05 Jun How to Plan the Perfect Trip to Cradle Mountain
Cradle Mountain carves out a dramatic entrance to the northern end of Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park. Its jagged ridges, dropping away into glacial lakes, form a unique backdrop for photographing and hiking Tasmania. Part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, Cradle Mountain’s remote position requires a little more planning to make for a safe and comfortable trip. After visiting the site from Launceston and spending a couple of days there I’ve come away with plenty of tips to make your stay an easy one…
QUICK FACTS ABOUT CRADLE MOUNTAIN
- Cradle Mountain marks the start of the Overland Track, a challenging yet spectacular 6-day walk to Lake St Clair.
- It makes up part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area which covers approximately 1/5 of the state.
- The mountain is characterised by its jagged peaks which are said to resemble a miner’s cradle.
- The U-shaped valley of Dover River is characteristic of glacial erosion which carved out the region.
Cradle Mountain is a 2.5 hour drive from Launceston in the state’s north. The trip from there is well signposted and takes you through the town of Sheffield, a good stop for supplies. The drive is slightly quicker if you’re travelling east from places like Strahan and Queenstown. We fueled up in Sheffield but there is also a petrol station at the Cradle Mountain Visitor centre if you get stuck. The roads are in good condition and wind spectacularly through the forest near Cethana. The trip can become slow if you’re traveling behind heavy vehicles on the single lane but it’s a good opportunity to take in the scenery.
*NOTE: Always be on the lookout for wildlife on the road in Tasmania. Kangaroos, wallabies, wombats and echidnas are often wandering close to the road, outside the high risk times of dawn and dusk.
The drive ahead.
Creeks trickle alongside the road.
There are several accommodation options in Cradle Mountain ranging from basic cabins to luxurious lodges. We stayed at Cradle Mountain Hotel for 2 nights which was comfortable and practical for organising our daily activities. The rooms were quite dated in their design but the new restaurant and lounge area certainly made up for it. We enjoyed afternoons by the fireplace in the lounge, with a view out to the bushlands and a wine in hand. I’d also love to experience the spa rooms at Peppers Cradle Mountain, perfect for soaking tired feet at the end of the day.
My Top 3 picks for accommodation are:
- Peppers Cradle Mountain Lodge (4 1/2-star): The most luxurious option in Cradle Mountain, Peppers is home to the Waldheim Alpine Spa. The lodge is the closest accommodation to the park entrance and offers a daily activity program for exploring the region.
- Cradle Mountain Hotel (4-star): As I’ve mentioned, an older style of room. Great lounge and restaurant for a cosy dinner. There is an art gallery and gift shop onsite which is a nice way to spend a quiet afternoon.
- Cradle Mountain Wilderness Village (4-star): More minimalistic and modern in their interiors, the wilderness village offers stand alone chalets amongst a rainforest setting.
Campervans are only allowed to park at the Visitor Centre which is over 2 kilometers from the National Park’s entrance. If you’re hiring a campervan purely for Cradle Mountain I would strongly suggest booking a hotel instead. Having to stay in a huge car park with lots of other campers is probably not what you had in mind with the freedom that a camper normally brings. We had a motorhome for driving the east coast of Tasmania but swapped it for a hire car in Launceston. I loved being able to pull up to picturesque locations each night and wake up to the perfect photo opportunity. Unfortunately you aren’t able to do this at Cradle Mountain so I’d skip the camper unless you are heading elsewhere afterwards.
TRANSPORT TO THE WALKING TRAILS
A shuttle bus runs from the Visitor Centre every 20 minutes from 8am-6pm (charges apply). It stops at the entrance before proceeding to all carparks leading to Dove Lake. If you want to drive your own car in, keep in mind that daily vehicle numbers are limited. To see if you can gain access, drive to the park entrance where a light on the boom gate will indicate whether you are able to enter. If it’s too busy you’ll have to park right there and jump on the bus as it comes through. To avoid refusal, enter before the first bus or at least before the numbers peak around lunch time. This is generally not an issue outside of the busy summer period.
Dove Lake Circuit.
You will need to purchase a National Parks Pass for each person or vehicle entering the park. The passes last for up to 24-hours or 2 months depending on your requirements. Fees for Cradle Mountain are currently $24 per vehicle and can be purchased online or at the Visitor Centre. If you have recently purchased a pass for another National Park in Tasmania you may be eligible for a discount so bring that along. A Cradle Mountain Day Pass is also available for 24-hour access and combines a shuttle bus fee for unlimited stops.
WALKING TRAILS AND ACTIVITIES
Cradle Valley Boardwalk starts at the park entrance and runs all the way to Ronny Creek car park (5.5 kms). The route is quite flat but certainly long so consider how much time you have set aside. Smaller circuits start and end at the park entrance which will take you past falls, pools and rainforest in under an hour. We drove straight to Dove Lake on our first day as we arrived in the late afternoon.
Dove Lake Circuit is easily accessed by the shuttle bus and nearby car park. The walk takes 2 hours in total and takes you past the famous Dove Lake boatshed (pictured). If you want to make a beeline for the boatshed head right from the car park and you’ll be there within 10 minutes. You can organise to kayak around Dove Lake either through your hotel or a tour company which I’d recommend during warmer weather. Some of them are even powered by foot pedals, leaving your hands free for photos.
Native flowers grow close to the shoreline.
Another great (and more challenging) walk is the Ronny Creek to Crater Lake trail. Ronny Creek car park is the first one you come to in the national park and also provides an alternate route to Dove Lake. Having already seen the boatshed we followed the trail to Crater Lake instead. This lake sits higher than its neighbour and provides sweeping views over the surrounding ridges and pools. The walk begins with a flat path through wombat territory where the furry animals munch on long grass unperturbed by passersby. It then winds up through a steeper section, leading you through lush rainforest. The highlight for me was Crater Falls at the top of this section which were more tropical than I expected from country Tasmania.
The track then reveals Crater Lake in front of your, dwarfed by the sheer 200 meter cliffs that surround it. The path becomes steeper here, running along the crater’s outer ridge and opening up on its eastern face. From here you can see up to the peak of the crater and down to the lakes below. At this point you have the option of heading up to the very steep Marions Lookout, for experienced climbers only. Alternatively you can descend towards Wombat Pool like we did, stopping by Lila Lake before returning to the starting point. The whole circuit takes roughly 3 hours and in my opinion gives you the best overview of the National Park without embarking on a multi-day trek.
Dove Lake boat shed.
MEALS + SUPERMARKETS
Restaurants in Cradle Mountain are limited to those inside the hotels and lodges. The restaurant at Cradle Mountain Hotel was delicious but a little pricy if you were to dine there every night. Most restaurants feature local produce and native ingredients so expect to pay for top quality meals. One thing to note is that restaurants tend to close early if you’re visiting during a quiet period. We booked a table both nights to make sure we didn’t miss out but had to rush back to the hotel in time to eat dinner. If you like to eat late I’d recommend keeping a few basic snacks in your hotel fridge just incase.
Our hotel offered picnic hampers to take on a walk which was great seeing as though grocery shops are limited. The cool climate means you don’t have to worry too much about your lunch getting warm during a hike too. We added some extras to ours, picking up cheese, crackers and beer from the store at Cradle Mountain Lodge. There is also a kiosk at Discovery Parks Cradle Mountain but they do not let you take alcohol off site unless you are staying there as a guest. Being a remote location, the prices for food and wine are quite inflated. I would bring some drinks and snacks from Launceston or nearby Sheffield next time.
Warm clothes are a must all year round at Cradle Mountain. Even when the sun’s out, the air coming off the mountains can be icey. The visitor center and hotel gift shops offer winter clothing like beanies, gloves, thermals and jackets. Just keep in mind that they are expensive and limited in colour and style. We visited in February and my layering suitcase was enough to keep me warm. If I was traveling in the cooler months I would add thermals, my snow boots and a wet-weather jacket.
The calm, pebbled shore of Dove Lake.
Our 2-night stay in Cradle Mountain was certainly enough to explore the lakes and surrounding rainforest. Ideally we would’ve arrived a bit earlier on the first day to relax before heading out for sunset. If you’d like to spend some time in the spa or even taking a scenic flight I would certainly add an extra night.
Being the furthest hotspot from Tassie’s major cities I hope this guide has provided clarity on just how achievable a trip to Cradle Mountain is. With a little preparation you can enjoy all the luxuries of a holiday in the rugged landscape unique to this location. I’ve made up the infographic below for anyone who wants a quick guide that they can access from their camera roll at any time. I find it handy to have images like these when you’re in a wifi dead spot and want to refresh your memory on what to see and do.