No trip to Tasmania is complete without a visit to Cradle Mountain, even if it means packing a suitcase full of winter woollies for a summer vacation. Part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area and Cradle Mountain-Lake St. Clair National Park, Cradle Mountain is a magical world of mossy rainforests, spongy alpine grasslands, glacial lakes and jagged mountain peaks.
It is the most iconic natural attraction in Tasmania, rivalled only by Freycinet National Park and Bruny Island in terms of stunning landscapes and wildlife spotting opportunities. So if you are planning a trip to Tasmania and enjoy exploring epic nature, make sure to include a couple of days for a visit to Cradle Mountain.
And there are so many things to do in Cradle Mountain from gorgeous walks to adorable wildlife to atmospheric lodges that you will probably start planning your return trip before you leave.
How many days do you need at Cradle Mountain?
Most people spend two days and two nights at Cradle Mountain and this is the perfect amount of time to explore all the highlights of the area. But if you have a chance to stay longer, you’ll never be short of things to do at Cradle Mountain. You could take some of the more adventurous hikes, indulge in a day spa (if you stay at Peppers Lodge) surrounded by the magical mossy rainforest, or join canyoning or a horse riding tour.
When is the best time to visit Cradle Mountain?
Cradle Mountain is a year-round destination with every season bringing out something special. You just need to be prepared for all four seasons whenever you visit. Cradle Mountain is an alpine environment, which means the weather here can change quickly and dramatically even within a single day..
Summer (November to April) is generally the best time for exploring Cradle Mountains walks. The weather tends to be milder.
Spring is the time of wildflowers, even though snow is not uncommon at Cradle Mountain as late as November.
Autumn is the time to see fall colours at Cradle Mountain. Australia’s only deciduous tree – the Fagus starts to turn golden in red around April.
In Winter Cradle Mountain transforms into a snowy wonderland with snow-capped mountain peaks and frozen lakes. You need to be prepared for the cold. On the plus side, it is the best time to snuggle up in front of the fire at Cradle Mountain lodges.
How to get to Cradle Mountain
Cradle Mountain is located at the northern end of Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park. It is 1.5 hours drive from Devonport and 2.5 hours drive from Launceston via Sheffield, and 4 hours from Hobart via Launceston.
If you don’t have your own set of wheels, there are coaches available for Cradle Mountain from Hobart, Launceston and Devonport.
Cradle Mountain Accommodation
Cradle Mountain accommodation gets booked out early, so make sure to book as far in advance as you can. We like using Booking.com that allows you to reserve rooms without any upfront payment. So if you change your mind, or your plans change, you can simply cancel your reservation and not worry about losing your deposit.
There are five lodges at Cradle Mountain, strung up along Cradle Mountain Road. With Cradle Mountain Hotel being the furthest from the Park entrance and Peppers Cradle Mountain Lodge sitting right at the edge of the Park.
If you are looking to wrap yourself in comfort, enjoy a day spa and a good restaurant, stay at Peppers Cradle Mountain Lodge. The Waldheim Alpine Spa is out of this world. Just imagine stepping into a hot tub looking out onto a magical mossy rainforest. For more affordable county comfort consider Cradle Mountain Hotel.
If you don’t mind self-catering, Cradle Mountain Highlanders is the most popular choice. It offers self-contained timber-lined cottages that feature cosy interiors with fireplaces and fully stocked kitchens. Some cottages have a luxurious spa bath and gorgeous mountains views.
Alternatively, Cradle Mountain Wilderness Village also offers self-contained cabins with excellent soundproofing, nestled in an atmospheric rainforest setting. Some cabins feature a balcony and a spa bath. There is also a restaurant on the property that offers a selection of made to order small plates
And if you’d rather spend your dollars on the adventure than on creature comforts, or if you are driving a motorhome, Discovery Parks offer a range of self-contained accommodation options from backpacker-type rooms to cabins and cottages.
Cradle Mountain Walks
The most popular way to explore the alpine landscapes of Cradle Mountain is by hitting the walking trails. Cradle Mountain walks come in all shapes and sizes from a 10-minute Rainforest Walk to a multi-day Overland Track.
To fully appreciate the uniqueness and beauty of Cradle Mountain, it is best to take a few walks and experience different environments from lush temperate rainforest and golden button grass plains to alpine heath and alpine bogs coated by a thick coat of coral fern.
If you only have a couple of days at Cradle Mountain, you could take a couple of iconic walks and a few short and easy strolls. The four walks below are my absolute favourite walks in Cradle Mountain and you can do them all in a day if you are pressed for time, or spend a couple of days exploring them at a more leisurely pace.
To access Cradle Mountain walks, head to the Visitor Center (4057 Cradle Mountain Rd) where you can park your car and purchase your Parks Pass that includes the unlimited shuttle bus rides for the day. The shuttles run very frequently and stop at the following locations: Visitor Center / Interpretation Center / Snake Hill / Ronny Creek / Dove Lake.
Dove Lake Circuit
Distance: 6 km / Time: 2-3 hr circuit / Grade: Moderate (short section of steps)
One of the most iconic Great Short Walks in Tasmania, the Dove Lake Circuit meanders around the gorgeous Dove Lake in the shadow of the Cradle Mountain.
You can do this walk in either clockwise or counterclockwise direction. I prefer to walk it clockwise and finish at the iconic boat shed. But if you are not a fan of climbing a section of steps uphill, then head in an anticlockwise direction. Apart from this small section, the walk undulates up and down gently without steep sections.
There are a few lookout points along the walk. Glacier Rock provides a good elevated viewpoint over the lake, while small side trails lead you right to the shore.
Cradle Mountain’s famously changeable weather means that you might start your walk under an overcast sky and finish it in bright sunshine. And as the intensity of light changes, so does the appearance of the landscape.
Once you reach the southern end of the lake, you’ll find a few benches – a chance to take a little break and have a snack if you brought one.
If you are lucky, you might spot some of Cradle Mountain’s furry inhabitants at Dove Lake, most likely a wombat or an echidna. We came across this very nonchalant character on our last trip to the lake.
Cradle Valley Boardwalk
Distance: 5.5 km / Time: 2-3 hr one way / Grade: Easy
Cradle Valley Boardwalk is another gorgeous and easy walk that travels between the Interpretation Center and Ronny Creek. Unlike the Dove Lake circuit, the valley walk is more open, meandering across button grass plains and alpine bogs.
You can start the walk at either end or at Snake Hill to cut it in half. Starting from Ronny Creek, the walk crosses a few wooden bridges over Dove River and then meanders across the open plain of alpine fern, occasionally ducking into a patch of wet eucalypt forest or open woodland.
After Snake Hill, the landscape changes into a vast plain of golden button grass. There are a few seats perched here and there, one of them conveniently positioned at a lookout into a valley down below.
We saw quite a few Black currawongs on this walk, as well as an echidna, and a Bennett’s wallaby snoozing in a bed of alpine ferns.
Just before the Interpretation Center, the trail goes through a patch of a beautiful rainforest with moss and algae growing on every exposed surface. There is another patch of rainforest at Rangers station that can be explored via a short Rainforest Walk. It’s not as spectacular a rainforest as the one on the next two walks, but you get good views of Pencil Pines Falls from the trail.
King Billy Walk
Distance: 2 km / Time: 40 min circuit / Grade: Easy / Start point: Peppers Cradle Valley Lodge
King Billy Walk is my absolute favourite short walk at Cradle Mountain. Starting at Peppers Lodge, it meanders for 2 kilometres through the lushest temperate rainforest I ever saw. This forest feels ancient. It actually is ancient. Some of these King Billy pines are over a thousand years old.
This forest may not be as tall as Tasmania’s great Southern Forest, but it’s even more atmospheric. A thick carpet of dark green moss covers every rock and every log on the ground and tendrils of lichen hang off every branch.
If you get a chance to visit this forest in the rain, and considering Cradle Mountain’s changeable weather, you very well might, you will discover a world straight out of the Lord of the Rings. And as a side benefit, the forest canopy will protect you from most of the rain.
There is so much life in this patch of the forest: pademelons, pink robins, Tasmanian scrub-wrens, that the forest itself feels very much alive. You can lose yourself in this forest, exploring all the mossy nooks and crannies and feeling a world away from anywhere.
Distance: 1.1 km / Time: 20 min circuit / Grade: Easy / Start point: Peppers Cradle Valley Lodge
True to its name this Great Short Walk is absolutely enchanting. It is very similar to King Billy’s walk, but half the length. It also starts and finishes at Peppers Cradle Mountain Lodge and for the best experience, you can combine the two walks.
It is the perfect thing to do on a rainy day. Not only will you see the rainforest at its lushest but you will be protected from the rain by the forests canopy. You can park at the lodge and duck straight back into the dry comfort of your car once you are done.
Another perk of doing these walks in the rain is seeing the waterfalls and creeks in full flow. The Cascade Falls on Pencil Pine Creek at the start of Enchanted Walk were downright raging when we visited. Enchanted Walk meanders along the creek and it’s absolutely lovely during or after the rain.
Around dusk, keep an eye out for wombats. They are often seen at the forest edge, and occasionally, on the boardwalk itself.
Cradle Mountain Animals
My absolute favourite thing to do in Cradle Mountain is spotting the local wildlife. Nowhere else in Tasmania can you see so many species so reliably. So what animals are you likely to see at Cradle Mountain?
Cradle mountain’s most famous animal is the Common wombat. These adorable barrel-shaped marsupials are frequently spotted on Cradle Mountain walks, especially late in the afternoon and early in the morning.
Another common species at Cradle Mountain, and much of Tasmania, is the Tasmanian pademelon – a small dark grey wallaby with rufous underparts. These species previously occurred throughout eastern Australia, but are now restricted to Tasmania.
Larger and lighter than the pademelon, Bennett’s wallaby is also frequently seen in the National Park and the surrounding areas. These wallabies also occur on the mainland where they are typically referred to as Red-necked wallabies.
One of Australia’s oddest animals, the Short-beaked echidna is always fun to spot in the wild. They are often seen on the trails as they wobble across open patches digging for ants – their favourite food.
Best Places to see wildlife at Cradle Mountain
You can spot all these animals on Cradle Mountain trails. Ronny Creek area is particularly good for wombats, especially in the afternoon.
Echidnas are often seen around Dove Lake. On our latest trip, we also saw one on Cradle Valley Boardwalk.
Wallabies and pademelons are often seen near the forest edges in the park.
But if you would like to see Cradle Mountain animals at a close range, the best place to look is the grounds of Peppers Cradle Mountain Lodge.
We started and ended our days at Cradle Mountain with a walk around Peppers boutique and spent some time watching wombats, wallabies and pademelons from the shop’s veranda.
A welcome perk of this strategy was the shelter provided by the veranda’s roof that kept us out of the rain.
Wildlife Watching Tour
There are of course many more animals living at Cradle Mountain than the four species I mentioned. Most of them are harder to spot because of their nocturnal habits and shy nature.
For a chance to see the more secretive species, like the Tasmanian devil and quolls, you need to go spotlighting at night. And you also need to know where to go.
The easiest way to do this is by joining a Wildlife Spotting Tour. This 2-hour tour takes you to a couple of areas within the National Park that are known as hotspots for nocturnal wildlife.
Meet Tassmanian Devils @ Cradle
If you weren’t lucky enough to spot a Tassie devil on a nocturnal tour, you can see these iconic Tasmanians up close and personal at Devils @ Cradle located on Cradle Mountain Road between the Visitor Center and the National Park Entrance.
Part of the Tasmanian government’s Save the Devil program, the sanctuary houses 60 Tasmanian devils as well as a number of Spotted and Eastern quolls.
“The balance between conservation and tourism is a challenge we face every day,” says the sanctuary CEO and the former park ranger, Wade Anthony.
While providing educational experiences for over 28,000 visitors a year, the sanctuary is also involved in programs to release captive-bred animals into the wild. All Tasmanian devils at the sanctuary are part of the insurance population, and the animals earmarked for future releases are housed in off-display enclosures to minimize contact with humans.
The biggest threat that the released Devils face in the wild is being hit by cars, and with the growing visitor numbers, the issue of wildlife deaths on the roads is becoming even more pressing.
The sanctuary is open day and night, every day, and offers a range of experiences, from General Entry and Day Keeper tours through the day, to After Dark Feeding tours in the evening.
Canyoning Adventures at Cradle Mountain
If you are looking for adventurous things to do in Cradle Mountain, check out the two canyoning tour options. First is the adrenaline-packed Full Day Dove Canyon Tour that involves waterfall jumps, natural water slides and abseiling. This is the tour the girls at our lodge took and were raving about.
The second option is the more relaxed and family-friendly Lost World Canyon Adventure. This one is perfect for beginners or anyone who likes to get a bit of adventure without any hardcore thrills. You still can participate in jumps and other challenges along the tour, but this is entirely optional.
Horse Riding at Cradle Mountain
If you are visiting between November and April, you can also experience Cradle Mountain on horseback with Cradle Adventures. A four-hour adventure in the saddle will take you to the magical alpine Eucalypt and Myrtle forest and the button grass plains on the way to the Speeler Plain.
From the plain, you get spectacular views of Cradle Mountain, Barn Bluff, Western Bluff, Mt. Roland and even Black Bluff, all the way in Loongana.
Packing for Cradle Mountain
The only predictable thing about Cradle Mountain weather is that it is unpredictable. You can start your walk in bright sunshine and finish it in the pouring rain. Cradle Mountain is cooler than most of Tasmania and has a high annual rainfall simply because of its elevation. So in the true alpine fashion, you can expect all four seasons in a day at Cradle Mountain.
This unpredictability presents a number of challenges for packing for your Cradle Mountain adventure. The rule of thumb here is layers. Consider the following:
- Base layer – Merino wool thermals
- Mid layer – Fleece jacket
- Top layer – Goose down jacket
- Waterproffing – Gortex jacket
- Footwear – Waterproof hiking boots
If this feels a bit over the top, consider this – on our last trip, we visited Tasmania in late December. The weather was sunny and in the high 20s across most of the state. When we arrived at Cradle Mountain, it was 4 degrees, raining and blowing a gale. You really can’t be too prepared for Cradle Mountain’s weather.
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