Trail Run Project Logo

A spectacular alpine route to connect the Dart and West Matukituki Valleys in summer.

Your Rating: Rating Rating Rating Rating Rating      Clear Rating
Your Difficulty:
Your Favorites: Add To-Do · Your List
Zoom in to see details
Map Key







5,806' 1,770 m


1,535' 468 m


4,821' 1,469 m


3,270' 997 m



Avg Grade (9°)


Max Grade (33°)

Dogs No Dogs

Features Commonly Backpacked · Geological Significance · River/Creek · Views · Wildflowers


The Cascade Saddle Route is a 17km alpine crossing that connects West Matukituki Valley with the Dart Valley in Mt. Aspiring National Park. It is a very challenging and technical climb and numerous deaths have occurred here, so you'll need advanced tramping experience to navigate the pass safely. It is recommended as a summer route only (Dec-April).

Need to Know

There is avalanche danger from June to November. Check the New Zealand Avalanche Advisory website ( before starting your trip.


Aspiring Hut to Cascade Saddle
Time: 4-5 hr
Distance: 6 km

The track is signposted from Aspiring Hut and climbs steadily up through mixed beech forest. Above the bushline the track becomes a route and is marked with orange poles. It follows a steep snow grass and tussock ridge with some rocky outcrops and ledges to negotiate. From the bushline, the route is narrow, steep and very exposed - you'll need your hands to climb.

If snow is present, do not proceed without an ice axe and crampons and the skills to use them - slipping can mean falling several hundred metres off the cliffs.

The route reaches the pylon at the top of the ridge (1835 m) via a steep and narrow gully that holds snow for much of the year.

If the route is attempted in reverse (from the Dart) the pylon and orange-poled route MUST be located before descending into the Matukituki Valley. This section of the route is much more difficult to go down than go up.

After the pylon follow the poles down to Cascade Creek, cross it to the easy slopes and flats leading to Cascade Saddle (1524 m).

There is a camping site with a toilet near Cascade Creek. It's the only suitable camping site along the route.

The track becomes slippery in wet conditions and a fall can be fatal - turn around if weather deteriorates.

Cascade Saddle to Dart Hut
Time: 4-5 hr
Distance: 10 km

The route to both the Dart and Rees valleys veers off to the left, just before you reach Cascade Saddle. Follow the orange poles along the ridge, then the rock cairns through the steep and unstable slopes down to the valley floor and lateral moraines of the Dart Glacier. The traverse from the ridge to the valley floor is above 1500 metres and very exposed to the weather.

Stay on the true left bank of the Dart River/Te Awa Whakatipu – the left side looking down river. You'll need to ford several side streams. The water level rises quickly with either rain or afternoon snow melt, take care in particular with streams further down the valley, close to Dart Hut.

Slightly upstream from the confluence of the Dart and Snowy Creek, a bridge over the creek leads to Dart Hut.

History & Background

In 1939, from the Cascade Camp in the West Matukituki valley, C.E. Smith and A.P. Harper pioneered the Ernie Smith Route to the Tyndall Ridge. Nearly 20 years later a metal pylon was placed on the ridge to guide trampers safely around the bluffs. The 'Cullers Route' was later established from Cascade Hut. The lower section fell into disrepair after a new route was cut from Aspiring Hut, which meets the Cullers Route midway up the bush-clad slopes.


Shared By:

Tom Harris

Trail Ratings

  5.0 from 2 votes


  5.0 from 2 votes
5 Star
4 Star
3 Star
2 Star
1 Star
Recommended Route Rankings


in New Zealand


22 Views Last Month
695 Since Mar 2, 2020
Very Difficult



NZ Mountain Safety Council has created this video on the Cascade Saddle Route. It is a very challenging and technical climb and numerous deaths have occurred here, so you'll need advanced tramping experience to navigate the pass safely.
Mar 2, 2020 near Queenstown, NZ
The Dart Glacier from the Cascade Saddle Route.
Mar 2, 2020 near Queenstown, NZ
Looking across the bridge towards the Dart Hut.
Jun 20, 2023 near Queenstown, NZ


Current Trail Conditions

Add Your Check-In