Flanked by the Southern Alps to the west, and flat as a pancake Canterbury Plains to the east, the Canterbury Foothills are a smorgasbord of mountains, plains, braided rivers and glacial lakes. Many of the peaks are starkly beautiful patchworks of tussock grass and scree, some with stands of native forest on their lower slopes.
There are many well maintained tracks in the area, but much of the country is pretty open, so experienced trampers can extend their options considerably. You can get to pretty much anywhere in the Canterbury Foothills from Christchurch in a day-trip: driving times are between 50 minutes and a little over 2 hours for the furthest walks.
Following are a selection of the best walks in the region – just click on the titles or pictures to view my original blog posts. First are a selection of the best moderate hikes, then harder walks for an even more epic tramping experience. We got a lot of these walk ideas from the Canterbury Foothills and Forests tramping guide.
Best Moderate Day-Walks in the Canterbury Foothills
A popular walk up Peak Hill (1240m) to excellent 360 degree views over Lake Coleridge, various mountain ranges, and braided river valleys.
Excellent gorge scenery and grand mountain vistas await you on this moderate walk to Woolshed Creek Hut on the western side of Mt Somers.
A classic circuit walk taking in two major attractions, the summit of Mt Somers (1688m) with great views, & the spectacular Pinnacles rock formations. Definitely at the hard end of moderate, a worthy shorter option is to visit Mt Somers and return the way you came.
A 1000m climb through a variety of native vegetation takes you to the summit of Little Mt Peel (1311m) with great views of the Canterbury Plains & surrounding mountains.
The Coal Hill Track takes you up steeply through tussock grass to the summit of Coal Hill (1617m), with excellent views the whole way.
An unexpectedly attractive walk through the Rangitata Gorge on the Tenahaun Track, to a viewpoint over mountains to the west.
Excellent views of the Rangitata River and north-east towards Mt Taylor from the top of the Moorhouse Range (point 1153m).
A traverse of Mt Lyndon (1489m) & Cloudy Hill (1442m), with beautiful views of Lake Lyndon, & of impressive mountain ranges in all directions.
Best Hard Day-Walks in the Canterbury Foothills
Really spectacular views the whole way up Mt Oakden (1633m), including braided river valleys, Lake Coleridge & mountains galore. A real classic.
Fabulous views of the Southern Alps and surrounds from the summit of Mt Potts (2184m), in the upper Rangitata Valley.
Stark and ruggedly beautiful scenery on this classic Canterbury tramp up Castle Hill Peak (1998m) via Foggy Peak, in Korowai Torlesse Tussocklands Park. Going as far as Foggy Peak is of just moderate difficulty.
Spectacular views from the summit of Red Hill (1641m), climbed via the atmospheric Porter River Valley. Not a long walk but off-track and hence a bit slow going depending on the conditions.
This circuit walk up Mt Harper (1829m) offers wide open views of the Ashburton Lakes District & the Rangitata River, with the Southern Alps providing the backdrop.
Really excellent views over the braided Rakaia River and countless mountains on this big ascent up Steepface Hill (1876m) in Hakatere Conservation Park.
Spectacular views of barren 2500m high peaks, glacial valleys & the Rangitata River, from the summit of Black Mountain (1809m).
An attractive and varied walk through native shrublands besides Redcliffe Stream & up to the summit of Rat Hill (1450m) for views of rugged high peaks.
A varied loop walk with great views from the summit of Mt Oxford (1364m), plus beautiful beech forest and a nice waterfall on the return leg. There are shorter moderate options available.
Great views in all directions as you climb to the accessible high peak of Mt Cloudsley (2107m) in the Craigieburn Range near Castle Hill.
Stark and rugged scenery on this epic day-hike to the summit of Mt Taylor (2333m), the highest peak in the Canterbury Foothills.
A long walk to the summit of Mt Peel (1743m) via Middle & Little Mt Peel. Great views of the Canterbury Plains and surrounding mountains.
Rugged scenery as you ascend to Ben More (1655m) along broad ridges on this circuit walk in Korowai/Torlesse Tussocklands Park.
A big walk to the two highest peaks in the Palmer Range, Godley Peak (2087m) & Moorhouse Peak (2025m). Scree and tussock in all directions.
Fabulous views await those who climb steeply to Mt Cheeseman (2031m), a peak on the crest of the Craigieburn Range.
Great views and nice variety on this walk to Mid Hill (1831m) in Craigieburn Forest Park, with forest, tussock, a rocky ridge & lots of tarns.
A long circuit over Mt Enys (2194m) & Mt Cloudsley (2107m), the two highest peaks in the Craigieburn Range. Fabulous views from the tops.
Big views on this big walk up Steepface Hill and on to Mt Hutt (2185m), one of Canterbury’s iconic high peaks.
Great views on this circuit visiting Mt Harper (1829m), Cairn Hill (1589m) and Lake Emma in Hakatere Conservation Park.
Fabulous views from the Craigieburn Range tops at Hamilton Peak (1922m) & Nervous Knob (1820m) on this sometimes steep circuit walk.
An alternative circuit route up Castle Hill Peak (1998m), over Mt Plenty, and returning via Foggy Peak for variety. Spectacular views the whole way.
This long walk to Black Hill (2067m) via Turtons Saddle offers seriously good views of the Rakaia River and countless mountains in all directions.
Spectacular views from pt. 1877m on Mt Catherine, of the Southern Alps, other peaks in the Canterbury Foothills, & the Ashburton Lakes area.
Spectacular views from Mt Torlesse (1961m), taking in other peaks in the Torlesse Range, including nearby Castle Hill Peak.
Climb to the 2019m high peak Mt Izard in the Craigieburn Range for excellent views of neighbouring Mt Cheeseman and countless other peaks.
An adventurous route up past a very scenic tarn to the summit of Mt Sinclair (2065m) with spectacular views, especially to the north. It’s all scenic enough that you might see tourists visiting the tarn by helicopter!