23 August 2022.
There may be more than one way to reach the Mount Kosciuszko Summit but the Main Range Walk is, without a doubt, the most spectacular.
As you climb higher amongst Australia’s tallest peaks, the rocky landscapes are streaked in a pallet of green, with subdued tones of olive and moss offset against vibrant emerald. Silver mountain daisies carpet the high alpine meadows and the citrus scent of eucalyptus permeates the forest air. Swollen rivers gurgle through the valleys and mountain lakes reveal themselves alongside staggering vistas that encapsulate the entire western ranges of the Snowy Mountains.
While the goal for many may be to stand atop Australia’s highest mountain, you’ll soon discover that the views along the way are even more impressive than the final summit and what makes this magnificent hike all the better. While the trail itself is not particularly challenging, at 22km with much of that being uphill, it is certainly a long hike and requires a decent level of fitness.
If you do just one hike in the Snowy Mountains this summer, make it this one. Here’s everything you need to know about hiking the Main Range Walk.
Distance | 22km circuit
Duration | 6 to 8 hours
Difficulty | Moderate
Trailhead | Charlotte Pass
Direction | The trail is best walked in an anti-clockwise direction, taking in the steepest uphill section and best views in the first half of the trail.
You’ll find the trailhead for the Main Range Walk at Charlotte Pass which is a straightforward 50-minute drive from Jindabyne along Kosciuszko Road. The trip from Thredbo is slightly longer at just over an hour, travelling down the Thredbo Valley on the Alpine Way before joining Kosciuszko Road.
About half an hour before Charlotte Pass you’ll reach the entry station for Kosciuszko National Park where you’ll need to pay the National Park Entry Fee.
The road then swings around the mountain and brings you into the Perisher Valley where you’ll pass the main ski villages of Smiggins Holes and Perisher which mostly lie empty during the summer months. Along the way, be sure to stop and enjoy the beautiful view as you pass Spencers Creek.
At Charlotte Pass, you’ll find a large gravel shoulder on either side of the main road for parking. In peak summer months, I’d suggest getting there early to secure a good spot.
Distance: 4km | Duration: 1 hour
Setting out from Charlotte Pass, the scenery wastes no time in putting on a show.
Weaving between snow gums and low-lying shrubbery speckled with wildflowers, the start of the trail overlooks the wide valley where the Snowy River and Club Lake Creek converge down below and the distant path meanders steeply up the opposite bank – a nod at what’s to come.
After just 800m of gradual downhill along a wide gravel path, you’ll reach the Snowy River crossing where you’ll find a series of large stepping stones to guide you across. While it is entirely manageable to make it across without getting wet, some of the rocks are rather large so be sure to take your time jumping across.
While I did see some hikers walking in the reverse direction choose to walk straight through the river rather than bothering with the boulders, with 21km ahead of you, I wouldn’t recommend getting your boots wet quite so early in the day.
After making it safely across the two rivers, you’ll begin the steep climb towards Blue Lake which sits at 1,890 m.
As you reach the first plateau, the landscape opens up into vast meadows streaked in hues of green and blanketed in wild mountain daisies and billy buttons that sway and twirl in an endless dance alongside the trail. Rugged hills stretch into the distance, shifting in and out of view as clouds roll across the scene.
Despite being so early on in the hike, this was one of my favourite sections of the Main Range Walk. It’s well worth taking your time to drink it all in.
Meandering onwards across the hillsides peppered with boulders, you’ll cross Carruthers Creek before the final uphill push that will bring the Blue Lake within view.
Unfortunately during my visit, the Blue Lake Walk which leads down to the water’s edge was undergoing maintenance and being guarded by a park ranger, but there is an alternate option to climb the hill on the right-hand side to enjoy the views from there which is exactly what we did.
You’ll need a patch of clear sky to really appreciate the colour of the lake, but even on a grey day, perched on the hilltop above marks a great place for a short break to catch your breath.
Distance: 1.8km | Duration: 30 mins
From Blue Lake, the trail climbs gradually uphill to the spectacular Carruthers Peak, and at 2,145m, this one joins the ranks of Australia’s highest mountains.
This section is reasonably short and skirts along the side of the mountain high above Carruthers Creek. Before the pass, the trail is well protected which means that even in summer you’ll find patches of snow blanketing the trail. While the route is well worn, the snow can be slippery so slow and steady is the way to go.
About halfway along, you’ll catch a glimpse of Club Lake up ahead and see the trail that cuts across from Mount Twynam before tackling the final steeper section to the peak.
Emerging at Carruthers Peak, you’re rewarded with some of the most impressive views of the entire Main Range Walk (dare I say, better than the view from Kosciuszko Summit). The valley falls away sharply on the far side revealing rugged peaks that ripple into endless forested ridgelines and stretch to the horizon.
Carruthers Peak is particularly exposed and the wind up here can be brutal so be sure to have your jacket close at hand.
The next few hours of the trail will guide you across the windier side of the Main Range so expect things to get a lot chillier. Despite being a warm and sunny summer’s day, we donned our jackets right here and didn’t take them off until the descent from Rawsons Pass.
Distance: 5.9km | Duration: 2 hours
Setting off from Carruthers Peak, the trail shifts between a mosaic of granite pavers which blend in beautifully with the surrounding landscapes and tarnished metal boardwalks that carry you across the fragile vegetation of the Snowy Mountains.
The trail heads downhill again across a short switchback before skirting along the western faces of Mount Lee and Mount Northcote.
There are some beautiful stretches here, including the gorgeous vista overlooking Lake Albina where wildflowers bloom across the vivid green valley, the lake shimmers in the sunshine and Mount Townsend, Australia’s second highest peak, stands proudly.
Continuing onwards you’ll reach Muellers Pass where the mountains begin to rise up on the right while the left side of the trail opens into a wide valley where dozens of tiny tributaries carve their way through the marshy greenery en route towards the majestic Snowy River.
With almost 4 hours of solid uphill walking behind you, anywhere along the pass will make a decent place to stop for lunch
While the Kosciuszko Summit may be the obvious choice for a break, it can be rather exposed and is often far colder and windier than here on the side of the mountain. Plus, as soon as you reach the Summit Trail and realise just how many people arrive from the Thredbo side, you’ll be glad you took the opportunity to enjoy a quiet break away from the crowds.
We found an open rocky outcrop a short way off the path and settled in for a picnic lunch before hitting the final few kilometres to the summit.
Distance: 2.7km | Duration: 45 minutes
At the end of Muellers Pass, you’ll reach the major intersection with the Summit Walk which will guide you the final few hundred metres to the summit. It is at this point that all three paths leading to Mount Kosciuszko converge and you’ll quickly discover that the trail becomes noticeably busier.
The final section of the Summit Walk coils around the peak and emerges at a mound of rocks and the trig point that marks the Mount Kosciuszko Summit.
Standing on the roof of Australia, you’ll be rewarded with views across the Snowy Mountains in all directions, stretching towards the horizon to the north and carved into valleys to the south.
While it’s practically a rite of passage for every Aussie to stand atop Mount Kosciuszko and take in the views across the ridgelines, I personally found the views from elsewhere along the Main Range Walk to be even more impressive.
Still, it’s tradition to take your picture at the summit marker – there’s often a short line to do the honours – and enjoy the views before heading down to Rawson Pass for the return journey.
Distance: 7.6km | Duration: 2 hours
Finally, after 14km hiked almost entirely uphill, it’s time for the descent. Your thighs can thankfully have a bit of a breather because it’s all downhill from here.
For those still with a bit of energy left to burn, consider walking a short distance from Rawson Pass down the Kosciuszko Walk to catch a glimpse of Lake Cootapatamba before returning back to begin the walk to Charlotte Pass.
This final section of the Main Range Walk is suitable for mountain bikes and the track is a wide gravel road that gradually winds back towards the car park.
After following the Etheridge Range for a short way, you’ll pass by Seaman’s Hut, an emergency alpine cabin dating back to 1929, before continuing on to the banks of the Snowy River.
Thankfully, the river crossings here have well-established bridges so you won’t have any rock hopping to contend with. However, if you’re lucky enough to be welcomed with a beautiful sunny day, a refreshing river swim might just be the perfect antidote for your tired legs.
There’s a grassy bank and several large boulders to sprawl out in the sun.
Having been spoiled rotten with stunning scenery all morning, this final stretch is perhaps less interesting and diverse as what you’ve experienced earlier in the day, but the wide, even trail makes the walking easy.
There are little trail markers at every kilometre here to cheer you to the finish and when you finally return to the shelter of the snow gum forest, you’ll know the end is near.
Emerging at Charlotte Pass with 22km under your belt, don’t head off right away. Instead, I’d recommend wandering over to the Charlotte Pass Lookout to take in the entire valley before you. The tiny trail climbing up to Blue Lake, Mount Kosciuszko looming in the distance and the glimmering white road that makes the final beeline to Charlotte Pass.
The Main Range Walk is a long but spectacular one and seeing it all laid out before you only makes you appreciate it all the more.
Pay The National Park Entry Fee |
The Main Range Walk lies within Kosciuszko National Park where you’ll be required to pay the National Park Entry Fee which costs $17 per vehicle per day. However, if you’re spending a few days in the area, the better option is to purchase the Short Breaks Pass for $68 per vehicle which is valid for 5 days where the fifth day is free.
The pass is available from the Snowy Region Visitor’s Centre in Jindabyne or the park entrance gate on Kosciuszko Road.
For those planning to visit this gorgeous part of the state multiple times throughout the year, consider buying the NSW All Parks Pass for $190 per year, not to be confused with the Multi-Parks Pass for which Kosciuszko is the only park not included.
PREPARE FOR ALL WEATHER |
Moving through Australia’s highest alpine plateau, the weather and wind up here can be brutal and even in summer, it’s not uncommon for temperatures to plummet to low single digits.
Summer storms can also roll in unexpectedly so if bad weather is forecast, definitely don’t attempt to reach the summit.
Be sure to bring a rain jacket, a jumper and a pair of long pants just in case and check the forecast every morning before setting out. The BoM is the most reliable or you can check at the National Park entrance.
Get An Early Start |
At 22km, most of which is uphill, the Main Range Walk is a long one so I’d definitely recommend hitting the trail early.
We left Jindabyne at 8am and began the hike just before 9am. Including a decent lunch break, stops at all the main attractions and plenty of photo opportunities in between, the walk took us 6.5 hours.
BRING ENOUGH FOOD AND WATER FOR THE DAY |
The Main Range is a remote pocket of the Snowy Mountains and there are no facilities anywhere along the trail, including at Charlotte Pass. Be sure to bring a packed lunch, plenty of water and snacks for a full day of hiking.
Mind the Snow |
Unsurprisingly, in winter this high alpine trail is completely snowed under, but even in the warmer months, it’s not uncommon to find snow covering parts of the trail, particularly in spring when the white blanket may not have fully melted yet.
Between Charlotte Pass and Blue Lake and the Mount Kosciuszko Summit and Charlotte Pass, the trail is wide and mostly cleared, but the narrow trails in between which lie on the sheltered side of the mountain are where you’re likely to find the odd snowdrift. For this reason, I’d suggest wearing waterproof hiking boots just in case to avoid getting your shoes wet.
BEWARE OF THE FLIES |
If there’s one thing we were warned about before visiting the Snowy Mountains, it’s that the flies can be relentless.
While this thankfully wasn’t much of an issue during our visit, coming prepared with long hiking pants, strong insect repellant and a head net are all a good idea. Sure, these may look completely ridiculous, but when you’ve got flies attacking your eyes and nostrils every second of the hike you’ll be glad you’ve got one and more than happy to look a little silly if it means stopping the onslaught.
Jindabyne makes an ideal base from which to explore Kosciuszko National Park and lies about an hour’s drive from Charlotte Pass, however, the wide range of summer activities available in Thredbo also makes this a decent option despite the extra distance. Both towns have options for camping as well as plenty of homely self-catering apartments for a comfortable stay in the mountains.
As a premier winter destination, you’ll find that much of the accommodation is designed with alpine ski lodge vibes in mind and caters to groups of snow chasers, while many of the more luxurious ski lodges don’t operate during the summer months.
With this in mind, be sure to book well in advance to secure your accommodation in summer as it does fill up quickly.
CAMPING + BUDGET |
Jindabyne Holiday Park | Set right in the heart of town on the banks of Lake Jindabyne, this sprawling holiday park includes everything from campsites to comfortable villas. The spacious waterside campground includes a communal kitchen with powered and unpowered sites on offer. The cabins and villas also hold a prime location by the water and include a kitchen, bathroom and aircon. Check rates and availability here.
Discovery Parks Jindabyne | Also set on the shores of Lake Jindabyne, Discovery Parks is located a short way out of town and offers camping amongst a leafy grove as well as basic cabins and a handful of newly renovated deluxe villas complete with fireplace and modern fittings. Check rates and availability here.
Thredbo YHA | Located in the heart of Thredbo, this hostel offers both private and dorm rooms along with a communal kitchen and lounge area. A decent, affordable and long-standing choice for solo travellers however recent reviews are mixed. Check rates and availability here.
Jindy Inn | Located just a short walk from Jindabyne, this cosy and cheerful guesthouse is well priced and receives excellent reviews. Breakfast is included and many rooms include a balcony with lake views. Check rates and availability here.
Full Circle Apartments | These homely apartments are located right across the road from the lake and are fully equipped for everything you’ll need for your visit to Jindabyne. Check rates and availability here.
Alaska’s Retreat | We stayed at this great apartment right on Lake Jindabyne which meant a refreshing afternoon swim was the first order of business as soon as we returned home from a hike. The space is comfortable and clean, has a fully-equipped kitchen, outdoor barbecue, modern bathroom and several rooms making it perfect for families or large groups. It’s also just minutes from town central Jindabyne. Check rates and availability here.
Pure Chalet Thredbo | This modern and cosy bed and breakfast is a lovely option in Thredbo boasting wonderful mountain views, a fantastic breakfast and friendly hosts. Check rates and availability here.
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