With nearly half of its territory protected by national parks and reserves, Australia’s southernmost state was made for outdoor adventure. Characterised by lush green forests, rugged alpine plains, dramatic natural formations and a unique assemblage of native wildlife, Tasmania’s largely pristine wilderness areas are the key draw for many visitors, with the island state’s reputation for incredible local produce – particularly cheese, seafood, wine, and increasingly whisky – ensuring you’ll be well-fed (and lubricated) as you explore.

Tasmania Freycinet National Park Coles Bay

Coles Bay, Freycinet National Park, Tasmania

Tasmania’s 19 national parks, several of which combine to form the vast Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, one of Australia’s largest conservation areas, are nearly all located within easy reach of Launceston in the north or the state capital Hobart in the south. These wild green spaces, many of which have deep Palawa (Aboriginal Tasmanian) and European cultural significance, are a particular hit amongst hikers, though many parks also offer opportunities for mountain biking, kayaking, whitewater rafting, rock climbing, and other activities. Beyond visitor centres and hiking trails, most parks have little tourism infrastructure. While this rawness can be challenging, particularly on multi-day tramps, the connection to nature it facilitates is part of what makes these parks – and Tasmania – so special.

In contrast to mainland Australia, Tasmania, which is roughly the size of Ireland, enjoys a cool, temperate climate with four distinct seasons, each offering a different visitor experience. While many hiking trails are open year-round, most people time their trip between November and April, when the days are long and warm, though visitors should still come prepared for all types of weather throughout the year (yes, even snow in summer).

Tasmania National Parks Pass

Day passes for the state’s parks increased significantly in price in May 2020, making the Holiday Pass, valid for two months, an ideal option for those keen to check out more than one park. It costs AU$40 per person or AU$80 per vehicle (up to eight people). Unless you’re doing a multi-day hike (for which shuttle drop-offs and pick-ups can be arranged), hiring a car or campervan in Launceston or Hobart is the most popular way to travel around, with hundreds of both free and paid camping grounds (with various levels of facilities) to choose from. You can also bring your own car across from Melbourne on the Spirit of Tasmania ferry, which docks in Devonport. King and Flinders islands in the Bass Strait, which have several nature reserves, can only be reached by plane.

To purchase park passes and get the latest updates on trails, park facilities, and more, head to the Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service website.

Tasmania's top national parks

Walks, wildlife and how to visit

From the glacier-sculpted moraines of Walls of Jerusalem National Park to the red lichen-covered boulders of seaside Mt William National Park, each of Tasmania’s wilderness areas have their own unique draws. But for most first-timers, these blockbusters top the list.

Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park

In 1910, Austrian-born Australian conservation pioneer Gustav Weindorfer proclaimed from the summit of Cradle Mountain that the area was so “magnificent” that it “must be a national park for the people for all time.” While Weindorfer would not live to see his dream become a reality, his passion to preserve this alpine wilderness became the catalyst for the formation of the Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park in 1947.

Aus Tasmania Cradle mountain national park 3

Hiking trail in Cradle Mountain National Park

This 1,614 sq km park in the state’s northwest now forms part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. From snow-covered mountain peaks to alpine moorlands bursting with wildflowers, luminous green forests to serene cobalt blue lakes, the park is famed for landscapes as diverse as they are breathtaking. Slicing through the middle of the park from north to south, the Overland Track is arguably Australia’s most iconic multi-day hike.

There are two main entrances to the park, with most visitors entering at Cradle Mountain to the north, which commands an AU$25 entry fee as opposed to the usual AU$20 for other parks. Like most of Tasmania’s national parks, the key draw here is walking, with a shuttle bus (included with the day pass) ferrying walkers from the visitors centre to jumping-off points for walks including the Dove Lake Circuit (6km/2-3hr), the Crater Lake Circuit (5.7km/2hr), and the Cradle Summit (12.8km/8hr), as well as the Overland Track.

Whichever path you choose, keep your eyes peeled for Tasmanian devils along with wombats, echidnas, quolls and other creatures, though for the best chance of spotting a devil, stop by the Devils @ Cradle conservation facility near the park entrance. There is a range of accommodation options outside the park, but unless you’re hitting the Overland Track, the only place to stay overnight in the park is at Waldheim Cabins, 5km inside the northern entrance.

At the park’s Lake St Clair entrance to the south, where the Overland Track terminates, three interconnected walks (4.7km/1.5hr) offer a taste of the local environment and history. Don’t miss the Lamairremener Tabelti section, which offers an insight into how Palawa (Aboriginal Tasmanians) lived around Leeawuleena (Lake St Clair) for thousands of years.

Tasman National Park

An area of dramatic coastal beauty, Taman National Park encompasses parts of the Tasman and Forestier Peninsulas, as well as Tasman Island, in the state’s far southeast. Famous for its soaring sea cliffs, the 107.5 sq km park is also known for its biodiversity. More than a third of Tasmania’s plant species are found within its borders along with an abundance of wildlife from endangered swift parrots to little penguins, and a healthy population of Tasmanian devils.

Aus Tasmania Tasman Arch is an unusual geological formation found in the Tasman National Park

Tasman Arch, Tasman National Park

Just a 90-minute drive southeast of Hobart, many of the park’s striking coastal rock formations are easily accessed by car, including Tasman Arch and The Blowhole, as well as Waterfall Bay, Remarkable Cave and the Tessellated Pavement. Great views can also be enjoyed on the park’s many bushwalks such as the Three Capes Track, a four-day journey around the tip of the Tasman Peninsula with exhilarating clifftop outlooks on Cape Pillar and Cape Hauy, and views across Port Arthur to Cape Raoul. All three capes can also be reached via long but rewarding day hikes, with pretty Fortescue Bay serving as the start point for most Tasman Peninsula walks, as well as an excellent picnic and swimming spot.

Just outside the national park, the World Heritage-listed Port Arthur Historic Site is the most famous remnant of Tasmania’s colonial era and an absolute must-see for visitors to the region. The former convict settlement dates back to 1830, one of the darkest years in Tasmania’s history. With colonists then in a virtual state of war with Palawa, Lieutenant-Governor George Arthur ordered thousands of settlers to form what became known as the ‘Black Line’, a human chain designed to force the Oyster Bay, Big River, North Midlands and Ben Lomond nations from their lands and down onto the Tasman Peninsula where they could be rounded up and relocated to offshore islands.

Mount Field National Park

Just over an hour’s drive northwest of Hobart (don’t miss the world-renowned MONA museum en route), Tasmania’s first national park (founded in 1916), is also one of the state’s most accessible. The last known wild thylacine (Tasmanian tiger) was captured in this 162.65 km sq wilderness in 1933, but today, its star attraction is the splendid Russell Falls.

Aus Tasmania Tasmanian Pademelon

Tasmanian Pademelon

Reached via a 1.4km-return, wheelchair-accessible pathway from the visitors centre lined by moss-covered ferns, the waterfall cascades gently over multiple levels of retreating sandstone directly in front of the viewing platform. Allow 45 minutes for the return trip to fully appreciate the spectacle, which was immortalised on Tasmania’s first pictorial postage stamp in 1899.

For a longer walk, lace your boots for the Three Falls Circuit (6km/2-2.5hr), which continues up behind Russell Falls to the smaller but arguably equally stunning Horseshoe Falls, then follows a section of the Tall Trees walk (a 1km loop lined by towering swamp gums) to Lady Barron Falls, which has a viewing platform overlooking the cascade. Wombats, echidnas and wallabies are commonly spotted by visitors, and while rarely seen during the day, eastern quolls and eastern barred bandicoots also call this lush rainforest habitat home.

The access road to the park, Lake Dobson Rd, continues past the visitor’s centre to Lake Fenton and onto serene Lake Dobson. From here it’s a 30-minute walk to the small Mount Mawson ski area, which generally operates from July to mid-September. Five government huts built in the 1940s offer rustic accommodation near Lake Dobson, perfect for getting an early start on the Tarn Shelf circuit (12km/5-7hr), which takes in a series of picturesque glacial lakes. There’s also scenic riverside camping next to the visitors centre, which has an attached cafe.

Freycinet National Park

With its postcard-perfect coves framed by the dramatic pink granite peaks of The Hazards, the Freycinet Peninsula is a natural showstopper. Most people make the three-hour (200km) drive from Hobart or Launceston to this sliver of land dangling off Tasmania’s east coast to see Wineglass Bay, an exquisite curve of powder-white sand named for the hue its aquamarine waters were stained during Tasmania’s whaling days, but it’s just one of the many attractions this coastal wilderness has to offer.

Aus Tasmania Freycinet National Park Hazard Beach

Hazards Beach, Freycinet National Park, Tasmania

Occupying the lion’s share of the peninsula, 169-sq-km Freycinet National Park shares the title of Tasmania’s oldest park with Mount Field National Park. Just beyond Coles Bay (home to the bulk of visitor accommodation), the Freycinet National Park Visitor Information Centre is located at the entrance. A ballot is drawn every August to allocate sites at the park’s handful of campgrounds during the summer, though no bookings are required for camping on the Freycinet Peninsula Circuit, the peninsula’s famed multi-day hike.

There are several roads within Freycinet National Park, with the most popular route (Freycinet Dr) terminating at the Wineglass Bay car park. This is the start (and end) point of the Freycinet Peninsula Circuit as well as the Wineglass Bay Lookout track (3km/1.5hr) and the Mt Atmos walking track (4km/2-3hr), both of which offer superb views over the picturesque bay scooped out of the eastern flank of the peninsula. Other popular day walks include the Hazards Beach and Wineglass Bay Circuit (11km/4-5hr), which makes a shorter loop inside the Freycinet Peninsula Circuit, and the 6km (2.5-3.5hr) return hike over the saddle of The Hazards to Wineglass Bay, which has a basic campground.

More accessible sightseeing and activity options lie towards the northern end of the peninsula, including the 600m elevated track that loops around the lighthouse at Cape Tourville, rockpool-hopping at Sleepy Bay, and taking a leisurely stroll along the long strip of pale sand known as the Friendly Beaches. For a different view of the peninsula, rent a kayak in Coles Bay. Just outside the park, birders will love the Moulting Lagoon, a RAMSAR wetland sanctuary for black swans, waterfowl and other migratory birds.

Maria Island National Park

Nature collides with history on Maria Island, a figure eight-shaped isle just 30 minutes by ferry from Triabunna on Tasmania’s southeast coast. Before the now-uninhabited island’s convict settlements were established in the early 19th century, Palawa would paddle across from the mainland to feast on its natural bounty of wallaby, possum, seafood, and more. Protected as a national park since 1972 (and extended in 1991 to include surrounding marine territory), many remnants of Maria Island’s cultural heritage are still visible today.

Aus Tasmania Eastern Spinebil beautiul honeyeater

Tasmanian Eastern Spinebill

The highlight for many, however, is the island’s wildlife. Often described as Tasmania’s Noah’s Ark, Maria Island acts as a sanctuary for a number of threatened species such as the Tasmanian devil, with an ‘insurance population’ of devils unaffected by the devil facial tumor disease brought to the island in 2012. With natural and historical clearings providing grazing grounds for a number of species including wombats, wallabies, kangaroos, pademelons and Cape Barren geese, you’re guaranteed to spot a few local critters.

Most people visit on a day trip and explore the island by foot or by bike, which can be rented through the ferry company. Note there are no shops or cafes, so you’ll need to bring your own food. The Maria Island ferry docks at the settlement of Darlington, where you can explore Australia’s most intact example of a convict probation station before tackling the mountainous island’s various trails. Popular walks include the 4.3km (1.5-2.5hr) return walk to the Painted Cliffs, a multicoloured ‘wave’ of sandstone moulded by the elements over centuries, and the Fossil Cliffs loop (4.5km/1.5-2.5hr), which boasts one of Australia’s finest fossil galleries. For spectacular views back across the island, it’s also possible to hike to the summit of Mount Maria (711m), with the 16km return hike taking around 8hr.

If one day isn’t enough, Darlington’s former convict prison, which has been converted into a simple bunkhouse known as The Penitentiary, is the island’s only accommodation option (book well ahead) aside from camping. There’s a large campground with barbecue facilities in Darlington (no bookings required), with additional campgrounds at Frenchs Farm and Encampment Cove for overnight walkers. With wildlife tending to be most active at dawn and dusk, overnighters are likely to enjoy the best sightings.

Tasmania's best hikes and bushwalks

Tasmania's top long-distance hikes

While there are hundreds of excellent day walks to choose from across the state, Tasmania’s multi-day trails offer the ultimate adventure, drawing hikers from all over the world for their epic landscapes, remoteness, native wildlife, and – thanks to a cap on hiker numbers on popular trails – a glorious lack of crowds.

The main tramping season runs from October to May, but most trails are open year-round if you’re game. Most multi-day affairs require a high level of self-sufficiency, but walkers who like their creature comforts (or simply prefer the company of a knowledgeable guide) will be pleased to know that a handful of operators offer guided options.

No matter who you hike with, familiarising yourself with the safety and packing checklists on the National Parks and Wilderness Tasmania website, as well as national park rules about campfires and more, is essential.

The Overland Track

The Overland Track

Distance: 65-80km/40-50 miles
Hiking time: 6 days
Difficulty: Hard
When to go: The trail free (AU$200) only applies from October to May, but off-season walkers will need to be equipped for snowy conditions. December to February are the most popular months, with the longer days making side trips more feasible.
Suitable for: Experienced hikers and children at least eight years old.
Top tip: With only 34 independent hikers allowed on the trail per day, booking well ahead is advised.

Australia’s premier multi-day bushwalk, the Overland Track is a six-day odyssey through the guts of Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park, the only pathway linking Cradle Mountain with the park’s eponymous lake to the south. But if you plan on ticking off all the optional side trips, you might need eight. Three historic huts are situated along the alpine trail, which is thought to have been used as an access route by Palawa, but these can no longer be slept in unless in cases of emergency.

Six modern huts (sleeping up to 36) with adjacent campgrounds now accommodate hikers en route, but beds can’t be booked ahead, so you’ll still need to carry a tent. Campers are allowed to cook in the huts, but as there’s no electricity, you’ll need your own cookstove. There’s no running water at the huts either, but rainwater tanks supply drinking water (which some hikers prefer to filter).

Aus Tasmania Freycinet National Park

Beach cove, Freycinet National Park, Tasmania

The trail must be walked north to south from October to May, beginning at Ronny Creek, a 7km shuttle ride from the Cradle Mountain Visitor Information Centre. The first day is the toughest, including the steepest section of the trail, with most walkers flopping in the recently refurbished Waterfall Hut [editors: due to reopen in May 2020] after the 12.2km/4-6hr hike across exposed alpine plateau – look out for wombats and pademelons on the way. If it’s a nice day and time is on your side, making the 2km/2-3hr detour to summit Cradle Mountain (395m ascent) is a must.

The second day is a much easier, mostly flat 7.6km/3.5hr hike to Windermere Lake, with Lake Will (a 3km/1hr side trip) making a great lunch or swim stop. With 16.8km/5-7hr to cover, day three is the longest, with the trail snaking through grassy plains before entering the dense forest sheltering New Pelion Hut. From here it’s an 8.6km/3-4hr slog to Kia Ora on day four, with many walkers opting to make a 5.2km/4-5hr side trip to summit Mt Ossa (1617m), Tasmania’s highest peak, en route.

The fifth section from Kia Ora to Bert Nichols Hut at Windy Ridge (9.6km/3.5-4.5hr) isn’t especially difficult, but does include a steep climb, plus two waterfall side trips that can make it a long day by the time you reach Nicholas Hut. You’ll be grateful for the easier walk out on day six, a 9km/3-4hr downhill meander through eucalypt forest to Narcissus Hut. This is where the trail ends for hikers who have booked the Lake St Clair Ferry to Cynthia Bay (for the Lake St Clair Visitor Centre); use the radio inside Narcissus Hut to confirm your booking or enquire about spare seats. For those keen to keep walking, it’s an extra 17.5km/5-6hr slog around the lake to Cynthia Bay. Several coach companies offer shuttles back to Launceston and Hobart; book ahead.

Three Capes Track

Three Capes Track

Distance: 48km/30 miles
Hiking time: 4 days
Difficulty: Moderate
When to go: The maritime climate moderates the temperature year-round, making this one of Tasmania’s more manageable winter hikes, but the trail is at its prettiest when the coastal heath blooms from September to November.
Suitable for: Anyone with a moderate level of fitness
Top tip: Don’t forget to pick up your complimentary Encounters on the Edge booklet upon check-in at Port Arthur for information about art installations, wildlife and more on the trail.

Tracing the soaring sea cliffs of Tasman National Park, with nothing between you and Antarctica but the Southern Ocean, Tasmania’s newest multi-day hike available to independent walkers (opened in 2015) takes in some of Australia’s most dramatic coastal scenery. With only 48 people per day allowed on the trail (which must be walked in one direction), you’ll want to book ahead for this one.

The journey begins with a scenic ferry ride from the Port Arthur Historic Site to the Tasman Peninsula – keep your eyes peeled for dolphins, fur seals and even whales along the way. From here it’s an easy 4km/1.5-2hr walk through eucalyptus woodland full of cockatoos to Surveyors cabin, the first of three environmentally-sensitive huts on the route equipped with mattresses, basic cooking facilities, composting toilets, running water (fine for drinking), and solar-powered USB charging stations.

Aus Tasmania Building ruins at Port Arthur

Building ruins at Port Arthur, Tasmania

The real drama begins on day two, an 11km/4-4.5hr walk taking in a variety of vegetation zones, from colourful heathlands to bronzed moorlands. A short climb to Arthur’s Peak offers superb views towards Cape Raoul to the west before you descend from the forested slopes of Crescent Mountain to cross the windswept Ellarwey Valley to Munro cabin. Here you can enjoy the only shower on the trail (albeit outdoor), or simply soak up the incredible views of Munro Bight and Cape Hauy.

The views get even better on day three (19km/6hr), with ancient dolerite cliffs plunging 300m below your feet on Cape Pillar. Get your camera ready for the views of Tasman Island and its lone lighthouse, and test your nerve on the scramble up the knife-edge of rock known as The Blade. The trail doubles back past Munro cabin (where you can leave your big pack for the day) to Retakunna cabin.

The final day (14km/6-7hr) begins with a sweaty ascent of Mount Fortescue before venturing out to the tip of Cape Hauy, where you might spot rock climbers tackling the Totem Pole and other dolerite columns. It’s mostly downhill from this point, where the clear blue waters of Fortescue Bay tempt sweaty hikers to jump in for a bracing dip before the 30-minute bus transfer back to the Port Arthur Historic Site (2pm and 4pm daily).

Freycinet Peninsula Circuit

Freycinet Peninsula Circuit

Distance: 27km/17 miles
Hiking time: 2-3 days
Difficulty: Moderate
When to go: Tasmania’s east coast enjoys a milder climate than the inland state, making this hike another manageable wintertime tramp. With no bookings required for the trail, it’s a great spontaneous option.
Suitable for: Anyone with a moderate level of fitness.
Top tip: Water availability can be scarce along the route (and must be boiled before drinking), so walkers will need to carry sufficient supplies for drinking and cooking.

Taking in some of the most exquisite views of Freycinet National Park, the Freycinet Peninsula Circuit traces the west coast of the peninsula before looping back up through its centre to Wineglass Bay, then through The Hazards back to the start point.

Beginning at the Wineglass Bay car park (off Freycinet Dr, 3km south of the Freycinet National Park Visitor Information Centre), the walk should be undertaken in an anti-clockwise direction to help minimise the spread of Phytophthora (a deadly plant pathogen commonly known as root rot). Before you begin, factor in a side trip to the Wineglass Bay Lookout or Mt Atmos for exquisite views over Wineglass Bay before following the Hazards Beach Track around the headland through coastal heathland, blue gum woodland and she-oak forest to Hazards Beach. Keep your eyes peeled for historic Aboriginal oyster shell middens en route.

Aus Tasmania Eastern Grey Kangaroo

An Eastern Grey Kangaroo, Tasmania

There’s a basic campsite at the southern end of Hazards Beach (5km/1.5hr), but most walkers head onto Cooks Beach campsite for the first night, a 12km/3.5hr walk in total. If you’re feeling energetic, you can take an optional 3km/2hr side trip to Bryans Corner for a more private swim. Nestled amongst the she-oaks at the southern end of the beach, Cooks Beach Campsite facilities are limited to a drop toilet and a water tank, which can run out of water during dry summers. Campfires aren’t permitted on the circuit, so you’ll need your own cookstove (unless there’s a total fire ban, in which case you’ll need to get creative with your meals). Be sure to secure your food from wallabies and possums.

From the Cooks Beach track junction, the trail heads inland on day two, with a total climb of 500m on the 11km/6-8hr journey through heathland, woodland and wet forest to a soundtrack of birdsong. Energetic walkers may wish to make a detour to scramble to the summit of Mt Freycinet (1.5km/2hr) before ascending Mt Graham for superb views of Schouten Island before the track descends to Wineglass Bay. There’s a composting toilet at this sheltered campsite behind the dunes at the southern end of the beach, but no water.

Some hikers choose to power on over the saddle of The Hazards and back to the car park (4km/1.5hr) to complete the loop on day two, but this leaves little time to enjoy idyllic Wineglass Bay, nor watch the Hazards glow pink in the morning sun as you set out for the final leg on day three.

Walk through wild Tasmania in Southwest National Park

A remote and rugged wilderness occupying the southwest corner of Tasmania and home to Australia’s oldest living trees (the rare Huon pine), Southwest National Park is one of the last truly wild places on Earth. Gordon River Road penetrates the northern end of the 6,182.67 sq km park, which is part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, offering incredible mountain views en route to Lake Gordon and Lake Pedder, both popular fishing spots.

Branching off Gordon River Road, Scotts Peak Dam Road is the jumping-off point for a handful of short and multi-day walks. The park’s most famous walk, however, is the South Coast Track, an 85km (53 mile), 6-8-day tramp alongside the Southern Ocean from Melaleuca to Cockle Creek requiring total self-sufficiency (and a small-plane flight to the start point). To get a taste of the wild south, day walkers can tackle the last section of the trail, a 15.4km/4hr return hike from Cockle Bay (on the southeastern fringe of the park) to South Cape Bay before returning to a warm bed in Hobart, a 122km/2hr drive north.

Visiting Tasmania's Best National Parks

Sarah Reid

Sarah is an award-winning Australian travel writer with a passion for sustainability and low-impact travel. Her work has appeared in National Geographic, BBC Travel, Lonely Planet, Adventure.com, The Independent, and more. She also writes travel reference books for Lonely Planet, and manages sustainable travel website Eco Travelist.

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