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7 Day Hikes on the Routeburn Track

7 Day Hikes on the Routeburn Track

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If you’re looking for an epic 2 to 3 day hike that’s filled to the brim with stunning views, and challenging (but fun!) terrain, you’re in the right place. Let me introduce the incredible Routeburn Track!

I’m on a mission to complete each of New Zealand’s 10 Great Walks, and this track just so happens to be one of them! After three awesome days of hiking, I’m so glad to say I’ve done it, although there are some things I wish I would have known beforehand.

So for my fellow hikers out there, I wanted to put this guide together to tell you everything you need to know about this amazing trail, so you can have the BEST time exploring this New Zealand gem. So strap on your hiking boots, and let’s get to it.

Routeburn Track Overview

The Routeburn Track is a 32-kilometer (20-mile) point-to-point track that traditionally starts just outside the town of Glenorchy at the Routeburn Shelter and finishes at The Divide Shelter on the road between Te Anau and Milford Sound.

The trail can be walked in both directions and from either side of the trail, you get a completely different experience. Starting from The Divide Shelter, the Key Summit is an extremely popular viewpoint. From Routeburn Shelter, Routeburn Falls Hut provides magnificent views of the valley.

For those who are fit enough, you can make it to Lake Harris (from Routeburn Shelter) or Lake Mackenzie (from The Divide Shelter) and back again in one day. Regardless, there are plenty of amazing views to be seen even on the shortest day hikes on this epic trail.

Day hikes on the Routeburn Track range from easy to very challenging. Choosing the right trail for you is important, and below you’ll learn about them all!

Related Read: Hiking this trail is one of the best free things to do in Glenorchy – find out what the others are!

Routeburn Track Day Hike FAQs

Walking the Routeburn Track just past Routeburn Falls Hut
Hiking past Routeburn Falls and onto Lake Harris!

What to Pack

Stunning views on the Routeburn Track, Queenstown
I honestly can’t get over this view!

Lunch and snacks – There is nowhere to buy food along the Routeburn Track, even at the huts. We all get hangry sometimes, so it’s best to bring plenty of snacks!

Wet weather gear – The weather on this trail is unpredictable. It can rain any day of the year, especially on The Divide Shelter side of the trail. Always bring a wet weather layer.

Water bottle – There are plenty of places to fill up on the trail, but at a minimum, I’d bring a 1-liter water bottle.

Emergency locator – If you plan on hiking parts of the trail in the off season it’s best to get yourself an emergency locator. You can rent them from the DOC visitor center in Queenstown.

Hiking poles – I need hiking poles! My knees always struggle hiking downhill and hiking poles save them. If you too get sore knees, bring some along!

Routeburn Day Hikes From Routeburn Shelter

The Routeburn Shelter is the most popular starting point for day hikes. The reason for this is that Routeburn Shelter is only a 15-minute drive from Glenorchy and 1 hour from Queenstown. There are multiple day hikes you can do from here and I’ll mention them below ranging from easiest to hardest.

Bridal Veil Falls

A lady sits on a log on the upper section of Bridal Veil Falls on the Routeburn Track
The upper section of Bridal Veil Falls!

Length: Around 8 – 10 kilometers return (5 – 6.2 miles)

Difficulty: Easy

Time needed: 3 to 4 hours

The first day hike option starting from Routeburn Shelter is to Bridal Veil Falls. There’s no exact info available about how long the hike actually is, however, it is around half to three-quarters of the way to Routeburn Flats Hut, or 8 to 10 kilometers return (5 to 6.2 miles).

The trail to the falls is wide and almost completely flat, making this section of the trail accessible to most. It’s a great nature walk with beautiful views of the Dart River and of course Bridal Veil Falls. 

To hike this section of the trail I’d allow around three to four hours at a slow pace. At a fast pace, you could do it in just over two hours.

Related Read: If you’re looking for another easy hike to do in Glenorchy, then the Glenorchy Lagoon Walkway is perfect. Starting in town, the trail takes you to Mirror Lakes, which reflect the Humboldt Mountains almost perfectly!

Routeburn Flats Hut

View from Routeburn Flats
The views from the Routeburn Flats Hut

Length: 15 kilometers return (9.3 miles)

Difficulty: Easy to moderate

Time Needed: 4 to 5 hours

For those who can do a little more hiking in a day but still want to avoid the uphill climbs on the Routeburn Track, then the hike to the Routeburn Flats Hut is a great option. This hike is 15 kilometers return (9.3 miles) and has only a gradual incline of 300 meters (984 feet) on the way there.

Along the way, you’ll get to enjoy amazing views of the valley, Bridal Veil Falls, the Dart River, and lots more. At a slow pace, you can easily complete this section there and back in under 5 hours. You’ll know exactly when you reach the hut as it is signposted. When you do, take a look around, the views from the hut are spectacular!

Routeburn Falls Hut

The Routeburn Falls Hut and views looking down at Routeburn Flats
Stunning views from the Routeburn Falls Hut!

Length: 19.6 kilometers (12.2 miles)

Difficulty: Moderate to hard

Time Needed: 6 to 7 hours

If you came to hike the Routeburn Track for those epic mountain views from above the valley, then you’re going to need to hike to Routeburn Falls.

Just before you reach Routeburn Flats Hut you’ll see a sign on your left pointing to Routeburn Falls Hut. From here, the trail climbs up the valley before finally reaching Routeburn Falls. The extra distance is under 5 kilometers (3.1 miles), but what you get to see are those classic views that are hard to forget.

I would rate this day hiking option as moderate to hard because of the trail’s length and the fact that you’ll need to climb another 300 meters in elevation (984 feet) to the falls.

Personally, I love hiking to Routeburn Falls Hut. I find it’s the perfect trail length for reasonably fit hikers looking for a fun day hike.

Lake Harris

Lake Harris, Routeburn Track
Getting to Lake Harris is a full-day mission!

Length: 25 kilometers (15.5 miles)

Difficulty: Hard

Time needed: 8 hours

The longest day hike option on the Routeburn Track starting from Routeburn Shelter is to Lake Harris. On my first ever day hike here, I ended up at Lake Harris accidentally. I honestly just thought “I’ll go a little further”, and ended up hiking a bit too far for my liking. With that said though, the section between Routeburn Falls and Lake Harris is stunning.

As far as elevation goes, it’s only another 150 meters higher (492 feet). But it’s the trail’s length of 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) return that makes your feet sore at the end of the day. Any longer and you might as well hike the entire trail from end to end (more on that below).

In winter, this section of the trail is within avalanche terrain. For this reason, it’s not advised to hike this far until after October or when the trail opens for multi-day hikers.

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Routeburn Track Day Hikes From The Divide Shelter

On the other end of the Routeburn Track, you have The Divide Shelter. For those staying in Te Anau or Milford Sound, day hikes from The Divide Shelter make the most sense. Otherwise, you’re a long way away from Glenorchy or Queenstown!

The Divide Shelter parking lot is located 82 kilometers (51 miles) from the town of Te Anau along the road to Milford Sound. One of the reasons hiking the full track is such a pain is that you need to organize transport at one end of the trail. The problem? It takes around 4.5 hours to drive to The Divide Shelter from Routeburn Shelter.

To avoid this, you can do some great day hikes from this side of the trail, and below are some options!

Key Summit

A tarn on the Key Summit reflects the surrounding mountains
The small tarn on the Key Summit creates amazing mirror-like reflections!

Length: 7 kilometers (4.3 miles)

Difficulty: Easy to moderate

Time needed: 3 hours

From The Divide Shelter, the Key Summit is without a doubt the most popular hiking option in Milford Sound. Although this trail starts on the Routeburn Track it does branch off to reach the summit. Still, it’s a popular add-on for those hiking this trail!

The trail is literally straight up the entire way. Over 3.5 kilometers (2.2 miles) you’ll climb 400 meters (1,312 feet) until you reach the Key Summit. From here, on a beautiful day, you’ll get magnificent views of the Southern Alps. Unfortunately, it can be hard to get good weather and if it’s cloudy you won’t see a thing – trust me I’ve been up there when it’s cloudy!

If you don’t have your own transportation or would like the extra knowledge and trail confidence, you can book a guided tour of the Key Summit. I love this option because even if you’re not familiar with the area or a new hiker, you won’t have to worry about staying safe on the trail and can enjoy the journey!

Departing from Te Anau, your small group of 12 will set off for the Key Summit Track. This guided hiking tour will last about 7.5 hours, including transportation, hiking, and time to stop and enjoy the views! The local guide is a fountain of information, so you can learn about the history and culture of the area, and about the unique ecosystem here. You can book this tour in advance, including lunch, for $265 NZD.

Related Read: There are also some epic hikes in Milford Sound you just HAVE to try out!

Lake Mackenzie

A lady sits in a hammock at Lake Mackenzie on the Routeburn Track
Not a bad place to relax while I try to forget I have to hike back to the divide!

Length: 24 kilometers (15 miles)

Difficulty: Moderate to hard

Time needed: 7 hours

The longest day hike is from The Divide Shelter to Lake Mackenzie. Although this day hike option is lengthy, Lake Mackenzie is one of my favorite spots on the entire trail. The lake literally shines emerald green with an epic mountain backdrop and surrounding greenery. It was the most beautiful place I camped in when I hiked the full Routeburn Track!

The length of the trail is what makes this section difficult. In fact, there is only an elevation gain of 550 meters (1,640 feet) from The Divide Shelter parking lot. However, with 24 kilometers (15 miles) to get through, this day hike should only be attempted by those wanting a challenge!

This track is also in avalanche territory, so it should not be completed in the winter months.

Related Read: Another hike on the South Island that takes you to a stunning alpine lake is the Lake Alta Track. Starting at The Remarkables Ski Field near Queenstown the trail is short but sweet!

Hike the Entire Routeburn Track in One Day

Views of the mountain from the Routeburn Track
Just another amazing view!

Length: 32 kilometers (20 miles)

Difficulty: Hard

Time needed: 8 to 11 hours

It is possible to hike the full Routeburn Track in one day (Routeburn Shelter to The Divide Shelter). Personally, I have not done this but know many who have. It’s a long day that involves massive inclines and declines (that kill my knees!). To be honest, it’s not my thing, I find hikes like this far too rushed. But for some super-fit hikers or anyone wanting a nice challenge to conquer, it’s an option!

It’s definitely a hard hike so some training should be done before attempting. Most people take around 10 hours, with the fastest time I’ve heard of being 7 hours.

You’ll need to organize a shuttle or transportation when you get to the other side of the trail. As I mentioned earlier, it’s over 4 hours drive between the two trailheads. You can also use this as an opportunity to stay the night in Milford Sound, but again, you’ll have to figure out transportation.

But, over your 32-kilometer (20-mile) journey, you’ll gain 850 meters (2,789 ft) in elevation and see world-class views. This will certainly leave you with a sense of accomplishment!

Day Hikes on the Routeburn Track in Winter

Lake Harris in winter
Lake Harris freezes during the winter in New Zealand!

In winter, much of the Routeburn Track is far too dangerous to hike. From Routeburn Shelter, anywhere past Routeburn Falls Hut is prime avalanche terrain. Although there are times when you can make it to Lake Harris during the offseason, it’s really risky. During winter, don’t hike past Routeburn Falls Hut.

From The Divide Shelter, it is much safer in winter and you can make it to the Key Summit without issues. However, be prepared for snow. Crampons will come in handy and having an ice ax is also smart. Hiking to Lake Mackenzie is not advised.

Be aware that people have died on the trail in winter, so exercise extreme caution.

Best Day Hiking Tours of the Routeburn Track

Starting the Routeburn Nature walk
The very start of the nature walk on the Routeburn Track

These tours mentioned below are excellent if you don’t have a car or enjoy leisurely-paced/guided group tours. Sometimes, guided tours are my favorite option because they take all the stress and planning out of your day, so you can simply enjoy the beauty of this trail!

Private full-day hike

If you’re looking for an immersive and exclusive hiking experience, this full-day private day hike on the Routeburn Track will check all your boxes! Departing from Queenstown, you will hike 13 kilometers (8 miles) of the Routeburn Shelter side, which has some of the best views. For those more advanced hikers you can continue to Routeburn Falls Hut which adds 4.6 kilometers (2.9 miles) for a total of 17.6 km 11 miles).

The local guide does a great job of teaching you about the local flora and fauna, and because it’s private you can ask lots of questions and move at your own pace. This tour includes transportation, national park fees, lunch, water, hiking poles, and your guide. You can book it in advance for $750 NZD per person.

Small group full-day hike

This full-day hike is a great option for those more on a budget and who want to make some friends! It provides transportation from Queenstown or surrounding areas (like Glenorchy or Arrowtown) and hikes the Routeburn Shelter side of the Routeburn Track. The trail is 13 kilometers (8 miles) and will take you to the Routeburn Flats Hut, which is your turnaround point.

This tour is capped at 6 people, which still gives you the chance to learn about the trail and move at a moderate pace. Plus, you can make some new hiking buddies! This tour includes lunch, water, national park fees, transportation, and your guide for $340 NZD. You can check the details and book it in advance here!

Half-day Routeburn Track

For those short on time or not avid hikers, this half-day hike on the Routeburn Track will give you a little taste, without having to commit to a ton of steps! Departing from Queenstown, you will enjoy the scenic drive along Lake Wakatipu, giving you a glimpse of the outdoor beauty you’ll see while hiking. Once you reach the track, you will spend 2.5 hours hiking through the beech forest, across a swinging bridge, and next to the Routeburn River.

It is a great way to get outside and enjoy this epic route! This tour includes transportation from the Queenstown area, light snacks and water, and your guide. It can be reserved in advance for $225 NZD.

Key Summit Guided Walk

As I mentioned earlier, there is just one guided hike departing from Te Anau! The Key Summit guided hike tackles the opposite end of the track, the Divide Shelter side. The Key Summit is one of my favorite parts of the trail, so this is perfect for those coming from Te Anau or Milford.

You can expect to walk between 4-6 hours at a leisurely pace. If conditions permit you will stop at the summit for lunch. If you have a basic level of fitness this walk is considered easy. This tour includes roundtrip transportation from Te Anau, a small group of 12, hiking poles, wet weather gear, lunch, and water for $265 NZD. It is a full day of fun, so book it in advance here!

Essential Info to Remember

Tha Dart River along the Routeburn Track
The stunning Dart River on the trail!
  • There is parking on both sides of the Routeburn Track, however, the Divide Shelter is a much smaller parking lot. Parking is free but you are not allowed to sleep in your vehicle overnight.
  • The trail is marked with orange markers the entire way. It is really defined and easy to follow.
  • If you want to stay overnight on the trail, you will need to book your stay on the DOC website well in advance during the summer hiking season. With that said, you can sometimes find one night available. That way, you can turn your day hike into an overnight hike!

Where to Stay in Glenorchy

EcoScapes Glenorchy hotel room with a view
A beautiful room at EcoScapes Glenorchy! Photo credit: EcoScapes Glenorchy

Glenorchy is a beautiful place to spend a night or two. Honestly, the atmosphere is so peaceful and nothing like Queenstown. It’s the perfect place to take a break and unwind! That said, the majority of hotels in Glenorchy are for mid-range budgets and above, as there aren’t many super budget-friendly places to stay here (I’d recommend staying in Queenstown for more options on a budget).

The best places to stay in Glenorchy are:

Kinloch Wilderness Retreat – $/$$

The Kinloch Retreat is a fantastic mid-range hotel located a short drive out of Glenorchy in an even quieter location on the other side of Lake Wakatipu. It’s also the most budget-friendly of the options available, with dorm rooms available all the way up to cozy six-bedroom houses.

Next to Kinloch Retreat is a DOC-owned (but operated by the retreat) campground with non-powered sites for $15 NZD per person per night. Of course, if you want something a little more luxurious, stay at the retreat and enjoy access to the kitchen lounge, as well as an on-site restaurant.

A bed in a dorm here at the Kinloch Retreat starts from $65 NZD per night, while you can enjoy a one-night stay in a twin room from $170 NZD per night. With just 19 rooms available, make sure to check availability early and book your stay here to avoid missing out.

The Headwaters Eco Lodge – $$$

This place has it all! The Headwaters Eco Lodge is a holiday park and offers luxury accommodation with stellar views. Not only are breakfast and a 3-course dinner included daily, but as their name suggests, the hotel focuses on being environmentally conscious, which I love. All rooms also enjoy free Wi-Fi, heated floors, and you get free parking with your room.

A one-night stay here at The Headwaters Eco Lodge starts at $790 NZD, and you can check availability and reserve your room online here.

Ecoscapes – $$$

EcoScapes is a luxury hotel with the most amazing views. Each room has a large glass wall, so you don’t miss a single sunset or sunrise if you don’t want to. Family-owned, all room reservations also include a fantastic breakfast, and their cooked meals are highly rated.

With some of the friendliest and helpful staff you could ask for, I’d recommend staying at EcoScapes if you’re looking for plenty of luxury with some of the best views you could ask for.

Rooms here aren’t cheap, starting from $595 NZD per night, but if you’re celebrating a special occasion or simply want to enjoy a seamless stay with extra luxury, it’s one of the best. You can check availability and book online here on Booking.com.

Other Things to do in Glenorchy

A lady feeds llamas at the Glenorchy Animal Experience
Feeding the animals at the animal experience is so much fun!

Besides hiking, Glenorchy is a bit limited on things to do! So below I’ve highlighted the other main attractions in the area, including my favorite tours to Glenorchy from Queenstown.

  • Glenorchy Animal Experience – For an authentic New Zealand experience, you can actually visit a functional farm! The Glenorchy Animal Experience is a small petting zoo surrounded by mountains. Here, guests can feed all the different animals on the property including llamas, sheep, donkeys, mini horses, and more! This is great for kids and adults alike, plus, admission is cheap.
  • Lord of the Rings Tour – Did you know Glenorchy is a top film location for the Lord of the Rings movies? This half-day tour is my top choice for LOTR tours because you get off the beaten path and see iconic film spots like Twelve Mile Delta, Mount Aspiring National Park, and Isengard Lookout. You’ll even get to put on costumes from the film and pretend you’re fighting an epic battle scene. Plus, the drive is goregous, so it’s 4-hours of views, LOTR trivia knowledge, and a scenic picnic lunch!
  • Photography Tour of Glenorchy – If you love shooting on your DSLR, Glenorchy’s landscape will be your ideal subject! I love this photography tour of Glenorchy because it’s good for all skill levels, whether you’re brand new or looking to enhance your skills. You’ll be led by a local photographer, who has the best-kept secret photo spots and tons of advice to share. What a unique and fun way to experience Glenorchy!

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 JUCY or Star RV campervan or motorhome before the end of June 2024! 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! One thing to note is that this code is only valid for travel before Dec 21, 2024.

Thanks for Reading!

The very start of the Routeburn Track crossing the first suspension bridge
The very start of the Routeburn Track crossing the first suspension bridge

I love the Routeburn Track. Looking back, it really is one of the most spectacular places to visit in Glenorchy. From the variety of landscapes to the trail’s rather easy difficulty, it’s a wonderful trail that most can enjoy. Luckily for me, I’m local to the area, so every summer season is another chance to enjoy this awesome trail!

Thanks so much for reading. I hope this guide has helped plan your adventure here. Be sure to browse my website for all the best tips, guides, and recommendations on things to do in Queenstown! Also, check out some of my other favorite hiking trails in Queenstown or some of my most popular guides here:

50 BEST Hikes in New Zealand +My Personal Favorites

Tiki Trail, Queenstown – A Steep Climb to Bob’s Peak

11 BEST Bike Trails in Queenstown

Ashley Conland

Monday 16th of May 2022

Nice! I’ve very much enjoyed reading this, and am about to re-do the track in the coming summer, with daughter and grandson! Now I’m thinking, maybe a pre winter hike would be a nice idea - and a bit of training!