How to Hike the Hooker Valley Track in New Zealand

My guide to the Hooker Valley Track, an easy walk with incredible views of the Southern Alps, glacial streams and the majestic Aoraki (Mount Cook).

When it comes to incredible day hikes, it’s honestly hard to beat the Hooker Valley Track in terms of both views and ease of access. In fact, this is one of New Zealand’s most popular day walks.

Located in the incredible Mount Cook National Park, the Hooker Valley track winds up the glacial valley, crossing several scenic suspension bridges over glacial streams with ice-capped mountains on every side.

After doing this walk many times on my trips to New Zealand, I’ll walk you through everything you need to know about track, including how to get here, what to expect, trail directions, and more based on my personal experience.

Hiker on the hooker valley track in new zealandHiker on the hooker valley track in new zealand
Arriving at the Hooker glacial lake

Key Information

  • Hike Distance & Duration: 10 km return, 3 hours
  • Elevation: 100 meters
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trailhead Location: Near White Horse Hill Campground at the end of Mount Cook Road
  • Facilities: Toilets and parking available at the trailhead and about half way
  • Map: My Stava | Download GPX

The trail follows the Hooker River up the Hooker Valley, crossing three scenic swing bridges with views of Mueller Lake and with Mount Cook visible along the entire length of the hike. The track ends at Hooker Lake, where you’ll see Mount Cook on clear days. This is an out-and-back trail, meaning you will hike the same path to return to the trailhead.

Read on for more info, tips on photo spots, and what to expect.

Bridge Closures: Be aware that the suspension bridges can be closed due to high winds or maintenance. The second swing bridge is the one most often closed. If this bridge is closed, you can walk up to the moraine viewpoint but won’t be able to continue to Hooker Lake, which is the highlight of the track. Always check conditions before starting your hike to avoid disappointment.

Where is the Hooker Valley Track?

The Hooker Valley Track follows the Hooker River up the Hooker Valley within the Mount Cook National Park. The trailhead is accessible from near the White Horse Hill campsite, located at the end of Mount Cook Road.

To reach the starting point, head towards Mount Cook Village, and continue driving until you reach the end of the road. Here, you’ll find the White Horse Hill Campground and car park, which serves as the main access point for the trail.

How to Get to the Hooker Valley Trailhead

Getting to the Hooker Valley Track requires a drive down one of New Zealand’s most scenic roads; Mount Cook Road. This road branches off State Highway 8 (Tekapo-Twizel Road) at the junction just before Lake Pukaki.

The road to Mount Cook National Park is sealed and well-maintained. However, it does close occasionally during Winter due to storms. Along the way, you’ll get some of the most beautiful scenes in the country.

Once you arrive at the end of the road, park at one of the large two car parks (about 200 car spaces) near White Horse Hill Camp. You’ll find signs indicating the trailhead on the right side of the road as you arrive.

Happy travelers in new zealandHappy travelers in new zealandHappy travelers in new zealand
My parents enjoying the views on the road to Mount Cook National Park

No Transport? How to hike the Hooker Valley Track on a Day Trip

For those without their own car, or if you’d prefer to visit the majestic Mount Cook NP on a day trip instead, you’re in luck. There are several awesome small group and private tours that you can book online in advance, saving the hassle of transport.

My Experience on the Hooker Valley Hike & What to Expect

  • Hike Distance & Duration: 10 km in 2 – 3 hours
  • Elevation: 100 m elevation gain
  • Difficulty: Easy

The Hooker Valley hike is an easy track that is suitable to varying fitness levels. This is the most popular hike in Mount Cook National Park thanks to its ease of access and stunning views.

Additionally, the track is mostly flat, with only about 100 m of elevation change spread out over the 10 km track.

I first hiked this trail in 2019 and have been back many times, usually on trips with family (this is a great walk for families as it’s easy). This personal account before was written from my first time but I’ve updated the information to reflect the current situation (which hasn’t changed much to be honest)!

Starting the Hike

Starting from the White Horse Hill Campground, I began the Hooker Valley Track early in the morning to catch the best light and avoid the crowds. The trailhead is easy to find, just follow the signs past the parking area.

First Swing Bridge

There are a total of three swing bridges on the Hooker Valley Track. The first one crosses the Hooker River with excellent views over Mueller Lake.

About 1.3 kilometers in, I reached this first swing bridge. The bridge offers excellent views of Mueller Lake and the rushing Hooker River below and is a great place for photos. Looking over to the west and you might be able to make out hikers walking up to the Sealy Tarns and the Mueller Hut.

This bridge is usually open but can be closed in winter or in very high winds or heavy rain. That said, I’ve never seen it closed.

Moraine Viewpoint

Soon after the first bridge, there’s a viewpoint with informative signs about the area’s alpine geology, courtesy of the DOC. It’s a good spot for a quick rest and some photos.

Second Swing Bridge

Another 1.3 kilometers along, you arrive at the second swing bridge. This section of the river is more turbulent, with impressive rapids and large boulders.

The bridge itself is sturdy but can be closed in adverse weather. If this bridge is closed, you won’t be able to reach Hooker Lake, the highlight of the track. You can still walk up to the moraine viewpoint but will need to turn back from there.

About 1 kilometer past the second bridge, we reached Stocking Stream Shelter, which has toilets and benches.

After the second swing bridge, you will notice that the landscape changes to a tussock plain, with wooden boardwalks preventing hikers from trampling the native grassland.

Third Swing Bridge

The final swing bridge is about 700 meters further. This bridge offers spectacular views of Mount Cook, especially on clear days. The track continues past the bridge and gently climbs the last 600 meters to Hooker Lake.

On a clear day, it’ll seem like you’re walking directly toward Mount Cook herself, towering just behind a small hill.

Arriving at Hooker Lake

Hooker Lake marks the end of the Hooker Valley track. From here, you’ll have incredible views of New Zealand’s tallest mountain and far-spanning views across the glacier-dotted lake.

You can also walk further to the shore of the lake, where you can get a closer glimpse of the huge chunks of ice making their way to the source of the Hooker River.

From here, the Hooker Valley track leads back to the car park, the same way you came in. This time, the predominant view is of the Sealy mountain range.

What if it’s Too Cloudy?

Bad weather seems to be more common than a clear day in this region. I’ve done this hike a few times but the first time we visited, we waited days for a good opportunity to hike it and see good views of Mount Cook.

However, if you are low on time, don’t skip this hike just because of a bit of cloud cover. Remember that this is an alpine region and the weather changes very quickly. Sometimes, this can be a blessing, especially when the clouds part perfectly for a brief moment revealing the grandiose peaks and glaciers of this incredible destination.

More Things to Do at Mount Cook National Park

In a rush and prefer to have your trip to Mount Cook organized in advance? Check out these three unmissable Mount Cook experiences!

3. Tasman Glacier Heli Hike Top-Pick

See the Tasman Glacier from above and land on the Franz Josef or Tasman Glacier for an epic Glacier Hike (all gear provided)

Where to Stay in Mount Cook National Park

With so many amazing hiking opportunities in Mount Cook National Park, it’s worth staying at least a night in the nearby Mount Cook Village. Below are the 3 top-rated options with links to check availability & pricing.

1. Aoraki Court Motel

A spacious motel offering small, affordable rooms and large, two-bedroom apartments in the Mount Cook Village.

2. Aoraki Mount Cook Alpine Lodge Top-Pick

A beautiful lodge with spacious rooms accommodating everyone from couples to large families, just a 5-minute walk from the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre.

3. The Hermitage Hotel

An incredible hotel with mountain views & a warm fireplace, just a drive to the start of the Hooker Valley Track.

Camping Near the Hooker Valley Track

By far, the best place to stay overnight at Mount Cook National Park is the White Horse Hill Campsite.

Here, there are 60 unpowered sites and you’ll need to arrive early in peak season to secure a spot. It’s not possible to book online as it operates on a first-come-first-serve basis.

More Photos From the Hooker Valley Track

Here are some more of my favourite photos from the hike. These are spread out in different visits so you have a good idea about the variety of what to expect. We were very fortunate to have good weather on most visits to be able to capture some clear shots!

If you have any track updates or questions, make sure to help other travelers out by leaving a comment below.

For now, why not check out some more travel guides and articles around Mount Cook and the incredible Lake District?