The Tarn Shelf Circuit | An Unmissable Hike In Mount Field

Mount Field is a hiker’s paradise – especially high in the ancient alpine. A multitude of trails criss-cross the mountain ranges where the rugged slopes are filled with Fagus and an abundance of alpine lakes glisten in the glacially carved landscape. But the one hike that cannot be missed is the Tarn Shelf Circuit.

On a mid-summer visit to Mount Field National Park in Tasmania’s southwest, we spent a couple of incredible days traipsing around the remarkably rich alpine. And while we didn’t quite fit in every single hike on that visit, we saw enough to know that the Tarn Shelf Circuit will be hard to beat.

As its name suggests, the Tarn Shelf is jam-packed with a collection of glacial lakes of all sizes and shades of green and blue. On a warm summer’s day, you could spend hours splashing from one impossibly beautiful tarn to another. 

Even without swimming, the Tarn Shelf Circuit will occupy most of the day. But your efforts will be well rewarded with never-ending vistas as you wander among the gnarled and time-worn terrain. In this post, we’ll share all the details you will need to complete the Tarn Shelf Circuit, including tips on making the most of your time on the Tarn Shelf walk.   

Walking the Tarn Shelf hike while completing the Rodway Range Circuit in Mt Field National Park

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase of a product we recommend through one of our links, we may make a small commission at no extra cost to you! This helps to support our blog and enables us to continue providing you with helpful tips and exciting adventures, so thank you 🙂

Hiking The Tarn Shelf Circuit In Mount Field National Park

15.6 km circuit

5 – 6 hrs

Elevation Gain
664 m

Highest Elevation
1,270 m

Grade 3 – some experience recommended

Entrance Fees
Tasmanian Parks Pass

Visitor centre, Toilet block, Shelter

Where Is The Tarn Shelf?

The Tarn Shelf is located in the alpine region of Mount Field National Park, a park that’s part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area and is neighbours with Franklin-Gordon National Park and Southwest National Park

The circuit begins at Lake Dobson, the farthest point that you can drive to within Mount Field National Park. The car park flanking Lake Dobson is 1 hr 40 minutes northwest of Hobart and 3 hrs 10 minutes southwest of Launceston. 

How To Get To The Tarn Shelf Walk In Mount Field National Park

Tasmania is renowned for having poor public transport, even to a destination that is as popular and close to Hobart as Mount Field. You’ll find plenty of tour options to visit Mount Field, but none of these will allow you enough time to hike the Tarn Shelf Circuit. 

Driving to Lake Dobson is basically the only way to reach the Tarn Shelf trailhead unless you want to pay a fortune for a taxi. If you don’t have access to your own vehicle, Rental Cars is a great resource to use for finding the best deals on car hire. 

Directions From Hobart To Lake Dobson, Mount Field

From Hobart’s city centre, head north on Brooker Hwy and continue onto Lyell Hwy (A10) towards New Norfolk for 36km. From New Norfolk, follow Glenora Rd (B62) northwest for 18km to Bushy Park. Here, a slight left turn will take you onto Gordon River Rd (B61) which takes you to National Park. 

After 21km, at National Park, a right turn onto Lake Dobson Rd will take you the final 16km to Lake Dobson. Once you pass the Mount Field visitor centre (1 km past National Park), the road is unsealed yet accessible for all vehicles.  

Note: The road is subject to ice and snow in winter and will sometimes be closed as a result. Check the status of the road on the Tasmanian Police Website.

The Tarn Shelf Circuit Trail Notes

Tarn Shelf Circuit in Mt Field National Park

The Tarn Shelf itself can be found tucked into the creases of the Rodway Range, looking out at the Broad River Valley. You can take multiple routes to reach the Tarn Shelf, the most popular being the Tarn Shelf Circuit.

The circuit will allow you to continue onto Lake Newdegate and Twilight Tarn before descending to Lake Webster and Lake Seal. It’s the best way to see a great deal of the national park’s varying terrain within a day.

After the trail notes for the Tarn Shelf Circuit, you’ll find a brief summary of the other possible routes you can take that will also lead you to the Tarn Shelf. 

Lake Dobson To Lake Seal Lookout

View over Lake Seal from the Tarn Shelf circuit hike in Mount Field National Park

Beginning on the banks of Lake Dobson, you’ll find a trail traversing between enormous pandani and brightly coloured snow gums as it gradually climbs the northeastern slopes of Mount Mawson.

In less than a kilometre, the skinny forest trail ends and is replaced with a 4wd track that winds its way steeply northwest towards a tiny village of private ski lodges. 

Yep, you read correctly…

Mount Field is one of the only two ‘ski resorts’ in Tasmania and you’ll find a smattering of lodges and t-bars throughout the alpine. The resort can be accessed by following the 4wd track left (southwest) at the fork in front of the ski lodges. 

Hiking up to the Tarn Shelf Lookout in Mt Field National Park

If you choose the right-hand trail at the fork instead, it will take you on a boulder scrambling journey to Lake Seal Lookout – where both trails connect again. As you’ll have plenty of opportunity to scramble over boulders further along the track, we recommend walking through the ski resort to see what the Tasmanian version is like… 

Once you reach Lake Seal Lookout by whichever trail you choose, you’ll be rewarded with the first uninterrupted view of the Broad River Valley below. Lake Seal dominates the scene, the deep blue water clinging to the forested feet of Mount Bridges. Platypus Tarn, miniature in comparison, can be spotted off to the right hidden in a ring of tall eucalypts.

Lake Seal Lookout To Tarn Shelf

Looking out over tarn shelf

After leaving Lake Seal Lookout, boardwalks will escort you across an open herb field where tiny streams and rivulets flow between spongy cushion plants and low-lying alpine shrubs. The easy trail allows time to gaze out at the deep valley as you walk, where Lake Seal continuously stays in view and you’ll even begin to catch glimpses of the Tarn Shelf ahead. 

In just under 4 km from Lake Dobson, you’ll come to another fork in the path and from this point, the Tarn Shelf is revealed in all its shimmering glory. Multiple tarns are tucked into the Rodway Range’s precipitous slopes, flanked by a crowd of gnarled king billy and pencil pines and the iconic deciduous Fagus.

In Autumn, the Fagus (deciduous beech trees) leaves turn a vibrant gold, yellow and orange, igniting the Tarn Shelf in a blaze of colour.

The forked path offers the option of descending to the Tarn Shelf on the right or walking over the Rodway Range and into the boulder field, affectionately named the ‘Lions Den’, on the left. 

Taking the right turn and beginning the descent to the Tarn Shelf, you’ll pass newly renovated ski shelters and the Tasmanian-styled t-bars stretching to the bony peaks of the Rodway Range. 

The trail takes on a more rugged style, with boardwalks replaced by stepping stones and muddy ruts carved into the alpine heath. As you reach the first of many tarns along the shelf, you’ll begin to notice how each of the glacial lakes has a unique colour and varying degrees of translucency. 

Tarn Shelf To Lake Newdegate

Lake Newdegate on a rainy day whilst hiking the Tarn Circuit

For 3 km, you’ll find yourself wandering across the Tarn Shelf, weaving through the tangle of thick vegetation to view each individual tarn and potentially braving a swim if the weather allows. 

While the distance isn’t great, the shelf can take longer than an hour to cross as each tarn demands your attention and a number of rocky hills allow for a higher vantage point. After a slightly steep and rocky descent, you’ll eventually reach the shores of Lake Newdegate. 

Lake Newdegate signals the end of the Tarn Shelf and found on its northern banks is a rustic day shelter partially hidden by a beautiful twisted pencil pine. We found this to be the perfect spot for lunch, especially if the weather isn’t in your favour! 

Lake Newdegate To Twilight Tarn

Twilight Tarn Hut on the Shelf Tarn Circuit hike in Tasmania

Another trail junction will meet you at the northern corner of Lake Newdegate. With the help of directional signs, you’ll have the choice of going northwest to access the Rodway Range and Mount Field West, or east to continue on the Tarn Shelf Circuit. 

Heading east from Lake Newdegate, the trail continues on a slightly rugged dirt track mixed with boardwalks. Before long, you’ll pass Twisted Tarn and begin a small descent through a eucalypt forest to Twilight Tarn.

After approximately 4 km, you’ll reach Twilight Tarn where an intriguing hut lies on the northwestern banks that was built-in 1926 by the Tasmanian Ski Club. 

Inside Twilight Tarn Hut along the Tarn Shelf Circuit hike in Mt Field
Inside Twilight Tarn Hut – Camping Prohibited

What was once a popular accommodation for the ski club, is now filled with old relics of their skiing days and only used for emergencies. You’ll find wooden skis, old food tins and many photos from the past. 

Note: You’re able to camp at Twilight Tarn, where there is a number of flat spots right beside the lake. There is also a drop toilet located behind the hut. 

Twilight Tarn To Lake Webster

Hiking to Lake Webster on the Tarn Shelf Circuit

Continuing east and moving deeper into the Broad River Valley, you’ll begin a steep descent of almost 200 m to Lake Webster on a trail composed of man-made stairs, boulders and roots.

The thick eucalypt forest engulfs the view and your attention will be turned to the unique flora found within the woodland. Echidnas and wallabies love this forest so keep an eye and ear out for any odd movements and sounds. 

Within 2 km, you’ll emerge from the forest into a boggy moorland that allows for sweeping vistas across the vast Broad River Valley in the north. A small bridge ahead crosses the Broad River which begins its journey from Lake Webster. 

Lake Webster To Lake Dobson

Hiking through the buttongrass fields on the Tarn Shelf Circuit hike

Boardwalks are suspended over the wet buttongrass fields flanking Lake Webster to assist in keeping your feet dry as you once again climb out of the Broad River Valley. The forest is considerably drier from this point on, almost seeming as if you’ve walked into a whole new landscape. 

Halfway through your climb to Lake Dobson, a boardwalk will appear on your right that will lead you to Lake Seal, the crescent-shaped lake that was visible from the Tarn Shelf which now sits almost 300 m above.

The trail to the water’s edge is just over 500 m return and worth the extra effort to see Tarn Shelf above the deep blue lake. 

Once you’re back on the main trail, you’ll continue climbing for another 1.5 km through the dry forest on a mixture of dirt and boardwalks until another fork in the path is reached.

Platypus Tarn is the last side trip on the Tarn Shelf Circuit and requires a lot more effort than Lake Seal. The walk down to the tarn consists of a steep and technical descent that’s annoyingly overgrown. Once reaching Platypus Tarn, you’ll find a dense forest overhanging the shore that makes it difficult to find a viewpoint. 

Whether you decided to add a little adventure to your circuit or not, the trail back to Lake Dobson continues south and before long, pops out onto a 4wd track that concludes the final kilometre of the Tarn Shelf Circuit. 

Other Possible Routes For The Tarn Shelf Walk

Walking the Tarn Shelf hike while completing the Rodway Range Circuit in Mt Field National Park

There are two other ways to visit the Tarn Shelf, which includes a return walk from Lake Dobson, or the more challenging loop that takes you over the Rodway Range and back through the Tarn Self. 

Tarn Shelf Return Walk

7.6 km return | 2 -3 hrs | 400 m elevation gain  | 1,270 m highest elevation | Grade 3

The out and back option for the Tarn Shelf walk will take you from Lake Dobson, past the ski lodges and up onto the Tarn Shelf where you can choose when to turn around and return the way you came. 

If you choose to do the return walk, you’ll have the opportunity to go through the Mount Mawson ski resort and cross the boulder field above the ski lodges. 

Rodway Range Circuit

15 km loop | 6 – 7 hrs | 712 m elevation gain | 1,377 m highest elevation | Grade 4

Turning point for Mt Field West and Rodway Range Circuit marked with sign posts

The Rodway Range Circuit takes it up a notch, with bigger boulder fields and steeper ascents and descents. However, the view of Mount Field West from the K Col track was our favourite section of the national park and worth the extra effort. 

The Rodway Range Circuit will start along the same route as the Tarn Shelf Circuit, however, when you come to the trail junction above the ski fields, you’ll turn left instead to start the Rodway Range track. 

You’ll end up descending to Lake Newdegate and then crossing the Tarn Shelf the opposite way and finally, descending back to Lake Dobson. 

If you’re up for a bigger challenge and have the time, we highly recommend doing the Rodway Range Circuit over the Tarn Shelf Circuit. 

Best Time To Complete The Tarn Shelf Circuit

The Tarn Shelf is an ever-changing landscape that will take your breath away each time you return. But due to its close proximity to Hobart, it can get quite crowded in summer. If you’re not averse to a little snow, then winter is our favourite time to visit but you will have far fewer daylight hours to complete the hikes. 

Result of thick low lying cloud cover for most of our recent visit

As with anything, there are always positives and negatives to each situation so below you can find a summary of the highlights for each season in order to make an informed decision.

  • Summer: Summer could allow for weather warm enough to swim in the many bodies of water available, and you’ll also have the longest amount of daylight
  • Autumn: Autumn offers a grand show of the Fagus trees changing from green to a blaze of gold and orange, which is a photographer’s heaven and can get quite crowded
  • Winter: Snow is extremely common through winter in Mount Field and while you may not be able to complete the whole hike, the mountains covered in snow are worth the attempt if you are comfortable hiking in the snow
  • Spring: Spring brings with it warmer weather and an abundance of wildflowers blooming across the alpine 

Leave No Trace

We are extremely lucky to have such pristine hiking conditions in Tasmania but in order to keep it that way, we need to do our part and ensure we leave no trace. 

Please follow the 7 Leave No Trace Principles whenever you’re out in nature (or anywhere for that matter) and pack out what you pack in, including food scraps and tissues. It’s up to us to protect our precious mother nature and luckily, it’s very easy to do so! 

What To Bring

The Tarn Shelf Circuit takes most of the day to complete and there is minimal service among the mountains. Plus, being an alpine region, you can expect the weather to change rapidly without any warning. Therefore, we recommend bringing a backpack of spare clothes, food and emergency equipment in order to be prepared for whatever the mountains throw at you. 

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 Mt Field, Tasmania

Mount Field is located just over an hour from Hobart and if you leave in the wee hours of the morning, you may be able to complete the Tarn Shelf walk in a day. But if getting up and driving at the crack of dawn doesn’t sound appealing, there are plenty of accommodation options closer to the national park.

Mount Field

Nearest To Mount Field


New Norfolk

Free Camping Near Tarn Shelf

There aren’t any legitimate free campgrounds near Mount Field unless you head into the alpine and remote camp. The main location where Tasmania Parks allow hikers to camp is Twilight Tarn on the grassy spots beside the lake.

If you’d rather camp closer to civilisation, you can stay at The National Park Hotel for free if you’ve got a self-contained campervan.