On the border with the US, Manning Park is home to a forest of larches, and it is one of the only places in BC where you can find these trees. In fall, hiking Frosty Mountain is quite popular as you can enjoy the golden colors of the Larches. Frosty Mountain is the highest point in Manning Park; its summit rises to 2423 meters above sea level. Here is a complete guide for you to prepare your Frosty Mountain Hike.
For my first solo hike of the fall, I headed to this park to walk for 2 days in this beautiful forest.
This description in this hiking guide to Frosty Mountain relates to the summer route – I hit the trail on September 29th and 30th, 2020. In winter, with the snow, it is an entirely different adventure.
I. Hiking guide: Frosty Mountain Trail
II. The Larches Forest
III. Camping on the Frosty Mountain trail
IV. How to get to Manning Park
Hiking Guide : Frosty Mountain Trail
Location: Manning Park, BC
Distance: 24 km out & back. It can be done as a loop by taking Windy Joe Trail, a less-traveled trail
Elevation gain: 1100 m
Time: 3,5 hours the first day, 3 hours the next morning
Features a larches forest and a bit of scrambling
Camping: yes, at Frosty Creek campsite (you can book in advance on the BC parks website)
Difficulty: moderate, only one more technical section before reaching the summit
Fees: $5 for the backcountry permit
Dogs: allowed on leash
It’s totally possible to do this hike in just one day, whether it’s the round trip or the loop through Windy Joe Trail. For my part, I chose to stay camping because I wanted to enjoy the sunset and sunrise’s colors over the Larches forest.
The trail begins by leaving Lightning Lakes (where you can find the park information center and a campsite.) The first part goes up in the forest. After about 1 hour of walking, you get pretty views of the surrounding mountains and lakes.
After 7km and 2h30 of walking, I arrived at Frosty Creek Campsite. As I know, this is the only water source on the trail, so be sure to refuel in the creek. Sometimes the water source is dry in summer, so it is best to take a good amount of water with you. I found the campsite over-crowded, yet it was the middle of the week. It was already full of tents when I arrived.
An hour’s walk from the camp is the Larches plateau. In my opinion, this is the best part of the hike. The colors in the fall are outstanding. I hung out for a while in the forest. Walking on flat terrain was a good break. A lot of people do that hike only to see the Larches and hike back.
For the more athletic, I recommend climbing Frosty Mountain twice. At sunset and sunrise. The colors are different, the atmosphere too.
I set off at the first light of dawn. The sunrise in the Larches forest is incredible. The ascent to the mountain is not that difficult. You have to scramble a bit for the first half-hour, then walk on the ridge, but that last part is not very technical. When you leave the Larches forest, it takes about 1h30 to reach the summit.
You’ll see a junction with the Windy Joe trail just before the ridge. You can do it as a loop by taking that trail on your way back from Frosty Mountain. The good side of retracing your steps is that you can leave the bag with your tent and overnight pack and hike the ascent lighter.
The first peak of Frosty Mountain, the only one accessible in complete safety, rises to 2408 meters above sea level. I was all alone that morning; I didn’t meet any other hiker during the ascent. It was 8:30 in the morning when I arrived at the top, it was not too cold, and I took advantage of a bit of time of rest with a view of the mountain range. The snow-capped mountains that we see are on the US side: Manning Park is on the border between the 2 countries. This is also where the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) ends on the Canadian side.
After a moment to meditate, I started the descent around 9:30 am. I got my camping stuff hidden in the forest and set off for the parking lot. There were many more people on Wednesday than the day before. I had to let whole groups of hikers pass. Even though everyone looks super cool and respectful, I thought this was a bit too popular for me.
The Larches Forest
This forest is made up of larches, and this is relatively rare in British Columbia. Manning Park is one of the few places in BC where they can be observed. It’s also the closest place to Vancouver to see those alpine larch trees.
Larch is a species of conifer that loses its needles in winter. Before the needles fall, they turn golden. This is the time when these trees are the most beautiful. They grow in extreme condition, in dry and cold weather, and above 2000m of elevation
When to see the golden Larches?
The larches turn golden for a week or two, usually late September – early October. But the start time and duration can change depending on the weather.
I follow the Manning Park resort Instagram account for updates, so I know when the Larches have turned golden.
Larches Forest is a trendy place in autumn. It is also a very fragile ecosystem, which is why it is so important to protect it.
Camping on Frosty Mountain trail
Many people make the trail to Frosty Mountain in a day’s hike. Still, I think camping in the park is the best way to really enjoy the scenery – especially this fantastic forest. The colors at sunset and sunrise are the most beautiful.
Wild camping is not allowed in Manning Park, outside the dedicated area. You should know that there is only one campsite, the Frosty Creek campsite. However, it gets full pretty quickly, and dozens of people congregating in one place in nature. In my opinion, it’s worse than responsible wilderness camping.
But it’s also to protect the fragile environment, so that’s understandable. There are – dirty- toilets at the campsite and of course the creek for water refueling.
You need a backcountry permit to camp at Frosty Creek campsite. Get it online or at the information desk at Lightening Lakes (rangers do not accept cash). It’s $ 5 per night per person.
How to get to Manning Park
Manning Park is a provincial park in BC, on the border with the US. Route 3, which crosses it, is often snow-covered from October-November, so it is worth checking the conditions and providing snow tires and chains before making the trip.
Manning Park is very popular in the winter for snowshoe hikes – snowshoe trails – and skiing. In summer and fall, there are plenty of great hikes. I recommend the Skyline East trail and Three Brothers trail – they are a little less popular than Frosty Mountain. Pack microspikes from October.