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ULTIMATE Guide to the Franz Josef Glacier Walk (New Trail)

ULTIMATE Guide to the Franz Josef Glacier Walk (New Trail)

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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!

UPDATE: The Franz Josef Glacier Walk has been partially closed due to trail damage. For the foreseeable future, you can only hike to the Sentinel Rock Viewpoint. The trail to the viewpoint is now only a 15-minute walk each way but very far from the glacier. If you want to get close to the glacier, I would personally recommend this Franz Josef Heli-hike Tour. The contents of this blog have been updated to the new, shorter trail.

About the Franz Josef Glacier Walk

Signs telling hikers to not hike further as the trail is now closed
Signs telling hikers to not hike further as the trail is now closed
  • Length: 1. 7-kilometer (1.05 mile) return walk
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Duration: 30 minutes return.
  • Facilities: Parking and toilets only

The Franz Josef Glacier walk is the best way to view the Franz Josef Glacier without paying for a tour. The walk to the Sentinel Rock Viewpoint is an easy hike and is around 1.7 kilometers (1.5 miles) return. The trail is considered a must-do on any South Island itinerary.

The walk takes about 20 to 30 minutes in total to complete, depending on your speed and how long you spend looking at the glacier. The trail was very well maintained the entire way.

You cannot camp on the trail or in the parking lot at the trailhead. However, with the Glacier Walk being so close to Franz Josef town, you can simply stay there.

It is important to mention that the trail used to travel much further up the valley. That section of the trail has since been closed due to flooding that occurred and destroyed the trail. You will now be met with signage warning people not to hike further (pictured above), and this is officially the end of the trail now.

Franz Josef Hike Difficulty

Zoomed in photo of the Franz Josef Glacier from the Franz Josef Glacier Walk viewpoint
Zoomed in photo of the Franz Josef Glacier from the Franz Josef Glacier Walk viewpoint

The Franz Josef hike is considered very easy. Taking into account that the trail is well maintained and there is only a small gain in elevation, it’s definitely easy enough for almost anyone to walk, including families with kids.

The old trail used to be much longer and this trail was considered moderate. However, since the flooding closed the front section of the trail, the Franz Josef Glacier Walk is now an easy trail most can do.

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!

Can I Walk From the Town of Franz Josef?

The last viewpoint along the Franz Josef Glacier Trail
This is now as far as you can go!

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 Glacier 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 the viewpoint of the glacier a few kilometers away. The title of the walk can be a bit misleading, so I wanted to make sure you’re clear on that! 😉

If your goal is to get close to a glacier, the valley walk is NOT going to do this for you. The only way to walk on the glacier itself (and get within a few kilometers) 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 on 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 all the gear and equipment you will need, such as a jacket, trousers, woolen hat, gloves, and leather boots with crampons.

The tour above is extremely popular, and booking well in advance is essential – especially in the summer months!

Guided Hike to Franz Josef Viewpoint

Franz josef Glacier valley with the glacier the the background
Franz Josef Glacier valley with the glacier the the background

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

Road into Franz Josef Town in New Zealand
Road into Franz Josef Town in New Zealand

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.

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

Signs at the Franz Josef Glacier Viewpoint
It’s still worth it!
Roped off area at the Franz Josef Glacier Walk trail
Roped off area at the Franz Josef Glacier Walk 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.

In recent years, the Franz Josef Glacier has entered a retreating period. This means that the Franz Josef Glacier viewpoint is very far from the glacier itself.

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

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

1. Franz Josef 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

One of the suspension bridges at the Blue Pools on the West Coast of NZ
What a place to visit!

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. It’s 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!

Renting a Car or Campervan in New Zealand

Bailey takes a selfie with a JUCY campervan
Ready to hit the road!
Bailey stands infront of a JUCY campervan in New Zealand
JUCY is another favorite!

The first step to planning your New Zealand road trip is choosing your set of wheels! Most people rent a campervan or motorhome to get around, but you can also just rent a normal car and stay in hotels (as opposed to camping.)

You can search for rental cars online here in advance to compare car models and prices.

You can also do this with motorhomes and campervans on a website called Motorhome Republic. It shows all of the available campervans and motorhomes for your specific New Zealand road trip dates. You can compare prices and company reviews here too!

JUCY is our personal favorite campervan rental company in NZ. We love JUCY because they have such a range of both cars and campervans available, so you’re pretty much guaranteed to find something to suit your budget and travel style.

We’ve actually secured an exclusive discount code for our readers with JUCY. Just click here to browse their availability and use the code DTRAVEL24 at checkout to get 5% off! What a good deal!

You can check prices, availability and book with JUCY online here.

Star RV is another company we personally recommend but specifically for motorhomes! They offer larger motorhomes (as opposed to budget campervans) at really reasonable rates.

Star RV has actually given us a discount code for our readers too! Use the code DTRAVEL24 at checkout to get 5% off your motorhome rental! Note, this code is only valid for bookings made before June 21, 2024 with travel dates before Dec 21, 2024. Click here to browse availability, prices, and book with our discount code!

Thanks for reading!

Daniel poses for a photo at Lake Matheson, NZ
Thanks for reading!

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:

Things to do in Mt Cook National Park

Canyoning in Queenstown

Things to do in Milford Sound