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ULTIMATE Guide to the Franz Josef Glacier Walk

ULTIMATE Guide to the Franz Josef Glacier Walk

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We love free activities and the Franz Josef Glacier Walk is the best (free) way to view the Franz Josef Glacier. This short but beautiful walk leads to a viewpoint of the Franz Josef Glacier and it’s the closest you can get without a tour.

This Franz Josef Glacier walk is only one of many trails that lead to viewpoints of the glacier, but being the closest and easiest, it’s a must-do for everyone visiting the lovely town of Franz Josef.

In this post, I’ll tell you everything you need to know about the Franz Josef Glacier walk as well as a few other hikes near Franz Josef you can do during your visit!

About the Franz Josef Glacier Walk

views of the Franz Josef Glacier walk
The Franz Josef Glacier Walk!
  • Length: Around 2.5 kilometers (1.6 mi) each way
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Duration: 1.5 hours return
  • Facilities: Parking and toilets only
  • Wheelchair Access: No

The Franz Josef Glacier walk is the best way to view the Franz Josef Glacier without paying for a tour. The walk to the glacier is an easy hike and is around 4 km (2.5 mi) return. The trail is considered a must-do on any South Island itinerary.

The walk takes about 1.5 hours in total to complete depending on your speed and how long you spend looking at the glacier. In my experience, the trail was very well maintained in most places. However, during the Franz Josef Valley hike, you do have to cross two small streams that involve stepping stones in order to stay dry. If you’re not confident with this, it’s best to hike with others.

You cannot camp on the trail nor in the parking lot at the trailhead. However, with the Glacier Walk being so close to Franz Josef town, you can simply stay there.

Depending on the weather conditions at the time of year and day you are planning to hike this trail may be completely closed off because of the ice collapsing, flooding, or landslides. You can stay up to date here on the DOC’s website.

2022 Update: According to recent reviews of the hike, the length of the trail has since changed since we hiked it and is only about half as long as before and goes to only one viewpoint from further away so keep in mind that my experiences will differ some from how it is currently.

When we went the walk was around 2.5 kilometers each way but is only 1.4 kilometers (.09 mi) each way because the river has cut off access up the valley. Once you reach the river and can not continue you can choose to walk a bit more through the forest to the viewing area where you can get some glimpses of the glacier’s top.

Franz Josef Hike Difficulty

The Franz Josef hike is considered easy. Taking into account that the trail is well maintained and there is little to no gain in elevation, it’s definitely easy enough for almost anyone to walk including families with kids. It is only a 4 km walk (2.5 mi) in total that should be able to be completed in an hour and a half.

Where Does the Franz Josef Glacier Walk Start From?

The walk starts from the Franz Josef Glacier walk parking lot 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.

Once there, you can park your car in the large parking lot. This parking lot is for day use only and you cannot park here overnight. In fact, the parking lot is locked at around 10 pm.

You can either drive to the parking lot or take a shuttle from town. The company that runs the shuttle is Glacier Shuttle Charter. The cost of the shuttle is $12.50 for a round trip.

Related Read: If you are thinking about visiting Milford Sound then only way to properly explore the area is on a Milford Sound Cruise!

The official sign for the Franz josef glacier walk
The sign at the start of the Franz Josef Glacier Valley walk!

Can I Walk From the Town of Franz Josef?

The View of the Franz Josef Glacier from the Franz Josef Glacier walk
You can just see the glacier!

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!

Related Read: Learn how you can take the iconic Mt Cook road photo while visiting the national park!

Franz Josef Glacier Walk vs Heli-hike

People hiking on the Franz Josef Glacier as part of a Franz Josef Glacier heli hike tour
If you can, go hiking ON the glacier – you need to book a tour, though!

So you don’t accidentally get things twisted the Franz Josef Glacier Walk is NOT glacier walking it is a walk to a viewpoint of the glacier from many feet away. The title of the walk can be a bit misleading so I wanted to make sure you’re clear on that! 😉

The only way to walk on the glacier itself is on a Heli-hike tour. They have the ability to fly you out to areas where you can’t reach by foot. It is definitely a must-do activity in addition to the Franz Josef Glacier Walk that you will not want to miss out in if you can afford to do so.

I would personally recommend this Franz Josef Heli-hike Tour that includes the flight there and a two-hour hike with a guide on top of the glacier. This tour includes alllll the gear and equipment you will need such as a jacket, trousers, woolen hat, gloves, and leather boots with crampons.

Guided Hike to Franz Josef Viewpoint

If you would prefer to do a guided tour then this Franz Josef Glacier guided walk is a great option and is the same exact route in this blog that you can do by yourself.

The benefit of this 3-hour tour is you’ll learn all about the glacier and the surrounding environment and the Maori legends from a knowledgeable guide. There are some notable views as you walk along the route including waterfalls, rivers, and native wildlife. You can book this Franz Josef Nature Walk in advance here!

4 Other Awesome Hikes near Franz Josef

1. Alex Knob Track

  • Length: 17.2 km (10.7 mi) return (via same track)
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Duration: 6 – 8 hours

The Alex Knob Trail is an amazing hike that if you have the time you really should consider doing. The trail is long and will take all day to hike, however, the views of the Franz Josef Glacier are spectacular.

The Alex knob trail climbs to over 1,300 meters (4,265 ft) above sea level and from here you’ll get similar views to a scenic flight!

2. Franz Josef Glacier Heli Hike

People hiking on the Franz Josef Glacier as part of a Franz Josef Glacier heli hike tour
If you can, go hiking on the glacier!
  • Length: N/A
  • Difficulty: Easy/Moderate – Guided walk
  • Duration: 2 hours on the ice

The main experience most people come to Franz Josef for is the Franz Josef Glacier Heli Hike. This unique experience sees you flying high above the Southern Alps before landing on the glacier. From there, your guide will lead you on and through the glacier.

Book your Franz Josef Glacier Heli Hike here!

3. Roberts Point Track

  • Length: 12 km (7.5 mi) return (via same track)
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Duration: 4 – 5 hours

The Roberts Point Track is another hike similar to the Alex Knob Track. It climbs high above the valley to give you breathtaking views of the surrounding area and of course, Franz Josef Glacier.

Although shorter, this trail is slightly more challenging that the Alex Knob because of the terrain. For that reason only fit, experienced hikers should attempt this trail.

4. Canavans Knob Walk

  • Length: 3.2 km (2 mi) return (via same track)
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Duration: 1 hour

This short hike is a great walk to do before sunset. It climbs to a viewpoint that overlooks the valley. You can’t see Franz Josef Glacier that well from here but it’s still an easy but beautiful hike!

Getting to the Town of Franz Josef

Waterfalls of the Franz Josef Glacier walk
There are lots of amazing waterfalls along the way!

From the town of Greymouth to the north, Franz Josef is a 170 km (106 mi) drive, and from Wanaka to the south it is a 285 km (177 mi) drive. Both towns are connected by Highway 6.

If you are heading from the south then the road to the glacier parking lot 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 turnoff so you really can’t miss it!

The most convenient way to get to Franz Josef is to rent a car or motorhome and drive yourself there. It’s definitely worth it because there are so many other great things to do nearby Franz Josef and you can even take a road trip along the west coast of New Zealand’s south island! We use DiscoverCars and have found them to be the most affordable.

There are also buses running from both Greymouth and Wanaka to Franz Josef town.

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.

Accommodation in Franz Josef

Aspen Court Franz Josef
Aspen Court Franz Josef

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 minute-drive from the town of Franz Josef.

The town of Franz Josef offers all types of accommodation from luxury hotels to budget hostels! See our recommendations below or have a look at all of the Franz Josef stays here.

Low Budget

The Glow Worm – This is the budget hostel we stayed in. 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 as a budget option.

Chateau 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.

A waterfall on the Franz Josef Glacier walk
Another waterfall!

Mid Budget

Rainforest Retreat – The Rainforest Retreat is a beautiful hotel surrounded by nature. Its rooms range from doubles all the way up to their deluxe spa treehouse. 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 equipped kitchens. Its location is out of town so its best to have a rental car if you want to stay here.

Related Read: Get some insighs, tips, and inspiration for planning your New Zealand road trip with these itinerary ideas.

What I Thought of the Franz Josef Glacier Walk

Bailey jumping in the air on the Franz Josef Glacier valley walk
Fooling around on the trail!

The Franz Josef Glacier 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 Franz Josef Glacier viewpoint that was once at the very foot of the glacier is now around 800m (2,625 ft) away.

Currently, (July of 2022) you can only reach the first of the viewpoints on the trail so it is even further away which is a bit disappointing. As mentioned above you would need to walk a bit through the rainforest and still would only see the top part of the glacier but we hope that there will soon be built a trail that can go over the river that is blocking the rest of the walk. As we said, we will do our best to keep you updated!

So the views, without taking a guided tour will not be all that amazing. This is compared to say 4 years ago when the glacier met the valley floor. So, in my opinion, the Franz Josef Glacier Walk isn’t one of the best things to do in New Zealand but it’s still worth doing!

Things to do in Franz Josef Town

1. Franz Josef Hot Pools

Franz Josef hot pools is the best hot pools in New Zealand
Enjoying the peaceful and relaxing Franz Joseph Hot Pools

The Franz Josef Glacier 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!

2. Franz Josef Wildlife Centre

The Franz Josef Wildlife Center is one of the most important wildlife centers for 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.

At the wildlife center, you can see kiwi birds and support a great cause at the same time. This is really a must-do affordable activity that benefits the birds the most! You can book your ticket in advance here.

3. Fox Glacier Walk

Fox Glacier is located only 32 kilometers (20 miles) from Franz Josef Glacier. It is a slightly more challenging hike but also well worth doing! On the Fox Glacier walk, you’ll walk through a valley before hiking up a small hill. Here, is when you’ll be greeted with views of yet another glacier!

While you’re 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! There is also a helicopter flight that lands on Fox Glacier but with this experience, there is no hiking involved it is just a 20-minute flight with a snow landing on top of the glacier so this is perfect if hiking isn’t your thing, you want to save some time, or if you just care about incredible views.

Other Road Trips to Take From Franz Josef

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. It’s famous for its stunning watercolor that literally shines blue. Check out our Blue Pools visitor guide here!
  • Thunder Creek Falls Thunder 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 parking lot 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!

Thanks for reading!

Bailey looking out the window on our scenic flight around Mount Cook
Franz Josef is brilliant from both sky and land!

Thanks for reading our guide to the Franz Josef Glacier walk! I hope it helped you plan your trip to Franz Josef and cleared any questions you had.

If you have any further questions or comments then leave them in the comments section below. We are more than happy to help you further! If you want more content from us you can visit our New Zeland page where we have all kinds of information or see below some of our most popular reads:

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