11 of the best hikes at Cradle Mountain Lake St Claire National Park
11 of the best hikes at Cradle Mountain Lake St Claire National Park
Cradle Mountain Lake St Claire National Park is without a doubt the most photographed of all the national parks in Tasmania and possibly the most celebrated. More importantly, the magnificent scenery together with the iconic mountains and lakes make for unparalleled walking. It is also home to the well-known Overland Track, which is only a small portion of the overall walking track network in this massive park.
52% of Tasmania is wilderness. Much of it is locked up and totally inaccessible. Even the parts that have tracks or so-called tracks are heavy going and involve carrying 25kgs on your back. In Cradle Mountain Lake St Claire National Park, the story is similar, but there is access to a few of the iconic locations like Dove Lake and Lake St Claire. Beyond that, access is limited, but if you’re prepared to don your walking shoes, you’re in luck. The restricted access is not so limited once you start walking and all the hassle of the first world is left in your wake as you walk into instant serenity.
The obsession with Cradle Mountain, not unlike the 12 Apostles and Uluru is almost diagnosable. There is so much more here than just the Mountain. There are forests, running streams, waterfalls and of course the lakes. Lake St Claire Australia’s deepest lake is the pick of them. This is truly an adventure destination with tonnes of trails to chose catering for all levels of ability. There are hikes for the thrill-seekers to those people just wanting a proverbial walk in the park
The rolling green mountains are itching to be hiked. If you are up for it here are some of our favourite walks (In our opinion the best time to walk is November to April)
- The summit Cradle Mountain: This walk is near impossible unless you are super fit and prepared for a challenge. The last part of the hike is over loose shale and is very steep and slippery. It is the sort of thing you do in your 20’s before the concept of risk and return make any sense. The views are breathtaking unless covered in clouds. This is a common occurrence. 14 km / 5 to 7 hrs depending on your agility
- Overland Track: The foot of Cradle Mountain marks the start of the Overland Track, a 5 day 78kms walk that takes you from Cradle Mountain to Lake St Claire. These are the two major highlights on this track respectively. It is also the most popular multi-day hike in Australia with over 8000 people walking it a year. Now that’s super busy by Australian standards. 78km /- 5 days
- Kilvert Hut: There are several other options for walkers wishing to do overnight walks in the Cradle area. One of the walks is a superb circuit of Cradle Mountain via Lake Rodway (staying in the Scott-Kilvert Hut) and to Barn Bluff, Waterfall Valley and Twisted Lakes. Incredible Alpine scenery, with vast butter grass plains and ancient rainforests. By the way Scott-Kilvert Hut is named after a 13-year-old student and his teacher who perished in near blizzard like conditions in May 1965. So please stick to the walking season (November to April). 17km 2 days
- The Face Track: This walk starts from either the car park at Dove Lake or Ronnie Creek. This walk is a must-do if you are prepared to take on a moderate to challenging walk. The track makes its way via the beginning of Overland Track, but then veers off at Kitchen Hut. It is an epic hike with striking views virtually the whole way back down over the valley and Dove Lake. 12 km / 5 -7 hrs
- Dove Lake: This is the classic walk at Cradle and no doubt the most popular in the park. A walk around a lake is always very pleasant but the added bonus of Cradle Mountain in the frame makes it all that more spectacular. It is also a walk through time as the glacier Rock bears testimony to the Ice Ages that shaped this landscape over the last 3.6 million years. On the surface of the rocks, you can see clearly the striations that run parallel to the length of Dove Lake as you walk. 4 km / 1.5 hrs.
- Waldheims: (“Home-in-the-Forest”) is the restored cottage built originally by Gustav Weindorfer and his wife Kate, in the early 1900’s. The Weindorfers were the first settlers at Cradle Mountain who pioneered tourism in the area. They campaigned for many years to have this area protected as a National Park. The Weindorfers Forest Walk is well worthwhile as you experience the history firsthand in concert with the natural beauty of the park. 2.2km / 1 hr
- Ronnies Creek to the Ranger Station: A boardwalk and a great opportunity to experience the diversity of the area, to view the mountains and to see wombats in their natural habitat. 5.5km / 1.5 hrs
- King Billy Track and Enchanted Walk: These walks are mostly boardwalks but even though they are pretty tame they’re both worth exploring. The Enchanted forest is as it sounds a magical wonderland of lichen, moss and rainforest. The King Billy track takes you through some of the oldest trees in Tasmania. 2km / 1hr
- Indigenous Cultural Walk trail: The Larmairremener are the local people and are a band of a larger group known as the Big River people. There’s excellent interpretive signage and a pleasant walk at dawn or dusk. It is a lovely way to explore and find out more about what it was like before European settlement. For a bit extra why not walk the adjacent Watersmeet and Platypus Tracks at the same time. 5kms /1.5hrs
- Mount Rufus: Another epic hike with great views. This walk has the added bonus of having great diversity, moorland, heath, rainforest and a windblown sculpted sandstone summit, the penultimate payoff on this walk for all the effort. If you are not keen to go all the way to the top why not turn off the track and walk the Shadow Lake circuit. This beautiful lake is rewarded enough. If you are reasonably fit you can do both at the same time. 21kms / 5.5hrs to 7 hrs
- Narcissus Bay to Cynthia Bay Lake St Claire. Access to this walk and the park is quite unique and involves an informative and entertaining boat ride out to Narcissus Bay on Lake St Claire. This astounding walk back along the lake back to the boat terminus at Cynthia Bay is one of the parks finest 18kms / 6hrs
It really doesn’t matter if you are a nature lover, a bird watcher, a photographer, embrace wellbeing and happiness, or fitness and learning this place has it all on offer. Spend your day walking through ancient rainforests, in a world of lichens and mosses, a surreal landscape of mountains and lakes reminiscent of Tolkien’s middle earth, with delight and intrigue waiting at every turn. At night if you choose you can delight in different manner, namely in first-world comfort. Why suffer when you do not have to. There is the option to stay and dine in excellent accommodation virtually in the park. Epic walking and epic comfort, this is as good as it gets.
Lake St Clair is Australia’s deepest lake (approx. max depth 167 m). At least three major ice ages have played a part in carving out the valley that contains the lake, damming its waters with extensive glacial moraines (piles of rock and debris gouged out by the action of glaciers). The local aboriginal people know this lake as Leeawuleena (‘sleeping water’).
A little bit of history if you are interested
Cradle Mountain Lake St Clair National Park is a huge slice of what is known as the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. The area covers a sizable portion of the South West and Central Highlands of the state. The Larmairremener are the local indigenous people from the bigger group known as the Big River people and this is their land that we are currently on.
At Cradle Mountain, Glacier Rock bears testimony to the Ice Ages that shaped this landscape over the last 3.6 million years. If you look closely at the surface of Glacier Rock, what you will see is striations that run parallel to the length of Dove Lake. These resulted from the friction between the rocky debris within a massive glacier that moved down from the slopes of Cradle Mountain and the Rock. The debris also gouged out the basin that would later contain the waters of Lake Dove. As the glacier moved across Glacier Rock’s hard quartzite, the debris left behind these scratches! There are numerous other glacial features in the park, including Lake Wilks, a hanging lake or cirque, on the high plateau area under the peaks of Cradle Mountain.
The Dove Lake boatshed or boathouse was constructed by Lionel Connell around 1940 using the local King Billy pine trees. Connell was the first ranger to be stationed at Cradle Mountain National Park. Lionel Connell’s offspring took up the mantle of being the areas first tourism operators in the 1930’s after the Weindorfers, who were the first European caretakers of this area, passed on.
The Dove Lake boatshed remains substantially unaltered from what was the original shed, however, there has been some restoration work in the early 80’s. The boatshed is not in operation now, but back in before the early 1960’s boating was extremely popular on the lake. Indeed, during the 1920s Gustav Weindorfer used a considerably basic and somewhat unsafe raft consisting of two pine logs nailed together with several narrow cross boards (‘a paling deck’) to navigate the lake. A more substantial punt to ferry passengers around was constructed sometime soon after. In 1938, the Cradle Mountain Reserve Board bought three Huon Pine boats for this purpose and they remained in service for tourists until the 1960s. The Lake Dove boatshed was built to house these boats as was the smaller boatshed at Crater Lake.
Standing at the Lookout, you can view Dove Lake and Lake Lilla below. Ahead is the magnificent Cradle Mountain which consists of largely columnar dolerite rock. The highest peak at the right is the main summit at 1545 m. The lower peak on the left of the ridge is called Weindorfers Tower. The smaller peak that forms the very end of the “cradle” to the far left is Little Horn (1355 m). Marion’s Lookout got its name from Gustav Weindorfer who named the lookout after his sister-in-law who lived with her husband, Daniel Cowle, in the nearby town of Kindred.
Have fun on your hike.