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Mount Cook National Park goes without saying is one of the best places to visit on the South Island. It’s home to many of the best things to do in New Zealand, including epic viewpoints, fun and adventurous activities, as well as some of the best hikes on the South Island.
You’re likely planning to visit Mount Cook for the stunning scenery, so, why not stretch your legs, breathe in some fresh alpine air, and see the majestic mountain views from one of the best hikes in Mount Cook National Park?
Whether you have a couple of days or just a couple of hours to spend hiking in Mount Cook, I highly recommend taking on one of these beautiful walks. It’s also a fantastic way to end any road trip, like this road trip from Queenstown to Mount Cook!
There will be tons of photography opportunities along the way, and I’m sure a photo or two here will make the folks back home super jealous! Plus, with most of the hikes in Mount Cook considered short and easy, there is no excuse not to explore the area on a walk.
In this blog, I’ve listed 10 of the best hikes in Mount Cook. There’s a hike for every ability in Mount Cook. In fact, a huge 8 of the 10 hikes listed here are considered easy and thus, suitable for all fitness levels and even families!
About Mount Cook National Park
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, no matter where you leave from. Both the drive from Queenstown to Mount Cook and Wanaka to Mount Cook are especially breathtaking!
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
Hikes in Mount Cook National Park
1. Mueller Hut Route
Distance: 10.4 km (6.46 miles) return
Time needed: 7 to 8 hours
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
Distance: 10 kilometers (6.21 miles) return
Time needed: 3 to 3.5 hours
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
Distance: 5.6 kilometers (3.5 miles) return
Time needed: 3 to 4 hours
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
Distance: 2.2 kilometers (1.4 miles) return
Time needed: 40 minutes
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!
5. Tasman River Viewpoint
Distance: 2.6 kilometers (1.62 miles) return from parking lot
Time needed: 1 hour
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
Distance: 200 meters (0.1 miles) return
Time needed: 10 minutes
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
Distance: 400 meters (0.2 miles) return
Time needed: 30 minutes
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
Distance: 1.5 kilometers (0.9 miles) return
Time needed: 1 hour
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
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
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
Distance: 2.4 kilometers (1.5 miles) return
Time needed: 2 hours
Like the Governors 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
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.
Where to Stay in Mount Cook
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.
The most popular (and luxurious) place to stay is the Hermitage Hotel. For something a little more budget-friendly consider Aoraki Court Motel, or for the budget backpacker you can drive 17 minutes outside of Mt Cook Village and stay at the Glentanner Park Center, it’s a must with dorm rooms and a communal space to cook (and they have an on-site cafe!)
If you want to camp, you can stay at White Horse Hill Campground in Mount Cook Village. Bookings in advance are now required for this DOC-operated campground and it costs $15 NZD per adult per night or $7.50 NZD per child.
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
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 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. We also have a 5% discount code (DTRAVEL5) with Mad Campers, which you can use at checkout.
- 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! We are also partnered with Kiwi Motorhomes, which is well known as the top motorhome rental company in New Zealand. You can get 5% off using the code Queen5. For more detailed info, read my complete guide to renting a motorhome in New Zealand!
- JUCY – JUCY is one of our favorite rental companies in New Zealand! They have a huge inventory and offer regular cars, small campervans, larger campervans, and even motorhomes! The prices are also super competitive and their multiple offices around NZ make pick-up and drop-off a breeze. You can check availability, prices, and book with JUCY online here.
Travel Insurance Has Your Back!
Life can be unpredictable and when you’re traveling abroad, the last thing you want to worry about is getting sick or injured and having to pay out of pocket for treatment.
If this concerns you, SafetyWing can help! SafetyWing specializes in very affordable and comprehensive medical and travel insurance that is aimed at digital nomads, remote workers, and long-term travelers. It costs just $45 USD per 4 weeks!
To start coverage, you must purchase it after leaving your home country, so we usually buy it as soon as we land at the airport.
Since using SafetyWing we’ve been reimbursed thousands of dollars when we’ve gotten sick. During the pandemic, they’ve even gone as far as to pay for our last-minute flights back to Canada before the border closed!
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 My Queenstown Diary some more!