Lake Marian Track | Your Ultimate Guide

Hidden in the creases of the Darran Mountains that dominate the scene along the iconic Milford Sound Hwy, you’ll find the enchanting Lake Marian sitting prettily in a hanging valley sheltered by snow-capped peaks.

Arguably the most popular day walk in Fiordland National Park, the Lake Marian Track will hold you captivated and in awe from the moment you step onto the trail. There’s no denying that the moderately technical – yet short – ascent through the tangled beech forest will leave you breathless, but it’s all worthwhile once you break above the treeline and onto the rocky banks of the brilliant Lake Marian.

We can honestly say that the Lake Marian Track has found a permanent place in our list of favourite day hikes in New Zealand, not only for the beautiful alpine lake but also for the magical forest leading to the hanging valley.

If this sounds like your kind of adventure, read on to find out all the information you need to add the Lake Marian Track to your Milford Sound Itinerary.

Sunset over Lake Marian as the sun forms a star on the distant peaks over the crystal clear blue water

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What To Know To About Hiking The Lake Marian Track In Fiordland National Park

Quick Statistics For The Lake Marian Track

Distance
7 km return

Time
3 hrs

Grade
Grade 3

Elevation Gain
430 m

Highest Elevation
730 m 

Entrance Fees
None

Facilities
Trailhead: Toilets, car park
Along the track: Toilet

Where Does The Track To Lake Marian Start?

The beautiful Lake Marian is tucked between the Darran Mountains’ southern peaks in Fiordland National Park – New Zealand’s largest and perhaps most inaccessible park.

The track begins at Lake Marian Car Park, which is located 1km along the unsealed Hollyford Rd. Hollyford Rd branches off the only road leading into the national park, Milford Sound Hwy, roughly 30 minutes south of the iconic Milford Sound and 1 hr north of Te Anau.

At Lake Marian Car Park, you’ll find a toilet block and a spacious shaded car park beside Hollyford River. There are no bins so please take all your rubbish with you.

Lake Marian Track Trailhead in New Zealand

How To Get To The Lake Marian Trailhead

Te Anau is the closest town to Lake Marian and is located 2 hrs southwest of Queenstown, 3 hrs 20 minutes west of Dunedin and a whopping 8 hrs southwest of Christchurch. Lake Marian Car Park is another 1 hr 10 minutes north of Te Anau along the Milford Sound Hwy.

By Public Transport

It is possible to catch an Intercity bus that runs from Queenstown to Te Anau but from there, it becomes a little trickier to reach Lake Marian Car Park

Other than attempting to hitchhike, you could book a shuttle to Milford Sound with Tracknet (who specialise in transport to the Fiordland National Park Great Walks and Milford Sound) and ask if they can drop you at the turn-off onto Hollyford Rd instead. But you will need to walk the extra kilometre to the trailhead, and we’re not sure they’ll say yes.

Note: Tracknet only runs regular shuttles to Milford Sound during the summer season which begins around the 24th of October and ends on the 30th of April.

Honestly, renting a car will likely be cheaper, more manageable and far quicker than attempting to use public transport.

By Car

To reach Lake Marian Car Park, you’ll first make your way to Te Anau (which is easy using Google Maps or following the many road signs). From the quaint lakeside town, you’ll travel north on State Highway 94 – aka Milford-Te Anau Hwy, more commonly known as the Milford Sound Hwy – for roughly 1 hr 10 minutes.

The scenic drive from Te Anau to the Lake Marian Car Park winds through stunning beech forest and beneath towering waterfall-laden granite mountains and is one of our favourite roads in the South Island. We highly recommend adding an extra hour or two to your drive time so you can stop at the many beautiful lakes and lookouts along the way.

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Tour Options For Lake Marian

Although we don’t believe booking a tour for the Lake Marian Track is necessary, it could be beneficial if you’re struggling to get from Te Anau to the trailhead and/or would like a little guidance or company.

Trips & Tramps offers a guided day tour to Lake Marian through the summer season, from the 1st of October to the 30th of April. They’ll pick you up and drop you off in Te Anau, and offer a packed lunch at an additional cost. You can either book through their website or through Go New Zealand.

Who Is This Hike For?

Lake Marian Waterfall cascading dow the lush green forest

If you’re a lover of fairy-tale worthy forests and emerald alpine lakes, prepare to be blown away by the captivating Lake Marian Track. We found that the trail struck the perfect balance, offering an enjoyable challenge for intermediate hikers while remaining attainable for enthusiastic beginners.

Ascending the moderately technical terrain does require a good level of fitness and agility to tackle the slippery tree roots and rocks infiltrating the trail, but with a light load and plenty of time up your sleeve, you can happily take your time and savour the magic of the forest.

What To Pack For Lake Marian

Lake Marian is a short half-day hike that generally takes 3 hours to complete. The trail is notoriously muddy and wet in autumn and winter, requiring waterproof hiking shoes or boots. But in summer, you can easily get away with regular hiking shoes or trail runners with good grip.

Boulder hopping in the forest near Milford Sound

Here is a list of the essential items we suggest packing for Lake Marian:

Best Time To Hike The Lake Marian Track

While it is possible to hike the Lake Marian Track year-round, the most alluring season will depend on your preferences and skill level. 

For the easiest trail conditions and the best swimming weather, plan your trip to Lake Marian during the summer, from December to February. However, it’s worth noting that this is also the peak season, and Lake Marian attracts a large crowd during this time.

To avoid the bulk of the crowds without the added challenge winter presents, visit Lake Marian in the off-season, which is from March to May and October to November.

But if you’re looking for additional challenges and a snow-filled adventure, you’ll love exploring the trail to Lake Marian in winter. It’s common to find most of the trail covered in a dusting of snow, adding a magical touch to the landscape. However, it’s important to be aware that the mountains surrounding Lake Marian pose a risk of avalanches. The Department of Conservation (DOC) strongly advises walkers to stay at the southern edge of Lake Marian for safety.

Epic sunset over Lake Marian

Best Time Of Day To Visit Lake Marian

Early afternoon is the best time to visit Lake Marian for swimming and enjoying a sun-drenched landscape. This is generally the warmest part of the day and allows you enough time to immerse yourself in the beauty of the lake.

For photographers, you’ll want to arrive at sunrise or late in the afternoon once the sun has dipped behind Mt Crosscut. The sun’s glare on the water is intense through the middle of the day and early afternoon.

Lake Marian Track Notes

Lake Marian Car Park To Marian Falls

Sun beaming on the Lake Marian Swing Bridge during sunrise

As soon as you cross the Hollyford River via the scenic swing bridge, you’re propelled into an enchanting beech forest fit for a storybook. The groomed path follows alongside the river, meandering beneath a canopy of towering trees with hanging moss clinging to their gnarled branches.

After 400 m, the trail swings west and you’ll continue for another 200 m, gently ascending to the rambling Marian Falls. A suspended boardwalk – known as ‘the viewing gantry’ on the signs – hugs the contours of Mt Christina and allows you to easily walk along the edge of Marian Falls, admiring the translucent ice-blue water as it surges between giant grey boulders.

Walking past Lake Marian Falls on the Lake Marian Track

The walk to Marian Falls takes up to 15 – 20 minutes along an easy groomed trail. A walk to the waterfall and back is a fantastic alternative for those wondering whether the entire Lake Marian Track will be too difficult.

Ascending Through The Forest

Once you finish exploring the various side tracks for additional perspectives of Marian Falls, you’ll be met with a sign guiding you onwards. The sign also reminds you that from here on out, you’re leaving the groomed path behind.

Orange markers are scattered throughout the dense forest, ensuring you stay on track as you hop across stepping stones and traverse exposed tree roots. There will be some occasions where you’ll have to use hands and feet to clamber up a particularly rough patch, but without serious exposure or technical moves, it’s more fun than challenging.

Using tree roots to climb the steep track on the Lake Marian walk

Furthermore, expect to encounter wet and muddy sections, especially during winter or after a long week of rain. After all, the trail does follow alongside Marian Creek within a deep crease in the Darran Mountains and rarely sees full sun.

Take your time to absorb the brilliant scene before you, where the entire trail is engulfed in a stunning evergreen forest with birdsong and the distant rumble of the river the only sounds you can hear. And every so often, the moss-covered forest thins just enough for you to peak out at distant ice-capped peaks.

Climbing up the steep sections of Lake Marian trail

Finally, after another 2.4 km and roughly 300 m elevation, you’ll emerge from the dense beech forest into a valley dominated by vertical slopes with snow-dusted peaks and the alluring Lake Marian sitting centre-stage.

Exploring Lake Marian

Wandering onto the broken boulders framing Lake Marian’s jade-coloured water, you have plenty of prime locations to choose from to sprawl out and enjoy the landscape while catching your breath.

If time allows and there isn’t any risk of avalanches, continue along the western banks to view Lake Marian from a different angle. You can also wander a bit further east from the hanging valley’s entrance to find Marian Creek’s source.

And if you’re brave (or perhaps crazy) enough, take a dip in the glacially-fed lake. There truly is no better way to recover tired muscles, but I wouldn’t be lingering too long unless you want frozen fingers and toes!

Returning To The Trailhead

Walking through the forest on the Lake Marian Track

Once you finally manage to pull yourself away from the dreamlike location, get ready to return the way you came – utilising the toilet hiding in the treeline if need be. The return journey requires a little more care on the steep technical sections – especially if it’s wet – but you can generally expect to shave off a bit of time compared to the ascent.

The hike to Lake Marian took us 1 hr 30 minutes and another 1 hr to return. However, we took a total of 4 hours which included a long rest and a swim at the lake.

Other Important Information For Walking The Lake Marian Track

Camping At Lake Marian

While there is no designated campsite or hut at Lake Marian, it is possible to wilderness camp if you have the equipment and knowledge to do so. You’ll find several level spaces east of the trail, which will be slightly more protected from a southeasterly wind.

There is a toilet conveniently located right before you reach the lake. It’s imperative to use the toilet rather than digging a hole. That way, we can prevent contaminating the water or harming the fragile landscape.

Leave No Trace

The Lake Marian Track allows access to one of the most incredible alpine lakes we have witnessed, but the one thing that can ruin this experience is a lack of respect for the natural landscape.

It’s each and every one of our responsibilities to follow the 7 Leave No Trace Principles and ensure we’re bringing no unnecessary harm to the fragile and ancient land. It’s as easy as staying on the trail where possible and leaving a destination how you found it – or better.

Please take all your rubbish with you, including food scraps and tissues, and use the toilets available along the trail.

Walking on the flat well groomed path at the beginning of Lake Marian

Where To Stay Near Lake Marian

The closest town to Lake Marian is Te Anau, located 1 hr 10 minutes south of the trailhead. This is the most common place to stay while exploring Fiordland National Park, and you’ll find plenty of accommodation options in town to suit a range of travelling styles. Alternatively, Milford Sound Lodge is a stunning accommodation option right on the banks of Milford Sound – 30 minutes north of the trailhead.

Camping Near Lake Marian

You’re spoilt for choice regarding camping near Lake Marian, with 8 DOC campsites spread along Milford Sound Hwy. Our favourite – and the closest option – is Cascade Creek, found 14 minutes south of Lake Marian Car Park.

The only downside is that the only campsites available between Te Anau and Milford Sound are owned by the Department of Conservation (DOC) and cost NZD $15 per person per night. For the best bang for your buck, we recommend purchasing a DOC Campsite Pass, which allows you to pay an upfront fee for unlimited use of DOC campsites for either one month or a year.

Final Thoughts

Sun beaming on the Lake Marian Swing Bridge during sunrise

If you’re still questioning whether the hike to Lake Marian is worth it, don’t. Once immersed in the landscape, it’s impossible not to fall in love with the verdant forests filled with a million shades of green and the mesmerising emerald lake encompassed by towering snow-capped mountains. Lake Marian truly exceeded our expectations – and they were high to begin with!

We hope you’ve found value in our ultimate guide to hiking the Lake Marian Track, and we’ve convinced you to add this incredible Milford Sound walk to your itinerary. Please feel free to reach out if you have any questions or want to share your experience with us.

Happy Hiking 🙂