Tasmania is renowned for its dramatic scenery and native wildlife but no destination marries the two as strikingly as Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park – one of the last true wilderness regions on earth.
In the bracing fresh air of Tasmania‘s Central Highlands, you will find grazing wallabies and wombats on the many walking trails that can span from a few minutes to several days. When hiking Cradle Mountain, there are trails to suit every age, pace, and ability.
From snow-covered mountain peaks to moss-covered rainforests, deep gorges and wild waterfalls, this Tasmanian Wilderness Wild Heritage Area has something for every nature lover. The park is known for its diverse and breathtaking landscapes which change with the light.
In winter, discover deep snowdrifts. In autumn, spectacular displays of yellows, oranges and reds across the mountain slopes. In spring and summer take in the fragrance of the abundant wildflowers, and the youthful exuberance of young joeys and busy echidnas.
The vegetation is surprisingly diverse and includes grassland, rainforest and many ancient plants like the long-lived King Billy pine and the native deciduous beech.
You will need to be brave (or foolhardy) to take a winter dip in one of the crystal-clear lakes, but you’ll be totally invigorated if you do take the plunge.
Tasmania’s best hiking trails
Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park has a world-class system of walking tracks to explore that ranges from very short easy strolls to the challenging Overland Track.
Weindorfer’s Chalet is the rustic former home of regional pioneers Gustav and Kate Weindorfer and is the starting point for the world-famous Overland Track. Weindorfer was a botanist who hailed from Austria and settled in Tasmania after meeting local botanist Kate Cowle.
During a plant-finding expedition to Cradle Mountain in 1909, he fell in love with the monolith and the wilderness surrounding it. Returning to the mountain the following year he famously declared: “This must be a National Park for the people for all time. It is magnificent, and people must know about it and enjoy it.”
This five or six-day Overland Track hike stretches 80km from Cradle Mountain through to Lake St Clair in the south travelling through Tasmania’s rugged alpine heart. Walkers can camp, or sleep in huts along the track.
The jagged contours of Cradle Mountain stand in contrast to the icy stillness of Dove Lake – but beware. Wild weather and heavy clouds can descend suddenly at any time and in any season.
Where to start hiking Cradle Mountain
All journeys should start at The Cradle Mountain Visitors Centre, which is home to an interpretive display, ranger station, park information, walker registration and up-to-date weather reports.
There are many superb day walks from the centre and the Dove Lake car park, which lies 14km further on. A five-kilometre wooden boardwalk links a ranger station to Dove Lake, giving visitors an easy way to explore the park.
A free shuttle bus takes visitors into the park and if you choose to walk part of the way the shuttle will pick you up at various points along the road.
Dove Lake, at the foot of Cradle Mountain, is circled by a six-kilometre track that offers one of Tasmania’s best walks.
Where to stay in Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park
Local accommodation options range from the luxurious new King Billy Suites at iconic Cradle Mountain Lodge, to cute, rustic Waldheim Cabins, which actually sit five kilometres inside the park, and offer a rural experience with shared amenities.
Cradle Mountain Lodge, is a quintessentially rugged Tasmanian experience with plenty of life’s little luxuries thrown in. One of Tasmania’s star retreats underwent a facelift during the COVID-19 shutdown with a multimillion-dollar upgrade to its accommodation, dining, and spa facilities.
Choices here include deciding whether to attend a wine tasting accompanied by a range of gourmet local cheeses, or to venture outside on a guided night tour of the Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park to look for Tasmanian devils, quolls, platypus, echidna, wombats and black currawongs.
A spa treatment, perhaps, a choice of dramatically beautiful walks, a waterfall experience, or a helicopter ride over Dove Lake?
The five new King Billy Suites are a delight. These offer central fireplaces, outdoor spa baths and classy mini bars featuring a variety of items from high-end Tasmanian producers. Think heated towel rails, satellite TVs and serious rural luxury. There are also more affordable accommodation options.
The on-site Highland Restaurant has maintained its casual vibe while, at the same time, introducing a new menu focusing on local produce from wines to cheese and steaks. The Tavern Bar & Bistro has a new wood-fired pizza oven and open kitchen, along with an expanded deck offering space for 80 more patrons.
Other accommodation options include the Cradle Mountain Hotel – recently purchased by the NRMA and home to The Cradle Mountain Wilderness Gallery, a showcase of the works of Tasmanian and visiting artists, including an artist in residence.
Nearby, Cradle Mountain Highlanders offers secluded wilderness cabin accommodation. The family-run hotel offers self-contained cabins just a 5-minute walk from the Cradle Mountain Visitors Centre.
The towns of Sheffield, Burnie, Latrobe and Deloraine are all about an hour away from the visitors centre and offer a range of shopping and cultural activities.
More things to do nearby
Hiking Cradle Mountain isn’t the only way to get to the heart of the destination. You can visit a Tassie Devil wildlife sanctuary, see award-winning art galleries, or spend a snowy winter’s day sipping pinot noir by an open fireplace in a cosy lodge.
Particularly popular is The Devils @ Cradle Tasmanian devil sanctuary; a breeding and conservation facility for three of Tasmania’s unique threatened carnivorous marsupials; the Tasmanian devil, the Spotted-tail quoll, and Eastern quoll.
The facility is located on the edge of the Cradle Mountain National Park World Heritage area and conducts in-situ conservation programs for the Tasmanian devil including an on-site breeding program for insurance of the species. A visit to the sanctuary day or night will allow you to observe these extraordinary animals up close while one of the keepers will share an understanding of their life cycle and the threats that confront them.
The centre operates a successful captive breeding program, ensuring the ongoing survival of Tasmanian devils in healthy numbers in the wild.
There are also three wineries within an hour of Cradle Mountain: Ghost Rock Vineyard, Lake Barrington Estate and Barringwood Estate. These stunning cellar doors offer regular tasting sessions so visitors can sample the remarkable sparkling wines Tasmania is famous for.
If you have an afternoon to fill, taking a stroll on the Enchanted Walk behind Cradle Mountain Lodge is a delightful introduction to the park’s secrets. Twisted, and gnarled, ancient myrtles provide homes for countless wildlife, including wombats that have become used to humans.
Has this story inspired you to dust off your sneakers and hit the trails in Tasmania? Here are a few other enchanting places to visit during your stay.