Climbing Mt Saddleback, An Incredible Day Hike In Tasmania

Pockets of frost linger as the sun lazily rises, not yet reaching the frigid ground beneath our feet. Our breathing increases as the terrain steepens, blowing clouds of white mist before our faces. We emerge out of the rubble of boulders and onto the wide summit of Mt Saddleback where the spired peaks shadow the creasing countryside below. 

We stand speechless, drinking in the diversity of North East Tasmania. Farmland’s fold seamlessly into rugged mountains with roads weaving in and out of view on their journey to the magnificent east coast. 

Tasmania has a magnitude of beautiful landscapes, easily accessible by the grand number of hikes available in the tiny state. And one that we have stumbled across recently took our breath away. Short, sharp, and wonderful, the hike to the summit of Mt Saddleback is a must-do on your adventures in North East Tasmania.

OVERVIEW

Distance

3.2 km Return ( 6.5 km return if starting from the fire road)

Grade

Grade 4 – Experience Recommended

Time

2.5 – 4 hrs

Elevation Gain

289 m (415 m if starting from the fire road)

Highest Elevation

1241 m

Entrance Fees

Free

Facilities

None

Walking down the obnoxious boulder lining the Mt Saddleback hiking trail

Mt Saddleback defines Tasmania – a raw, almost untouched mountain that someone, some time managed to conquer. Not all that much has changed since the first ascent I imagine, other than a few ribbons and cairns to guide the way and a worn track created over time by footprints. 

The beautiful state of Tasmania is littered with exploration opportunities. Some, like Cradle Mountain, are well-tracked and popular. But others, especially in the slightly forgotten northeast of Tasmania, are hardly known and untouched by man-made structures.

Not even part of a national park or reserve, you’ll find little information on the Mt Saddleback hike. The trailhead is found hiding between Mt Victoria Forest Reserve and State Forest, an hour and a half from Launceston. The drive will take you right into the heart of the quaint Tasmanian countryside, where cows well outnumber humans and the hills flow on forever.

The rugged and rocky peaks of Mt Victoria, Ben Lomond, and Mt Saddleback surround the farmlands. Providing a taste of what’s to come on the hike.

A few small signs indicating the direction of the Mt Saddleback hike is all that you’ll find at the trailhead, with little more than a clearing beside the dirt road to park.

If you’re lucky enough to own a 4WD, you can cut out the two or so kilometres of overgrown fire road that ascends to the beginning of the Mt Saddleback trail. 

But if you’re not so lucky, like us, you can set off from a small clearing just off Mathinna Plains road.

As we began our adventure at the base of the fire road, that’s where I will begin…

Scrambling up a steep rock slab on the ascent to the summit of Mt Saddleback

CLIMBING TO THE PEAK OF MT SADDLEBACK

Finding a place to park the car is the first mission of the day. With no real car park, the only options are a couple of cleared sections off to the side of the fire road leading to the beginning of the Mt Saddleback hike. 

If you’re equipped with a 4WD or gutsy small car, you can attempt to drive the 1.5km of overgrown fire trail to the proper trail entry. We weren’t game enough to get our van’s big butt up the hill and proceeded to walk from this point.

As the trail wound higher, our choice for leaving the van at the base of the mountain became further validated. Ruts and rocks litter the overgrown path as rivulets of water cascade down.

Before long, the fire trail widens and takes a right turn before delivering you to another sign indicating the beginning of the trek to Mt Saddleback’s summit.

Entering the forest, it immediately becomes apparent that this trail is unmaintained and wild. Debris from past storms is scattered across the path, blending it into the surroundings.

Luckily, fellow hikers have provided more than enough tape and rock cairns to lead the way to Mt Saddleback’s rugged peak. Not once did we find ourselves at a loss with direction.

Banana Leaf Tree creating a canopy on the Mt Saddleback hike
Cascade of rocks making the Mt Saddleback hiking trail
Frozen puddles on top of Mt Saddleback

Tall blanket leaf trees fold above to create a canopy, enabling fungi of all varieties to flourish in the rotting trunks. Little forest dwellers have created homes in the fallen giants, taking advantage of the abundance of nutrients available to them in the thriving surroundings.

The spongy forest floor doesn’t last long, as the trail leads to a garden of rocks. Rocks precariously placed as if a distant earthquake rattled the peak, causing it to splinter and plummet part of its colossal structure.

Morning frost and moss make for an entertaining task of maneuvering through the vast rock garden, as the tape and cairns weave their way almost vertically to our destination. A crab crawl is mandatory to keep balance and weave through the natural maze. 

Stringybark trees line the narrowing moss-covered rocks as they turn to boulders. Boulders with sprouting tree ferns flourishing amongst them, creating a beautiful rainforest feel as we try continuously to stay upright in the precarious terrain.  

The tall trees fade as scree and loose soil mark the beginning of the almost 90-degree climb to Mt Saddleback’s summit. But first, a rest to drink in the surrounding scenery is welcomed, as views of the towering peak soar above and Mt Victoria stands boldly to the northeast. 

View of Mt Victoria from the summit of Mt Saddleback Tasmania

And now for the final climb. Conveniently placed trees assist in pulling us skyward as the push to the summit strains muscles and lungs, each footfall is carefully calculated on the unpredictable terrain.

Popping out from the scrub to the first slab of the summit, awe steals our remaining breath as our gaze sets out over what seems to be the whole of North East Tasmania. Wild eucalyptus and pepper trees fill the crisp air with an intoxicating scent as we explore the summit of Mt Saddleback, aiming to find the highest boulder.

Frozen puddles crunch underfoot as the trail dips in and out of the scrubs, hidden from the warming sun. A thick layer of frost, almost a similar texture to snow, creates an entertaining game of sliding down the large rock slabs.

Stepping out onto the highest point we’re willing to reach, the farmlands and forests crease and fold beneath us, stretching as far as the famous east coast. Ben Lomond National Park fills the southwestern vista with its vast and rugged summit.

Climbing through the steep and rough scree while hiking up Mt Saddleback Tasmania

Exploration of the vast and unique summit could last hours, marveling at the flowing vistas and congested rock formations. And each direction offering a new and wonderful view out to the beautifully wild Tasmanian wilderness. 

The spires surrounding look almost surreal, with boulders balanced in ways that seem impossible. How do they continue to stand in the wild and windy south?

With wind-whipped cheeks and warmed hearts, we were humbled once again by what mother nature can provide in only a short hike. And forever grateful for the endless opportunities to explore nature that Tasmania provides. 

We were very much under the notion that descending would be a whole lot harder than our climb. But we were gladly mistaken. The ground had all but dried up thanks to the warming sun, providing us with a much better grip as we picked our way carefully down the boulders and scree. 

View from the peak of Mt Saddleback in North East Tasmania

QUICK TIPS AND SUGGESTED GEAR

Mt Saddleback is a short hike, though this shouldn’t lead you to be complacent. It is still a raw and difficult hike, with continuous rock hopping and steep, loose ascents. There is scattered reception for Telstra in the area. 

We recommend telling someone of your hiking plans, having some navigational skills, and to be prepared for all sorts of weather.

Below is a list of suggested gear that we take on all our day hikes, no matter the length or difficulty.

Essential Hiking Packing List

  • Topographic Map and Compass – It’s best to avoid relying solely on your phone, which can run out of battery. 
  • Digital Map – In addition to a paper map, you can use AllTrails to download the route and follow along with the inbuilt GPS.
  • First Aid Kit – You can visit this post if you’re unsure what should go into a first aid kit for hiking.
  • Emergency Beacon – Our emergency beacon lives in our hiking packs permanently.
  • Reusable Water Bottles Avoid taking plastic water bottles that can break easily and add to the overwhelming amount of plastic pollution. We also suggest bringing a water filtration system to treat river water.
  • Head Torch Don’t forget the spare batteries! Look for a headtorch with a minimum of 100 lumens. 
  • Sturdy Hiking Shoes We recommend hiking boots over trail runners for longer hikes, where the trail is unstable and can become very muddy. 
  • Long pants or gaiters Tasmania has a thriving population of leeches.
  • Down Jacket and Thermals Staying warm while hiking is extremely important and these items play a key role, the mountains are unpredictable, best be prepared.
  • Rain Jacket and Rain Pants Rain pants are optional but can provide an extra layer of warmth in miserable conditions. 
  • Sun Protection – The UV rays are stronger at higher altitudes.
  • Sleeping Gear – Make sure to pack a tent, a warm sleeping bag and an inflatable mat for overnight hikes. The mountains can get very cold at night, even in summer.
  • Cooking Stove Nothing beats a warm, satisfying meal after a big day of hiking.
  • Emergency Snacks – You can never have too much food and who doesn’t love snacks!
  • Camera Gear – We never travel anywhere without our camera, tripod or drone!
Hiding under a rock shelf while hiking Mt Saddleback

WHEN TO VISIT

Snow is not uncommon on the peaks of Tasmania in the depth of winter, and neither are strong sunny days through summer. My recommendation for Mt Saddleback is autumn or spring. These months provide some warmth without the risk of too many snakes or icy conditions. 

If you choose to hike Mt Saddleback in summer, be prepared for snakes and know what to do if you encounter one. You will also need to be prepared for the rocks to be much warmer than you may expect.

If you choose to hike in winter, be prepared for frost, ice or snow. Make sure to bring extra warm clothes and gloves to walk in for better grip on the slippery rocks.

Sliding down an Icy rock on the summit of Mt Saddleback

GETTING TO MT SADDLEBACK

Mt Saddleback is located southeast of Launceston and north of Hobart. To reach Mt Saddleback from Launceston, it is a simple 1.5-hour drive. Parts of the drive are on dirt roads, though these are well maintained and accessible for 2WD vehicles.