Rodway Range Circuit | The Best Way To Explore The Tarn Shelf

Mount Field National Park is an adventurer’s playground, where you can hike for hours through varying landscapes etched by thousands of years of glaciation. And our favourite circuit to experience the best of the breathtaking mountain range is the Rodway Range Circuit.

The Tarn Shelf is the ultimate reason hikers flock to Mount Field, and a simple walk there and back is doable in less than 4 hours. But to truly make the most of your time exploring the Mount Field mountain range, we suggest taking the longer Rodway Range Circuit that encompasses so much more of the glacially scarred landscape. 

In this post, you’ll find every bit of information needed to complete the Rodway Range Circuit, including how to add a side trip to Mount Field West and where to stay if you choose to turn your day hike into an overnighter.

Walking into the K Col Valley, looking out at The Thumbs from the Rodway Range Circuit

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Hiking The Rodway Range Circuit, The Best Trail In Mount Field

15 km return

6 – 7 hrs

Elevation Gain
712 m

Highest Elevation
1,377 m

Grade 4 

Entrance Fees
Tasmanian Parks Pass

Visitor centre, Toilet block, Shelter

Where Is The Rodway Range Circuit

Tasmania’s oldest national park (that shares the glory with the Freycinet Peninsula) sprawls out across the southwest of the tiny island state, bordered by Franklin-Gordon River National Park and Southwest National Park. All three parks are part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area and as soon as you step into the wild and rugged mountain ranges, you’ll understand why. 

The Rodway Range looms above the Tarn Shelf, in the vast alpine region of Mount Field. The trailhead for the circuit is located at Lake Dobson, 1 hr 40 minutes northwest of Hobart and 3 hrs 20 minutes southwest of Launceston.  

How To Get To The Rodway Range Circuit

The Rodway Range Circuit begins at Lake Dobson, an alpine lake marking the end of the public Lake Dobson Rd. While there are plenty of tour options available to explore the foothills of Mount Field National Park, taking on the Rodway Range Circuit requires you to drive to the trailhead. If you haven’t got access to a car, we suggest using Rental Cars to find the best deals on car hire.

Directions From Hobart To Lake Dobson, Mount Field

To reach Lake Dobson, leave Hobart via Brooker Hwy (1) heading north towards New Norfolk. At New Norfolk, continue straight (west) onto Glenora Rd (B62) for 18 km until you reach Bushy Park. From the intersection in Bushy Park, veer left (northwest) onto Gordon River Rd (B61) which will deliver you to the turn-off for Lake Dobson Rd after 18.5 km. Continue past the visitor centre and onto the dirt road that will ultimately end at Lake Dobson 15 km later. 

Note: Lake Dobson Rd is unsealed and often full of potholes once you reach the alpine, however, it is doable in a 2WD. But due to the skinny width of the winding road, it’s not suitable for large campervans or caravans. Additionally, the road is subject to ice and snow during winter and access is restricted when necessary. To check for road closures, visit the Tasmanian Police website.  

The Rodway Range Circuit Trail Notes

A winding drive lined with giant tree ferns and towering eucalypts will deliver you to Lake Dobson, the starting point for the majority of trails crisscrossing the vast alpine region. After utilising the toilet for the last time and registering your hiking intentions, you’ll start the Rodway Range Circuit on the Pandani Grove Nature trail located on the banks of Lake Dobson. 

Lake Dobson To Lake Seal Lookout

Hiking on the Pandani Grove Circuit near Lake Dobson in Mt Field National Park

Descending a couple of stairs towards the water’s edge, the Pandani Grove Nature trail will lead you clockwise around the lake, almost immediately engulfing you in a forest of tall pandani and pencil pine. 

But before long, a fork will appear in the path and you’ll leave the Pandani Grove Nature trail and begin the traverse along the Urquhart Track. The gently ascending trail takes you deeper into a colourful snow gum woodland before ending abruptly at a steep dirt road. 

Enduring the climb up the relentless dirt road isn’t fun, to tell you the truth, but luckily it doesn’t last very long and before you know it, you’ll be standing in front of a private ski lodge that marks the end of the steep road. 

From this location, you can walk through Mount Mawson Ski Resort or take the slightly shorter Snowgum Track over a bunch of boulders to Lake Seal Lookout. You’ll have the option to include both as you return the same way for the Rodway Range Circuit. 

No matter which you choose, you’ll be standing on the precipitous edge of Lake Seal Lookout approximately 30 minutes after leaving Lake Dobson. 

Lake Seal Lookout To The Rodway Range

Lookout out over Lake Seal on the Rodway Range Circuit

As you cross the elevated boardwalks towards Lake Seal Lookout, you’ll be gifted your first glimpse into the deep valley beneath the Tarn Shelf. The deep blue lake curves around the plunging slopes that descend from the shelf. 

To your left, the closest alpine tarns can be seen tucked into the creases of the towering Rodway Range. After soaking in the beauty before you, you’ll backtrack slightly to continue west along a mix of boulders and boardwalks to the trail junction for the Mount Field West Track and the Tarn Shelf Track.

10 minutes later, you’ll reach the track junction which also indicates the point where the circuit rejoins. For the least amount of elevation, travel clockwise by beginning on the Mount Field West Track. 

The Rodway Range To The K Col Valley

Leaving the boardwalks behind as we began the Rodway Range Circuit

The Mount Field West Track immediately leaves the boardwalk behind and begins a rocky ascent to the Rodway ridgeline. Crossing beneath a ski tow, you’ll have the chance to examine the rustic equipment before the real boulder scramble begins – and doesn’t stop for close to an hour.

Aptly named the Lions Den, the dolerite ridgeline is made up of a field of boulders that require a good deal of balance to cross. Boulders spray painted with red spots help you navigate across the uneven terrain towards the K Col Valley. 

Leaving the boulder garden, named the Lions Den, behind on the Rodway Range Circuit

For some, this section is the most exciting but for others, it can be a frustrating hour of manoeuvring through misshaped dolerite rocks. But once you emerge from the saddle below the highest point of the ridgeline, you’ll be rewarded with extraordinary views of Florentine Peak and out across to the Southwest National Park carving up the horizon. 

On a clear and calm day, you can leave the trail for a moment and cross the boulders to your right to peer over the edge of the ridgeline. Below, the Tarn Shelf is laid out in all its shimmering glory and the distant mountains are coloured in hazy shades of blue and green. This is the perfect place for a snack break if the wind isn’t howling.

Note: Only leave the trail if you’re confident in finding it once again and stick to the rocks as you travel off-track, avoiding the fragile vegetation surrounding the boulder field. 

Walking among the cushion plants on the way to the K Col Valley on the Rodway Range Circuit

Eventually, the boulder field will recede and in its place, a muddy trail flanked by vibrant cushion plants will lead you into the K Col valley. While often filled with streaming water and ankle-deep mud, the rutted track is a relief after the long boulder crossing and the faster pace will have you standing at the intersection of Mount Field West and The Watcher approximately 20 minutes later. 

The K Col Valley To The Watcher

A moss-covered sign will greet you at the track junction just above K Col, directing you southwest for Mount Field West or north along the K Col track to walk beneath the summit of The Watcher and onto the iconic Tarn Shelf. 

To include a side trip to Mount Field West, we recommend camping the night at Clemes Tarn. The picturesque alpine lake can be found 800 m from the track junction just beyond the K Col Emergency Hut. A return trip from Clemes Tarn to the summit of Mount Field West takes approximately 3 hours. Read our guide on summiting Mount Field West for more details on the trail. 

Traversing the K Col valley on the way to The Watcher on the Rodway Range Circuit

To continue along the Rodway Range Circuit, begin the traverse across the eastern dolerite slopes of the K Col valley on a mix of boardwalks and boulders towards The Watcher. The deep valley allows you to feast your eyes upon the vast mountain ranges surrounding you. 

In the west, Mount Field West hides behind Naturalist Peak, intermittently revealing its rocky summit. The south offers views of the bony ridgeline leading to Florentine Peak and in the north, the folded mountain ranges in the distance create a soft blue glow on the horizon. 

The Watcher To Lake Newdegate

The view out across the northern mountains beyond The Watcher on the Rodway Range Circuit

After 1.8 km, the track steepens and finally, you’ll cross beneath The Watcher and climb over the ridgeline into a sweeping plateau filled with tiny tarns and verdant fields of cushion plants thriving in the watery terrain. 

Elevated boardwalks protect the fragile plateau and provide a relaxed and easy traverse across the flat expanse towards the final boulder field named Newdegate Pass. Luckily for some, this dolerite garden doesn’t last nearly as long as the Lions Den and before you know it, you’ll have gently descended to the edge of a steep decline that will deliver you to Lake Newdegate on the shelf below. 

Walking across the plateau towards Lake Newdegate on the Rodway Range Circuit

Man-made dolerite stairs assist your slow descent down the loose path until you enter the treeline once again. Snow gums and overgrown shrubs offer handholds as you pick your way carefully down the now muddy track, attempting to keep your feet dry from the rushing water running off the alpine.

Soon the trail flattens and you’ll find yourself on the banks of Lake Newdegate. A wooden platform provides an ideal lunch spot looking over the alpine lake, but if the weather isn’t quite behaving, Lake Newdegate Hut can offer a touch of respite. 

Lake Newdegate To The Tarn Shelf

Looking over Lake Newdegate along the Rodway Range Circuit

After a well-earned rest, another track junction will provide you with the choice of heading south on the Tarn Shelf track, or east along the Lake Newdegate track towards Twilight Tarn and eventually, Lake Webster. We highly recommend walking along the Tarn Shelf which is shorter and, in our opinion, far more captivating.

Assuming you take the Tarn Shelf track, you’ll continue on a simple path that follows the eastern banks of Lake Newdegate through an open forest of ancient pencil pine. Take your time wandering along the undulating Tarn Shelf, where multiple alpine lakes of all sizes and shades of green and blue are scattered among the ancient forest of snow gums, pandani, fagus and countless other native alpine shrubs. 

Walking among the pencil pine on the Tarn Shelf as we complete the last section of the Rodway Range Circuit

In autumn, the deciduous fagus covering the mountainside above the tarns offers an incredible contrast to the bright emerald and turquoise pools as the leaves change from green to brilliant shades of orange and gold. 

The Tarn Shelf Back To The Trailhead

Looking out across the Tarn Shelf on our Rodway Range Circuit hike

After 3 km of wandering across the magical Tarn Shelf, a short rocky climb will deliver you to the Rodway Day Shelter where you can sit in the shade and experience the beauty of the entire shelf laid out before you. 

Once you’re ready to complete the circuit, a final ascent will take you back to the track junction beneath the Rodway ridgeline. From the intersection, you’ll simply return along the boardwalks towards Lake Seal Lookout, choosing to either walk through the Mount Mawson ski resort or along the Snow Gum Track. 

We completed the Rodway Range Circuit in 6.5 hours, stopping for snacks, lunch and to take multiple photos. While it’s not an easy track to complete, requiring a good dose of balance and stamina, the trails are well-marked and simple to follow when the weather is pleasant.

Walking amongst the dense pencil pine and snow gums on the Rodway Range Circuit

Best Time To Complete The Rodway Range Circuit

The Rodway Range Circuit provides a unique experience in each season of the year and which time to visit depends on your preferences. Below I’ve listed the highs and lows of each season so you can make the best decision based on you. 

  • Summer: Summer brings longer daylight hours and warm weather for swimming, but you’ll also be exposed to the heat in the unshaded alpine and need to watch for snakes 
  • Autumn: The deciduous Fagus trees offer a breathtaking show as they transform the mountains from green to blazing orange and gold, the weather is also the calmest with clear days and crisp nights – however, the days are shorter and you need to be prepared for the chilly starts and potential snowfall 
  • Winter: Snow blankets the alpine through most of the winter, providing a magical experience for those that have experience hiking in the snow – this is not for everyone as it’s much more difficult and dangerous for beginners
  • Spring: The Mount Field mountain range is filled with colour in spring as the wildflowers start to bloom and the days are beginning to warm, however, the weather is quite volatile in spring and high winds and heavy rainfall is common

Leave No Trace

Mount Field National Park is filled with endemic species of flora and fauna, some of which are in desperate need of our help to survive. The government has already done their bit by making the range part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, but it’s up to each and every one of us to ensure we leave no trace while we explore the rich landscape. 

When you’re visiting Mount Field, or anywhere for that matter, please follow the 7 Leave No Trace Principles and leave a place the same – or better – than you found it. There are no rubbish bins provided in the alpine region of Mount Field so please take all your rubbish with you, including food scraps and tissues. 

There are toilets located at Lake Dobson, the Mount Field Visitor Centre and at the Mount Mawson Ski Resort. Plan your trip so that you can use these toilets along your hike. If you plan to camp overnight in the alpine, bring a poop tube with you to avoid damaging the fragile vegetation. 

What To Bring

The Rodway Range Circuit will most likely take a full day and the terrain is quite varied with loads of boulder scrambling and trudging through water-logged forests. Therefore, we recommend wearing sturdy hiking boots and carrying a day pack filled with the hiking essentials for a full day in the mountains. 

Filling up water at Clemes Tarn on the Rodway Range Circuit using a water filtration system

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!

Where To Stay Near Mount Field, Tasmania

Mount Field is located just over an hour from Hobart, making it an easy day trip from the city. However, to hike the Rodway Range Circuit which takes most of the day, you might want to search for closer accommodation options. 

Our go-to place to stay when we’re exploring Mount Field is the Mount Field Campground located in the foothills of the mountain range. While you do have to pay to stay here, you are provided with the luxury of a hot shower, rubbish bins and even a washing machine! 

Looking over the river from our campervan at Mount Field National Park Campsite

Camping Near Mount Field


New Norfolk


Final Thoughts

We hope that this guide has helped you plan your trip to Mount Field and inspired you to include the Rodway Range Circuit. s always, feel free to ask us any questions or tell us about your adventures along the Rodway Range Circuit in the comments below. 

Happy Hiking 🙂