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Queenstown Hill is the single most popular hike in Queenstown, and rightfully so! It’s a fairly easy hike that most people can accomplish within a couple of hours and the views from the top are seriously impressive. A little work, for a lot of reward – that’s my kind of hike!
From the summit of Queenstown Hill, you’ll have views of Queenstown town center, Lake Wakatipu, and a panoramic view of the mountains everywhere you turn. These epic views had me hiking Queenstown Hill on several occasions including bright and early for sunrise and even in the dead of winter. But let me tell you one thing, the Queenstown Hill hike (and its incredible views) never get old.
However, if this is your first-time tackling Queenstown Hill, then there are a few things you probably should know before you set off. In this blog, I’m going to fill you in on all of the essential info to know before you go, as well as provide some of my personal experiences so you can be sure of what to expect.
Queenstown Hill Hike Overview
Distance: 2.5 kilometers (1.55 miles) one way, 5-kilometers return
Elevation gain: About 600 meters (1968 feet) from downtown Queenstown
Time needed: 2 to 3 hours
Type of trail: Out and back
Queenstown Hill is one of the most accessible hikes in Queenstown. Unlike trails such as Bob’s Cove Track and Mt Crichton Loop, Queenstown Hill starts right from town. On top of this, it can be accomplished in under 3 hours and is also open all year round – perfect for any Queenstown itinerary! The accessibility combined with the stunning views from the summit makes hiking Queenstown Hill one of those must-do activities for both locals and tourists alike.
The Queenstown Hill trail is well maintained and isn’t a technical hike by any means. It is suitable for people who don’t consider themselves “hikers”, dogs, and even children who are up for the challenge. With that said, the hike to the summit is a steady incline without any flat or downhill sections. It is a bit of a workout for sure, but once at the top, it’s totally worth it! In fact, many claim this hike to do be one of the best activities to do in New Zealand.
There are tons of viewpoints to explore at the top of Queenstown Hill, and as such, lots of amazing photo opportunities. There is even a metal sculpture called the Basket of Dreams that I’ll you more about later on in this blog.
Related Read: Queenstown Hill is one of the best hikes in New Zealand, find out what the others are in my blog!
Queenstown Hill Hike FAQs
What to Pack
Decent footwear – During the winter you should wear waterproof hiking boots with good grips for ice and snow. During the rest of the year, running shoes should suffice (just watch out for mud!)
Water – There is nowhere to fill your water bottle up along the trail so bring enough water with you. I’d recommend 1 liter per person.
Sun protection – Although the majority of the trail is shaded by trees, at the summit it is very open and you’ll need some protection from the harsh NZ sun.
Windbreaker or sweater – At the Queenstown Hill summit, it’s quite exposed and can be windy. Bringing a second layer will keep you warm while enjoying those rewarding views!
Parking and the Queenstown Hill Trailhead
Parking can be a little tricky because the parking lot at the Queenstown Hill trailhead is tiny (and by tiny I mean it can only fit a handful of cars.) This small parking lot is located on Belfast Terrace and can be found easily marked on Google maps. This is a residential street though, and there never is much street parking available either.
For that reason, many people walk to the trailhead from Queenstown center. From Queenstown center, it’s about a 15-minute walk to the start of the Queenstown Hill trail. This walk is through residential streets and is all uphill gaining about 200 meters in elevation over about 800 meters (0.5 miles). It does add a little extra work to your total hike, but might be your only option if there is no parking at the start of the trailhead.
If you want to ensure a parking space, it’s best to hike Queenstown Hill for sunrise. Before the sun comes up, the trail is never busy and you should be able to snag a parking space without a worry. This is what I often do!
The Steep Hike Up
Once you’ve reached the trailhead, you still have a lot of climbing to do! Luckily, it isn’t too long and the trail is well maintained. There is a map at the beginning of the trail and signs along the way including information about the area and its flora and fauna.
The trail is wide and starts with a steady incline through the forest. At the beginning, the trees block out any sort of view until you reach a clearing with a bench. This is a good spot to stop for a rest and catch your breath.
Once you’ve nearly reached the top, you’ll come to a fork in the trail. If you take the trail on the left, it’s a short 5-minute hike via a steep trail. If you take the trail to the right, you’ll end up on a more gradual, but longer, trail. I’ve personally hiked both trails and prefer the steeper option on the way up (getting the incline over and done with quicker is just my style), but I normally take the longer path on the way down. This is totally personal preference though and either trail is just fine.
From the trailhead to the top of Queenstown Hill is 2.5 kilometers (1.6 miles) and about 400 meters in elevation gain. For most people, the hike up takes about 1-1.5 hours, but this largely depends on your pace and it can take much longer (or faster, just ask the local trail runners!)
Reaching the Basket of Dreams
Once you reach the top of Queenstown Hill one of the first things you’ll notice is an unusually large metal sculpture. This is the Basket of Dreams which was created by the artist Caroline Robinson. It was created as a resting place to relax, enjoy the views, and inspire thoughts and reflection.
For many, the Basket of Dreams marks the end of their Queenstown Hill walk. But the truth is this is just the beginning of the best views! From the Basket of Dreams, there is a short loop track that takes you around the top of Queenstown Hill offering the most stunning views! This is what you hiked all the way up for – so enjoy it!
The Views from Queenstown Hill Summit
Besides the Basket of Dreams, from the top of Queenstown Hill you’ll have views of Lake Wakatipu, Cecil’s Peak, the Remarkables, Bob’s Peak and the gondola, and of course, Queenstown itself! This is the time to take pictures and relax. I often pack snacks or a picnic to enjoy at the top. If you want to be really fancy, bring a thermos of hot chocolate or coffee to enjoy on a colder day.
People often compare the view from Queenstown Hill with the views from the top of the Tiki Trail (aka Bob’s Peak.) Although similar, I much prefer Queenstown Hill because the views are more panoramic.
Many people only hike as far as the Basket of Dreams, this isn’t the actual summit of Queenstown Hill. To reach the summit, you must follow another small trail a little further up to the very top. This only adds another 5 minutes to your hike, so I’d recommend going for it!
The hike back down is on the same trail as the way up. Since it’s all downhill, it’ll be much quicker and you’ll likely be down in about 30 minutes or so.
Hiking Queenstown Hill at Sunrise or Sunset
My personal favorite time to hike Queenstown Hill is at sunrise. At this time of day, the trail is the quietest, and the views from the summit as the sun comes up is magical! As I mentioned before, this is also the time of day when you’ll likely snag a parking spot right at the trailhead – bonus!
If you aren’t an early riser, sunset up at Queenstown Hill is pretty spectacular too. Often, sunset is busier than sunrise, but still quieter than midday.
Just be sure that if you’re hiking Queenstown Hill for sunrise or sunset, that you bring a flashlight or headlamp! Along the trail the trees provide a lot of shade and it will be dark.
Related read: Check out my blog for more important hiking tips!
Hiking Queenstown Hill in the Winter
Queenstown Hill is one of the few hikes in Queenstown that can be done any time of year – even in the winter! With that said, hiking in the snow can pose a few extra challenges and it’s best to be prepared.
First of all, in the winter there will be snow on the ground as you get closer to the summit. This can make the trail icy and slippery. Good winter hiking boots are highly recommended with crampons being best to have on hand just in case. Hiking poles will also help you keep your balance and give you that much more stability (I never hike without my hiking poles!)
Also, bring warmer clothes and layers to put on once you reach the summit. It’s important to keep in mind that the daylight hours are shorter in the winter and a flashlight might come in handy in case you’re taking longer than you may have anticipated.
The truth is that the views from Queenstown Hill in the winter are even more spectacular than in the summer months. It doesn’t get much better than the mountains all covered in snow – amazing!
Related read: Queenstown Hill is definitely one of the 40 best hikes on the South Island – find out what the rest are!
Thanks for reading!
Queenstown Hill really is one of the best easy hikes in Queenstown. Sure, it might be challenging in parts but overall, most people can accomplish this awesome trail!
I hope this blog has answered all of the questions you have about hiking Queenstown Hill, and maybe inspired you to do it! Trust me, this is one epic hike and the views are well worth the short climb! If you have any specific questions I didn’t answer, please let me know by leaving a comment below, I read and reply to every single one!