The Cradle Mountain summit walk is no ordinary walk, and you don’t want to discover why during the hike. Our experience can help you plan accordingly. We visited Cradle Mountain in summer and chose a good day to make the ascent. Always check the weather forecast and consult with experts at the visitor centre who know the area before attempting the climb.
How hard is the Cradle Mountain walk?
Some find the walk so hard that they give up and turn back. For others, it’s no big deal. So, how hard is it? For most people, it’s one of the toughest hikes they’ll ever tackle. We didn’t find it extremely challenging, but it did take us longer than we expected. The following details will help you determine how hard the Cradle Mountain walk might be for you.
Cradle Mountain summit walk is exposed and challenging
If you’re not used to scrambling, using your hands, and balancing on rocks, you’ll find the Cradle Mountain walk very demanding. Those afraid of heights are likely to turn back before reaching the summit. The walk to the base of the mountain is manageable (Kitchen Hut), but after that, many people find it trickier than they anticipated.
I don’t enjoy heights, but I’ve learned to manage my phobia and gained experience in rock scrambling. I took my time ascending and descending Cradle Mountain, but I made it to the top without difficulty, with the support of my hiking buddy (especially as I have short legs and some steps were too high for me!). Ten years before, I had difficulty to reaching Marion’s Lookout because of my fear of heights, so the Cradle Mountain summit was out of the question.
If you struggled with Marion’s Lookout (or any other chained passages in the national park), you won’t enjoy the last part of the ascent to Cradle Mountain summit. It’s more challenging than the passages with chains we encountered at Marion’s Lookout and Face Track. A few areas are exposed with no chains and require you to use your hands to pull your body from one rock to another.
The Cradle Mountain summit walk can be exhausting
If you’re not trained for prolonged walking, you may feel exhausted. We are fortunate to frequently go on long hikes, yet we still experienced joint fatigue during the final few kilometres down. The Cradle Mountain summit walk isn’t just an ascent to the summit; you’ll need to hike for a while before reaching the summit track. With tired legs on the return trip, the trail becomes more challenging than it should be.
It can also be mentally exhausting. Poor weather can make the hike considerably more difficult. If you get nervous while scrambling, particularly if you’re not used to it, it will also make the hike more challenging.
We found Cradle Mountain summit walk more difficult than Mount Amos
Mount Amos is a granite mountain you can climb in Freycinet National Park to enjoy splendid views of Wineglass Bay. It’s a short 4-kilometre hike, but with very steep sections. As we’re used to scrambling and it wasn’t our first time ascending a granite rock, we didn’t find it particularly challenging. We returned to the car park in three hours, with a pleasant, long break at the top.
I find the Cradle Mountain summit walk much more difficult. It’s a longer hike, taking a full day and presenting more challenges. Even though we are used to hiking for long hours, our legs were exhausted at the end of the day. In comparison, we did a long hike just after Mount Amos. While Cradle Mountain may not feel like you’re climbing up the face of a rock, it still requires a lot of scrambling. To be honest, both hikes can be difficult for inexperienced hikers and those with a fear of heights.
How long is the Cradle Mountain summit walk?
The length of the Cradle Mountain summit walk depends on the track you choose to go up and down the mountain. All tracks merge into one summit track at the end, but the approach and descent can vary significantly. No matter which tracks you choose, the Cradle Mountain summit walk is a full-day walk. The weather and track conditions can impact the time it takes to reach the summit and come back. We took our time on the track to wait for the clouds to clear and completed the walk in 8.5 hours.
If you have only one day to explore Cradle Mountain National Park, you might consider doing a loop to experience different paths. Fortunately, we had several days to explore the park, so we decided to take the return walk from Ronny Creek via Marion’s Lookout. Although the gradient was gentler, the walk was quite lengthy (13km, 8.5 hrs).
Cradle Mountain summit map
There isn’t a specific map to follow to reach the Cradle Mountain summit. Multiple tracks converge at the mountain’s base before all walkers merge for the final ascent. Choosing a track is up to you, but it’s a good idea to confirm your chosen itinerary with the visitor centre staff as they can provide useful advice.
When hiking in mountainous areas, it is highly recommended to bring a detailed map with you. Unfortunately, the map provided at the Cradle Mountain visitor centre was not very detailed. But it ended up being enough as the tracks were clearly marked. Even when faced with rock scrambling and no obvious path, poles served as helpful guides to take the easiest route.
- Ronny Creek – Crater Lake – Marion’s Lookout – Kitchen Hut: We were advised to take this track as it has a slow gradient and is incredibly scenic. We decided to return the same way, and the gradual incline was already placing strain on our joints. It was lovely to end the day with the wombats at Ronny Creek.
- Face Track – Dove Lake Circuit: We descended Face Track when we hiked to Hansons Peak on another day and found it to be steeper than Marion’s Lookout. This track leads to the Dove Lake Circuit, which is one of the park’s most popular hikes and can become crowded during peak season.
- Horse Track: We originally planned to return via Horse Track to get a different view of Crater Lake. Unfortunately, we ran out of time waiting for the clouds to clear, and we didn’t want to take any risk and miss the last shuttle to the car park, so I cannot provide first-hand information about this track. We were informed that Horse Track is slightly more challenging than Face Track.
Is it worth doing the Cradle Mountain summit walk?
For some people, ticking the Cradle Mountain summit walk off their bucket list is motivation enough to tackle the challenge. However, personally, I prefer hiking for the views rather than the challenge, so my main objective is to enjoy the experience, not just reach the top.
In good weather conditions, I would say that the Cradle Mountain summit walk is definitely worth it, as the views from the top are truly stunning. Moreover, the summit itself is quite interesting, with fascinating rock formations.
However, when the summit is shrouded in clouds, it’s harder to say if it’s worth it. The Cradle Mountain summit walk is a challenging hike, and although the summit has unique rock formations, I wouldn’t have enjoyed this walk in cold and rainy weather.
Tips to enjoy your Cradle Mountain summit walk
Check the weather forecast
We were fortunate enough to be able to adjust our itinerary and reach Cradle Mountain earlier than planned to take advantage of the favourable weather forecast. As it rains on Cradle Mountain for about 300 days a year, you need to be lucky to find a perfect day. They recommend not to attempting the walk when windy, snowy or rainy weather is forecast.
Our summer day wasn’t perfect. We started in light rain with a freezing wind. The summit was in the cloud. I wanted to climb Cradle Mountain for the views, not the challenge. So I wondered a few times why I was heading towards a peak I couldn’t even see.
Following advice from the visitor centre, we selected that day as the risk of rain (and amount) was as low as it got during our stay in Tasmania. The weather forecast indicated that the risk of rain would be zero in the afternoon. Of course, that didn’t necessarily mean that the clouds would disappear, but we hoped they would. So we took our time, not wanting to reach the summit too early in case the sky cleared up later.
It appeared that many people attempting the summit hike hadn’t looked at the weather forecast in detail. They reached the peak in the clouds and left in the clouds. However, we made it up there later, and the clouds cleared up, giving us stunning views with blue sky at the summit and for the entire descent.
Bring the right equipment
To maximise your chances of reaching the top of Cradle Mountain, there are a few essential items you need to bring. Be sure to read and follow all the advice given by the staff at the visitor centre. The equipment you need will change a lot according to the season.
I believe hiking boots or trail shoes are necessary for hiking Cradle Mountain.
It makes the hike safer and more comfortable. I was surprised to see people attempting the climb without suitable footwear.
Multiple layers of clothing are necessary.
The weather on the mountain can change quickly, so wearing the same clothes all the way isn’t comfortable. I had several layers for different weather conditions and temperatures, and I used them all. That’s why I believe summer is the best season to visit Tasmania; I don’t even want to imagine the clothes I’d need to bring outside summer!
A wind-stopper jacket was essential most of the way, and gloves were very useful when scrambling over rocks.
Water and food
The Cradle Mountain summit hike is long and strenuous, so it’s important to maintain high energy levels to keep going. Kitchen Hut is an ideal place to take a break and offers shelter if the weather isn’t warm. As you ascend, comfortable spots to rest and eat become scarce.
Responsible travel tip: Ensure your water bottle is secure when you start climbing the summit. Unfortunately, we saw several bottles that fell and became trapped in the rocks.
Even if the sun isn’t shining as brightly as you’d like and you don’t feel hot, the UV rays can be intense on Cradle Mountain. It’s essential to protect your skin by regularly applying sunscreen and/or wearing protective clothing. That’s why I always hike wearing long sleeves and pants.
Have a plan B
If you doubt your ability to reach the Cradle Mountain summit, you can still have a look at the path and consider a plan B in case you choose to turn around. It’s fun to push yourself out of your comfort zone, but it’s wise to turn around before things get too difficult and potentially dangerous.
Do some research on other hikes you can do if you decide that the summit isn’t for you. For example, you may want to go back to Dove Lake via Hansons Peak. It’s not the same experience or view, but it will still provide a sense of achievement and beautiful scenery.
Inform people of your hiking plans
For added safety, it’s important to let someone know when you’re hiking and when you plan to return. In Cradle Mountain National Park, you can also fill out a logbook with your plans. Even during peak season, it’s wise to have a backup, especially if taking a less popular track to Cradle Mountain Summit Track.
Have you attempted the Cradle Mountain summit walk? Share your experience in the comments below!
Where is Cradle Mountain?
Cradle Mountain is located in the Central Highlands region of Tasmania and is part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. Most visitors go there by car, and it takes about 2.5 to 3 hours from either Hobart or Launceston (about 140 km). The national park is one of the most visited places in Tasmania.
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