A complete guide to self guided hiking on the Three Capes Track in Tasmania. Includes everything you need to hike this incredible coastal track independently and for free. Detailed track information, route planning, maps, a day-by-day itinerary and photography from my trip.
Besides the Overland Track, The Three Capes Track is perhaps Tasmania’s most popular multi-day hike. Featuring gentle coves, scenic heathlands, lush forests and of course, some of the most remarkable coastal vistas in the country, it’s really no wonder why.
However, the way that the Three Capes Track is currently set up requires hikers to pay at least $500 for this experience. That’s because the newly constructed track was planned and developed with the “luxury lodge hiking” model in mind.
But, if you’re like me and you’d prefer to rough it, and I use that term loosely on this track, then you’ve come to the right place. After all, the beauty of getting out there is all about immersing yourself in the experience. I for one certainly don’t feel like I’m on a multi-day hike if I’m sleeping in architecturally designed lodges and not to mention the $500 lighter wallet!
So, in the pursuit of experiencing the untamed beauty of Tasmania’s Three Capes Track while still retaining the sense of raw adventure, I set out to plan an independent (and free) hiking route. In this guide, I’ll share with you everything you need to know to follow the same route on the Three Capes Track in Tasmania without spending a dime.
About the Three Capes Track in Tasmania
The Three Capes Track is a 2-4 day circuit loop track on the Tasman Peninsula of Tasmania. The track details above refer to the alternative free way to hike the Three Capes Track. The conventional “paid” experience covers four days of walking while staying in luxury hut accommodation. But, this alternative track can be completed much faster since you’ll be on your own agenda and not limited by set hut itineraries. With that said, both options cover roughly the same distance and cover the same track except for the first few kilometres.
- Experience exhilarating cliff views from Cape Pillar and Cape Hauy
- Trek through ever-changing landscapes including scenic heathlands and lush temperate rainforest
- Chance a sighting of whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals and even orcas
- Enjoy breezy walking conditions throughout on well-graded tracks and long wooden boardwalks
- Start and finish with a swim in the tranquil turquoise waters on the white sand shores of Fortescue Bay
Tasmanian Parks constructed The Three Capes Track to accommodate for easy, entry-level multi-day hiking. Much of the track covers wooden boardwalks and the only real steep sections are the climbs to and from Cape Pilla and Cape Hauy.
Confusingly, the “Three Capes” name is slightly misleading as the track only really features two out of the three Tasman Peninsula capes. These capes are Cape Hauy and Cape Pillar, the clear highlights of the walk offering expansive ocean views from mind-blowingly beautiful cliffs viewpoints.
The final neglected Tasman cape is known as Cape Raoul and hikers will need to organise a different walk to reach it. I’ve written a separate hiking guide for Cape Raoul here.
How Much Does it Usually Cost to Hike the Three Capes Track?
The regular hut experience on the Three Capes Track costs $495 for an adult and $396 for concessions and children. This includes a boat transfer from Port Arthur Historic Site to the start of the track, as well as 3 nights accommodation and use of the facilities at the huts and a bus transfer back to Port Arthur at the end (from Fortescue Bay).
Walkers can book this online but only 36 registered “hut hikers” can depart on the Three Capes Track per day, ensuring the huts aren’t overfilled. Apparently, bookings fill up fast and are nearly always fully booked during holiday periods.
Remember that even the “premium” experience on the Three Capes Track is a self-guided walk. Even if you book the experience through Tasmanian Parks, you will need to bring your own food and gear.
For a pack-free experience, hikers can also book a guided walking tour of the Three Capes track through several reputable Tasmanian guided walking companies. Below I’ve linked to some of the best.
Three Capes Guided Day Trip: Cape Hauy From Hobart
Three Capes From the Sky: Seaplane Tour of Tasman Peninsula From Hobart
How do You Hike the Three Capes Track for Free?
Before I get into this guide, I want to make it clear that I am in no way protesting the fees as I understand that there is a legitimate market for this kind of adventure. I also fully support Tasmanian Parks as they do an incredible job of keeping this beautiful part of Australia wild.
Instead, my motivation for sharing this guide to hiking the Three Capes Track for free is to share this experience with those that either can’t afford to spend $500 on a walk or who like me, simply prefer the thrill of independent, self-sustained and self guided hiking.
Keep in mind that you will need a Tasmanian Parks Pass to do this walk as it is within the Tasman National Park. I don’t consider this a fee specific to the hike since if you’re visiting Tasmania, then you ought to buy a Holiday or Annual Pass anyway.
So, how do you hike the Three Capes Track for free? Below is a track summary. Note as mentioned, this can be completed over two or three days. I walked this track in two days and found this to be best suited to me. In my opinion, walking the Three Capes over four days is just way too long if you’re not staying in huts (paid experience).
Start & Finish: Fortescue Bay
Day 1: Fortescue Bay > dop bags at Bare Knoll campsite > hike to Cape Pillar > return and camp at Bare Knoll Campsite
Day 2: Bare Knoll Campsite > Cape Hauy > return to Fortescue Bay.
This hiking itinerary splits the walk up fairly well, with most of the distance covered on day one without carrying a heavy pack since you’d leave it at Bare Knoll campsite.
A 3-day alternative would be to start later on day one, camp at Bare Knoll and then walk to Cape Pillar before returning to camp again at Bare Knoll campsite or the nearby Wughalee Falls campsite on day two. Day three would be the same as the 2-day itinerary.
Since the campsites along the Three Capes Track are free, you won’t need to pay anything to walk the Three Capes track on this itinerary (besides the National Parks permit).
Three Capes Track Map & GPX File
Below is a GPX file that I generated using my Garmin watch. To be honest, you won’t need to use this for navigational purposes as the track is very easy to follow. However, it might still be useful for you in gaining an insight into what to expect on this self guided and free Three Capes Track itinerary.
GPX File: Download
My Strava: Visit
Important Things to Know Before You Start
So, before we get into the day-by-day run down, there are a few things you’ll want to know about the Three Capes Track if you are planning on hiking it for free.
Start & finish
Start and finish at Fortescue Bay, approximately 14.6 kilometres from Port Arthur. There are two paid campsites here with toilets and free hot showers.
Direction of travel:
Some sections of this track can only be walked in certain directions to prevent the spread of Phytophthora root rot in the National Park. Therefore, you should walk this self guided itinerary in an anti-clockwise direction (Cape Pillar first).
Boot cleaning stations
There are a couple of boot cleaning stations along the way where you are obliged to spray and clean your boots to prevent the spread of root rot.
The Three Capes Track is subject to wild and unpredictable Tasmanian weather. While seasons vary greatly in this part of the year, the track is open during all seasons. You will need to plan for sub-zero conditions if you are hiking in winter.
A Tasmanian Parks Pass is required to walk in the Tasman National Park. You should keep a copy on you while you walk (digital is fine) and your pass number displayed on a note in your vehicle.
The Tasman National Park is a fuel-stove only park. You will need to pack a hiking stove and gas if you want to cook.
Food & water
You will need to pack your own food and a recommended 2L of water per person for this hike. There are a couple of freshwater creeks to fill your water as well as clean rainwater at the huts and at Bare Knoll campsite to refill your bottles. However, keep in mind that rainwater availability is subject to rain, especially at Bare Knoll.
There is very limited phone coverage on the Three Capes Track. We managed to get a weak 4G signal at the wharf at Fortescue Bay and patchy reception at Cape Hauy and Cape Pillar.
Getting to Fortescue Bay
To get to Fortescue Bay, you will need to make your way down an unsealed logging road known as Fortescue Road (turns into Canoe Bay Track). This road is in fairly good condition and is managed by most vehicle types (including caravans and campervans).
There are two campsites at Fortescue Bay where you can stay before and after the Three Capes walk (Mill Creek and Banksia Campground). This costs $13 per person per night. You can also leave your car for free on the side of the road opposite the visitor centre or in the day-use area while hiking.
Unfortunately, there are no public transport options to Fortescue Bay. However, if you are in a large group you can book a shuttle bus. Hitchhiking from the start of Fortescue Road would also be a legitimate option as it is one way in, and one way out.
If you’re still set on seeing the dramatic Tasman Capes but you don’t have a car, then you can still book a guided tour to Cape Hauy including transport from Hobart.
RELATED POST: The Maria Island Circuit Walk
Camping For Free on the Three Capes Track
For this free and self guided Three Capes Track route, I recommend camping at Bare Knoll campsite. This is strategically placed between Munro and Retakunna Hut just off the main Three Capes Track.
Bare Knoll Campsite has eight large, elevated wooden platforms with chain clips to attach your tent to. Each platform is large enough to accommodate two or three single or 2P tents. Camping at Bare Knoll campsite is free with a Tasmanian Parks Pass. There is also a toilet and rainwater tank here to refill your bottles and to cook with.
The other freedom camping option on the hike is the nearby Wughalee Falls campsite. However, this spot requires a steep decline and subsequent climb back up to the track so it is hardly used. The waterfall is also reportedly very underwhelming.
Nevertheless, the Wughalee Falls campsite would be useful if Bare Knoll were to fill up or if you decided to hike this Three Capes track itinerary in three days to change it up a little.
A Day-By-Day Run Down of the Self Guided Three Capes Track Route (2 Days)
I hope that you found all of the information above useful in planning your freedom hike along the Three Capes Track in Tasmania. Below I’ve also included a day-by-day account of my experience hiking this trail with photography that I hope will inspire your adventure.
Day 1: Fortescue Bay – Bare Knoll Campsite – Cape Pillar – Bare Knoll Campsite
After staying at the Mill Creek campsite in our van the night before, we started at sunrise in preparation for a big day of walking.
Fortescue Bay to Bare Knoll Campsite
The first section was a heavy-packed slog from Fortescue Bay to Bare Knoll campsite, approximately 8.5 kilometres of slightly inclined terrain. This first stretch follows the old Three Capes Track before the upgrades. We traverse dry eucalypt forest trails with sections opening up to tussock plains along comfortable boardwalk tracks.
After just under two hours of walking at a brisk pace we arrived at Bare Knoll campsite. We were the first here on this occasion so we took the time to have a quick break, set up our tent for the night and dropped our bags.
Bare Knoll to Cape Pillar
The great part about hiking the Three Capes track on this free route is that the longest single stretch of 16 kilometres return from Bare Knoll to Cape Pillar can be completed without carrying a pack. However, we did know that we’d be out there for a while. Especially at the Cape taking photos. So, we packed our fleece, down and hard shell, head torches as well as plenty of water and some food.
The rest of our gear stayed locked up in our tent.
Following the signs towards Cape Pillar, we arrived at the Munro Hut just 30 minutes from Bare Knoll campsite. Truthfully, we were blown away by how well set up these huts were! We were also greeted by a very friendly and accommodating warden who offered us water and weather information.
Continuing on from the Munro Hut, the Three Capes Track becomes noticeably more accommodating to “luxury hikers”. The track is very wide and there are unbelievable long stretches of pleasant wooden boardwalks. Soon after, we began walking along the cape track, undulating gently between 250 M and 350M along the promontory with spectacular views of the sheer rock cliffs.
Roughly 2 hours and 15 minutes from Munro Hut we arrived at the tip of Cape Pillar, the first of the two Capes accessible on the Three Capes Track in Tasmania. We spent a couple of hours here admiring the view and photographing various points along the cape over the Tasman Peninsula and the beautiful Tasman Island.
A great optional lookout point is The Blade, a short 5 minute climb to a sheer rock column offering arguably the best views on the entire Three Capes Track. We sat up here for another good hour waiting for the sun to descend revealing spectacular dramatic conditions over the Tasman Peninsula and Tasman Island.
Fortunately, we turned out to be the only ones out on Cape Pillar as most of the hut hikers turned back well before 3 PM. We packed it in just before golden hour and retraced our steps back past Munro Hut to our tent and warm sleeping bags which we were glad we had prepared earlier.
Day 2: Bare Knoll Campsite – Cape Hauy – Fortescue Bay
After a comfortable nights sleep at Bare Knoll campsite, we prepared our oats and hot coffee for another decent 16 kilometre day in front of us. We knew that this second day would be much shorter than the first so we didn’t stress too much about leaving the campsite too early.
The first section doubles back towards Fortescue Bay for a few hundred metres before reaching a fork with trail markers pointing to Cape Huay. This following stretch consisted of more easygoing boardwalk passing Retakunna Hut along the way.
Approximately 1.2 kilometres of level walking from Retakunna is the start of the climb up and over Mount Fortescue. This is a 480 metre, heavily forested mountain lying between Cape Pillar and Cape Huay. This section is one of the most beautiful and quickly-changing stretches on the Three Capes Track. It begins with a gently traverse through eucalupt forest and quickly turns to lush, fern-filled temperate rainforest.
The track up Mount Fortescue is as you’d expect, well-graded and not too intense by any means. However, I’d say that it was more challenging than the Cape Pillar promontory since our bags were much heavier from needing to carry our tents, sleeping and cooking gear on this free Three Capes Track route.
After admiring the many vantage points from Mount Fortescue, the track begins to descend again towards Cape Hauy, the second and final cape.
As we approached Cape Hauy, we arrived at a fork with a cleared, benched area. This marks the start point for the quick return walk to the tip of Cape Hauy. We noticed that most of the other hikers left their bags at this point but we decided to just keep them on for a bit of extra training.
The track to Cape Hauy descends steeply before climbing again towards the lookout point. This stretch is remarkably scenic and there are plenty of opportunities to stop, rest and take photos. We spotted some seals basking on the rocky shores below the cape but didn’t have much luck on the whale front. However, it’s said that Cape Huay offers one of the best whale-spotting viewpoints in Tasmania, so keep a look out!
We reached Cape Hauy after approximately 45 minutes from the fork. Unfortunately, our timing meant that there were already loads of hikers on the track, turning it into a mini-highway. I believe that the Cape Hauy can get much more congested than the Cape Pillar track as it is easily accessible from a short day-walk option from Fortescue Bay.
We dodged the crowds by finding a secluded spot along the track before turning back to the fork to hike the last section of the Three Capes track back to Fortescue Bay.
Returning to Fortescue Bay
The final walk back to Fortescue Bay was an easy, mostly downhill 3.8-kilometre walk. There were a few open clearings along the way that offered great views over the bay. We got back to the bay just after midday and enjoyed a free hot shower at the Banksia Campsite.
Option: Hiking a Section of the Three Capes Track on a Day Trip
For those short on time or if you prefer to pack light, it’s also possible to walk sections of the Three Capes Track for free on a day trip. I’d say that this is another option to hike the entire track since you can simply return to Fortescue Bay on both days.
Day Trip Option 1: Cape Hauy Return to Fortescue Bay
The Cape Hauy day trip option departs from Fortescue Bay and arrives at the fork to the Cape Hauy Track after just 3.8 kilometres. In fact, this is a great day hike option that is fairly popular. Note that you can not continue on to Mount Fortescue or Cape Pillar from this direction.
Guided option: Cape Hauy From Hobart
Day Trip Option 2: Cape Pillar Return to Fortescue Bay
For an extra-long day, it’s also possible to hike to Cape Pillar and returning to Fortescue Bay in a single day. However, this is quite a long day hike requiring a distance of around 33 kilometres return, which certainly doable due to the easy nature of the track. You can do this section of the Three Capes Track for free and self guided with just a National Parks Pass.
Walking this section is allowed in both directions but make sure you use the boot cleaning stations.
RELATED POST: 26 Awesome Things to do in Hobart
Where to Stay Near Fortescue Bay on the Tasman Peninsula (Before & After the Walk)
Below I’ve included a short summary of the best-rated options for hikers looking to stay near Port Arthur of Fortescue Bay after their Three Capes Track experience. Note that camping at Fortescue Bay is also possible at $13 per person per night.
Treat yourself: Stewarts Bay Lodge
The Stewarts Bay Lodge is a beautiful private lodge located on 22 acres of private land just beside the Port Arthur Historic Site. Chalets with a spa bath, large sunny deck and water views are also available.
Private, self-contained villa: Port Arthur Resort
Conveniently located near Port Arthur, the Port Arthur Resort offers self-contained private villas with guest laundry for your smelly hiking clothes, BBQ facilities, a fully-equipped kitchen, dishwasher and minibar.
Budget option: NRMA Port Arthur Holiday Park
If you’d like to get into a warm, private cabin accommodation on a budget, then make sure to check out the Port Arthur Holiday Park. The park is within 16 minutes drive of many attractions including Eaglehawk Neck and the Remarkable Cave.
Compare all the best accommodation deals on the Tasman Peninsula at Booking.com or check below for discounts:
Packing List For Hiking Three Capes Track Independently
Here are some things that you definitely want to bing on a self-guided walk of the Three Capes Track in Tasmania.
- A good hiking backpack
- Lightweight food for the duration of the hike (freeze-dried meals, noodles, mac & cheese, nuts, trail mix, dried fruits etc)
- Plenty of water (pack extra in case the creeks and tanks at Cooks Beach are dry)
- Warm sleeping bag
- Sleeping clothes
- Hiking boots or trail shoes
- Head torch
- Hardshell rain jacket
- UL tent
- Sleeping pad
- UL cookware, gas stove, gas
- Phone (4G available sparingly at Cape Pillar and Cape Huay)
- National Parks Pass
More Tasmanian Hiking and Adventure Travel Guides
I hope that my guide to hiking the Three Capes Track in Tasmania for free and self guided has given you the confidence to set out and explore this incredible coastline for yourself. If you have any questions about the famous Tasmanian Three Capes Track, leave a comment below!
While you’re hear, why not also check out some of my other detailed hiking and adventure guides to Tasmania. I’ve spent several months here exploring the best hikes, waterfalls, attractions and things to do. So, I’m sure that you’ll find something new!