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Lake Marian Track is an incredible, short day-hike along the road to Milford Sound. Taking only 3 hours to complete, the hike includes views of waterfalls as well as the stunning Lake Marian. This blog is a guide to the track including our own personal experiences.
The road to Milford is arguably as beautiful as Milford Sound itself. Boasting incredible valleys, mountain peaks, and countless trails to explore, you could literally spend days on this short 120-kilometer-long (75 miles) stretch of road!
But if like us, you don’t have days to spend getting to Milford Sound, you will need to pick and choose wisely where you want to spend your precious time.
There are a ton of different stops on the road to Milford from Te Anau and lots of different hiking trails – but if you’re going to pick one trail in particular, then I recommend making time for the hike to Lake Marian.
About Lake Marian Track
Where is the Lake Marian Trailhead?
As I said before, the hike to Lake Marian starts along to road to Milford – between the town of Te Anau and Milford Sound. You’ll find access to the Lake Marian track from the Hollyford Road turnoff (the same place as Gunns Camp), approximately 38 kilometers (24 miles) from Milford Sound.
Hollyford Road is well signposted and can also easily be found using Google Maps.
Drive on Hollyford Road for 1 km (0.6 mi) and you will reach a parking lot. Park there and you will see the signs for the Lake Marian Track. You’ll know you’re headed in the right direction if you cross a suspension bridge almost immediately.
Related Read: Have yet to stop in Milford Sound yet? Make sure to learn where to find the secret Milford Sound Swing!
What makes the track to Lake Marian so special?
Lake Marian is a gorgeous turquoise lake sitting in a valley surrounded by mountain peaks and waterfalls. It is simply stunning – and that alone is what makes it so extraordinary.
The walk itself is also noteworthy. At the beginning of Lake Marian Track, you will cross a river on a suspension bridge and then only a few hundred meters later find yourself walking on a platform right next to waterfalls!
From there, it is all hiking uphill through the forest. Once you have climbed and climbed and climbed, you will turn one last bend, and low and behold, in front of you is a huge valley and Lake Marian! Simply spectacular!
How long is Lake Marian Track?
Lake Marian Track is approximately 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) long for a return trip. You walk along the same trail to and from Lake Marian.
Allow approximately 3 hours to complete the hike, however, if you like to take lots of stops for photos or maybe even swim in the lake (if you can brave the cold water) then allow a bit more time!
Related Read: Exploring Milford Sound on a boat cruise is the best way to immerse youself in the setting.
How difficult is Lake Marian Track?
Lake Marian Track starts off very easy. In the beginning, it is flat, well maintained, and suitable for all fitness levels. However, after the waterfalls there is a sign posted that warns that ahead is a steady incline with a rocky path – this sign is right!
The majority of Lake Marian Track is uphill and involves climbing over rocks. It isn’t easy by any means and you will definitely need good footwear to complete it.
When it has been wet, the rocks can be slippery and there are also some very muddy sections. Expect to have to climb over tree roots or on top of large rocks at times.
It isn’t the easiest of day walks near Milford Sound, but if you are up for the challenge, then it’s totally worth it!
Related Read: Learn what it’s like hiking the Kepler Track, you’ll hike through the fjordland mountains, forests, waterfalls, and glacier valleys!
How to Add Lake Marian Track to Your Milford Sound Itinerary
Lake Marian Track isn’t short! At three hours long (not including the drive there, the drive to Milford Sound and back, and the other amazing stops along the road) it’s very hard to do it all in one day.
I have three recommendations of where to stay in order to enjoy all this stunning area has to offer:
To help plan your trip through Milford Sound be sure to check out my article on the ultimate road trip from Queenstown to Milford Sound. Although it starts in Queenstown, it lists the best attractions you should stop at and gives you a great timeline to go off!
1. Stay in Te Anau
Te Anau is the closest town to Milford Sound, in fact, you can make the journey to Milford Sound in as little as 1.5 hours. From the start of the Lake Marian Track, it is only an hour’s drive!
So if you spend a night in Te Anau before and after you visit Milford Sound you’ll have to time stop at many of the stunning places on the road to Milford Sound, hike the Lake Marian track, do a cruise in Milford Sound (and watch the sunset) before returning again to Te Anau. Just be sure to start your day early to give yourself plenty of time!
I have personally tried and tested this and although a long day, I loved it! In winter you’ll need to be prepared to drive back in the dark, but in summer you’ll have daylight until around 9:30 pm.
You can view and book your accommodation in Te Anau online in advance to avoid missing out on the best places to stay!
2. Stay in Te Anau and at the Milford Lodge
Option two is, in my opinion, the best option when it comes to seeing all Milford Sound has to offer. It works the same as option 1 but instead of having to drive back to Te Anau, you spend a second night at the Milford Lodge.
If you’ve rented a campervan or car you can get a powered campsite at the Milford Lodge for only $70 NZD a night. They also have dorm beds and private accommodation that range in price (some are very expensive!)
If you do decide to go with this option you could also just leave from Queenstown.
3. Camp along the road to Milford
If you’re driving around in a campervan or motorhome another option is to camp along the road to Milford Sound. This way, you’re as close as possible to both Lake Marian Track and Milford Sound!
In all honesty, I don’t know much about this as I haven’t done it, however, you can find more information about the camping spots in Fiordland National park here.
I do know that there are plenty of places to camp just none after the Homer Tunnel. Please note, you should book these in advance and do not freedom camp in the national park, you will get a ticket!
What to book before heading to Milford Sound
If you’re heading off to Milford Sound after hiking Lake Marian Track then be sure to have your Milford cruise booked in advance before you arrive. A cruise is one of those must-do activities in Milford that you shouldn’t miss.
Below are some of the top-rated cruises you can do in Milford Sound! Be sure the check the times of the cruises and make sure you have enough time to stop at the places you want to stop at and of course hike the Lake Marian track. (If you’re unsure, leave a comment below and I’ll be more than happy to help you plan this epic road trip!)
My favorite cruises in Milford Sound are the Nature Cruise and Sightseeing Nature Cruise. However, the Encounter Nature Cruise does start at 9:45 am which is a little early if you plan on hiking the Lake Marian Track before (you could hike it after though!)
What should you bring on the Lake Marian Track?
There are a few things that I would recommend bringing along with you for the Lake Marian Track hike. They would be:
- Good hiking footwear. Good grip on the shoes for the slippery rocks and waterproof would also be a great idea for the muddy sections.
- Rain gear. The weather can change in an instant in Fiordland National Park, so even on the sunniest of days bring your rain jacket just in case.
- 750ml of water per person at least. The Lake Marian Track is a bit of a climb on the way there so you’ll find yourself getting thirsty pretty quickly.
- Camera. The views of Lake Marian are stunning – you will absolutely want to take photos.
Our Experience and Overall Opinion
We once saw a beautiful photo of Lake Marian on Instagram and then decided that we wanted to check it out for ourselves. Without any research, we planned to do it on our way to Milford Sound.
When we arrived we saw the sign saying it takes three hours to complete the hike. We were a bit surprised as most of the hikes along the way to Milford are very short and can be completed in under an hour, but we wanted to see Lake Marian so we had a quick bite to eat, filled up our water bottles, and headed off.
As I said, the beginning portion of the Lake Marian Track is easy and beautiful! We stopped many times to photograph the waterfalls. It’s after the waterfalls when the serious hiking started.
We were hiking in the middle of spring and although it wasn’t raining at the time, there had been tons of rain prior to making the rocks along the trail slippery. The trail took a bit of time and effort (and a few water breaks to catch our breath) but we eventually made it to Lake Marian – and it was definitely worth it!
Daniel, being hot and sweaty, decided that jumping into the freezing cold glacier-fed lake was a good idea. The few people sitting around the lake watched and laughed at him as he jumped into the water and jumped back out just as quickly.
We took a few photos and relaxed a bit before making our way back down to the car park. The way back took much less time than the way there.
Overall, I was thoroughly impressed with the hike to Lake Marian. It was challenging but not too hard, and the views at the end were so rewarding!
The little gem is often missed by visitors, in fact, we skipped it on our first trip to Milford Sound. I am so glad we decided to do it this time around though, was such a stunning lake and a good way to spend a few hours one afternoon.
Related Read: You might have heard of Milford Sound cruises but did you know that you can also kayak in Milford Sound?
Thanks for reading!
Be sure to check out the rest of our blogs about visiting Milford Sound, or just New Zealand in general! Here are a few that might interest you:
The Truth About Living in a Van
33 Free and Cheap Things to do in Queenstown
How to Hike the Kepler Track for cheap
Friday 8th of October 2021
Can vouch for this from 50 years back...
Thursday 26th of December 2019
It is a popular option to add on the Lake Marian Track after a trip to Milford Sound. For my time around the area I stayed in Te Anau for the night, did a Milford Sound cruise early in the morning, and then headed off on the trail in the early afternoon before making my way back to Te Anau at day s end.
Thursday 26th of December 2019
Thats awesome I think everyone should do the Lake Marian Track!
Wednesday 11th of September 2019
What is the orientation of the first photo? Was the lady face facing North-East? Want to figure out the good lighting time to take photo of that area. Thanks
Thursday 12th of September 2019
The direction you shoot in is North West.
The hardest thing with Lake Marian is getting a day without cloud. Really seems to sit around the mountains because they are near the coat.
Hope that helps
Wednesday 11th of September 2019
Thank you very much for the article!
Is cruise the only way to go to trailhead of Lake Marian Track? If driving there is also an option, what are the comparisons between these 2 options?
What are the other hikes of Milford Sound? Thanks!
Thursday 12th of September 2019
Actually no its the opposite. Did you get that idea from the article?? (if so I might have to re-word it)
The trail starts on the road to Milford sound and none of the tours that include transport from either Queenstown or Te Anau will stop there. The only way to hike the trail is to drive yourself.
The cruise is just what you do once you arrive in Milford Sound.
Another really good hike you should consider is the Key Summit. If you get a good day it's really a beautiful lookout. It takes around 3 hours to hike and starts at the Great Divide on the Milford Road. It's actually one end of the Routeburn Track. If you plan on doing it in winter check-in with the DOC and find out if there is any avalanche risk on the trail.
If you need any more info just reach out. I am more than happy to help you!