Aoraki Mount Cook Day Hikes That You Cannot Miss!
Aoraki Mount Cook National Park on the South Island of New Zealand is one of the most beautiful national parks in New Zealand and Mount Cook itself is THE TALLEST MOUNTAIN in New Zealand! It goes without saying that Mount Cook is one of the best places to visit in New Zealand.
It is insanely picturesque with huge towering mountains, glaciers and rivers. Before we visited, I don’t think we quite understood just how much of an alpine wilderness it was. The photo opportunities in Mount Cook are endless!
Now that we have lived in Canada and done a lot of backcountry camping and hiking here, looking back on Mount Cook National Park, I can say that it is very similar. Being in New Zealand, you can enjoy Mount Cook without the added fear of bears or other huge, wild animals.
Along with Roy’s Peak in Wanaka, Mount Cook National Park has lots of some of the best day hikes on the South Island that you can do while you are there. We had time for a couple of hikes while we were there but are keen to go back to do some more!
This guide will list the very best hikes in Aoraki Mount Cook National Park, along with a description of each trail, the stats and where to find the trailhead. I will also include some accommodation options at the bottom of this guide.
📍 Where is Aoraki Mount Cook National Park Located
Mount Cook in located on New Zealand’s South Island, about a 3 hour 20 minute drive from Queenstown and a 4 hour 15 minute drive from Christchurch.
Click here to open the map in Google Maps!
🚗 How to get there by Car
Driving to Mount Cook is an experience in itself because the views are absolutely stunning, especially when you reach Lake Pukaki. I found myself wanting to pull over for photos WAY too often.
From Queenstown: To get to Mount Cook from Queenstown, you will need to take State Hwy 6 to State Hwy 8. Then, at Lake Pukaki, you will need to take the exit onto State Hwy 80. This road takes you the rest of the way to Mount Cook Village.
From Christchurch: To get to Mount Cook from Christchurch, you will need to take State Hwy 76 to State Hwy 1. Once you reach Rangitata, you will need to turn onto State Hwy 79 and follow it to Mount Cook Road/State Hwy 8 in Fairlie.
Turn right onto Mount Cook Rd/State Hwy 8 (signs for Lake Tekapo/Aoraki / Mount Cook/Aoraki). At Lake Pukaki, you will need to take the exit onto State Hwy 80. This road takes you the rest of the way to Mount Cook Village.
If you don’t have a car and are looking to join a tour to see Mount Cook, check out the bottom of this guide for tours that I recommend.
🙋♀️ Is Mount Cook Worth Visiting
Mount Cook was one of our favourite places that we visited during our 8 day New Zealand Road Trip and it is somewhere that I would go back to again. It’s beauty absolutely blew us away and so yes, Mount Cook National Park is 1000% worth it!
Mount Cook National Park also has the best stars because there is very little light pollution. We had a lot of fun taking astro photos when we were there.
However, if you aren’t into beautiful, huge mountains, glaciers and a bit of hiking, then maybe Mount Cook is not for you.
If you are already looking at visiting the famous Lake Tekapo, you should definitely add Mount Cook to your itinerary as it is only an hours drive away.
📆 When is the Best Time to Visit Mount Cook
We visited Mount Cook National Park in April and it was COLD! You can visit Mount Cook all year-round, however if you go in Winter, your hiking options are limited. The best time for hiking in Mount Cook is anytime outside of Winter.
🐶 Are Dogs Allowed in Mount Cook National Park
Dogs are not allowed in Mount Cook National Park or in the village or campground.
ℹ What is in Mount Cook Village
Mount Cook Village is a small village has accommodation and food options. The only reason we went into the village was to use the pay showers and to get some yummy food inside a warm restaurant because it was so cold outside.
🥾 Best Day Hikes in Aoraki Mount Cook National Park
Here are 7 of the best hikes in Mount Cook National Park. These hikes range from super easy to very difficulty so there is a hike for everyone! A lot of these hikes are actually short and easy so perfect for someone who is new to hiking.
All of the hikes in this list are stunning and have plenty of photo opportunities.
Hooker Valley Track
Distance: 10km / 6.2 miles | Elevation Gain: 100m / 328 ft | Time: 2-3 hours
The Hooker Valley Track is the most popular day hike in Mount Cook National Park and for good reason. It is fairly easy with insane views the entire way!
Unfortunately, when we were there, the trail was closed from the first bridge due to flooding but we were still able to hike up to the bridge and even this tiny section of the trail was so gorgeous!
The trailhead is located right next to White Horse Hill campground/carpark (at the end of Hooker Valley Rd off State Highway 80). The trail is pretty flat the entire way and very well maintained.
The track takes you along the Hooker River and ends at a glacial lake called Hooker Lake. Along the way you will cross 3 suspension bridges and find yourself stopping constantly for photos.
Tasman Glacier Lookout
Distance: 1km / 0.62 miles | Elevation Gain: 100m / 328 ft | Time: 45 minutes
The Tasman Glacier Lookout Track starts at the Tasman Lake Carpark (aka Blue Lakes Carpark) and it is a super easy short walk from the carpark to the viewpoint. The trail is wide and well maintained and should only take about 15-20 minutes to reach the viewpoint, if that.
From the viewpoint, you can see the enormous Tasman Glacier and Tasman Lake which is a stunning milky turquoise lake.
Tasman Lake Track
Distance: 2.6km / 1.6 miles | Elevation Gain: Nil | Time: 1 hour
To get to Tasman Lake, you will need to park in the same carpark as the Glacier Lookout – the Tasman Lake Carpark. You will start on the same trail, but about 200m in, you will come to a fork. Here you will need to take a right, towards Tasman Jetty and Tasman River (Tasman Lake Track).
The track will take you down to the jetty, where you can hire a kayak and paddle amongst the incredible icebergs on the lake!
When we were there, we did both the Glacier Lookout and the lake in the same hike because they are both so short. You could also add on Blue Lakes Loop (detailed below) to make your hike longer as this also starts at the same trailhead and uses some of the same trail.
Distance: 4.5km / 2.8 miles | Elevation Gain: 520m / 1,706 ft | Time: 2-3 hours
The trailhead for the Sealy Tarns Track is located at the Whitehorse Hill campground. This is a steep hike consisting of mainly stairs, but you know what that means? EPIC VIEWS!
The views are also a great excuse to stop to catch your breath on the way up because they are incredible the entire way! From the top, you get the most incredible view overlooking Hooker Lake and out onto Mount Cook.
Distance: 8.5km / 5.3 miles | Elevation Gain: 1,050 / 3,444 ft | Time: 6-8 hours
Mueller Hut is one of the hardest hikes on this list. It is also one of the most popular backpacking trips in New Zealand but can also be done as a day hike. We were not into backpacking back when we were in New Zealand, but now Dave and I are dying to camp at Mueller Hut because the views look incredible!
The trailhead for Mueller Hut is located in the same place as the Hooker Valley Trail and Sealy Tarns – next to White Horse Hill campground/carpark (at the end of Hooker Valley Rd off State Highway 80).
The first section of the hike actually takes you to Sealy Tarns first, so if you do Mueller Hut you will be knocking out 2 hikes in one go!
The hike to Mueller Hut is a grind. It is steep and technical in some places, including having to cross a boulder field but the views make it worth it. Of course, if you don’t feel ready for a challenging hike like this one, there are plenty of other easier options with incredible views.
Distance: 2.8km / 1.7 miles | Elevation Gain: 200m / 656 ft | Time: 1 hour
The Kea Point Track is a great option for an easy hike with beautiful views in Mount Cook National Park. It is a great alternative to doing the Hooker Valley Track if you are short on time or just don’t want to hike the 10km.
The trail starts from the same place as the Hooker Valley Trail and Sealy Tarns – next to White Horse Hill campground/carpark (at the end of Hooker Valley Rd off State Highway 80).
The trail takes you up to a viewpoint overlooking Mueller Lake and Mount Cook. Mueller Lake is another gorgeous turquoise alpine lake.
Red Tarns Hike
Distance: 4.6km / 2.8 miles | Elevation Gain: 370m / 1,213 ft | Time: 2 hours
The Red Tarns Track is an short uphill hike for some absolutely incredible views of the surrounding mountains. You will hike to Lake Matheson, which, on a calm day, produces the most insane reflections of the mountains in its water.
The trail starts in Mount Cook Village. You will need to take the wide gravel path until you reach a wooden bridge over the Black Birch Stream. You will see the trail leading uphill on the other side of the bridge.
🛌 Where to Stay in Mount Cook New Zealand
There is one campground located in Mount Cook Village calling White Horse Hill Campground. It is open year-round except from 1 June – 31 August during the Winter months.
Historically, this campsite was first-come-first-serve only, however now you can book online. The cost per night ranges from NZD15-18 per adult per night, depending on the time of year.
The campground has 60 non-powered sites, a cooking shelter, toilets and drinking water.
There aren’t all that many accommodation options in Mount Cook itself. When looking for accommodation, make sure that you are looking in Mount Cook village itself, otherwise the next closest town is an hour or so away.
Haka House Aoraki Mt Cook – Located in Mount Cook Village, the Haka House is a hostel with a choice of dorm rooms and private rooms. There is a kitchen so you can cook all your own food if you prefer (I know all about needing to save those travel $$$) and self-service laundry facilities.
Aoraki Court Motel – The mountain views surrounding this motel are INSANE. Each room as a patio with mountain views as well! Don’t let the word “motel” deter you from this beautiful alpine hotel!
Aoraki Mount Cook Alpine Lodge – The Alpine Lodge has a self-catering kitchen and BBQ facilities along with a communal dining area and a lounge and deck area with amazing views.
🚗 Are there any Tours that Go to Mount Cook?
If you are more into the tour group life, you are in luck! There are a few great tours that go to Mount Cook from Queenstown and Christchurch and some super fun tours such as helicopter tours or skydiving that start in Mount Cook.
From Queenstown: Mount Cook and Hooker Valley Day Trip
This is the perfect day tour from Queenstown to see Mount Cook and Lake Pukaki AND do the best hike in Mount Cook National Park, the Hooker Valley Track. If you are short on time but want to see more than just Queenstown, I recommend this tour.
From Christchurch: Mount Cook & Lake Tekapo Day Tour
This tour goes from Christchurch and takes you to not only Mount Cook, but Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki. Once you reach Mount Cook, you will do a short 1.5 hour hike to see some of the incredible views that the park has to offer.
I actually can’t believe how much you get out of this one day tour. I think it’s really worth it if you are staying in Christchurch and want to see some of New Zealand’s beautiful alpine lakes and mountains.
Planning a trip to New Zealand? You might also enjoy these guides!
- How to Hike Roys Peak at Sunrise and Sunset
- New Zealand South Island 8 Day Campervan Trip
- Reasons Lake Tekapo is Worth Visiting
- Best Wine Tours From Christchurch NZ
- How to Spend One Adventurous Day in Queenstown
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