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10 BEST Walks and Hikes in Mount Cook National Park (2024 Guide!)

10 BEST Walks and Hikes in Mount Cook National Park (2024 Guide!)

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Have you heard about all the incredible hikes in Mount Cook National Park and are wondering where to start?

Visiting Mount Cook National Park was right at the top of my itinerary when I came to New Zealand for the first time, and let me tell you, I wasn’t disappointed at all! I discovered that there really are hikes for all abilities here, and I always make sure to visit for one more hike whenever I have the chance.

I’ve walked each of the 10 trails listed below – so I can confidently say these are the best of the best for a range of abilities, from lighthearted strolls to epic treks. There’s something for everyone, and I hope you enjoy discovering them for yourself!

About Mount Cook National Park

A lady stands at the viewpoint at the end of the Sealy Tarn Track in Mount Cook National Park
Views from the Sealy Tarn Track

Mount Cook National Park is one of the most breathtaking and popular national parks in New Zealand. It’s home to New Zealand’s tallest mountain, Mount Cook, which stands at a whopping 3,724 meters (12,218 feet) above sea level.

Mount Cook actually played an important role in the first-ever successful attempt to summit the tallest mountain in the world, Mt Everest. In fact, Sir Edmund Hillary, a New Zealander, used the peak to practice the climb.

Of the 273 square miles (707 square km) of the national park, more than a third is entirely covered in permanent snow and glaciers. It’s also home to unique forests that include beach trees, ribbonwood, tussock, and celery pine. This unique mix of landscapes makes it completely unlike any other national park in New Zealand and, without a doubt, a bucket list-worthy place to visit.

Within Mount Cook National Park there is a small town called Mount Cook Village. This small village is home to a few accommodation options, restaurants, and small shops including a gas station. The village is located in the heart of the national park and from it, you can access a huge range of activities including all the best hikes in Mount Cook mentioned below.

Driving to Mount Cook can be done all year round, and it’s considered one of the best road trips on the South Island.

Because of its close proximity to the town of Lake Tekapo, many people also visit Mount Cook on a day trip from Lake Tekapo. There are some awesome places to check out on the road between Lake Tekapo and Mount Cook too.

Although there are lots of things to do in Mount Cook, hiking is definitely the main attraction. Just be aware that in the winter, some hikes become more dangerous and should only be attempted by experienced hikers. With that said, there are only two hikes on this list that fall in that category, and most of the hikes in Mount Cook are perfectly fine to tackle all year round.

Hiking in Mount Cook FAQs

A road in New Zealand that leads inton Mount Cook National Park with Mount Cook in the background

Hikes in Mount Cook National Park

1. Mueller Hut Route

A lady looks out the window of the Mueller Hut at Mount Cook
Looking out the window of the Mueller Hut!
  • Overview: A popular but difficult hike that will reward you with some epic alpine views!
  • Distance: 10.4 km (6.5 mi) return
  • Time needed: 7 to 8 hours
  • Difficulty: Challenging
  • Starts from: White Horse Hill Campground

The Mueller Hut Route is easily one of the most popular hikes in Mount Cook, although, it is rated as difficult, so reasonable levels of fitness are a must. I also highly recommend appropriate hiking boots, a rain jacket, and water for this hike.

The trail kicks off from the White Horse Hill campsite. From here, you’ll follow the steep uphill track up to Sealy Tarns – from the top here you will have a fantastic view of the Hooker Valley and Mount Cook!

The second half of the track, another 2 hours in length, will take you to Mueller Hut. You will need to keep an eye out for the orange markers when transferring from the Sealy Tarns Track to the Mueller Hut Route. It’s also important to keep in mind that this part of the track is not maintained, so it’s quite rocky in parts.

There’s also a loose gravel uphill climb of about 50 meters (164 feet) up to the skyline ridge, which I found pretty challenging! In the winter, this ridge is likely to be covered in snow, so it’s a good idea to have some alpine hiking experience if you want to attempt it at this time of year.

Follow the track along the ridge and once again keep your eyes peeled for the bright orange markers. This part of the track will take you about 20 minutes, finishing at Mueller Hut. Your return track will take you back the same way. Be careful on the loose gravel part – much more difficult going down it than coming up it.

Other hikers will tell you this hike sounds a lot easier than it actually is. Firstly, you need to be a fan of (or at least okay with) uphill hikes, as the majority of this hike is uphill. Secondly, if you haven’t managed to reserve a bed at the very popular Mueller Hut, you have to turn around and hike the same route back down, which will be very tiring and only recommended for experienced hikers to try.

Related Read: If you aren’t an experienced hiker, be sure to read my blog about essential hiking tips for beginners! It includes a few important tips to know before you start any hike in Mount Cook.

2. Hooker Valley Track

The Hooker Lake on the Hooker Valley Track
Sunset reflections at Hooker Lake!
  • Overview: The most famous hike in Mount Cook National Park. So many epic photo opportunities and the hike is straightforward too!
  • Distance: 10 kilometers (6.21 miles) return
  • Time needed: 3 to 3.5 hours
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Starts from: White Horse Hill Campground

The most popular hike in Mount Cook National Park is easily the Hooker Valley Track. The trail starts from the same place as the Mueller Hut at the White Horse Hill campground. This is a very flat, very easy track, making it ideal for the whole family. The track is a well-maintained gravel track for most of the hike, with a boardwalk over the marshy parts of the track.

There are three swing bridges on the track, each with stunning views of Mueller Lake, Mount Sefton, and the Mueller Glacier in the far distance. At the first swing bridge, be sure to stop, it’s one of my favorite spots to get a photo of Mount Cook.

At the end of the track, and what makes this 1.5-hour walk worth it, is the stunning Hooker Lake! During the winter months, you might even spot a few icebergs floating in the lake. The reflections here are amazing, and you don’t have to be a pro photographer to grab some sweet pictures here. After enjoying the view, simply head back down the track you came.

As I mentioned earlier, it’s a very flat hike, with only 80 meters (262 feet) of uphill hiking. The scenery sure is stunning on this hike, but as the locals will tell you, it’s more of a walk than a hike. Despite this, it’s one of the best hikes in Mount Cook and one of the top hikes in all of New Zealand, in my opinion.

I absolutely love the drive from Queenstown to Mount Cook, but if you’re planning to visit from Queenstown and don’t fancy the 3.5-hour drive, then why not consider a full-day guided tour? This guided sightseeing tour of Mount Cook visits some of the very best spots in the area, including Lake Pukaki, Mt. Cook Village, the Hooker Valley Track, and more!

My favorite part about this tour has to be how laid-back and non-rushed it felt. It’s a long day, at around 12 hours or so, but the spots you’ll visit are well-planned with plenty of time between to relax, take some photos, and just marvel at the incredible scenery. Around 3-hours of this tour is spent exploring Mount Cook Village, which you can use to explore town, or walk the Hooker Valley Track for yourself.

Tickets for this experience cost $249 NZD per person, which I think is also pretty fair considering it includes pick-up and drop-off from Queenstown, is capped at just 16 people, and the tour guides really go above and beyond to make the experience special. You can check out available dates and book your spot on this tour online here.

Top Tip – Wake up early and start this track at dawn to watch the sunrise over the Southern Alps. This is a very popular track, so starting at dawn means you’re unlikely to come across many other walkers.

3. Sealy Tarns Track

Vies of Mount cook National Park from the Sealy Tarns Track
The views from the Sealy Tarns Track
  • Overview: The ‘Stairway to Heaven’ doesn’t disappoint, there are lots of steps but you’re rewarded generously for your effort!
  • Distance: 5.6 kilometers (3.5 miles) return
  • Time needed: 3 to 4 hours
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Starts from: White Horse Hill Campground

Together with the Mueller Hut Track, the Sealy Tarns Track is considered one of the must-do hikes on the South Island. As with the Mueller Hut, you start the trail on the Kea Point Track at the White Horse Hill campground. Simply follow this trail until you reach a sign for the Sealy Tarns Track. It’s easy to know you’re on the right rail because you’ll begin to climb upwards.

This track is nicknamed the ‘Stairway to Heaven’ locally because you need to take on a mammoth 2,200 steps to reach the Sealy Tarns Lake at the top. If you’re not keen on uphill tracks or steps, then I’d suggest skipping this one!

Despite the many steps and the 600-meter (1,969 feet) elevation gain, this is considered an easy-to-moderate track. On this walk, watch out for the epic views of the Hooker Valley, as well as majestic Mount Cook looming in the distance.

Did You Know – A tarn is a mountain lake, pond, or pool that was formed in a cirque excavated by a glacier! There are two tarns in Mount Cook National Park – Sealy Tarn and Red Tarn (mentioned below).

The Sealy Tarns Track can be hiked all year round, however, in winter expect some snow on the trail. You also won’t be able to see the tarn as it freezes and becomes covered in snow. Still, the views are epic.

4. Blue Lakes Loop Track

Reflection of the mountains at the Blue Lakes in Mount Cook National Park
Hard to get a more perfect reflection than that
  • Overview: A short walk that’s ideal for families and photographers alike.
  • Distance: 2.2 kilometers (1.4 miles) return
  • Time needed: 40 minutes
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Starts from: Tasman Glacier Car Park

The Blue Lakes Loop Track is considered one of the best short walks in Mount Cook. Just before Mount Cook Village, you’ll turn off onto Tasman Valley Road. Following this road for 7 kilometers (4.3 miles), you can park in the parking lot at the end of the road. This is where the trails to the Blue Pools and Tasman Lake start from.

From the parking lot, pass by the Blue Lakes Shelter and follow the track past the Blue Lakes to the viewpoint. From up here, you will have a great vantage point over the Tasman Glacier and the Tasman Lake. I highly recommend taking a quick detour from the track and walking to the shores of the Blue Lakes – the reflections are out of this world!

Another great way to experience the hike to the Tasman Glacier is as part of a guided tour! If you’re traveling to Mount Cook from Christchurch, then I highly recommend this full-day excursion to Mount Cook, Lake Tekapo, and the Tasman Glacier. Honestly, this itinerary couldn’t be more stacked with incredible spots to visit, it’s just that good.

With a maximum of 21 people per tour, it’s easy to see why this tour is so popular and often sells out in advance. Not only do the local guides do such a good job of keeping the pace of the trip flowing, but it doesn’t feel rushed at all. And you can bet that they can recommend some of the very best places to grab some first-class photos!

Towards the end of the day, you’ll get cracking on a self-guided tour on the Blue Lakes Loop Track, which, in my opinion, is the highlight of the trip! With tickets costing $250 NZD per person, this tour has it all, and I’m sure that you’ll leave with plenty of fond memories and epic photos. You can check availability for this tour and book your spot online here.

Did You Know – The Tasman Glacier is the longest in New Zealand and is approximately 27 km (16.8 feet) in length! The glacier used to extend much further and once upon a time flowed into the Blue Lakes.

This track also offers the opportunity to spot the Rifleman bird – considered New Zealand’s smallest bird. You’ll definitely need to keep your eyes peeled for it, it’s very small!

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5. Tasman River Viewpoint

Sunrise at the Tasman Rover viewpoint in Mount Cook National Park, New Zealand
Sunrise is such a beautiful time to visit!
  • Overview: Beautiful glacier views and an easy walk, what’s not to love?
  • Distance: 2.6 kilometers (1.62 miles) return from parking lot
  • Time needed: 1 hour
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Starts from: Tasman Glacier Car Park

For those looking for a short trail to one pretty spectacular viewpoint, the trail to the Tasman River is perfect. This track starts from the parking lot, but also branches off the Blue Lakes Track described above. After the viewpoint on the Blue Lakes Track, make sure to follow the Tasman River signposts, which will take you to the source of the Tasman River.

To reach the edge of the lake you will need to climb over a few rocks, so, please be careful. You might spot icebergs here in the summer, while in the winter the lake sometimes freezes over. This is my favorite place to come for sunrise. You often won’t be alone, as photographers often come here to capture amazing photos of the lake and the sunrise reflections in the icebergs.

Because the trail is so short, it’s a hike every visitor to Mount Cook should do and one of the best activities in the national park.

Did You Know – The Tasman River actually flows all the way from here to the very photogenic Lake Pukaki, which you will have spotted on your drive into Mount Cook Village.

6. Bowen Bush Walk

Sign for the Bowen Bush Walk in Mount Cook
It’s only a short walk through the bush!
  • Overview: This ultra-short walk is full of birdlife, perfect for a leisurely stroll!
  • Distance: 200 meters (0.1 miles) return
  • Time needed: 10 minutes
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Starts from: Opposite the petrol pumps in town

As the shortest walk in Mount Cook, this 10-minute hike is suitable for everyone. The Bowen Bush Walk is a super short and easy track through native totara trees. The track is mostly gravel-covered and flat except for a small number of steps. Listen out for beautiful birdsong along the track, the forest here is typically alive with the sound of the many birds who call it home.

This track starts opposite the petrol pumps in Mount Cook Village. The starting point is well signposted and easy to access from all hotels in Mount Cook Village.

7. Glencoe Walk

  • Overview: A nice and easy walk, perfect for sunrise or sunset
  • Distance: 400 meters (0.2 miles) return
  • Time needed: 30 minutes
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Starts from: The Hermitage Hotel

This is another easy track that starts from behind the popular Hermitage Hotel.

The walk zigzags through native trees in the beginning, and after a little while you will come across a lookout point close to the large water tanks above The Hermitage Hotel. A short 40 meters (131 feet) uphill section brings you to another lovely viewpoint over Mount Cook Village as well as the Hooker Glacier and, of course, gigantic Mount Cook.

I recommend walking this track about an hour before sunrise or sunset so you can watch the sun rise or fall over the village and Mount Cook.

8. Governors Bush Walk

Governors Bush Walk view
I love this view, especially because it’s only a short walk up!
  • Overview: Keep an eye out for birdlife and the beautiful viewpoint on this easygoing trail
  • Distance: 1.5 kilometers (0.9 miles) return
  • Time needed: 1 hour
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Starts from: Mount Cook Village Public Shelter

The Governors Bush Walk is a short and easy bush walk that connects with the Bowen Bush Walk described above. Beginning at the public shelter in Mount Cook Village, the trail leads you through a forest of silver beech/tawai trees, one of the few within the national park. Try to spot fantail and kea birds, there are lots of them on this part of the track.

There’s a gradual climb of approximately 100 meters (328 feet) which leads to a lovely viewpoint. From this viewpoint, you will see Wakefield Ridge and Mount Cook. As it runs through the forest, it is mostly sheltered, so it’s a great walking option if the weather is bad – which can happen often in this part of New Zealand.

There are also toilets, hot water showers, and a picnic area at the public shelter (your start and end point in this track), so if you’ve brought your lunch with you, this is a good place to enjoy it!

9. Kea Point Track

View from the end of the Kea Point Track in Mount Cook
Short, sweet, and the views… well they’re pretty epic!
  • Overview: A family-friendly hike with beautiful meadow views come the summer months
  • Distance: 3.2 kilometers (2 miles) return
  • Time needed: 2 hours return from Mount Cook Village or 1-hour return from White Horse Hill Campground
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Starts from: White Horse Hill Campground

The Kea Point Track is another hugely popular hike in Mount Cook National Park. The trail starts from the White Horse Hill Campground at the end of Hooker Valley Road. As mentioned above, the start of this trail is actually the start of the Sealy Tarns Track and Mueller Hut Route as well.

It’s a slightly windy route up to the viewpoint at the Mueller Glacier moraine wall. There’s a gentle uphill climb on this track of 180 meters (591 feet) over 1.6 kilometers ((1 mile) one way). At the end of the track, you’ll reach a viewing deck.

Here, you’ll have views of the Hooker Valley, Mueller Glacier Lake, Mount Sefton, The Footstool, and of course, Mount Cook! During the warmer months, you will spot colorful mountain flowers, so definitely have your camera ready.

On your return, you’ll follow the same track back to your starting point. Overall, it’s a magnificent hike suitable for the entire family!

10. Red Tarns Hike

Voew at the top of the Red Tarns Hike in Mount Cook
Just another angle of Mount Cook National Park you need to see!
  • Overview: One of the more challenging hikes on this list, but it’s quite short and fully of epic views!
  • Distance: 2.4 kilometers (1.5 miles) return
  • Time needed: 2 hours
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Starts from: Bowen Drive Public Shelter

Like the Governor’s Bush Walk, the Red Tarns Hike begins at the Bowen Drive public shelter in the village. This track is quite the workout considering all the steps you need to climb, so definitely wear appropriate footwear. It can also get quite wet and muddy in parts after rainfall.

The start of the track leads you downhill to a small bridge, taking you over Black Birch Stream. Then, you will climb steeply up a lot of steps, gaining about 300 meters (984 feet) in height to the Red Tarns.

At the Red Tarns, breathe in the gorgeous views of Mount Cook and the village below. On a clear day, you will be lucky enough to see Mount Cook reflecting in the still waters of the lake. This track is named the Red Tarns because of the red pond weed that grows in the tarns.

For me though, the hike is made worth the walk for the epic views over the valley which, as you can see from the photo above, are nothing short of spectacular.

Other Must-do Things in Mount Cook

an iceberg on Tasman Lake
When you go kayaking, you can get up close to icebergs!

Besides hiking, there are a few different activities you can do to see the full beauty of Aoraki/Mount Cook! Check out my favorites below.

  • Mount Cook Helicopter Flight Explorer – This bucket list experience over Mount Cook lasts for 35 minutes and stops on top of a snowfield above Richardson Glacier and showcases some incredible views of the Tasman Valley. Priced around $435 NZD per person it is not cheap, but if you have the money it’s something you shouldn’t leave New Zealand without doing!
  • Skydiving from 15,000 feet – What better location could you choose to jump out of a plane? If you want to face your fear or are always seeking an adrenaline rush, this is the opportunity for you! After your 45-second freefall, you can gaze out at the mountains, lakes, and glaciers as you gradually descend with your parachute.
  • Glacier Kayaking – This is the only place in New Zealand where you can go glacier kayaking, so it’s definitely a unique thing to do in Mount Cook. You’ll get the chance to get up close to the glaciers floating on the lake and stop halfway for a serene lunch on shore. For this 4-6 hour tour, you can expect to pay $250 NZD per person.

Related Read: Did you know that you can visit Mount Cook on a tour from Queenstown? Read about the best tours from Queenstown to Mount Cook!

Where to Stay in Mount Cook

A room at the Hermitage hotel in Mount Cook National Park
The Heritage is absolutely beautiful!

There aren’t a ton of places to stay in Mount Cook if I’m being honest. All of the accommodation is in Mount Cook Village, and in the summer months, the best places to stay are fully booked.

Glentanner Park Center – $

The Glentanner Park Center is my go-to choice for traveling on a budget. Although it’s a 17 km (10.6 mi) drive out of town, the dorm rooms here are clean and cheap, plus there’s also a communal kitchen area which is perfect for meeting new friends.

A bed in a mixed dorm here starts as low as $45 NZD per night, not a bad deal considering you’re on the doorstep of one of New Zealand’s most beautiful national parks! You can check availability and book your stay here on Booking.com.

Another budget-friendly option is to camp! You can stay at White Horse Hill Campground in Mount Cook Village, which is operated by the DOC and requires bookings in advance. It costs $15 NZD per adult per night or $7.50 NZD per child in the off-peak period between the 9th of February and the 25th of December. For the remainder of the year, it costs $18 NZD per adult, and $9 NZD per child.

Aoraki Court Motel – $$

If you’re looking for something a little more mid-range, then the Aoraki Court Motel is definitely worth a look. All of the rooms here are spacious and modern, with fantastic mountain views, all just a 3-minute walk from Mount Cook Village.

Rooms here at the Aoraki Court Motel do sell out months in advance, so it’s a good idea to reserve your room as far as possible in advance as you can! If you do, you can snag some great early-bird deals from just $350 NZD per night.

Hermitage Hotel – $$$

The most popular (and luxurious) place to stay in Mount Cook is the Hermitage Hotel. With its stunning rooms, ranging from twin rooms all the way up to premium king suites, it’s not hard to see how this hotel gets its reputation as the height of luxury in Mount Cook Village!

The friendly staff here go above and beyond to help you with any requests you have, whether you’re looking to arrange a tour, or book in at their fantastic on-site restaurant. Rooms here at the Hermitage Hotel start as low as $467 NZD per night, but like the Aoraki Court Motel, they do book up far in advance. So make sure to check your dates and reserve your room online here.

Related Read: Heading to Christchurch after Mount Cook? Check out our Queenstown to Christchurch road trip guide or our Wanaka to Christchurch road trip guide, both include the best stops between Mount Cook and Christchurch.

Renting a Car, Campervan, or Motorhome in New Zealand

Bailey stands in front of a right green JUCY campervan
JUCY is one of my favorite campervan rental companies (read below for a discount code!)
Bailey stands behind her Mad Campers campervan cooking in the kitchen at Piha Beach
I also really like Mad Campers!

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 rent 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’s what most budget travelers use 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…and be prepared for an adventure of a lifetime! My favorite campervan rental company is JUCY because they have a huge selection of campervans to choose from, plus multiple pick-up/drop-off locations. You can browse JUCY’s campervan selection online here. Alternatively, you can easily compare all campervans available in NZ on Motorhome Republic here.

EXCLUSIVE DISCOUNT CODE: I’ve managed to snag a discount code for 5% off for my readers if you book your campervan or motorhome through JUCY or Star RV! Simply click here to select your JUCY campervan, or click here to select your Star RV motorhome, and then use the code DTRAVEL24 at checkout to get 5% off – it’s that easy!

Thanks for reading!

Bailey from My Queenstown Diary sits on a rock on her way to the Mueller Hut and smiles at the camera
Thanks for reading!

Mount Cook is home to an amazing array of hikes, after visiting, I think you’ll agree that some of the best views can be found on the easier walks in Mount Cook. Whichever of the hikes in Mount Cook you choose, you’re certain to be rewarded with astounding views.

I hope you’ll explore some if not all of these awesome hikes on your next trip to Mount Cook and that this guide has helped you plan your upcoming visit. If you did love this guide, then be sure to browse around some more!

I have lots more content on Mount Cook and also guides on road trips, Queenstown, Wanaka, and more! Below, I’ve listed some additional blogs that I think you’re going to find interesting.

50 BEST Hikes in New Zealand +My Personal Favorites

Ben Lomond Track, Queenstown – A Grueling Hike With Epic Views

12 EPIC Things to do in Arthur’s Pass, NZ