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.

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.

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Hiking trail in Cradle Mountain National Park

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.

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.

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

Tasman Arch, Tasman National Park

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.

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.

Aus Tasmania Tasmanian Pademelon

Tasmanian Pademelon

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.

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.

Aus Tasmania Freycinet National Park Hazard Beach

Hazards Beach, Freycinet National Park, Tasmania

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.

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.

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Tasmanian Eastern Spinebill

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.

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 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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