Queenstown locals love the Lake Alta Track. Trust me, as a Queenstown local myself I know all the best spots and Lake Alta is one of them. Not only is the track rarely busy, but it’s a short trail that ends at a stunning alpine lake (which also happens to be a Lord of the Rings film location.)
So, whether you’re into hiking, LOTR, or just after some nice photos, Lake Alta Track is the perfect hike to check out near Queenstown.
With that said, there are few things I have to tell you about the Lake Alta Track before you go, and in this blog, you’ll find all of that out!
Lake Alta Track Overview
Distance: 3.5 kilometers (2.2 miles) return
Elevation gain: About 200 meters (656 feet)
Time needed: 1.5-2.5 hours
Type of Trail: Out and back
The Lake Alta Track is a moderately difficult trail that leads from The Remarkables ski area up to Lake Alta – a picturesque alpine lake. The trail is steep gaining about 200 meters in elevation in just under 2 kilometers. Although it’ll have you out of breath, the views are totally worth it and the hike up takes most people under an hour. It’s a quick hike easy to add to any Queenstown itinerary.
Lord of the Rings fans might recognize Lake Alta as “Dimrill Dale.” That’s right, Lake Alta was used for filming the scene where the fellowship escapes the Mines of Moria in the LOTR.
But even if you’re not a LOTR fan, you’ll still enjoy the Lake Alta Track. The trail is never busy (unlike many other hikes in Queenstown such as Queenstown Hill or Ben Lomond) and offers beautiful views of both the lake and Queenstown from above. It’s one of Queenstown’s hidden gems that is most frequented by locals.
Not to mention, the drive to the trailhead is an exciting adventure in itself!
Lake Alta Track FAQs
What to Pack
Sun protection – There are no trees or shaded areas along the Lake Alta trail. Even in the winter, the New Zealand sun is harsh.
Water – Although the Lake Alta Track is short, bring at least 1 litre of water per person. On the steep climb up you’ll be thankful that you have it!
Decent hiking shoes – The Lake Alta Track is fairly well maintained however sturdy hiking shoes will help you easily navigate rocks and boulders on the way.
Snacks – Lake Alta makes for the perfect place for a picnic! Unlike summiting a mountain, Lake Alta is somewhat protected from the wind and is a nice place to sit down, have a bite to eat, and relax for a while.
Money – You’ll need to pay the $10 NZD fee to drive up to The Remarkables ski area if you’re visiting Lake Alta in the summer months.
Note: If you’re planning on hiking to Lake Alta in the winter months then you’re going to need a lot more gear! I’m not a winter hiking expert, so you’ll need to do more research in this instance. You’ll also have to dodge people skiing as The Remarkables is one of the best places to go skiing in Queenstown.
Driving to The Remarkables
One of the things I love most about the hike to Lake Alta is the actual drive to get to the trailhead. Remarkables Ski Field Access Road is the road that climbs up over 1,500 meters in elevation to The Remarkables ski area. This drive is easily one of the most scenic stretches of road in New Zealand.
From Queenstown, drive along Frankton Road until you reach the roundabout (traffic circle) and turn onto New Zealand State Highway 6. Drive on here for a short while and then turn left onto Remarkables Ski Field Access Road which takes you straight up the mountain to The Remarkables Ski Field.
The road is about 13 kilometers long and takes about 30 minutes to drive. It’s steep, and windy which makes it a slow drive. But along the way the views over Queenstown and the surrounding area are stunning. I recommend stopping along the way to take in the views. This drive makes for some awesome photo opportunities!
In all honesty, I recommend driving up to The Remarkables to anybody visiting Queenstown – even if you’re not planning to hike to Lake Alta (or go skiing in the winter.)
It is important to know that you will be charged $10 NZD to drive up to The Remarkables. This is a fairly new charge that’s been put in place to help cover the maintenance costs for this privately owned road. This charge is only during the summer months though (generally November to April.)
The drive is also daunting for some. You’ll drive right next to cliff edges along this steep windy road. Although I don’t find it to be a problem, for those who are afraid of heights, it could be. Also, in the winter months, you must carry snow chains with you. They will not let you drive up the road without having them (and during certain conditions, you will be required to put them on prior.)
Finding the Lake Alta Track Trailhead
After reaching the parking lot at The Remarkables Ski Field you’ll need to make your way up to the buildings. In the winter, this is The Remarkables ski building, but in the summer it is vacant.
Walk up the gravel road and get yourself to the far side of the building. From here, follow the trail up the hill (pretty much right under the chairlift) until you see hiking signs. This is the start of the Lake Alta Track and with the signs, you can’t miss it.
If you’re not a confident hiker or you just prefer guided experiences, you can book this Lake Alta hiking tour from Queenstown. It includes transport up to the trailhead as well as a gourmet lunch at the lake!
Climbing Up to Lake Alta
The trail up to Lake Alta is well marked with orange signs and yellow poles. The track is a Department of Conservation trail and is well maintained and marked.
Lake Alta Track starts with a steady climb that continues pretty much until you reach the lake. There are some boulders on the trail that’ll you’ll have to walk over or around, but other than that it is not a technical trail by any means.
But you’re going to get tired. Hiking to Lake Alta always gets me huffing and puffing. That 200-meter elevation climb over 1.75 kilometers is short and sweet, but it’ll still take your breath away. I often stop and enjoy the views along the way up while I catch my breath.
The Beautiful Lake Alta
After a short but steep climb, you’ll reach Lake Alta (or Dimrill Dale for you LOTR fans). It’s absolutely stunning and the views will soon make you forget the effort it took to get up there.
Once at Lake Alta, you have a couple of different options for how to enjoy this beautiful place. First off, head down to the lake’s edge. Here, you’ll really be able to see the blue colors of the lake and on a calm day, reflections of the surrounding mountains.
If you’re still up for some hiking and adventure you can continue to walk around the lake. There is also a scramble up to the saddle on the north side of the lake. The views from up at the saddle are even better than down below at the lake! The scramble takes less than 30 minutes (depending on your pace) and involves climbing over rocks the entire way up.
Once you’re done enjoying Lake Alta, you’ll head back down to the parking lot on the same trail you took on the way up. The way down is much quicker, although watch your footing as the rocks can create tripping hazards!
Climbing Single Cone and Double Cone
From Lake Alta, you’ll see a couple of very prominent peaks known as Single Cone and Double Cone. These are popular spots for rock climbers or very experienced hikers. I’ve never personally climbed either of them but know that you can do so safely on a guided tour.
Please note: It’s not recommended to tackle either peak independently unless you’re with someone who knows the mountain and is a very experienced mountain climber. The furthest you should go as a hiker is to the saddle. Want to climb Single or Double Cone? Check out this guided rock climbing and traversing tour from Queenstown!
Essential Things to Remember
- Lake Alta Track is best hiked during the summer months. Hiking in the snow poses a whole other set of challenges and the trail can be hard (or impossible) to find.
- You need to drive up to The Remarkables Ski Field to start the hike.
- There is no shade or trees along the Lake Alta Track – bring sun protection!
- It is possible to hike to Lake Atla on a guided tour. Rock climbing and traversing tours are also available for those who want an added level of excitement
- During summer months, you will need to pay $10 to drive up to the trailhead at The Remarkables Ski Field.
Related read: For more information about hiking in New Zealand, read my blog about 17 useful hiking tips!
Thanks for reading!
Well, there you have it, all the information you need to tackle the Lake Alta Track for yourself. To me, this is one of the best things to do in Queenstown including a scenic drive and a nice short hike!