Franz Josef Glacier Valley Walk

Franz Josef Glacier valley walk

This is a guide to the Franz Josef Glacier Valley walk which includes all the information you need to know including how to get there, how long the hike is, and much more. It also includes my personal opinion and some great tips on how to see the glacier if you don’t have your own transport!

Franz Josef Glacier Hike

Franz Josef Glacier, New Zealand is one of the most talked about attractions in New Zealand. This impressive Glacier is 12km long and is located in the Westland Tai Poutini National park. The glacier is very unique in the fact that it descends to only 300m above sea level and almost always breaks past the vegetation line.

Franz Josef Glacier was a must-see spot for me so it really was a no-brainer to make a stop in the cute little town of Franz Josef for a night. Many travelers also have the same plan, which to me, is a great decision!

Franz Josef Glacier valley walk view
The Valley!

Franz Josef Glacier Hike General Info

The Franz Josef Glacier Valley walk (of the Franz Josef Glacier hike) is the best way to view the glacier without paying for a tour. The walk starts from the Franz Josef carpark located only 5 minutes by car from the town of Franz Josef. From the town, drive south on Highway 6 until you cross the long one-way bridge, then turn left.

The valley walk is an easy hike and is around 5km return. The hike takes around 1.5 hours return depending on your speed and how long you spend looking at the glacier.

During the hike, you do have to cross two small streams that involve stepping stones. If you’re not confident with this, its best to hike with others.

The weather at Franz Josef Glacier can change quickly so be prepared and bring warm clothes/rainproof clothes with you on the hike!

You can do a guided glacier walks in Franz Josef which will allow you to get more information and actually get closer to the glacier (you get to go further than the public barrier!) Click here for more information about a guided glacier walk in Franz Josef!

Click here for a map of the Franz Josef Glacier!

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Is the Franz Josef Glacier walk free?

Yes! The Franz Josef Glacier valley walk is completely free! A guided Franz Josef glacier hike costs about $85 NZD but this price can change seasonally.

If you want to get a closer look at the glacier you will need to do a heli- hike to the glacier. We didn’t have the budget to do this but we have heard so many amazing things about it and it’s one thing we regret not doing! For more information and prices on these tours click here!

Franz josef glacier valley walk free
The sign at the start of the Franz Josef Glacier Valley walk!

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Franz Josef Glacier valley walk free
The trail to the glacier is really beautiful!

Can I walk from the town of Franz Josef?

Yes. In fact, during my stay, I saw many people walking from the town to the start of the hike. This, however, will add an extra couple of hours to the total hike time.

Another great way to get to the start of the hike if you don’t have transport is to hitchhike. Hitchhiking is considered very safe in New Zealand and it’s most likely you will be picked up by another group of tourists!

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Where is the Franz Josef Glacier?

The Franz Josef Glacier is located in the Westland Poutini National Park. The best option to view the glacier is to stay overnight in or around the town of Franz Josef. The Glacier is located only a few minutes drive from the town of Franz Josef. The Glacier is actually within walking distance to the town for those who don’t have a car.

Franz Josef Glacier valley walk
Taking in the view at sunrise (shame it was such a cloudy day!)

Getting to the Town of Franz Josef

From the town of Greymouth to the north, Franz Josef is a 170km drive, and from Wanaka to the south it is a 285km drive. Both towns are connected by Highway 6. If you are heading from the south then the road to the glacier carpark will be just before the town of Franz Josef and the opposite if you’re coming from the north. There is a large single lane bridge at the turn off so you really can’t miss it!

Buses run from both Greymouth and Wanaka to Franz Josef.

From Wanaka (or Queenstown) you can catch the Intercity bus at 10:10 am daily and arrive at 4 pm. This bus service costs $43 NZD.From Greymouth, you can catch the intercity bus at 1:30 pm daily and arrive at 5 pm. This bus service costs $34 NZD.

For more information on bus on bus scheduals click here

Franz Josef Glacier waterfalls
Just one of the amazing waterfalls along the trail!
Franz Josef Glacier valley walk

Accommodation in Franz Josef town

The town of Franz Josef offers all types of accommodation from luxury hotels to budget hostels!
We stayed in a budget hostel called The Glow Worm. The hostel was $25 NZD per night for a 6-bed dorm room. The hostel was good and had free parking. I have no problem recommending it to others for a budget option. Some other great options are:

Low Budget

YHA Franz Joseph – YHA’s are always a great budget hostel option. At the YHA Franz Josef, you find both dorm rooms and privates at a really great price.

Chatua Backpackers and Motel – Chatua Backpackers is the cheapest place in Franz Josef but only by a few dollars, however, this hostel also includes a free breakfast. Rooms range from small shared dorms to private single, double and quadruple rooms.

Franz Joseph Montrose – This hostel is more expensive than both mentioned above however, it has the best ratings on Its location and cleanliness are two of its highest ranking categories.

Mid Budget

Rainforest Retreat – The Rainforest Retreat is a beautiful hotel surrounded by nature. Its rooms range from doubles all the way up to there deluxe spa tree house. The budget rooms here are in the mid-budget hotel range, however, the more expensive rooms are nothing short of luxurious and in the higher budget range!

JAG Escape Franz Alpine Retreat – These guys specialize in luxury double rooms and small, one and two bedroom chalets and cottages. There cottages and chalets come with private kitchens. Their location is out of town so make sure you have transport if you stay here.

High Budget

Aspen Court Franz Josef – The Aspen Court is the second best-rated hotel in Franz Josef. They specialize in luxury studio apartments for up to 4 people. All rooms come with a kitchenette and some even a spa!

Glenfern Villas – Glenfern Villas is a beautiful hotel that specializes in self-contained villas with fully equipt kitchens. Its location is out of town so its best to have a rental car if you want to stay here.

If you want to browse the accommodation options in Franz Josef town, click here!

Franz Josef Glacier valley walk
Jumping for joy during the hike!
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What I thought of the Franz Josef Glacier Valley Walk: Franz Josef Glacier Review

The Franz Josef Glacier valley walk is an amazing short hike. The hike takes you through some breathtaking landscapes and offers great views of the surrounding area. During the hike, you pass several waterfalls and small streams that only add to the experience.

In recent years, the Franz Josef Glacier has entered a retreating period. This means that the viewpoint that was once at the very foot of the glacier is now around 800m away. So the views, without taking a guided tour were not all that amazing. This is compared to say 4 years ago when the glacier met the valley floor. That being said there aren’t any glaciers in Australia (where I’m from) so it was still pretty amazing to see and something well worth that visit!

Things to do in Franz Josef Town

Franz Josef Hot Pools

The Franz Josef Hot pools are the best quality hot pools we visited during our time in New Zealand. We found them to be very peaceful and clean. We highly recommend visiting the hot pools during your stay!

Franz Josef Wildlife Centre

The Franz Josef Wildlife Center is one of the most important wildlife centers to the Kiwi bird in New Zealand. The Kiwis raised here are sent to a predator-free island in the Marlborough Sounds before being released back into the wild near Franz Josef. This is hugely important to the survival of the birds to adulthood. For prices and more info click here.

Fox Glacier Walk

Fox Glacier is located only 320 kilometers from Franz Josef Glacier. It is a slightly more challenging hike but also well worth doing! On the Fox Glacier walk you’ll walk trhough a valley before hiking up a small hill. Here, is when you’ll be greeted wit views of yet another glacier! While your in the area, you might as well do both! Both the Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier are located along the common West Coast road trip route!

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Where to next!

Franz Josef Glacier is just one of the many beautiful stops along New Zealand’s stunning west coast. Some other great places to stop are:

  • Punakaiki – Punakaiki is home to the famous Pancake rock formations. These formations are 30 million years old and are very cool to see. Punakaiki is located around 4 hours north of Franz Josef. Check out our things to do in Punakaiki guide here.
  • The Blue Pools – The Blue Pools is a stunning place to visit on New Zealand’s west coast. Its famous for its stunning watercolor that literally shines blue. Check out our Blue Pools visitor guide here!
  • Thunder Creek FallsThunder Creek falls is a very impressive waterfall located near the Blue Pools. Visiting Thunder Creek Falls involves only a short 5 minute walk from the carpark along the main highway and is a very short, but stunning stop on your way south.
  • Wanaka – Wanaka is one of the cutest towns in the lakes district of New Zealand. Its located a few hours south of Franz Josef and is a perfect stop on your way to Queenstown. Some of the best things to do in Wanaka include visiting the Wanaka Lavender farm and hiking Roy’s Peak!


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