From epic alpine huts to towering views of New Zealand’s tallest mountain, here are six of 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 be outlining some of the best hikes in Mount Cook National Park for those looking to chase views!
I’ve also written independent hiking guides for each of the hiking day trips below if you’re looking for detailed information.
- Top 3 Mount Cook National Park Experiences
- 6 Amazing Hikes in Mount Cook National Park
- How to Get to the Mount Cook National Park
- Where to Stay Near Mount Cook National Park
- Best Time to Hike in the Mount Cook National Park
- Registering Hiking Intentions in the Mount Cook Visitor Centre
- More Epic Adventures in New Zealand’s South Island
Top 3 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!
- From Queenstown: 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.
- 45-minute Mount Cook Ski Plane & Helicopter Combo - surprisingly affordable experience including a thrilling aerial tour by both ski plane and a helicopter!
- Tasman Glacier Heli Hike - See the Tasman Glacier from above and land on the Franz Josef or Tasman Glacier for an epic Glacier Hike (all gear provided)
6 Amazing Hikes in Mount Cook National Park
So, let's get straight into the list of best hikes in Mount Cook National Park. If you have any more recommendations, make sure to let other travelers know in the comments section.
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.
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.
3. Mueller Hut Route
- Hike Distance & Duration 10.4 km return in 5.5 - 8 hours (usually overnight)
- Elevation: 1150 m total elevation gain (1250 m incl. Mt Ollivier)
- Mueller Hut Elevation: 1800 m AMSL
- Difficulty: Moderate - Difficult
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.
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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.
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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.
However, in good conditions, this hike is the best viewpoint to see New Zealand's largest glacier up close and personal.
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.
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.
Related:8 Best Hikes in Queenstown, New Zealand
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.
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.
Make sure to book in advance using a comparison site like DiscoverCars to get the best deals. Or, if you want a camper, my favourite in NZ is Spaceships.
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
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.
- Aoraki Court Motel - a spacious motel offering small, affordable rooms and large, two-bedroom apartments in the Mount Cook Village.
- Aoraki Mount Cook Alpine Lodge - beautiful lodge with spacious rooms accommodating everyone from couples to large families, just 5 minute's walk from the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre.
- Aoraki Alpine Chalet - an incredible chalet with mountain views & a warm fireplace, just a short walk 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.
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.
Fees are $15 per night per person.
Related:11 Epic Mount Cook View Locations
Best Time to Hike in the Mount Cook National Park
Many of the day hikes on this list can be attempted year-round. However, the best time to hike in New Zealand is between November and April.
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.
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're intending 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 on doing 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 on the mountains.
More Epic Adventures in New Zealand's South Island
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.
A good starting point is this guide to the 31 Best Hikes in the South Island.