15 Best Hikes In Mt Cook National Park | New Zealand

From the moment you begin to follow the banks of Lake Pukaki deep into the Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, you’ll understand why this region of New Zealand is one of the most popular destinations for travellers and locals alike. With a labyrinth of trails weaving through the dramatic landscape, the hikes in Mt Cook National Park will leave you breathless and wishing for more time.

We recently spent five days exploring the many hikes in Mount Cook National Park, which range from easy short walks to overnight hikes surrounded by glaciers and towering snow-capped peaks, and can honestly say it’s one of our all-time favourite places in New Zealand.

In this guide, you’ll find a detailed list of the best Mount Cook Walks so you can easily choose the best trails for your adventure style. Plus, we’ve included some handy tips for hiking in Mount Cook National Park and inspiring images to fuel your wanderlust.

Astrophotography of Mt Cook and Hooker Valley from Mt Olliver in the Mt Cook National Park

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Quick Tips And Info On The Hikes In Mt Cook National Park

Where Is Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park

Located in the heart of New Zealand’s south island, Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park is home to Aoraki, the tallest mountain in the country. To reach the Mount Cook village and walking tracks, turn off State Highway 8 (Tekapo-Twizel Rd) onto Mount Cook Rd – one of the most scenic drives in New Zealand.

Why Visit Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park

You’ll be hard-pressed to find another place quite so jaw-dropping and accessible as the Mount Cook Valley. Everywhere you turn, formidable mountains rise dramatically from a valley full of braided rivers flowing from the multiple glaciers clinging to the steep slopes. But the best part is, most of the hikes in Mt Cook National Park are doable for a range of travellers – some requiring very little effort compared to the reward – and offer a huge variety of wonder.

Dramatic Landscape of the Mt Cook National Park with a rainbow

Best Time To Hike In Mount Cook National Park

Mount Cook National Park is open to hikers year-round and offers a new experience with each season. In spring, the milky-white rivers flow heavily with the snow melt while the peaks are still cloaked in the remnants of winter. In Summer and Autumn, the glaciers are extremely prominent due to the lack of snow and in winter, you’ll feel as if you’ve entered a wild snowy wonderland.

But of course, there are pros and cons to each season and winter does require more skill for some of the alpine walks. To help you decide which time of year is best for you, here is a quick summary of what to expect.

Mt Cook Summit lit pink at Blue Hour from Mueller Hut

Summer Hiking In Mount Cook

In summer, you’ll find the largest crowds in the Mt Cook village and pre-booking your accommodation or camping is a must. But you’ll also be gifted with the warmest weather and generally the easiest hiking conditions.

Autumn Hiking In Mount Cook

The glaciers are incredibly prominent at the beginning of Autumn when there is less snow cloaking the mountains and the crowds are a little smaller. However, it will be colder and a surprise snowstorm is common. That said, Autumn is our most recommended time to visit.

Winter Hiking In Mount Cook

The mountains are incredibly beautiful through winter when the snow falls almost to the valley floor. The lower walks such as the Hooker Valley track and the Tasman Lake walks are still accessible for all, however, other walks such as Mueller Hut require avalanche awareness and experience hiking on snow and ice in steep and exposed conditions.

Spring Hiking In Mount Cook

Spring brings warmer weather conditions, yet there is often still a good amount of snow left on the mountains. But due to the warming weather, there is a higher risk of avalanches so extra experience for hikes such as Mueller Hut is still required until the snow has melted.

Note: While summer and spring will provide warmer weather, Mount Cook is still a mountainous region and therefore, you need to be prepared for all weather conditions throughout the year. It’s not uncommon to experience a snowstorm in the middle of summer.

Registering Your Mt Cook Walks And Booking The Alpine Huts

Before setting off on your walks in Mount Cook, it’s advised to register your hiking intentions at the Mt Cook visitor centre beforehand – especially for Mueller Hut and any other alpine routes. This is also a great way to learn about any trail conditions or closures that could be occurring on your intended walk.

To stay at any of the alpine huts located in Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, you must pay a fee and book at the visitor centre or online. Mueller Hut is the busiest and often books out in advance in summer, while the remaining huts on this list are generally quieter and can be booked the day of. For more information on pricing and camping options, click the link included in each overnight hike below.

Best Places To Stay For Your Visit To Mount Cook

Many vans camping at Whitehorse Hill Campsite in Mt Cook National Park at Sunrise

Mount Cook Village is in the centre of all the hiking trails and has multiple accommodation options ranging from the luxurious Hermitage Hotel to the YHA hostel. And if you’re travelling in a campervan or road-tripping in a tent, the White Horse Hill campground – located 5 minutes north of the village – is the ideal place to base yourself.

You’ll find a small number of restaurants in the Mount Cook Village, but little else. The closest towns to the national park that provide more shops and supplies are Twizel – a 45-minute drive south of Aoraki/Mount Cook – and Lake Tekapo, 1 hr 10 minutes southeast.

Personally, we recommend staying in the Mount Cook Village, or more specifically, at White Horse Hill Campground. But if you’d rather stay in a town then our top pick is Lake Tekapo, which has an alluring ski town vibe and sensational views.

Searching for more information on where to stay in Mt Cook? Take a look at our guide to the best Mt Cook accommodation for all budgets.

Quick Tips On Hiking In Mount Cook National Park

  • Register your hiking intentions at the visitor centre before setting off
  • Be prepared for all weather conditions at any time of year
  • Start early to avoid the majority of the crowds
  • Book your accommodation in advance if you’re visiting between November – April
  • Allow at least 2-3 days to complete the best hikes in Mount Cook
  • You don’t need to pay any national park entry fees, meaning all these walks are free unless you plan to stay in or camp within 200m of one of the huts on the overnight walks

15 Incredible Walks And Hikes In Mount Cook National Park

1. Mueller Hut

Time: 5 – 7 hrs return (usually completed as an overnight)
Grade: Grade 4

Elevation Gain: 1,052 m
Distance: 10.4 km return

Mueller Hut at Sunset, the best walk in Mt Cook National Park

The Mueller Hut Route is without a doubt one of the best hikes in Mount Cook National Park, but boy do you have to work for it! Beginning on the same track as Sealy Tarns below, you’ll encounter 2.200 steps before tackling the deep ruts, scree and boulder gardens that complete the 1,000 m ascent to the hut.

But once you’re standing on the balcony of the iconic red hut with a hot cuppa in hand and gazing over the Mount Sefton range and Mount Cook, you’ll forget the climb completely and lose yourself in the incomprehensible landscape.

Standing on the saddle above Sealy Tarns looking out at Mt Cook on the Mueller Hut Hike
Traversing the saddle towards Mueller Hut and Mt Olliver on the Mueller Hut Hike

Mueller Hut is a great option for intermediate walkers looking to complete their first overnight mission as the hut is equipped with gas stoves and mattresses, allowing you to carry a lighter hiking backpack

But at $45 per person, it’s far from cheap! For those that don’t feel the need to indulge in the luxury of a hut, you can either camp nearby and use the facilities for $15 or ‘wilderness’ camp 200 m away from the hut and use only the toilet for free.

Find current pricing and booking details for Mueller Hut on the DOC website.

Best for: Intermediate hikers, first overnight hut experience, glacier views

2. Mt Olliver Summit

Time: 40 – 60 minutes
Grade: Grade 4

Elevation Gain: 1.052 m
Distance: 10.4 km return

Awesome Mt Cook sunset from Mt Olliver, the best vantage point of Mt Cook

Mt Olliver sits above Mueller Hut and provides the perfect vantage point for sunrise or sunset. The walk up to the summit takes approximately 30 minutes and requires more boulder scrambling to reach the peak.

But from this rocky summit, you’re afforded 360-degree views of the Mount Cook valley, including glimpses of Lake Pukaki far in the distance and the braided lakes feeding into it. Plus, this is the best spot to view Mueller Glacier filling the valley below and of course, Aoraki stands tall and proud above Hooker Lake.

Best for: Sunset and sunrise, views of Mueller Glacier

3. Hooker Valley

Time: 3 hrs
Grade: Grade 2

Elevation Gain: 200 m
Distance: 10.7 km return

Crossing the second sing bridge on the Hooker Valley Track in Mt Cook National Park
Hooker River gushing while hiking through the Hooker Valley in Mt Cook New Zealand

Arguably the most popular walk in Mount Cook, the Hooker Valley track is one that must not be missed. With only a gentle elevation gain over 5 km, the easy groomed path is accessible for most and takes you on an unforgettable journey as you wander beside the Hooker River, crossing the raging river via three suspension bridges, before arriving at Hooker Lake.

Hooker Lake sits beneath Aoraki/Mt Cook and often you’ll find icebergs floating freely after breaking away from the enormous glacier at the northeastern end of the lake. But there is no denying that this track is continuously packed with walkers.

Hooker Lake overlooked by Mt Cook, one of the best walks in Mt Cook National Park

We recommend getting up early to visit Hooker Lake to experience fewer crowds. But if you’re in search of the best lighting conditions for photography, then you must plan Hooker Valley for sunset, when the light reflects perfectly off the snow-capped peaks.

Note: The Hooker Valley Track closes during winds over 80km/hr or heavy rainfall. Check for closures at the visitor centre before setting off to avoid disappointment.

Best for: All hikers (including wheelchairs until the first swing bridge), sunset views for Mt Cook

4. Hooker Hut

Time: 2 – 3 hrs
Grade: Grade 3

Elevation Gain: 180 m
Distance: 8.5 km return

Hooker Hut is the oldest hut within the Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park and has recently been relocated and restored to provide comfort for walkers – while still retaining its iconic heritage features.

The hut is located off the Hooker Valley Track and provides a peaceful place to stay the night with nothing surrounding but mountains and glaciers. The hut is equipped with a fireplace, gas cookers and mattresses and provides the perfect location for your first night out in the wilderness.

But even if you’re not interested in staying the night in Hooker Hut, it’s an interesting little detour off the Hooker Valley Track to see what the first hut in the national park looked like.

Find current pricing and booking details for Hooker Hut on the DOC website.

Best for: Beginners overnight hut experience, winter hut experience

5. Red Tarns Track

Time: 2 hrs
Grade: Grade 3

Elevation Gain: 325 m
Distance: 3.7 km return

Red Tarns Mt Cook National Park, a great sunset walk in Mt Cook New Zealand

If you’re wishing to get away from the droves of walkers that congregate around Sealy Tarns and Hooker Valley, then the Red Tarns track is a fantastic choice. Beginning at the southern end of the Mt Cook village, the track climbs steeply over man-made stairs and a smattering of boulders to a collection of tarns that gained their name from the red pond weed growing on the bottom.

On a still day, the tarns offer mirror-like reflections of Mount Cook and Mount Sefton, making this a popular choice for photographers. It’s especially picturesque for sunrise but we visited at sunset and were gifted a magnificent show of vividly pink skies backing the glowing white peaks of Aoraki.

Hiking up the Red Tarns Track with beautiful views of Mt Cook in the backdrop

Either way, the walk one-way takes approximately 1 hr – 1 hr and 30 minutes and if you’re confident walking by torchlight, visiting for sunrise or sunset is a must.

Best for: Avoiding the crowds, sunrise views of Hooker Valley and Mt Cook, reflections of Mt Cook

6. Blue Lakes And Tasman Glacier View

Time: 20 – 40 min
Grade: Grade 2

Elevation Gain: 100m
Distance:  1.5 km return

Tasman Glacier Lookout in Mt Cook National Park

Standing at the Tasman Glacier viewpoint and looking across at the largest glacier in New Zealand is a moment that will stick with you forever. It’s hard to imagine the sheer force this phenomenal slice of nature has until you’re staring at the landscape this 24 km long glacier has carved.

Blue Pools at Tasman Lake in Mt Cook National Park

The walk to the viewpoint passes the Blue Lakes – which are actually green pools tucked into the valley. These pools are best saved for a clear day when you’re able to witness the beauty of the snowy peaks reflected in the calm water. On an overcast and dreary day, the pools don’t display their potential and could be missed if you’re in a hurry. 

Best for: Views of the Tasman Glacier, reflections on a clear day from the Blue Lakes, all levels

7. Tasman Lake Track

Time: 30 – 50 minutes
Grade: Grade 1

Elevation Gain: Flat
Distance: 2.6 km return

Tasman Lake Icebergs from the Tasman Lake river mouth

You haven’t experienced Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park to its full potential until you’ve witnessed a sunrise at the edge of Tasman Lake. Standing beside icebergs in summer and autumn or a frozen lake in winter, you’ll watch the sun filter through the peaks of the Southern Alps and cast a soft glow upon the milky blue water and the majestic Mount Cook in the distance.

But the best part is, the walk to the water’s edge takes no more than 15-20 minutes so you don’t even need to wake at an ungodly hour to catch sunrise! 

Best for: Sunrise, getting close to icebergs, all levels

8. Sealy Tarns

Time: 3-4 hrs
Grade: Grade 3

Elevation Gain: 600 m
Distance:  5.1 km return

Sealy Tarns, one of the best walks in Mt Cook National Park

Are you up for the challenge of 2,200 steps?

We can guarantee the burn will be worth it once you’re sitting at the picnic bench at Sealy Tarns lookout and staring at the magnificent Aoraki/Mt Cook peak rising above the Hooker Valley.

While the walk is arduous, to say the least, each step you take provides ever-evolving vistas of the breathtaking landscape below. Mueller Lake and Hooker Lake steal the show with their vibrant milky-blue water and countless streams flowing through the valley.

Hiking up the stairs to Sealy Tarns in Mt Cook National Park

But once you’re at Sealy Tarns, you’re also gifted a front-row seat to the Huddleston and Tewaewae glaciers that bellow with each avalanche cascading from the mountainside. Be sure to allow enough time to sit and absorb the landscape as it’s truly something else – plus, your legs will thank you for the rest!

Best for: Day hike alternative to Mueller Hut, best views over the Hooker Valley

9. Kea Point

Time: 45 – 60 mins
Grade: Grade 2

Elevation Gain: 100m
Distance: 3 km return

Kea Point Lookout on a moody day in Mt Cook National Park, a great short walk for everyone

An easy wander from White Horse Hill Campground (or from Mt Cook Village if you want to add an extra hour). This walk begins on the same track as Sealy Tarns and Mueller Hut but veers off to the right before the never-ending staircase begins. 

The track gently traverses the western side of White Horse Hill before ending at the Mueller Glacier moraine wall overlooking Mueller Glacier Lake. The vantage point provides incredible views of the glaciers clinging to the steep slopes of the Southern Alps and you’ll likely hear the thundering roar of avalanches as you sit and soak in the landscape.

Kea Point is a relaxing and easy alternative when the weather is grim in the alpine or if your tired legs need a rest from the steep elevations of the alpine walks!

Best for: All levels of hikers, views of the distant glaciers

10. Glencoe Stream

Time: 30 min
Grade: Grade 2

Elevation Gain: 40m
Distance: 1km return

Glencoe Stream walk in Mt Cook National Park

Glencoe Stream is the perfect walk in Mount Cook when the mountains are cloaked in mist and the weather isn’t playing nice – or if you’re simply looking for a quick afternoon stroll. 

Beginning directly behind the Hermitage Hotel, the track dips into the beech forest and zigzags up the mountain beside Glencoe Stream for 500m ending abruptly at a bench seat overlooking the Mt Cook Village. The Glencoe Stream track is the easiest way to gain a bird’s eye view of the breathtaking valley without much effort.

Because the majority of the walk is sheltered by a canopy of tall trees, this is a great walk to do when it’s raining and you’re feeling the effects of cabin fever! Plus, the forest comes alive with vivid shades of green when the conditions are damp.

Best for: Rainy day alternative, views over Mt Cook Village

11. Governors Bush Walk

Time: 30 – 60 minutes
Grade: Grade 2

Elevation Gain: 100m
Distance: 1.6 km circuit

Governors Bush walk, a great short walk in the Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park

The Governors Bush walk captures the beauty of New Zealand’s native forests in a 1.6 km circuit that begins behind the day shelter in Mt Cook village. Gently ascending the foothills of Mt Kitchener, you’ll traverse the mountainside while admiring the many species of trees and ferns that are conveniently labelled with their scientific and common name.

With only a small amount of elevation gain and a few steps, this is a popular walk for families and provides incredible views of the waterfalls tumbling from the ridgeline above and the sprawling Mt Cook valley below.

The Governors Bush track is a great alternative when the weather is miserable as you stay relatively low and protected under a canopy of trees.

Best for: Rainy day alternative, all levels, dense forest walk

12. Bowen Bush Walk

Time: 10 min
Grade: Grade 1

Elevation Gain: Flat
Distance: 250m loop

Bowen Bush Walk in the Centre of the Mt Cook Village

A little pocket of celery pine forest remains within the Mt Cook village and the Bowen Bush Walk leads you directly through the centre on a moss-covered trail. Interpretive birdsong brings the forest alive through the months of summer, creating an immersive experience that can be enjoyed by the whole family.

While this short 10-minute loop isn’t much of a hike, it’s a great place to learn about the different species of birds found in the region and a scenic alternative to simply walking along the road.

Best for: All levels, immersive forest experience, families

13. Sefton Bivvy Hut

Time: 5 – 8 hrs (usually completed as an overnight)
Grade: Grade 5

Elevation Gain: 900 m
Distance: 13 km return

Sefton Bivy Hut from the Mueller Hut Hike, an advanced hike in Mt Cook National Park
Sefton Bivy tucked precariously into the mountainside

Not for the faint of heart, Sefton Bivvy is an adventure for the advanced hikers seeking a little refuge from the crowds and a good dose of challenge. Beginning on the Hooker Valley Track, the trail veers off to the left after approximately an hour on the groomed track and from then on, navigation and route-finding are needed.

This is a steep and exposed climb that affords incomparable views over the Hooker Valley and across to the nearby Tewaewae Glacier. The hut itself is the oldest in the national park that is still in its original location and has barely been upgraded since its construction in 1917.

Summiting to Sefton Bivvy Hut is doable for advanced hikers throughout the warmer months, but in winter mountaineering skills and avalanche awareness is paramount.

Find current pricing and booking details for Sefton Bivouac on the DOC website.

Best for: Avoiding the crowds, an alternative to Mueller Hut for advanced hikers

14. Ball Hut Route

Time: 6 – 9 hrs (usually completed as an overnight)
Grade: Grade 4 – some unstable sections classed as grade 5

Elevation Gain: 700 m
Distance: 19 km return

Walk alongside the Tasman Glacier, the largest in New Zealand, as you navigate your way across the moraine wall to Ball Hut. Riddled with avalanche debris and unstable scree fields, this hike requires good navigation skills and strong scrambling abilities to complete.

But if you’re up for the challenge, chances are you’ll share this walk with very few others and have the chance to get as close as possible to the mighty Tasman Glacier. Ball Hut is a small 3 bunk hut with mattresses and water that boasts sensational views across the valley to Aoraki and the surrounding peaks.

Find current pricing and booking details for Ball Hut on the DOC website.

Best for: Avoiding the crowds, views of Tasman Glacier, intermediate to advanced hikers

15. Mount Wakefield

Time: approximately 9 – 12 hrs (usually completed as an overnight wilderness camping)
Grade: Grade 3

Elevation Gain: 1,100 m +
Distance: 12.6 km return

Mt Wakefield from Mueller Hut Track in the Mt Cook National Park
Mt Wakefield dominating the landscape in the distance

Mount Wakefield dominates the scene between Tasman Valley and Hooker Valley and is perhaps one of the only peaks (aside from Mount Olliver) that you can summit in the area without requiring mountaineering skills – though you will still need a high level of scrambling abilities and navigation skill, and a head for heights.

Soaring to 2058m above sea level, Mount Wakefield is a steep ascent that progressively becomes more difficult the higher you climb. But even if you make it halfway to the peak, the vantage point of Mt Wakefield provides sensational vistas across the Mt Cook Valley all the way to Lake Pukaki.

Note: This walk is only recommended in the summer months when there is no snow or ice covering the boulders. However, it’s important to remember that a sudden snowstorm can happen anytime throughout the year in the alpine regions.

Best for: Advanced hikers, 360 degree views of the Tasman and Hooker Valley, beginner mountaineers

Final Thoughts

It’s safe to say that no matter your hiking skill level, you’ll find endless amounts of wonder on the walks in Mount Cook. Our highest recommendations for all levels are Tasman Lake for sunrise and Hooker Valley for sunset – or thereabouts if you’re not comfortable walking by torchlight.

Have you had the pleasure of exploring the hikes in Mt Cook National Park? We’d love to hear about your experience in the comments below and any suggestions you have for the walks listed or ones we’ve missed. And as always, please feel free to leave any questions you may have about the trails in Aoraki.

Happy Hiking 🙂