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7 Incredible Hikes in Mount Cook National Park

7 Incredible Hikes in Mount Cook National Park

Olly Gaspar

By Olly Gaspar, full-time traveler for 6 years. I visit every place I write about & share real tips, photos, & advice from my trips.

From epic alpine huts to towering views of New Zealand’s tallest mountain, here are the best hikes in Mount Cook National Park.

Aoraki/Mount Cook is New Zealand’s Everest. In fact, the mountain was the old proving ground for the world’s most coveted mountaineer; Sir Edmund Hillary.

While the towering peaks of Aoraki are inaccessible to everyday hikers, there are still some epic day hikes to be had beneath her slopes. In this guide, I’ll share my favourite walking trails around Mount Cook National Park for those looking to chase epic views!

Tip: I’ve also written independent hiking guides for each trail below to help you get inspired and choose the best adventure for your trip.

Alpine glacier in mount cook national park

1. Hooker Valley Track

  • Hike Distance & Duration: 10 km in 2 - 3 hours
  • Elevation: 100 m elevation gain
  • Difficulty: Easy

The Hooker Valley Track is by far, the most popular day hike in Mount Cook National Park. In fact, it's often rated as one of the best and most popular hikes in New Zealand.

Following up Hooker Valley, the track gently winds up to the Hooker glacial lake. There are several epic swing bridges on the way, with plenty of opportunity for spanning views of the Sealy Mountains and Aoraki/Mount Cook.

The trail is well-maintained and suitable for all fitness levels, making it accessible for families and casual hikers. Along the way, you'll pass through diverse landscapes, including alpine meadows, rushing streams, and rocky terrain.

The highlight of the hike is reaching the stunning Hooker Lake, where you can see floating icebergs and the majestic Aoraki/Mount Cook reflecting in the water.

Hooker valley suspension bridge

2. Sealy Tarns Track

  • Hike Distance & Duration: 7.5 km return in 2 - 3 hours
  • Elevation: 1310 m with 550 m total elevation gain
  • Difficulty: Moderate (steep)

The Sealy Tarns track is a more difficult hike that climbs steeply to a set of beautiful mountain reflective pools (tarns).

Known as New Zealand's "Stairway to Heaven" the track is mostly just a monotonous wooden stair climb to the tarns. However, turning around at any point of the hike reveals incredible views of the Hooker Valley and of course, Mount Cook herself.

The Sealy Tarns Track is a strenuous 5.8-kilometer round trip, with a steep ascent involving over 2,200 steps. Despite the challenging climb, the reward is well worth the effort.

The tarns themselves offer a tranquil spot to rest and enjoy the pristine mountain reflections. For those looking for an even greater challenge, the Sealy Tarns Track is the first part of the route to the Mueller Hut (below) providing an excellent opportunity to extend your hike.

Sealy tarns track new zealand, hiking in mount cook national park

3. Mueller Hut Route

  • Hike Distance & Duration 10.4 km return in 5.5 - 8 hours (usually overnight)
  • Elevation: 1,150 m total elevation gain (1,250 m incl. Mt Ollivier)
  • Mueller Hut Elevation: 1,800 m AMSL
  • Difficulty: Moderate - Difficult
  • Map and GPX: My Strava or Download

The Mueller Hut route is one of my personal favourite hikes in Mount Cook National Park and perhaps in all of New Zealand. It's better to attempt this hike over two days, either staying in the hut or freedom camping nearby.

Following on from the Sealy Tarns track, the Mueller Hut route continues on, climbing to a mountain pass on the Sealy Range. From the pass, hikers are rewarded with breathtaking views of the opposing ice walls and just around the corner, the Mueller Hut.

This hut is one of the most scenic in New Zealand, being surrounded by ice-covered mountains on each side, and incredible sunrise and sunset views of Mount Cook.

There is also the option to summit Mount Ollivier from the hut, which is only a short, yet incredibly rewarding side trip.

Mount cook sunset view at mueller hut
Mueller hut route icewall view, hiking in mount cook national park

4. Kea Point Track

  • Hike Distance & Duration: 6 km in 1-2 hours
  • Elevation: 180 m total gain
  • Difficulty: Easy

For a shorter and much easier day hike in Mount Cook National Park, the Kea Point track is a good bet.

Branching off from the Sealy Tarns track before the stair-climb, the Kea Point track runs gently along the feet of the Sealy Range. The track ends at an incredible viewing platform of the Mueller moraine and Mount Cook.

The Kea Point Track is a 3-kilometer round trip, taking around an hour to complete, making it perfect for those with limited time or looking for a more relaxed walk.

The trail is well-marked and mostly flat, suitable for all ages and fitness levels. Along the way, you'll enjoy stunning views of the surrounding mountains and valleys, with plenty of photo opportunities. The viewing platform at the end provides a breathtaking panorama of the Mueller Glacier, the terminal lake, and the iconic Mount Cook.

Kea point lookout mount cook national park hikes

5. Tasman Glacier Moraine Viewpoint

  • Hike Distance & Duration: 8.5 km in 2 hours
  • Elevation: 260 m total gain to 910 m AMSL at the moraine viewpoint
  • Difficulty: Easy but slightly sketchy scree climb

This Tasman Glacier viewpoint hike follows the Balls Hut track from the Tasman Glacier car park.

Although this offers arguably the best hiking views of the glacier, it is not marked or mentioned by the DOC. I suspect that the reason for this is that the scree climb up to the edge of the moraine wall is simply too dangerous due to the risk of rockfall– so attempt this one at your own risk.

However, in good conditions, this hike is the best viewpoint to see New Zealand's largest glacier up close and personal and it was one of my favorite hikes in the park.

Tasman glacier lake

6. Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier Walk

  • Hike Distance & Duration: 2.6 km return in 1 hour
  • Elevation: Mostly flat
  • Difficulty: Very Easy

If you want to see the Tasman Glacier but you're not prepared for a long walk or a slippery scree climb, then I'd recommend taking the Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier walk.

This is a much shorter walk to Tasman Lake, where you can spot the retreating glacier from afar. The main trail leads to a viewpoint overlooking the Tasman Lake, where you can see icebergs floating in the milky blue water and the Tasman Glacier in the distance.

There is also an option to detour to the Blue Lakes, which is a set of three colourful lakes which is a good spot for a quick swim in Summer. The 2.6km distance involves a full loop of the lakes and the viewpoint at the top.

Blue lakes hike tasman glacier , hiking in mount cook national pak
View of the tasman glacier lake in mount cook national park

7. Tasman River Viewpoint Hike

  • Hike Distance & Duration: 1.5 km return in 30 minutes
  • Elevation: Mostly flat
  • Difficulty: Very Easy

The Tasman River Viewpoint is an ideal short walk for those wanting a quick and easy outing with rewarding views. Starting from the Tasman Glacier car park, you'll walk past the trail leading to the Blue Lakes and the Tasman Glacier viewpoint.

Instead, take the trail along the well-marked and mostly flat path leading to the right. This is accessible for all fitness levels and ages and an easier alternative to climbing the steps up to the Tasman Glacier Viewpoint above.

Soon, you'll come to a fork. The left path leads to the jetty where the zodiacs depart for a closer view of the glacier. If you take the right path, you can continue and scramble down the rocks to the far banks of the Tasman Lake. Further on, you can reach a viewing platform where you can enjoy sweeping vistas of the Tasman River.

Hiker at the dock of the tasman glacier
Tasman Lake Jetty (the left path)
Tasman river viewpoint hike
Tasman Lake Far Bank near the Tasman River (right path)

How to Get to the Mount Cook National Park

Most of these hikes depart from the Mount Cook National Park area near the White Horse Hill Campsite, approximately 3.5 kilometeres from the Mount Cook Village.

Getting to Mount Cook National Park requires a drive down one of New Zealand’s most scenic roads; Mount Cook Road, famous for the Peters Lookout Bend.

This road branches off State Highway 8 (Tekapo-Twizel Road) at the junction just before Lake Pukaki.

Road to mount cook at peters lookout
The Road to Mount Cook National Park

The road to Mount Cook National Park is sealed and well-maintained. However, it does close occasionally during Winter due to storms.

If you don’t have a car, then you can still get to the popular day hike tracks by booking one of the awesome adventure day trips from either Queenstown or Christchurch.

Book: Hiking Day Trip from Christchurch
Book: Hiking Day Trip from Queenstown

Peter's lookout drive we seek travel

Tip: How to Get Around in New Zealand

Rent a car! New Zealand is very safe for motorists & driving is the best way to explore the country.

I always DiscoverCars to get the best deals. Or, if you want a camper, I've had good experiences in NZ with Spaceships & Travellers Autobarn.

More Epic Mount Cook National Park Experiences

In a rush and prefer to have your trip to Mount Cook organized in advance? Check out these three unmissable Mount Cook experiences!

Hooker valley suspension bridge

1. Mount Cook Small Group Tour

The best way to experience the best of Mount Cook National Park on an epic day trip from Queenstown and includes the Hooker Valley Track.

Helicopter flight over mount cook national park

2. Mount Cook Ski Plane & Helicopter

A surprisingly affordable experience including a thrilling aerial tour by both ski plane and a helicopter!

Franz josef glacier south island 1

3. Tasman Glacier Heli Hike Top-Pick

See the Tasman Glacier from above and land on the Franz Josef or Tasman Glacier for an epic Glacier Hike (all gear provided)

Where to Stay Near Mount Cook National Park

With so many amazing hiking opportunities in Mount Cook National Park, it's worth staying at least a night in the nearby Mount Cook Village. Below are the 3 top-rated options with links to check availability & pricing.

Bedroom views at aoraki court motel in mount cook village

1. Aoraki Court Motel

A spacious motel offering small, affordable rooms and large, two-bedroom apartments in the Mount Cook Village.

Mount cook lodge

2. Aoraki Mount Cook Alpine Lodge Top-Pick

A beautiful lodge with spacious rooms accommodating everyone from couples to large families, just a 5-minute walk from the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre.

Landscape views around the hermitage hotel

3. The Hermitage Hotel

An incredible hotel with mountain views & a warm fireplace, just a drive to the start of the Hooker Valley Track.

Camping at Mount Cook

If you're on a budget or would prefer to camp, then the best place to stay overnight at Mount Cook National Park is the White Horse Hill Campsite.

Fees:

  • Adults: $15 per person per night
  • Children (5-17 years old): $7.50 per person per night
  • Infants (under 5 years old): Free

Here, there are 60 unpowered sites and you'll need to arrive early in peak season to secure a spot. It's not possible to book online as it operates on a first-come-first-serve basis.

Best Time to Hike in the Mount Cook National Park

Many of the day hikes on this list can be attempted year-round. However, in my opinion, the best time to hike in New Zealand is between November and April. This is a time that I usually visit Mount Cook to go hiking.

These months offer warmer conditions, less ice on the track and clearer skies. However, hiking in the colder, winter months is also great for those who prefer more challenging conditions.

Girl in queenstown, new zealand

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Registering Hiking Intentions in the Mount Cook Visitor Centre

For the majority of these hikes, registering your intentions with the DOC Visitor Centre in Mount Cook Village is not required.

However, if you intend to do some bigger hikes such as the Mueller Hut Route, or you're hiking in Winter, then registering with the DOC is a must.

This is a free process whereby you notify the DOC about what you intend to do and where you are going. This helps to prevent unwarranted searches from taking place when they find your car in the car park overnight.

It's also a great safety protocol so that the authorities know where you are if things were to go south in the mountains.

Mueller hut hike new zealand, mount cook milky way

I hope that you enjoyed this quick guide to some of the best hikes in Mount Cook National Park. If you're looking for more day hikes or things to do in New Zealand, make sure to check out the list below.

If you have any more recommendations, make sure to let other travelers know in the comments section.

Hiking in mount cook national park
Mount cook on the hooker valley track
Mueller hut camping
Thanks for Reading

I'm Olly Gaspar, adventure traveler from Australia. I’ve spent the last six years traveling the world full-time, sharing my first-hand experiences & photography in over 700 travel guides on We Seek Travel. I visit every destination I write about to bring you unique travel itineraries, epic hiking routes, fun tour ideas, travel & photography gear ideas, & interesting places to stay.

I only make genuine, worthwhile recommendations based on my experience, expertise, & research. If you buy through my links, I may get a commission, supporting this website at no extra cost to you. Read my Publishing Ethics Statement.