There’s so much more to Milford Sound than the famous boat cruise through the fiord. In fact, one of my favorite things to do in Milford is to go hiking. With hundreds of waterfalls, tall mountain peaks, Fiordland temperate rain forest, and those epic views of a place that resembles another world, it’s no wonder I love hiking in Milford so much!
Thankfully there are loads of hikes to chose from in Milford Sound and on the highway between Te Anau and Milford Sound! There’s a hike for every fitness level and hiking ability from multi-day adventures to short flat trails that take under an hour to enjoy. I myself continue to tick more off my bucket list every time I visit (which I do a lot from my hometown of Queenstown!)
The scenery in Milford Sound is truly spectacular and in my opinion, there’s no better way to get up close to the beauty of the area than on a hike. Don’t get me wrong, you simply must do a cruise too, but enjoying all Milford has to offer involves getting away from the crowds and onto the walking trails in the area.
In this blog, I’ll tell you about the 12 best hikes in Milford Sound. It’s the ultimate guide to picking the best hikes to do during your visit to Milford Sound.
How to Enjoy Hiking in Milford Sound
Okay, so I’m not going to dive straight into the best hikes just yet. First, I want to help those who may not quite understand how to enjoy the hikes in Milford Sound when there’s so much driving involved in getting there. This is especially true if you’re driving from Queenstown to Milford Sound!
To be honest, if you plan on driving from Queenstown to Milford and back in the same day you won’t have time to enjoy one of the longer trails on this list. There’s just simply not enough time with a 4-hour drive each way! However, if you choose to spend the night in Te Anau before and after your visit to Milford or stay in Milford Sound itself at the Milford Sound Lodge, then you will have time to enjoy one or maybe even three hikes. This is because Te Anau is only 1.5 hours from Milford Sound.
This is what I always do! And if you too love hiking and Milford Sound is high on your bucket list, you should too. Plus, there are a ton of awesome things to do in Te Anau, and it’s one of my favorite places to visit on the South Island.
Of course, not everyone will have the time to do this and that’s understandable. If this is you, stick the shorter trails on this list such as the Milford Sound Lookout Track, Milford Sound Foreshore Walk, The Chasm, and the Bowen Falls Walk!
Related read: Driving Milford Road is one of the best road trips on the South Island – learn about other must-do road trips in my blog!
Where to Stay in Te Anau
For budget travelers, you can’t beat staying at the Te Anau Lakeview Kiwi Holiday Park & Motels. It’s perfect for those on a road trip in a campervan or motorhome and they also have budget rooms available also. If you’re a social traveler, the YHA Te Anau is another good budget option and they have dorm beds and private rooms.
If you can spend a little more I love staying at the Aden Motel. They have studio,1 bedroom, and 2 bedroom apartments that are absolutely beautiful. For the price, it’s the best value place in town. Of course, if you have a larger budget then check out the Fiordland Lakeview Motel and Apartments. They also specialize in apartments but some of their rooms have magnificent views of the lake.
If you’re traveling in a larger group or just want a more local experience consider booking a holiday home in Te Anau. There are lots to choose from all the way from large houses to smaller apartments. The best part is they work out cheaper for the luxuries you get!
Related read: While in Te Anau be sure to check out the incredible restaurants!
12 EPIC Hikes in Milford Sound
1. Milford Sound Lookout Track
- Distance: 400 meters each way
- Time Needed: 20 minutes
- Difficulty: Easy
First up is one of the easiest trails on this list and a personal favorite of mine. Starting at the parking lot behind the Milford Information Center & Café, the Milford Sound Lookout Track gives you a beautiful view over Milford Sound.
To get to the trail, head past the visitor center in the parking lot and towards Donald Sutherland’s grave. To the left of the grave is a brown hedge – the track officially starts behind this hedge. It sounds a little complicated to find the start of the track, but it’s actually super easy to find and is on Google Maps.
There are quite a number of steps up to the viewpoint but the view is truly spectacular taking in Milford Sound and its surrounding peaks. After snapping a few photos return via the same track.
This trail is short and suitable for the entire family and is one hike in Milford Sound every visitor should do!
2. Milford Track
- Distance: 53.5 km one way (33.24 miles)
- Time Needed: 4 days
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Important Information: Recommended from late October to April unless you have alpine & river-crossing experience.
The Milford Track is often labeled as the ‘finest walk in the world’ by guidebooks and travel websites. This famous walk takes you through glacier-carved valleys, lush rainforest, and past giant waterfalls. It’s no wonder booking this hike is not only required but also very hard to do – it sells out for the Great Walks season within hours of bookings opening every year. It’s no surprise that the Milford Track is often considered one of the best things to do in New Zealand.
The Milford Track is most commonly hiked over 3 nights/4 days. Below I’ve broken down each day for you:
Day One: Glade Wharf to Clinton Hut (5 KM) – on the first day you must take a boat from Glade Wharf in the Te Anau Downs to the trailhead. Once you land on dry land (after the 75-minute boat journey)it’s an easy walk through native forest and along the Clinton River to your accommodation for the night – Clinton Hut. It is a 40 bunk hut and bookings are required during the Great Walks Season (generally the end of October to the end of April), during these dates it costs $70 NZD per adult per night. Outside of these dates the hut operates on a first-come-first-served basis and costs just $15 per adult per night (this is the same for all the huts below.)
Day Two: Clinton Hut to Mintaro Hut (16.5 KM) – you will start the day with a slow and steady climb along the Clinton River to Lake Mintaro. This lake sits at the base of the famed Mackinnon Pass and the scenery here is gorgeous. After this, you will pass Hirere Falls – the views from here are spectacular and include the Pompolona icefield as well as the Mackinnon Pass. The end of this section of track involves a climb up the Clinton Valley to Mintaro Hut.
This is a new hut which opened in April 2021, it has 40 bunks and basic facilities.
Day Three: Mintaro Hut to Dumpling Hut (14 KM) – start this day with a climb up the Mackinnon Pass to the McKinnon memorial. Pause here to take in the views of Lake Mintaro and Clinton Canyon. Then, climb steeply to the Mackinnon Pass Shelter at 1154 meters above sea level. After this you need to descend past the alpine garden and several waterfalls to the valley floor and Quintin Shelter. From here, the track to Dumpling Hut offers excellent views of Sutherland Falls.
Dumpling Hut has 40 bunks.
Day Four: Dumpling Hut to Sandfly Point (18 KM) – your last day on the track requires the most effort taking in a whopping 18 km of terrain. Depart Dumpling Hut and follow the track along the Arthur River to the historic Boatshed. A couple of kilometers in will take you to Mackay Falls and Bell Rock. Thankfully, the final stretch is a flat wide track to the boat departure point which will take you back to Sandfly Point in Milford Sound village.
If you plan on hiking the Milford Track extensive planning is required beforehand, but let me tell you it’s all worth it. Check out the Department of Conservation website for more details on how to book.
3. Milford Foreshore Walk
- Distance: 400 meters
- Time Needed: 20 minutes
- Difficulty: Easy
The Milford Foreshore Walk is a 20-minute loop track of just 400 meters. It’s suitable for the whole family and is wheelchair and stroller-friendly. It begins from the main parking lot at Milford Sound and is well signposted. Watch the cruise boats coming in and out from the viewing points and of course, take lots of photos of majestic Mitre Peak.
You can read about the flora and fauna and birdlife in the area on the many interpretative boards dotted along the track.
This track hides a hidden treasure too because it leads to Milford Swing – a gorgeous wooden swing with the most beautiful view of Mitre Peak. To reach the Swing, follow the Foreshore Walk until you cross the little wooden bridge, keep walking for about 5 minutes and keep a lookout to your right and you will spot the swing – it’s on a small sandy patch jutting out into the water on a small peninsular.
4. Bowen Falls Walk
- Distance: 300 meters (approximately)
- Time Needed: 30 minutes
- Difficulty: Intermediate
The Bowen Falls Walk is a unique walk in Milford sound as it’s only accessible by boat. You must start this track from the wharf at Freshwater Basin, where a boat will transfer you the short 120 meters to the other side. This is where the walking track officially begins. The boat trip costs $10 NZD for adults and $5 for children. Tickets can be purchased at the main terminal.
The hike will take about 30 minutes total to complete (including the short boat journey there and back). It’s a gradual uphill climb through native forest to the viewing platform at the top. From here you can see (and feel) the majestic 162 meter-tall Lady Bowen Falls. In fact, this is the tallest waterfall in Milford Sound and it actually powers the village. After rainfall, the falls are even more photogenic!
5. The Chasm
- Distance: 400 meters
- Time Needed: 20 minutes
- Difficulty: Easy
The Chasm is a cool rock formation and waterfall located only a 5-minute drive from the Milford Sound foreshore. The hike there is a short and sweet 400-meter loop track, that should take just 20 minutes to complete. The track starts at the large Chasm carpark which is approximately 9 km south of Milford Sound.
You will hear the mighty Chasm waterfall before you see it. It’s notoriously hard to photograph due to the sheer depth of it but there’s two decent photo opportunities to be had from the two foot bridges over the Cleddau River. Be sure to check out the interesting rock formations caused by the falls on your walk and enjoy the beautiful rainforest here.
6. Gertrude Saddle Route
- Distance: 7 km (4.3 miles) return track
- Time Needed: 4-6 hours
- Difficulty: Hard/technical
One of the most challenging and rewarding day hikes in Milford Sound is the Gertrude Saddle Route. This is a very difficult hike which will take a minimum of 4 hours even though it’s only 7 km in length. Due to the rocky terrain, steep climbs, and need for rope assistance on some sections, I recommend only attempting this in good weather and if you’re an experienced hiker. It’s really not recommended for children.
The track starts front the Gertrude Valley parking lot, about 20 minutes from Milford Sound and near to the famed Homer Tunnel just off the main road – it is well signposted. The track is relatively easy to begin with and meanders through the Gertrude Valley. If you’re not an experienced hiker then I advise stopping here at the viewpoint and returning via the same track.
If you wish to continue on – at the head of the valley the route is signposted for the saddle. But after this, there are no permanent track markers just orange marker poles. Some hikers have left behind cairns (piles of rocks) to help you on your way in the absence of the orange poles.
You will come to cross the Gertrude Stream which is below a steep waterfall area so water levels can be high and fast-flowing. Therefore, only follow the orange poles and don’t go off track as unfortunately, hikers have died by crossing the river at the wrong time.
The next section is very steep and not suitable for those with limited experience or a fear of heights (it’s very steep). The section up to Black Lake requires the aid of chain ropes on the trail. Sit by the shores of Black Lake and take in the astounding scenery before continuing. From here, the track follows over steep rock slabs. This section is very dangerous when wet or frosty but there are steel cables to assist you.
To get to the saddle you’ll need to climb over rocks and boulders (usually covered in snow, even during the summer months). Of course, the views when you reach the saddle are breathtaking and I can tell you it’s one of the best views in New Zealand taking in the unspoiled Gertrude Valley and even down to Milford Sound.
7. Lake Gunn Nature Walk
- Distance: 1.4km (0.9 miles)
- Time Needed: 30 minutes
- Difficulty: Easy
This popular and easy walking track begins from the Cascade Creek parking lot about 40 minutes south of Milford Sound at a turn-off on SH94. Considering it’s only a short 30-minute walk, the trail offers a great adventure through the wilderness of Fiordland National Park. Spot mossy trees, stony beaches, and unique birdlife.
A short stony side path takes you down onto the shores of Lake Gunn – a gorgeous deep blue lake that sits at 480 meters above sea level. You may be lucky enough to see the rare Paradise Ducks here or catch reflections of the surrounding mountains.
The track is wheelchair and stroller accessible and so is a great option for the whole family.
8. Lake Marian Track
- Distance: 3.1 km each way (2 miles)
- Time Needed: 3 hours total
- Difficulty: Moderate/hard
Lake Marian Track is my personal favorite hike in Milford Sound and one of the best hikes on the South Island. You can access this popular hike in Milford from Hollyford Road, which is a turn-off on the main highway (SH94) into Milford. It’s 40 minutes from Milford. There are two walking tracks you can take here depending on how much time you have. There’s a 20-minute track into the waterfalls and a 3-hour return track to Lake Marian.
From the parking lot, you will walk across a swing bridge before coming to a stunning series of waterfalls. After these falls continue uphill for about 1.5 hours to Lake Marian. This track can get pretty muddy so wear appropriate footwear.
Lake Marian is an alpine lake in a hanging valley formed by glaciers. Like Mirror Lakes (another lake on the road to Milford Sound) it has stunning reflections of the surrounding mountains on a clear, calm day. Although you can turn back at the waterfalls, I highly suggest continuing to the lake – it’s just that beautiful! With that said, if you’re simply after a short hike in Milford, the walk to the falls and back should only take around 30 minutes or so.
9. Humboldt Falls Track
- Distance: 1.2 km (0.8 miles) return on the same track
- Time Needed: 30 minutes
- Difficulty: Easy
This short and easy track starts from the end of the unsealed Hollyford Road. Turn off the SH94 at Marian Corner, a few minutes after The Divide.
It’s a lovely track through the rainforest and involves a short climb to the lookout point. Humboldt Falls is considered one of the best waterfalls in the area. The total height of Humboldt Falls is a giant 275 meters!
10. The Key Summit
- Distance: 3.4 km one way (2.1 miles)
- Time Needed: 3 hours
- Difficulty: Intermediate
Starting from The Divide parking lot, a 35-minute drive from Milford Sound via the SH94 the Key Summit is one of the most popular hikes in Milford Sound. From the parking lot, you’ll begin on the Routeburn Track for about an hour, this will lead to the start of the Key Summit Track (which is signposted). From here, it’s a 20-minute uphill climb to Key Summit. It’s not the steepest climb and can be done easily if you have a reasonable level of fitness. At the top, there are 360-degree views over the Humboldt and Darran Mountains.
This is considered by many as one of the most beautiful hikes in Milford Sound because it takes in epic views of Fiordland National Park. It also offers the chance to spot native birdlife. You will return via the same track.
The longer Routeburn Track continues on and is one of the most famous hikes in New Zealand. It was named as one of the “top 10 classic hikes in the world” by Lonely Planet and is one of New Zealand’s 10 Great Walks. Most people hike the trail over 2 nights and 3 days, however, it is also popular to hike parts of the Routeburn Track in a day.
Tip: Try to plan to hike the Key Summit on a clear day. With cloud cover, you won’t have the panoramic views this epic hike is famous for.
11. Moraine Creek Route
- Distance: 5.5 km one way (3.4 miles)
- Time Needed: 7 – 9 hours / 9 – 11 hours to Bivy Creek
- Difficulty: Expert
Moraine Creek Route is a rather unknown hiking trail near Milford Sound. The route begins at the end of Hollyford Road between Te Anau and Milford Sound. This road is unsealed, so use caution when driving it, especially during heavy rain.
To start this challenging tramping route, cross the Hollyford River by the swingbridge at the top of the gorge above the Humboldt Creek junction. The track up the north bank of Moraine Creek climbs steadily through thick bush, crossing two rock gullies and eventually reaching Lake Adelaide. Phil’s Bivvy is further around the lake. Lake Adelaide is nestled in an impressive glacial basin with sheer rock walls. This track provides excellent access to the mountains for experienced climbers.
Moraine Creek Route is the perfect hike for those who like to escape the crowds as not many people hike this trail!
12. Hollyford Track
- Distance: 56 km (35 miles)
- Time Needed: 4 – 5 days
- Difficulty: Hard
- Important Information: The trail is only recommended for people with moderate-level backcountry experience.
The Hollyford Track is a fantastic option if you want a true sense of the wilderness in Fiordland National Park. It’s one of the most interesting hikes in Milford Sound. The track is only suitable for those with a reasonable level of fitness as well as previous hiking experience as sections of the track can be muddy and ill-defined. Depending on the season there may be unbridged streams and river crossings as part of your hike, so, always check the weather before you depart.
The track starts at the end of the Lower Hollyford Road off SH94 and just after The Divide. It is a 19 km drive from Milford Sound. The track takes most experienced hikers between 4 and 5 days but you can allow up to 8 days to complete this impressive track. There are lots of huts you can stay in on your hike, all are on a first-come-first-serve basis and are listed below.
The track takes you through lush forest, beside the Hollyford River, along impressive lakes such as Lake Alabaster and Lake McKerrow. It even passes through the now-abandoned Jamestown, a tiny farming village from the 1870s before taking you out onto the wild West Coast. The track ends at the sea at Martins Bay. For most of the track, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’re in Jurassic Park!
When you reach the end of the track at Martins Bay be sure to keep your eyes peeled for New Zealand Fur Seals frolicking in the waters as well as the Fiordland Crested Penguins.
With no alpine sections, this track is rarely cut off by snow so you can hike it even in winter. Beware that flooding can sometimes affect the track so, check conditions before you go.
The huts as part of this popular track include the following:
- Hidden Falls Hut – 12 bunks; first-come-first-served; $15 per adult per night
- Lake Alabaster Hut – 26 bunks; first-come-first-served; $15 per adult per night
- McKerrow Island Hut – 12 bunks; first-come-first-served; $5 per adult per night
- Demon Trail Hut – 12 bunks; first-come-first-served; $15 per adult per night
- Hokuri Hut – 12 bunks; first-come-first-serve;, $15 per adult per night
- Martins Bay Hut – 24 bunks; first-come-first-served; $15 per adult per night
Book a Milford Sound Cruise
Sure, you want to do some epic hikes in Milford. But that doesn’t mean you should skip a cruise. Going on a boat cruise in Milford is one way to explore more of this magical fiord – sections that you simply cannot reach on foot.
I recommend booking this small-group tour with Cruise Milford or this smaller boat nature cruise. Both are great cruises on smaller vessels which means you can get as close as possible to the action. You’ll go right underneath waterfalls and have the opportunity to spot more wildlife including seals and penguins.
If you’re after a truly special experience, consider doing an overnight cruise. It is the only way to enjoy sunset and sunrise from the water. Plus, it’ll be super quiet with all the other boats docked for the day!
Whatever you do, be sure to book your cruise in Milford in advance. If you don’t, the smaller boats will often be fully booked already and you’ll end up on one of the huge boats (not as good if you ask me.)
Renting a Car, Campervan, or Motorhome in New Zealand
Let’s face it, you’re going to need wheels to get around New Zealand. Although a small country, buses between destinations are infrequent and expensive. Plus, some of the best experiences you can have in NZ are on road trips!
You have three options when it comes to getting wheels in New Zealand; a car, a campervan, or a motorhome. Here’s what you need to know about each and where to get them:
- Car – A normal car is the cheapest rental vehicle you can get in New Zealand. It’ll get you around to all of the best destinations with ease. The only downside to a car is that you will need to stay in hotels or Airbnbs during your travels (no camping.) The easiest place to book a car in New Zealand is on Discover Cars where you can compare cars, companies, prices, features, and more very easily.
- Campervan – A Campervan is a large van that has a bed and a small kitchen in the back. It is what most budget backpackers get for traveling around New Zealand since it allows you to camp comfortably and for free (most) nights. Campervans are best for couples or solo travelers who are happy to live in a small space. You should also love the outdoors and camping! You can easily compare campervans, prices, and book on the website Motorhome Republic.
- Motorhome – A motorhome is larger and more comfortable than a campervan. Many motorhomes will comfortably sleep 6 or more people – perfect for a family visiting New Zealand. Motorhomes are the most expensive option, but with one, you won’t ever need to stay in a hotel and you’ll save money that way. Motorhome Republic is my suggested website for booking a motorhome in New Zealand simply because they are a reliable company and the website is super easy to use! For more detailed info, read my complete guide to renting a motorhome in New Zealand!
Thanks for reading!
In my opinion, there’s no better place in the world to get outdoors and hike than Milford Sound. Those were 12 of the best hikes in Milford Sound and I hope you’ll enjoy them on your next visit to the area.
Thanks so much for reading! I really hope you enjoyed this guide. If you did then don’t run off just yet! Browse around My Queenstown Diary and let me help plan your trip around New Zealand! I’ve written a ton about the South Island, hiking, and of course, some of my favorite road trips!