Mount Cook National Park is one of the most beautiful places to visit on the South Island. Home to the highest mountains and the longest glaciers of New Zealand, the National Park offers stunning views and incredible hikes. And the good thing is, you don’t have to be an incredibly fit and experienced hiker to explore the Mt Cook walks! Most of the walks in Mt Cook National Park are considered short and easy. However you can also do some more challenging day or multi day hikes. We have hiked many of the Mt Cook walks and share with you in this complete guide the 12 best hikes in Mount Cook National Park. Go breathe in the healthy fresh alpine air while hiking some of the best Mount Cook trails!
Best time for hiking in Mount Cook National Park
Generally the best time to visit Mount Cook National Park for hiking is in spring, summer an autumn. Every month and season has its ups and downs, with December to February being the peak season for tourism in New Zealand. However, these months have pleasant temperature conditions.
We have visited Mount Cook National Park in October and had wonderful clear skies and about 15 degrees. Ideal to do all the Mount Cook walks!
In spring and summer you can also expect the foliage to be lush green, while in autumn the spectacular autumn colors come to live.
The winter months in New Zealand lasts from June until August and brings colder weather and snow capped mountains. The landscape turns into a magical winter wonderland. Although you can still do most of the hikes in Mount Cook National Park, it is important to be well prepared with crampons. Some Mt Cook walks might be closed due to avalanche dangers, so make sure to always check with the DOC visitor centre in Mount Cook village.
What to prepare before the Mt Cook walks
Before walking in Mount Cook National Park, it is important to be well prepared and equipped to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience. Here are some things to consider:
- Check the weather forecast: The weather in Mount Cook National Park can be unpredictable. Therefore it’s important to be aware of any potential hazards or challenges before you start your walk. Check the weather forecast, and be prepared to change your plans if necessary.
- Choose a suitable trail: There are a variety of trails in Mount Cook National Park, ranging from short, easy walks to multi-day hikes. Choose a trail that suits your fitness level and experience, and be prepared to adjust your plans if you encounter unexpected challenges.
- Bring appropriate gear: Dress in layers and bring appropriate gear for the different weather conditions you can encounter. Wear sturdy hiking boots, warm clothing, rain gear, a hat, hiking poles, sunscreen, sunglasses and of course plenty of water. If you’re planning on hiking in the backcountry, be sure to bring a map, compass, and other essential gear, such as a first aid kit and a headlamp.
- Stay on the trail: It’s important to stay on the designated trail to avoid damaging the fragile alpine environment. Don’t take shortcuts, and be mindful of any signs or markers along the way.
- Be prepared for emergencies: Make sure someone knows your planned route and expected return time. Always carry a charged mobile phone and backup battery in case of emergencies. If you’re planning on hiking in the backcountry, consider carrying a personal locator beacon (PLB) or satellite messenger.
- Respect the environment: Mount Cook National Park is a protected area, and it’s important to respect the environment and leave no trace. Carry out all rubbish, stay on designated trails, and be mindful of any wildlife you encounter.
12 BEST MT COOK WALKS
Sealy Tarns track
Distance: 5.8 kilometres out and back
Duration: 3 to 5 hours
Difficulty: Moderately difficult with 2200 steps
Incline: 600 meters (1,969ft) elevation gain
The Sealy Tarns track is a beautiful hike up to a viewpoint overlooking the Hooker valley, Mueller Lake and surrounding snow capped peaks including Aoraki Mount Cook. It’s also known as the ‘Stairway to Heaven’ in New Zealand and you will soon understand why! Although this hike isn’t the longest with only 5.8 kilometers round trip and 547 meters of elevation gain, you have to climb 2,200 steps. But the spectacular views are totally worth it!
The Sealy Tarns hike is also the first part of the Mueller Hut track. But if you don’t plan on hiking that far, then the views from Sealy Tarns lookout are worth the effort. With a picnic table and plenty of room to sit on the rocks, the Sealy Tarns Viewpoint is a perfect spot to enjoy your lunch.
In the summer months you can also see the Sealy tarn which will be visible and on a clear and calm day. The tarn then reflects the surrounding mountains, perfect ingredients for a stunning photo!
Hooker Valley track
Distance: 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) each way so 10 kilometres in total
Duration: 3.5 hours
Incline: 200 meters
The Hooker Valley Track is one of the most popular Mount Cook walks with stunning views all along the trail. By following the boardwalk and crossing a few suspension bridges until you get to the glacier Hooker lake, this Mount Cook walk is pretty easy but with a huge reward.
The first part is along a well maintained gravel path until you get to the first suspension bridge. The track then continues between old moraine ridges and humps while you wind your way up the Hooker Valley past alpine streams and glaciers in the shadow of Aoraki/Mount Cook. After the second suspension bridge the vegetation changes to more open tussock and a wider valley floor along a wooden boardwalk. The picturesque icebergs, glaciers and majestic mountains will have you take your camera at every turn.
After the third suspension bridge you’re almost at Hooker Lake which sits directly beneath Mt Cook. In the winter months this glacier lake can freeze, so during the summer months when the ice is melting, you’re likely to see icebergs floating on the surface of the lake. If you’re lucky and it is a calm day without any wind, you might be able to see Mt Cook’s reflection in the lake.
With a variety of things to see along the way and the easy to follow trail, the Hooker Valley Track is some of the best Mt Cook walks.
Tasman Glacier viewpoint track
Distance: 1.8 kilometers (1.1 mi) return
Duration: 40 – 50 minutes to complete
Incline: 85 meters (280 ft) elevation gain
The Tasman glacier walk is the shortest and easiest walk in Mount Cook National Park. It offers stunning views of the Tasman glacier and Tasman Lake, floating ice bergs and snow capped mountains. This hike is easy to do for the whole family and can’t be missed on your New Zealand itinerary.
The well maintained gravel path is surrounded by tussock grass and easy to follow. The Tasman Glacier walk can be done on sneakers, just make sure to bring a hat or visor on sunny days as there is nowhere natural shade along the trail.
Once you get to Tasman glacier viewpoint the views on Aoraki Mount Cook and the surrounded snowed capped peaks are just incredible. You can see Tasman glacier in the far distance, but unfortunately it’s retreated so much that you can only see a tiny bit.
Overall, the Tasman Glacier hike is one of the stunning Mt Cook walks which you can easily combine with other things to do!
Mount Wakefield track
Distance: 5.8 kilometre to summit so 12 kilometre return
Duration: 9 12 hours return
Incline: 1478 meter
If you’re in for a more off the beaten path adventure in Mount Cook National Park, then the Wakefield Track is something you’re looking for. This short but rugged scramble from the valley floor to the tree line is a very unknown hike in Mt Cook National Park and therefore it’s without the crowds. You will traverse the Wakefield ridge up towards Mount Wakefield at 2058 meters with stunning views over Hooker valley, the Tasman glaciers, and the surrounding snow capped peaks.
The route starts at Hooker Corner where you’ll see a a man-made pile of stones pointing out where the rough trail heads directly upwards. You’ll hike up for about 200 meters until the bushline is reached where the route becomes more obvious. Make sure to check weather conditions as you’ll need special equipment such as crampons, an axe and maybe even a rope in the winter months. Awareness of avalanche risk is also essential as you enter the alpine area. This is one of the Mt Cook walks which is only suitable for more experienced hikers.
Hooker Hut Track
Distance: 9 kilometre out and back
Duration: 3 hoursreturn
Incline: 210 meters
The Hooker Hut track is a fairly new hike in Mt Cook National Park and takes you partly along the Hooker Valley Track before you take the turnoff to the Hooker Hut. Crossing swing bridges and walking between the tussock grass with incredible views on the snow capped mountains makes the Hooker Hut track a great alternative to the more popular Hooker Valley Track. And it’s only 950 meters of walking towards the Hooker Hut after leaving the Hooker Valley Track!
There are a few uphill sections but overall the trail is flat and easy to follow with the orange poles showing you the way. However, the Hooker Hut track is not clearly signposted, so you have to keep an eye out along the Hooker Valley Track when you get to the picnic bench and public toilets . That is where you follow the creek to the orange poles along a narrow grass path just off the beginning of the boardwalk that continues to Hooker Lake. You’ll have to walk through the tussocks with no clear path, just choose your own way with the least resistance and always keep the river on your right side.
After 400 meters through the tussock grass you will go onto the river bed where you have to look out for the orange pole on the left side. Now it’s only about 300 meters more until you get to the Hooker Hut!
Kea Point track
Distance: 3.2 kilometers (2 miles) return
Duration: 1-hour return from the parking at White Horse Hill Campground or a 2 hours return from Mount Cook Village
Incline: 180 meters (591 feet)
The Kea Point track takes you up close to the Mueller Glacier moraine wall with a stunning backdrop of Aoraki Mount Cook and the surrounding snow-capped mountains. From the viewing deck at the end of the trail you can see the Hooker Valley, Mueller Glacier Lake, Mount Sefton, The Footstool, and of course, Mount Cook! Because of it’s easy and short path without much incline, the Kea Point track is another popular walk in Mount Cook National Park which can be joined by the whole family.
The trailhead of Kea Point track is the same as from Sealy Tarns Track and Mueller Hut Route which can be found at the White Horse Hill campground at the end of Hooker Valley Road.
Mueller Hut Route
Distance: 10.4 kilometre (6.46 miles) return
Duration: 7 to 8 hours
Incline: 1,000 meters including sections of off-trail scrambling
Although the Mueller Hut Track is one of the most popular trails in Mount Cook, you should be well prepared and have a reasonable level of fitness. The route is very steep, including sections of off-trail scrambling between well-marked stone piles. It is possible to do the Mueller Hut hike in one day, however, if you want the full experience then staying overnight in the Mueller Hut is a must. Then you can watch a stunning sunrise over Mount Cook. Booking the Mueller Hut in advance is required via the DOC website.
The Mueller Hut Route starts at the White Horse Hill campground just as many other Mount Cook hikes. You’ll follow the Sealy Tarns stairs for the first part of the Mueller Hut route until you get to the stunning viewpoint at Sealy Tarns overlooking Hooker Valley and Mount Cook. From this point the harder, off trail scramble starts up the Mueller Hut. This will take you about 2 hours. Follow the orange markers and be prepared for some loose gravel uphill climb which can be very challenging.
In the winter months the ridge can be covered in snow which is an extra difficulty. Therefore alpine hiking experience is recommended when attending the Mueller Hut Route in winter.
Blue Lakes Loop track
Distance: 2.2 kilometers (1.4 miles) return
Duration: 40 – 50 minutes
Incline: 60 meters (272 ft)
The Blue Lakes loop track is considered one of the best short walks in Mount Cook National Park. It’s part of the Tasman Glacier viewpoint track so you can easily combine it. When walking to the Tasman Glacier viewpoint you’ll also pass the viewpoint of the Blue Lakes. However, when you make a small detour to the Blue Lakes you can admire them from up close. And if you’re lucky on a calm day without wind you can see a beautiful reflection of the mountains in the lake.
The actual loop track of the Blue Lakes can be overgrown with prickly bushes and difficult to follow. Therefore you can also just check out the lakes only by following the stairs down, and then continue your journey to the Tasman Glacier viewpoint.
The trailhead of the Blue Lakes loop track is the same as Tasman Glacier viewpoint, at then end of Tasman Valley Road. Here are also public toilets with some of the most amazing backdrops you’ll ever see.
Red Tarns track
Distance: 2.4 kilometers (1.5 miles) return
Duration: 2 hours
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Incline: 370 meters
The Red Tarns track is one of the lesser known Mt Cook walks, taking you up to a mountain tarn with stunning reflection views on a calm day. Follow the well maintained path from the Bowen drive public shelter which takes you up the steps gaining about 300 meters (984 feet) in height to the Red Tarns. There you will see a short boardwalk loop track that goes around the tarns.
Bowen Bush walk
Distance: 200 meters (0.1 miles) return
Duration: 10 – 15 minutes
Difficulty: Very easy
Incline: Just a few steps
Without a doubt the easiest and shortest one of the Mt Cook walks. You will follow a gravel path through native totara trees. Because of this, many native birds live in this area, so you can enjoy their songs. A great little walk if you stay in Mount Cook Village as the trailhead is opposite of the petrol pump in the village.
Governors Bush Walk
Distance: 1.7 kilometer loop track
Duration: 1 hour
Incline: 100 meters
The Governors Bush walk is another of the short and easy Mt Cook walks, connecting with the Bowen Bush walk as described above. This trail is one for the bird lovers as you can spot plenty of them along the way such as the fantail and kea birds. The trail goes through a silver beech/tawai forest and follows a gradual climb of approximately 100 meters (328 feet) which leads to a lovely viewpoint. From this viewpoint, you will have stunning views at Wakefield Ridge and Mount Cook.
In terms of epic mountain views you should really go for some of the other Mt Cook walks as most of the trail is immersed in the bush. There are some open parts with mountain views along this trail, but it’s nowhere near spectacular mountain views as some of the other Mt Cook walks offer. Nevertheless, this trail is therefore a great option with bad weather, which can happen often in the mountainous regions of New Zealand.
Distance: 400 meters (0.2 miles) return
Duration: 30 minutes
Incline: 40 meters (131 feet)
The Glencoe walk is another one on the list of very short Mt Cook walks. Therefore it’s a great family friendly walk that zigzags through native trees and takes you to a viewpoint above The Hermitage Hotel. A short uphill section takes you to another great vantage point over Mount Cook as well as the Hooker Glacier. If you’re staying in Mount Cook village and you’re looking for a little walk before sunrise or sunset, then this is a great option. You can see the first or last light over Mount Cook village surrounded by the impressive snow capped mountain ranges.
About Mount Cook National Park
Aoraki Mount Cook is the highest mountain in New Zealand standing at 3,724 meters (12,218 feet) tall. The combination of collision of tectonic plates that uplifted from the surface and glacial activity formed the Southern Alps over millions of years.
During the last ice age, which ended around 11,000 years ago, glaciers covered much of the South Island, carving out valleys and leaving behind moraines and glacial lakes. The valleys and peaks of the Southern Alps bear the marks of this glacial activity, and the park’s rugged terrain is a testament to the power of the glaciers.
Mount Cook’s unique combination of tectonic and glacial activity has created a breathtaking natural wonder that draws visitors from all over the world.
Mount Cook National Park is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site and a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts and adventure seekers. With numerous trails that cater to all skill levels, from easy walks to challenging multi-day hikes, there are plenty of options for walks in Mt Cook National Park.
Overall, Aoraki Mount Cook National Park is a breathtaking natural wonder, offering visitors a chance to experience the beauty and majesty of the Southern Alps and New Zealand wilderness.
FAQ’s about hiking in Mount Cook National Park
Some general things you need to know about the walks in Mount Cook National Park.
- Trails: There are many hiking trails in the area, ranging from easy Mt Cook short walks to challenging alpine routes. Some of the most popular walks in Mt Cook National Park include Hooker Valley Track, Kea Point Track, Sealy Tarns Track and Mueller Hut Route.
- Difficulty: The difficulty level of the hikes varies depending on the trail. The Hooker Valley Track is an easy 3-hour walk, while the Mueller Hut Route is a challenging 2-day alpine trek. It’s important to choose a hike that matches your fitness level and experience.
- Weather: The weather in Mount Cook can be unpredictable, and it’s important to be prepared for changing conditions. The spring and summer months (October to February) are the best months to hike. But even then, you should be prepared for rain, wind, and sudden drops in temperature.
- Safety: Hiking in Mount Cook can be dangerous, especially in alpine areas. Always check the weather forecast and let someone know your hiking plans. Make sure to carry appropriate gear, such as warm clothing, a map, compass, and first aid kit.
- Wildlife: The Mount Cook area is home to a variety of wildlife, including kea (a native alpine parrot), mountain goats, and the occasional deer. Be sure to keep a safe distance from any wildlife you encounter.
How to get to Mount Cook National Park
Mount Cook National Park is located in the South Island of New Zealand, and there are several ways to get there:
- By car: Mt Cook National Park is approximately a four-hour drive from Christchurch, the largest city on the South Island. From Queenstown it’s about a three-hour drive. Along the way you will have stunning views of the Southern Alps and the surrounding countryside. Renting a car is a great way for a New Zealand road trip and highly recommended!
- By bus: Several bus companies offer regular services to Mount Cook village from Christchurch, Queenstown, and other cities on the South Island. Some buses are tours that stop for a short while at Mt Cook. But it’s also possible to just get a one-way fare.
- By plane: The closest airport to Mount Cook village is Mount Cook Airport, which is located about 5 kilometers (3 miles) from the village. Several airlines offer regular flights to Mount Cook from Christchurch, Queenstown, and other cities on the South Island.
- By tour: Plenty of tour companies offer guided tours to Mount Cook National Park from Christchurch, Queenstown, and other cities on the South Island. These tours typically include transportation and guided activities.
Once you arrive at Mount Cook National Park, there are several options to get around. The most popular one are the walks in Mt Cook National Park. However you can also go cycling or go on a guided tour. Keep in mind that the park’s terrain can be rugged and challenging. Therefore it’s important to choose activities that suit your fitness level and experience.
Weather in Mount Cook National Park
Mount Cook National Park has a high altitude and is known for its unpredictable and changeable weather. Generally, the weather in Mount Cook National Park is cool and temperate, with the temperatures ranging from about 5°C to 20°C (41°F to 68°F) in the summer months (December to February), and from about -5°C to 10°C (23°F to 50°F) in the winter months (June to August).
In the summer months, the weather is typically mild and pleasant, with occasional rain and thunderstorms. The days are longer, and the nights are shorter, making it an ideal time for outdoor activities such as hiking and mountaineering. In the winter months, the weather is much colder, and snowfall is common in the higher elevations.
It’s important to note that the weather in Mount Cook National Park can change quickly, and it’s not uncommon for sudden and severe weather events to occur. Visitors should be prepared for all types of weather and should always check the weather forecast before heading out.
How to get around in New Zealand
To experience New Zealand to the fullest and at your own pace, renting a car, campervan or motorhome is the best way to get around. Which one of these options you choose depends on your preference and budget. If you love camping, being outdoors all day and you don’t mind a smaller living space, then renting a camper van is the way to go. It also gives you the freedom to sleep at some of the most beautiful camping spots, but for some of them you’ll have to make a reservation and plan your trip accordingly. The same goes for a motorhome which is bigger than a campervan and fits about 4-6 people. Here’s what you need to know about renting a car, camper van or motorhome in New Zealand.
Car rental New Zealand
Renting a car in New Zealand is the easiest and cheapest rental vehicle available. It will get you to all the destinations with ease and gives you the freedom to stop wherever you want. However, you should keep in mind that some roads in New Zealand are gravel or include crossing shallow rivers. Therefore we personally recommend a mini SUV or SUV model to have enough clearance for these kind of roads. We rented a Mitsubishi ASX model for 6 weeks and were super happy with this car!
The best place to book your rental car in New Zealand is on Discover Cars where you can compare different car models, prices, companies and terms and conditions. Make sure to secure the booking of your rental car as soon as possible to have the lowest price. Prices go up the closer you get to the pick up date.
Campervan rental in New Zealand
Traveling around in a campervan is one of the most popular ways for a roadtrip in New Zealand. With a bed, small kitchen and seating area you will have all the (basic) needs on four wheels. Make sure to check if your campervan has a shower or not because this might influence where you want to camp. A campervan allows you to camp at plenty of beautiful places, sometimes for free, sometimes for a fee. It will you give you a true feeling of freedom and connects you with nature.
We personally recommend to book your campervan with Travellers Autobarn as they have a wide range of Stationwagons, 2-berth campervans & 3-5 berth campervans to hire for all budgets. Check the availability and prices today to secure your campervan for a New Zealand dream roadtrip!
Be insured during your travels!
A slip can happen during hiking before you realize it, and the consequences can be bigger than you want to think of.
We are very happy with SafetyWing and highly recommend getting an insurance with them!
Accommodation in Mount Cook
There are only 7 accommodations in Mount Cook National Park and they book up super fast! Especially in the summer months. Therefore it is highly recommended to book your accommodation far in advance to secure a room. Here are our recommendations to stay in Mount Cook National Park.
Another great hotel in Mount Cook village is Aoraki Court Motel. This modern accommodation features great views of the surrounding mountains. All rooms have a patio with mountain views and a fridge with kitchenware. With an average of 9.3 on Booking you know this accommodation is a great choice, so book fast!
The best value for money hotel in Mt Cook National Park is Alpine Lodge. With stunning views on the mountain range and a communal dining area you can prepare your own food and relax at the lounge area with warming fireplace.
If all accommodations in Mount Cook National Park are fully booked, then don’t worry, because you can stay in the nearby town of Twizel. This small town is a 45 minute drive from Mount Cook NP and has more accommodation options and facilities than Mt Cook village. We stayed here for a few nights to explore the different hikes at Mount Cook and were happy to have plenty of restaurant options nearby in Twizel. Check here all Twizel accommodations, availability and prices.
Best tours on the South Island
New Zealand’s South Island is full of adventure, stunning scenery and fun experiences to be made. There are few experiences which are an absolute must when you’re traveling New Zealand’s South Island. Below a summary of the best tours you can book.
An absolute unforgettable experience in New Zealand is a helicopter flight over the highest mountain of the country. During this tour you will glide over Aoraki/Mount Cook and down the Tasman glacier. You will land in pristine snow and walk around to take in the impressive views of the snow capped mountains and glacier. A once in a lifetime experience!
Depart during a morning cruise on a smaller boat that travels outside of peak hours. This will give you prime viewing and more time on the water than other tours. You will listen to the informative commentary from the passionate skippers of Southern Discoveries and enjoy a provided picnic lunch. If you want to, you can include a kayak excursion and paddle Harrison Cove in a small-group. Limited to 8 people you will have a very intimate experience to really take in the immense scale of the bluffs and explore Milford Sound in a unique way.
The lesser known and quieter version of Milford Sound is Doubtful Sound. During this full-day tour you will journey across the clear waters of Lake Manapouri to Doubtful Sound. Make sure to keep an eye out for wildlife while taking in the scenery. If you’re lucky you might see fur seals, bottlenose dolphins, and crested and little blue penguins. You naturalist guide will tell you everything and point out interesting sights.
A Milford Sound scenic flight is the perfect way to see the impressive landscape of Fiordland NP from the air. Depart from Milford Airport and track west along Milford Sound. Climb alongside Bowen Falls and Mitre Peak for some great views of the fiords and its towering peaks. After the 20 minute helicopter flight you will return to Milford base.
Another way to see Fiordland National Park from above is when you booked the scenic fly-cruise-fly tour from Queenstown. You will get a round trip flight from Queenstown to Milford Sound followed by a boat cruise in Milford Sound. Take in the spectacular views of the snow capped mountains of the Southern Alps, remote valleys and waterfalls. During the flight you will have an amazing aerial view of Lake Quill and Sutherland Falls. This experience will take your breath away and is a must do if your budget allows it. Without a doubt some of the most scenic flights in New Zealand.
More New Zealand travel guides
I hope you enjoyed this complete guide about the best Mount Cook walks. Make sure to put at least some of these awesome hikes on your New Zealand South Island itinerary!
There are many amazing other things to do and places to visit on the South Island of New Zealand. So if you’re looking for more inspiration, head over to our other New Zealand travel guides and read more!