Immerse yourself in the autumnal beauty of Cradle Mountain – Lake St Clair National Park. Ancient rocky landscapes and alpine heathlands come alive with fiery red and orange hues during a once-a-year display colloquially known as the ‘turning of the fagus’.


Highlights

  • Iconic Cradle Mountain forms a backdrop to the autumn colours of the Nothofagus Gunnii
  • Trail Running the Face Track
  • Cloud-scapes from Cradle’s Summit
  • Reflective alpine lakes and tarns

The Lowdown

Not for the first or the last time, I wound my way along the narrow winding road to the Dove Lake carpark, craning my neck around every bend to get that first elusive glimpse of Cradle Mountain’s 2 spires emerging from the veil of mist shrouding the alpine landscape.

With one day left in Tassie, I had felt Cradle luring me back for one last adventure. Stretching my cramped legs after the 1.5hr drive from Devonport, I was still tired from the early wake-up and a big mission in the Walls of Jerusalem over the past two days. Lacing up my trail running shoes and taking a last gulp of coffee from a thermos, I set out from the still-quiet Dove Lake carpark, quickly covering the boardwalk past Lake Lilla and Wombat Pool.

The Changing Of The Seasons // Cradle Mountain (TAS) Riley de Jong turning of the fagus, lake st clair, gravel path

Turning Of The Fagus

I was enjoying the serenity of having the trails largely to myself on this squally April morning. The summit was still hidden behind fast-moving clouds, but today’s goal wasn’t peak-bagging. I was here to witness the changing of the seasons; to see the much anticipated ‘turning of the fagus’.

I got my first view of the slopes bathed in spectacular autumn hues of red and orange Nothofagus gunnii (Tasmania’s endemic deciduous beech) overlooking Crater Lake, stopping to take in the autumn display (and some oxygen) halfway up the steep climb to Marion’s Lookout. It’s easy to imagine the ancient landscapes of Gondwanaland looking at the gnarled deciduous shrubs clinging to rocky slopes. The Nothofagus Gunnii, though related to the beech forests of South America and New Zealand are highly adapted to the remote, wet highlands of Tasmania.

Sensing a thinning in the clouds, I scrambled up the chained section to Marian’s Lookout, where I was rewarded with an all-consuming panorama of Cradle Mountain. Its jagged rocky peaks seemingly close enough to touch, falling away into a blanket of orange foliage down to the shores of Dove Lake below. This was what I had come for!

The Changing Of The Seasons // Cradle Mountain (TAS) Riley de Jong turning of the fagus, lake st clair, ridgeline

An Enchanting Return

The next few kilometres were easy, past Kitchen Hut and the turn-off to the Overland Track, instead taking the Face Track across the slopes of Cradle and its smaller peak, Little Horn. I was running through a sea of bronze and rust coloured, shoulder-height gnarly fagus (and at times ankle-deep mud between boardwalks). Turning to look back at Weindorfers Tower I was rewarded with stunning cloudscapes, reminiscent of a Peter Dombrovskis photograph.

It was difficult to watch my footing on the loose rocky descent of Hansons Peak whilst trying to capture the iconic views across Dove Lake to Cradle and Barn Bluff in my memory. Even back in the relative warmth of my air-conditioned car, I was still watching the panorama recede in the rear-view mirror. I turned out of the carpark just as busloads of visitors began to arrive to witness the spectacular natural exhibition that is the turning of the fagus.

The Changing Of The Seasons // Cradle Mountain (TAS) Riley de Jong turning of the fagus, lake st clair

Essential Gear

  • Trail running shoes or hiking shoes
  • Rainjacket and appropriate clothing – the route described is exposed and is an alpine environment. Conditions change quickly, don’t get caught out.
  • Camera
  • Parks pass

How To Get There

1.5hr drive from Devonport or 2hr drive from Launceston to Dove Lake Carpark. Tourist numbers are increasing, help protect Cradle Mountain’s fragile endemic species and reduce overcrowding by catching the environmentally-friendly Cradle Shuttle Service from the Visitor Centre. Arrive early or late to avoid the crowds at Dove Lake.

Activities

  • Range of walks from easy to challenging
  • Day walks and overnight hikes, all take in the stunning panorama and autumn displays of colour
  • Photography

Skill Level

Easy to Intermediate – though be prepared. Some sections of this route are steep and chained.

Distance Covered

11km circuit (Dove Lake – Marions Lookout – Kitchen Hut – Hansons Peak – Dove Lake)

 


Trail runs with a view

Tropical Trail Running // Yunbenun – Magnetic Island (QLD)

Running The Murray // Hattah-Kulkyne And Murray Sunset National Parks (VIC)

A New 70km Ultramarathon Runs Through Tasmania’s Tarkine Rainforest

The North Face Pros Reveal Their Favourite Trail Runs In Aus & NZ