, you’ll be glad you have this packed.
  • Osprey Skarab 30L Day Backpack – I love this rucksack, although sadly didn’t have it for this particular hike. However, it joined me on many South American hikes and has been a perfect size and fit to make carrying all the essentials that bit easier.
  • Karrimor 1L Clear Water Bottle x 2 – these water bottles fit perfectly in the side pockets of the Osprey Skarab rucksack. Ease of access to water is a must. And on a hike like Cradle Mountain, two litres is a requirement.
  • Nikon D3400 Digital SLR Camera – there are photo opportunities at every turn, be sure not to miss a single one. Pack your camera folks!

Trail Navigation

To be fully prepared for hiking Cradle Mountain, consider downloading a GPS guided map before you set out. We recommend Wikiloc or AllTrails. For those not so prepared, if you’re needing navigation help during the hike and don’t have any phone reception, consider using Maps.me. Although you need to have at least downloaded the map of the general area beforehand.

Bonus Tips

  • Arrive early: To enjoy a quieter park and even enjoy some sections of the hiking route to yourself.
  • Always check the weather forecast: Pack for every eventuality. You can check http://parks.tas.gov.au/ for more detailed information, plus check their webcam for real-time weather updates.
  • Complete some of the other Cradle Mountain walks: Although the summit of Cradle Mountain may be the main attraction, be sure to enjoy the other walking tracks, waterfalls and lookouts on offer- there’s a lot to see!
  • Hike more of Tasmania: There is a wealth of trail to choose from in Tassie. For instance, another highly rated day hike is the Mt Murchison hike.

If you’ve enjoyed this post or found it useful in conquering Cradle Mountain, then please do feel free to share it.


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