The Cradle Mountain summit trail is a long, physically demanding hike. Which should only be completed by people with hiking experience. The hike through the national park to the summit trail can be completed in a variation of ways (more on that below), this part of the trail has some steep sections and great viewpoints.
The hike up to Cradle Mountain from the Kitchen Hut is all rock scrambling on large boulders and is very steep. I wouldn’t recommend attempting this trail unless you have some flexibility and can pull yourself up to a decent height.
The views from the summit of Cradle Mountain are well worth the effort! These aren’t some of the best views I’ve had at other summits, but if you love hiking regardless, this hike is well worth doing.
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A few things about Cradle Mountain National Park
To access the Cradle Mountain National Park, you will need to purchase a park pass. I purchased a holiday vehicle park pass, which lasts for 3 months and will cost you $82.40 AUD. This pass can be used at other national parks in Tasmania and includes shuttle buses into Cradle Mountain national park.
The best way to access the national park is via the shuttle bus service. These shuttle buses leave every 15mins from the visitor centre and other stops in the national park. They run from the visitor centre to Dove Lake. The shuttle buses run from 8am-6pm October to March and 9am-5pm April to September.
Driving into the national park
At this current time, you can only drive and park at Ronny Creek carpark. You are only allowed to do this when the shuttle buses aren’t running. So, you can drive into the national park before 8am, but after 8am you will not be allowed to take your private vehicle into the park. The roads are narrow, with blind corners – so this is to stop accidents with the shuttle buses.
What if I’ve driven in before 8am but need to drive out after? You are allowed to drive out after 8am, but you will need to follow a shuttle bus out, not drive out by yourself. Wait at the carpark till a shuttle bus comes, give the driver a wave to let them know you are following and follow the shuttle bus out. Make sure you pull over when the shuttle bus does, as they will be allowing other shuttle buses to pass.
How long is the hike?
The Cradle Mountain summit track is around 12.8km or an 8-hour return, depending on which route you take. There are several different routes you can take to make it to the beginning of the summit trail, its best to ask at the visitor centre which one they think is best.
Which route did I take?
I decided to take the route which starts and ends at Ronny Creek carpark. This meant I was able to drive into the national park before the shuttle buses were running, and before the crowds. This is the best option if you wish to start the trail early.
START – Ronny Creek carpark -> Crater Lake-> Marions Lookout -> Kitchen Hut -> Cradle Mountain summit -> Horse Track -> Ronny Creek – FINISH.
This whole route took me about 5hrs to complete. Another option is to hike up and back via the Horse track, from Ronny Creek. However, you won’t get the impressive views from Marions lookout or Crater Lake. The other benefit of hiking this route is you can tick of other viewpoints and hike past some beautiful waterfalls all in one day.
I was also advised not to hike up via the Horse track as there is a section which is just steps and quite steep.
Another route option is:
START – Dove Lake carpark -> wombat pool -> Marion Lookout -> Kitchen Hut -> Cradle Mountain summit -> Lake wilks -> Dove Lake Carpark – FINISH
When to go?
The best time to visit Cradle Mountain National Park is between December and March. The weather is pleasant, with the least amount of rainfall. The average temperature during this time is about 18 degrees Celsius.
Although you can visit the national park in winter, it is not recommended to complete the summit trail during this time. Snow is common in this national park in Tasmania, which makes hiking to the summit extremely dangerous.
- Leave early morning to avoid crowds – Park at Ronny creek and follow a shuttle bus out.
- Expect a long day with limited shelter – hat, sunscreen, glasses are recommended.
- Read the trail description before attempting this hike.
- Bring plenty of water and food, there is no water currently available in the national park.
- Look at the weather forecast before attempting this hike. If there is cloud cover or rain in the area, you will not get any views from the summit.
- If you are driving in at dusk or dawn, make sure to look out for Australian wildlife.
What to Expect
I started the Cradle Mountain summit trail at 7am from the Ronny Creek carpark. The track from the Ronny Creek carpark to the first trail markers is very easy. It consists of all boardwalks and here is where you are most likely to see heaps of wombats roaming! Once I reached the first trail marker with multiple signs/routes, the trail got a little steep with some steps. This first section will have you passing small creeks and through Australian native bushland.
You will soon come across a few small waterfalls leading to Crater Lake. This is why I loved this route as you don’t get to see these on the other routes. The scenery changes during this part of the track and you are surrounded by dense forest.
Soon after this section you will reach Crater Lake and the (other) boat shed. This is not the famous boat shed which is located at Dove Lake. Crater Lake on a sunny day is this vibrant rich blue colour. And the surrounding cliffs are truly spectacular. This section is flat with a few steps, starting the ascend to Marion’s Lookout.
The trail to Marion’s Lookout is step and requires some rock scrambling. There is a chain to help you get up this area, as it does have some big step ups. Most of this section only has room for one way traffic, so I am happy I did this route early in the morning before other travellers were in the park. The view at Marion’s Lookout is gorgeous. Giving panoramic views over Dove Lake and towards Cradle Mountain.
The path from Marion’s Lookout to Kitchen Hut is one of the flatter sections of this hike. I found it quite beautiful, as you are in constant views of Cradle Mountain. There are also some lovely little tarns scattered on the landscape. I had a freak out moment here as Cradle Mountain was covered in clouds! I was lucky the clouds cleared a moment later.
After about 15-20mins of walking you will reach the Kitchen Hut. This is not a hut you can stay at but is more used for emergencies. The hut is fun to explore and would be a great place to stop and have lunch on your way back. It also makes for some great pictures! There is a bathroom located behind the kitchen hut, so if you need to use the facilities now is the time.
The summit trail
This is where the trail to the Cradle Mountain summit starts. From looking at the trail you can already tell how steep this part is going to be. Before reaching the boulders, you have anywhere between 15-30mins of walking on an incline – depending on your fitness level. You will then reach a sign which indicators its all-rock scrambling from there.
The rock scrambling section, although requires some skill, was not overly difficult for me. The boulders are huge, so it’s easy to manoeuvre your way up the mountain. You will be following the pole markers for this section. This is the landscape till you reach the summit. It took me about 20mins to complete this section.
*There is a section which requires you to go down, then up again – don’t quit here! I walked past a few people who turned around here, but this is about 10mins from the summit *
Once at the summit you will have 360 views of the surrounding landscapes. I do recommend having a bit of a wonder around here as there are some beautiful viewpoints of the surrounding mountains! I had the whole summit to myself for about an hour, before passing people coming up.
Once you decided to descend, be careful as you descend the way you came. Sometimes climbing up boulders is a lot easier than climbing down. After a quick bathroom break at the Kitchen Hut, I then followed the Horse track back. This was at about 9am, the park was full of people at this time. The Horse track is easy walking, with a few descends downstairs. Make sure to stop off at the Crater Lake viewpoint – it’s more impressive than Marion’s lookout in my opinion!
You will then make your way back to your car or wait for a shuttle bus to leave the national park.
Where to stay?
The only place to stay inside the National Park is at the Waldheim Cabins. Which can host 4-8 people and cost between $95-$185 AUD per night. These cabins are mainly used by hikers who are starting or finishing the Overland Track. They are very basic but would make for a great one- or two-night stay!
A great budget option is Discovery Park Cradle Mountain. This is where I stayed for my 3 nights in the Cradle Mountain Area. They have a range of options from cabins, camping, backpacker dorms and chalets. The price is quite high compared to other holiday parks, but as there is limited options in this area, this is expected.
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