The Overland Track: A comprehensive DIY guide to Tasmania’s most iconic multi-day hike
Tasmania’s legendary Overland Track is Australian bushwalking at its very finest, incorporating dramatic dolerite peaks, wind-whipped alpine tundra, lush valleys dominated by vibrant wildflowers, fragrant rainforests, and sparkling waterfalls all into one incredible hike. It’s possible to join an expensive tour group that will lead you along the Overland Track, but I think that’s totally unnecessary— this is an undemanding and extremely rewarding walk that, with the help of this comprehensive guide, you’ll have absolutely no trouble enjoying on your own.
This post covers all aspects of organising and walking the Overland Track, from booking Park Passes to organising transport to crafting an itinerary to packing your bags. Hopefully everything that we learned during our recent hike will make preparations for your own trip that much easier!
About the Overland Track
Each year, more than 8,000 Tassie locals, “mainlanders”, and international visitors flock to Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park to walk this iconic trail from Ronny Creek to Cynthia Bay, and I imagine every single one of these people has been blown away by the beauty of the Overland Track.
The first day carries you from Ronny Creek to Marions Lookout for sweeping views of Cradle Mountain (the ascent of which is an excellent first day excursion), and down into Waterfall Valley. From here, the walk undulates past more towering dolerite mountains, offering you the opportunity to summit Tasmania’s tallest peak on Day 4, and through fields of colour as you approach the beautiful waterfalls and forest scenery of the Narcissus River.
More than just the incredible scenery, though, the Overland Track is incredible in its accessibility for people of all experience levels. Each day, you’ll walk just 2.5 – 5 hours (not including optional side trips), which makes this a great introductory walk for those just getting into hiking or a more relaxed adventure for veteran outdoor enthusiasts.
Every stage of the walk also brings you by potable water, there are huts available for every night of the journey at no extra cost, the track is well-maintained and well-marked (which means that no navigation is required), and there is always someone nearby to help in case of an emergency. In Tasmania, the weather can change from beautiful to deadly in about 3 seconds flat, but with adequate preparation, you should have no safety issues during your 6 days on the trail.
You can read more about the huts and tent sites, access to water, and trail safety under “What to expect on the trail”.
Is the Overland Track for you?
- You can walk 2.5 – 5 hours each day (unless extending beyond 6 days)
- You are comfortable with steep sections of trail (although these are always short)
- You are able to carry 15 – 25kg in your pack
- You have (or are able to hire) all the appropriate gear for your walk (see “Packing list for the Overland Track (summer))
- You have a basic knowledge of first aid and understand what to do in the event that you or someone in your party is bitten by a snake (see “Safety on the Overland Track”)
Booking the Overland Track
How to reserve an Overland Track pass
During the booking season (1 October to 31 May), you are required to purchase a pass for the Overland Track prior to setting out on the trail. Only 34 spots are available to independent hikers on each day, so it’s definitely advisable to reserve this as early as possible, particularly if you’re hoping to hike in the summer months.
Bookings open for the season on 1 July and I was on the site at 9am to secure our first choice of dates, which we were lucky to get! The process is really simple, just head to the booking site, select your dates, enter details for each walker in your group, and then pay the $200 Overland Track fee.
Outside the booking season, you don’t need to purchase the Overland Track pass or even reserve dates (but you will still need a National Parks Pass, see below). I met several hikers who had done the walk previously in winter and said it was absolutely beautiful and very peaceful even without the daily walker limits, but obviously the weather can be wildly unpredictable in winter (even more than it is in summer) and you should be prepared for all four seasons in a day, including snow.
Just as a note, it is not possible to reserve huts for this walk! More about the campsites and huts under “What to expect on the trail”.
Purchasing your National Parks Pass
Before entering Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park for your Overland Track walk (or any other trips, like a canyoning tour or the short walk around Dove Lake), you’ll need to purchase a National Parks Pass online or at the Cradle Mountain Visitor Centre. This is in addition to the Overland Track Pass that you would have booked in the last step!
A shuttle bus ticket is included with the purchase of your Parks Pass, which you’ll need to use to get to the trailhead of the Overland Track. See the shuttle map under “Getting to and from the trailhead”.
Here are the current prices directly off the Parks website:
Checking in for your walk
Either the day before you’re scheduled to depart for the Overland Trek (from 3-4pm) or the morning of (from 8am onwards), you need to check in at the Cradle Mountain Visitor Centre.
This check-in process is completed at the back desk, where a ranger will sight your National Parks Pass, shuttle bus ticket, and ask you to complete a Walker Safety checklist (basically just confirming that you have a tent, sleeping bag, rain jacket, warm clothing, and sturdy boots).
And do note that, even if you are planning to stay in the huts every single night of your walk, you are still required to carry a tent! More on this under “Packing list for the Overland Track (summer)”.
The ranger will also give everyone in your party Overland Track tags to be worn on the outside of your packs so that you are easily identified as Overland Track hikers. Something that wasn’t explained to us during the check in process, but that is still super important, is the need to sign in at each hut you pass through. When you arrive at Ronny Creek, one person in your party needs to enter information into a registry, such as your intended hike length, your intended stop for the night, etc, and this information needs to be updated in the book at each hut.
This helps the rangers keep an eye on your party’s movements in case of emergency, so it’s recommended that you try to stick to your written plans as closely as possible to avoid any unnecessary rescues being sent out in your honour.
Getting to and from the trailhead
Getting to Cradle Mountain Visitor Centre
Driving your own vehicle or a hire car is definitely the easiest way to start the Overland Track from Cradle Mountain Visitor Centre, although it’s also possible to take a bus here from one of Tassie’s main cities.
Driving times to Cradle Mountain Visitor Centre
- 1.5hrs from Devonport (where the Spirit of Tasmania ferry from Melbourne disembarks and there is a tiny airport, only offering Melbourne flights)
- 2.5hrs from Launceston (where there is a small domestic airport, mainly servicing Sydney and Melbourne)
- 4hrs from Hobart (where there is a small “international” airport, but still primarily servicing Sydney and Melbourne)
Taking a bus to Cradle Mountain Visitor Centre
If you aren’t travelling with a car, there are a number of bus companies that can get you from Devonport, Launceston, and Hobart to the start of the Overland Track at Cradle Mountain Visitor Centre. Most of these companies also provide transport back to the city from Lake St Clair at the end of the Overland Track.
- Overland Track Transport // 0474 172 012
- Cradle Mountain Coaches // 0448 800 599
- Tassie Link // 1300 300 520
- McDermotts Coaches // (03) 6330 3717
- Outdoor Recreational Transport // 0408 918 249
- Wilderness Expeditions // 0418 144 518
- Tasmanian Wilderness Experiences // 1300 882 293
- Tassie Road Trips // 0455 227 536
Option 2: Leaving your car at Lake St Clair Visitor Centre
Instead of leaving your car at Cradle Mountain Visitor Centre (or taking a bus), the other option is to drive your car to the end of the Overland Track at Lake St Clair Visitor Centre and then shuttle back to Cradle Mountain to begin the walk. Even though we didn’t organise our own transport this way, I can certainly see the appeal in finishing the track and already being at your car, no hassling with long buses or shuttles!
Driving times to Lake St Clair Visitor Centre
- 2.5hrs from Devonport
- 2.5hrs from Launceston
- 2.5hrs from Hobart
The options for getting from Lake St Clair to Cradle Mountain are the same as those listed below (private shuttle or Uber). If you wanted to, you could even bus out to Launceston and then to Cradle Mountain the day before, staying in the Discovery Holiday Park that is literally right across from the Visitor Centre on the night before your walk, but this is, again, more time consuming.
Getting to the trailhead at Ronny Creek
Regardless of whether you’ve driven or taken a bus to Cradle Mountain Visitor Centre (or even if you’ve left your car at Lake St Clair), once you’ve checked in and collected your Overland Track Pass at Cradle Mountain, you need to get to the trailhead at Ronny Creek, about 7km away.
The best way to do this is simply by taking the shuttle bus operated by the NP (tickets included with your National Parks Pass), which departs from the Visitor Centre every 10 minutes from 8.15am to 7pm. It’s definitely recommended to start the trek earlier rather than later as it really heats up as the day goes on.. that Tassie sun is fierce!
Lake St Clair ferry
The classic Overland Track finishes at Narcissus, which necessitates a ferry trip across Lake St Clair to reach the Visitor Centre at Cynthia Bay. Of course, it is also possible to walk the 17km yourself as a 7th day, but very rarely do people seem to do this.
If you want to take the ferry, reserve your spot in advance to avoid disappointment, as there are only two sailings each day at 9.45am or 3.45pm (according to the website, there is also a departure at 1.15pm, but this wasn’t running when we were there, so best to check).
We met several people at Narcissus Hut who had arrived the previous afternoon and tried to get on the ferry, only to find out that it was full and they would have to wait until morning. Make a booking by calling the office at 03 62 891 137 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
When you arrive at Narcissus Hut, use the radio in the kitchen (which connects straight to the ferry people) to confirm your spot on the boat. This may also be useful to book a last-minute spot if you arrive a few hours before the next departure.
Getting from Lake St Clair to Cradle Mountain
When you complete the Overland Track, you will need to get from Lake St Clair to Cradle Mountain Visitor Centre to retrieve your vehicle, which is distinctly more challenging than it should be. There are amazingly no buses that operate this route (without travelling via Devonport, Launceston, or Hobart, which would take 1-2 days depending on the bus schedule), but I am aware of two options:
Hire a private shuttle
We booked a private shuttle through McDermotts Coaches (email@example.com or (03) 6330 3717), which met us at Lake St Clair after our walk and drove us directly back to our car at Cradle Mountain.
This was $900 for 4 people, which sounds like heaps, but it’s only about twice as much as taking the bus to Launceston and another bus to Cradle Mountain, and significantly more efficient. There was a bit of a miscommunication regarding our shuttle time, but the company went above and beyond to resolve the issue and rectify their mistake, so I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them as a good option.
Take an Uber
We met a group in Freycinet NP who had just hiked the Overland Track using an Uber to get from the trail to their car. They were able to find a ride for about $300.
It’s worth noting that this is definitely a less reliable means of transport, as there certainly aren’t Ubers just waiting around to take you to the other side of the National Park. I believe they were able to reserve their car in advance, so this is definitely worth investigating as a cheaper option!
Overland Track Itinerary
Traditionally, the 70km Overland Track is walked in 6 days, winding and weaving from Ronny Creek to Cynthia Bay across sub-alpine meadows, through lush eucalypt forests, and up towering dolerite peaks.
During the booking season (1 October to 31 May), the Overland Track is only walked from north to south, but in the off-season, it’s possible to reverse this itinerary and begin at Narcissus if you wish. Below are the trails stats and general details for each day of the walk.
Day 1: Ronny Creek to Cradle Mountain
Distance: 10.7km + 2km return ascent of Cradle Mountain
Trail hours: 3.5hrs + 2hrs return ascent of Cradle Mountain
Highlights: Hike around beautiful Crater Lake; sweeping views from Marion’s Lookout (1250m); ascent of Cradle Mountain
Campsite: Waterfall Valley Hut (24 people in hut, others on tent sites)
Day 2: Cradle Mountain to Windermere
Distance: 7.8km + 3km return to Lake Will
Trail hours: 2.5hrs + 1hr return to Lake Will
Highlights: Descent into beautiful Waterfall Valley; views of Barn Bluff throughout; amazing fields of vibrant wildflowers; sparkling mountain lakes, including Lake Holmes and Lake Will
Campsite: Windermere Hut (16 people in hut, others on tent platforms)
Day 3: Windermere to Pelion
Trail hours: 4.5hrs
Highlights: Views of Forth Valley; shaded walking through myrtle-beech rainforest; expansive buttongrass moorlands in hues of yellow and orange; swimming spot at Old Pelion Hut; dolerite spires of Mt Oakleigh towering above the campsite
Campsite: Pelion Hut (36 people in hut, others on tent platforms or tent sites)
Day 4: Pelion to Kia Ora
Distance: 8.6km + 5.2km return ascent of Mt Ossa
Trail hours: 3hrs + 3.5hrs return ascent of Mt Ossa
Highlights: Strolling amongst mountains with views in every direction; aerial views of Pinestone Valley and Mt Ossa; ascent of Tasmania’s highest mountain; refreshing swimming creek and little waterfalls at Kia Ora Hut
Campsite: Kia Ora Hut (20 people in hut, others on tent platforms)
Day 5: Kia Ora to Windy Ridge
Distance: 9.6km + 1.5km return to Hartnett Falls
Trail hours: 3.5hrs + 1hr return to Hartnett Falls
Highlights: beautiful Hartnett Falls; shaded walking in the eucalypt forest; sweeping mountain views from Bert Nichols Hut
Campsite: Bert Nichols Hut (24 people in hut, others on tent platforms)
Day 6: Windy Ridge to Narcissus
Trail hours: 3hrs
Highlights: crossing the track’s only suspension bridge; amazing swim in Narcissus River; ferry across Lake St Clair
Campsite (optional): Narcissus Hut (18 people in hut, others on tent sites)
What to expect on the trail
Although there are a few short but steep ascents along the Overland Track, the trail itself is reasonably well-graded. In fact, about 40% of the walk is on boardwalk (duck boards) or platforms lifted just above the bush. Some people dislike these man-made trails, but I personally enjoyed the opportunity to walk on a flat surface so I could enjoy the scenery rather than staring at the ground.
The final section of the Overland Track features very little boardwalk and is instead a hot mess of tree roots and rocks that made tripping a regular occurrence for klutzy members of our party (aka me). Once you get off the main track, like for an ascent of Cradle Mountain or Mt Ossa or a side trip to one of the waterfalls, the trail can also be much more rugged and challenging.
Even though you might be annoyed by your trekking poles and heavy hiking boots on the boardwalk, they are absolute life-savers when you get to uneven terrain.
All of the campsites have large rainwater tanks that you can use to fill up your drink bottles or to prepare your meals. Officially, TasParks recommends filtering this water, but we certainly didn’t, nor did most of the other people at camp, and no one seemed to have any issues.
In addition to water at the campsites, there are also a few streams or waterholes along the way that can provide a good source of mid-hike water. You should always carry enough water so that you don’t have to rely on this in summer, as streams have been known to dry out completely during particularly rainless years. If you do get lucky (as we did), these water sources should probably be filtered, especially if they are stagnant.
Huts & camping
There are 6 huts along the Overland Track; if you are following the classic 6-day itinerary, you should stay at 5 of these, skipping only the last or second-to-last hut. Huts very widely in size and design, but all offer similar ammenities, including:
- Rainwater for drinking, cooking, and washing your dishes
- Drop toilets, although note that there is no running water or toilet paper
- Indoor kitchen with benches for cooking
- Bunk beds with capacity for 16-36 people, depending on the hut
- Raised tent platforms and/or designated tent sites near the hut
As I mentioned earlier, even if you are planning to stay exclusively in the huts on your hike, there is no way to reserve a space in advance so you must carry a tent. This is also important if adverse weather or another emergency forces you to set up camp before you reach a hut.
More than just a safe place to sleep (we preferred camping!), the huts are an excellent way to mingle with other walkers in the evenings. Even if you’re staying in a tent every night, head into the hut to cook and chat with your fellow hikers— the social aspect of this track was our favourite part of the entire experience and something that makes the Overland very different from other hikes.
One of our fellow Overland Track walkers made the comment at Kia Ora Hut that there should have been a list of all the places to swim along the track so you knew where to stop. Well.. here’s that list!
- Lake Will: This is a quick 25min detour from the Overland Track, about halfway through day 2 from Waterfall Valley to Lake Windermere. There’s a little sandy beach area right on the shore that makes for a perfect swim spot and a great lunch break.
- Old Pelion Hut: Less than 10min before you reach Pelion Hut on day 3, there is a turn-off for Old Pelion Hut. From there, follow a little path down to the right to reach a decent sized swimming hole.
- Kia Ora Hut: There are two little rock pools each within a 2min walk of Kia Ora Hut on day 4. To find the larger one, head past the hut, cross the bridge over the creek, and then look for a narrow path that veers off to the left. Follow the little path as it descends steeply into what appears to be a small canyon. You will want shoes to get down to the swimming hole, but it’s certainly not a far or difficult walk. This is a great spot to paddle around and enjoy a bit of a mountain shower after climbing Mt Ossa.
- Hartnett Falls: About a 20min descent from the main trail on day 5, this waterfall has the most perfect swimming hole of everything I saw on the track. It’s definitely worth a visit for the scenery alone.
- Narcissus River: If you arrive at the end of the track with some time to spare, you can enjoy a proper swim in the river right out front of Narcissus Hut. It’s freezing, but it feels amazing to numb all your aches and pains before you return to the real world.
Safety on the Overland Track
All the gear and safety equipment in the world is no substitute for common sense and basic wilderness experience, but it’s still an essential part of a safe and happy hike. In my opinion, these are the three most important safety considerations when walking the Overland Track:
- Be prepared for all weather
- Be ready to respond to a medical emergency
- Be able to call for help if the situation requires
Be prepared for all weather
The weather in Tasmania’s mountains is notoriously wild and unpredictable, and the Overland Track is absolutely no exception. Even in summer, weather can go from sunny and beautiful to a wicked hail storm in a matter of seconds, so it’s really important to pack for all seasons.
That means bringing warm clothes and rain gear, a durable tent with a rain fly and guy lines (even if you are planning to stay in huts!), and a cold-weather sleeping bag (-10C or better, Cal was freezing one night in his 0C bag and he hardly slept).
When you’re on the trail, always carry enough water for the day plus an emergency stash, since there often isn’t potable water between the huts and it’s possible that bad weather might force you to set up camp in one of the emergency huts or to pitch your tent in a sheltered area.
Be ready to respond to a medical emergency
It’s also essential that you carry a well-stocked first aid kit in case of emergencies, probably the most concerning of which is a snake bite. We saw 12 snakes during our time on the trail, and even though no one has died of a snake bite in Tassie since the 60’s, all snakes in Tasmania are poisonous! People are bitten every year, so it is important to have the necessary items in your kit and to know how to use them.
Most first aid courses in Australia teach the Pressure Immobilisation Technique (also works for some spider bites), but you can get the idea just from watching a video on YouTube. You don’t need to buy a special snake kit (although we actually had one); a few elastic bandages from a supermarket or chemist will more than do the trick.
Make sure you also stock your kit with plenty of bandages, antiseptic, strapping tape (I sprained my ankle and this was invaluable), and assorted drugs (painkillers, anti-inflammatories, antidiarrhoeals, and antihistamines are a good place to start).
Be able to call for help if the situation requires
Lastly, you need to be able to call for help if someone is badly injured (even correctly using the PIT for a snake bite, you have to be urgently rushed to hospital for anti-venom) or if weather conditions get too far out of hand and you’re worried for your safety (e.g bushfire).
This is never a cheap trip, but you’ll be happy to have the option to get out of the NP if the only alternative is death. Both of my parents, who are very experienced mountaineers, have been med-evac’d off summits in the last few years, and they also have a friend whose life was recently saved by a passing group of hikers that used their InReach to call for help.
Suffice to say, you need to be carrying some form of PLB (Personal Locator Beacon) or EPIRB (Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacon) on the trail, as it is quite remote and there is absolutely no cell signal (even SOS). If you don’t own one, it’s possible to hire one from a Service Tasmania shop in Devonport, Launceston, Burnie, or Hobart.
Packing list for the Overland Track (summer)
- Hat + sunnies
- 3x hiking shirts— short sleeve
- Lightweight fleece— good for colder mornings
- Thermal top— for sleeping or lounging around camp
- Down jacket
- Goretex rain jacket
- 2x hiking shorts
- Tights/polar fleece/trackies— for sleeping or lounging around camp
- 3x pairs hiking liners
- 2x pairs wool hiking socks
- Sturdy hiking boots
- Gaiters— protect against mud, water in your boots, and snake bites
- Sandals for camp
- Toothbrush + toothpaste
- Face/body wipes— mountain shower!
- Microfibre towel
- Hand sanitiser
- Toilet paper— there is none inside the park, even at hut toilets
- First aid kit: anti-inflammatories, pain killers, antihistamines, antidiarrhoeals, bandaids, medical tape, elastic bandages, alcohol wipes, antiseptic, scissors, tweezers, needle, and anything else you usually bring (make sure you bring this even in your summit pack, I ran into an emergency on Cradle Mountain and thankfully my dad had first aid stuff because I left mine at the hut!)
- PLB or EPIRB (see “Safety on the Overland Track”)
- Camera + extra batteries + power bank
- 50L hiking backpack + rain cover
- 2-3L bladder
- Summit pack— 20L lightweight backpack that can roll into your big pack
- Trekking poles
- Tent with rain fly
- Sleeping bag— recommended rating -10C or below, it can get really cold even in summer
- Sleeping pad
- Camping pillow
- Camp stove & lighter
- 2 gas canisters
- Cookwear: bowls, cups, cutlery
- Food for 5 breakfasts, 5 lunches, and plenty of snacks— we recommend nut bars, crackers, salami, cheese, beef jerky, tuna, hot chocolate, lollies, etc
- Dehydrated mountain meals for 5 nights
- Plastic canteen— for filling up water at the huts and easily transferring to your bladder or cooking pot
- Bear-proof bag— useful for keeping possums out of your food
Check out this post for recommendations on all the best gear: BUILDING THE ULTIMATE OUTDOOR ADVENTURE KIT: THE BEST HIKING & BACKPACKING GEAR FOR WOMEN
Other things to do in Cradle Mountain National Park
Dove Lake day hike
In addition to the Overland Track, there are a number of shorter hikes that stretch across the National Park. We only had time to squeeze in a quick wander around Dove Lake before we departed on our trek, but the views of Cradle Mountain were incredible, so I strongly recommend making time for an afternoon excursion.
You can reach Dove Lake on the shuttle bus from the Cradle Mountain Visitor Centre (included in the price of your National Parks Pass) and then wander over to Glacier Rock (allow an hour total). It’s a short, easy walk, but it boasts some of the most spectacular views you’ll see in the entire park.
Devils @ Cradle
Less than 1km from the Visitor Centre, there’s an amazing Tasmanian Devil sanctuary that is definitely worth visiting. They are doing heaps of conservation work with the highly endangered Devils, which you can learn all about on a tour of the facility. You’ll also get the opportunity to see Devils and Quolls up close— and they are way cuter than you’d imagine!
We did the After Dark Feeding Tour (which wasn’t actually after dark, since it’s summer) for $29.50 each, and it was one of the highlights of our entire trip around Tasmania! I also met a veterinary student in the kitchen of our holiday park who was volunteering at the facility, and she strongly encouraged us to do the Joey Encounter tour. We didn’t have time, but apparently it is the absolute best thing to do at the sanctuary.
Dove Canyon Canyoning
If adrenaline is more your thing, Cradle Mountain Canyons offers a crazy canyoning tour of Dove Canyon that involves flipping off rocks, abseiling down cliffs, and sliding down natural waterslides.
We had a wild time on our full-day tour, which was pretty steep at $245 per person, but definitely worth it. The tour also leaves right from the Cradle Mountain Visitor Centre, which is convenient if you’re looking for something to do the day before your Overland Track walk.
Read more about our canyoning adventures: CRADLE MOUNTAIN CANYONING: JUMPING, SLIDING, & ABSEILING THROUGH DOVE CANYON