Visiting Frosty Mountain to see the beautiful golden larches has to be one of the best possible autumn hikes on the west coast of Canada. I was expecting this to be a very tough hike as it is so long and has a hefty amount of elevation gain. However the path is really well built and never too steep or technical; So to my great surprise it was easier than I expected. I have seen photos that there is now snow on the trail, so it is probably more difficult if you are visiting later in October.
Marc and I did this hike with my friend Andy and his lovely wife Maria. I have known Andy (via his blog Being Outdoors and twitter) for over 4 years, and he has given Marc and I sooo many tips for hikes as well as places to see flowers so it was really cool to finally get to hike with them! If you like reading about hikes in BC, you should definitely take a peek at his writing.
Frosty Mountain Trail Map
Frosty Mountain Trail – the basics
Distance: 23km to the peak
16km to the larch meadows
Elevation gain: 1200m to Frosty Mountain summit
800-1000m to the larch meadows
High Point: 2409m
Time: 7-8 hours
What to bring:
Water, snacks and your camera!
The 10 essentials. Two people got lost and died in this area in the last year. You need to be prepared for the weather to change suddenly.
You may want bear spray, but it is so busy, I doubt you’ll need it while the larches are golden.
Facilities: There are loos, an emergency hut and a small stream for water at Frosty Creek Campground.
How hard is it? It’s a tough hike if you consider the elevation gain and long distance. However it is not technically difficult and is a hike rather than a scramble.
Frosty Mountain Trail – Getting started
You should park at the Lightning Lake day use area (by the Lightning Lake beach.) From there hike around to the northeastern side of the lake where you’ll see a sign for the Frosty Mountain trail. Basically, you’ll be hiking up the hill on the opposite side of Lighting Lake.
Lightning Lakes Views
The trail is great if you like hiking through pretty forest. There are decent switchbacks so it doesn’t feel particularly steep. But in no time at all you’ll be looking down on Lightning Lakes (and Flash Lake) from above. If you fancy an easier hike in this area you can take the Lightning Lakes Chain trail (past Lightning, Flash, Strike and Thunder Lakes.)
How busy is the trail to Frosty Mountain Larches?
If you do this walk when there is any possibility that famous golden larches have changed colour, you should expect this trail to be heaving. We did this in the last week of September, so we expected the larches to be green (and the trail to be quiet.) So we were quite surprised that so many people were already heading down as we made our way up.
Frosty Creek Campground
After the first rush of switchbacks, the trail flattens for a couple of kilometers. There is a wilderness campground about 7km in. Andy said he had never seen so many people camped here! There were tents squished into every available spot of flat ground.
Facilities wise, you’ll find an outhouse, a bear cache and cool old cabin (emergency shelter). There is a stream that provides a trickle of water at this time of year.
When should you go to Frosty Mountain to see the larches?
Normally I would expect to see the larches turn golden in early October (depending on how chilly the weather is.) This year (2021) the trees may have been weakened by the crazy hot temperatures earlier in the summer, so they were early.
We were all so excited to see that the trees were already starting to turn golden! If you look closely, they were still in the process of changing colour; They had some green and some golden needles.
What’s so special about larches?
Alpine larches are coniferous trees BUT unlike other similar pine trees, they are not evergreen. Each autumn, they turn an incredible gold colour, then shed all their needles for the winter. Not only are these spindly trees beautiful when they turn golden, they are really amazing, hardy tree-dudes. They grow in dry, rocky soil and can cope with extreme cold.
They can also live 1000 years. So imagine; Some of these trees were already growing here when the Mayan and Holy Roman Empires were still in existence.
Hiking with Blogging friends
As I mentioned we met up with one of my blogging friends, Andy and his wife Maria. Andy takes incredible photos of flowers and trees, so I will link to his post about this later. Marc was a bit worried to hike with them as he’s been stuck behind his desk all month. In the end, Marc was faster than all of us! Andy, Maria and I went slowly taking hundreds of larch photos.
Just be warned if you come to visit the larches on Mount Frosty, the views get better and better as you hike higher. The larch-filled meadows are on a plateau, so you get to see the golden trees with fantastic views of Mount Frosty’s peak looming behind them.
Leave no trace – larch edition
Most patches of larches are much further inland in the Rockies. We are very lucky to have this small pocket of golden gorgeousness near the west coast in E.C. Manning Provincial Park. This is a rare and ecologically sensitive ecosystem. The trees may look small an spindly, but they take hundreds (or a thousand) years to grow.
This means it is extra important for you to keep to the main trails and not trample in the meadows. Sadly I have heard some wa*$#*rs were camping in these sensitive meadows last weekend. They must have waltzed past the obvious sign posts to do this. Don’t be that guy!
You don’t even need to step off the trail to see incredible larch-filled views.
I loved some of these views of Frosty Mountain through the golden larch arches.
The area is especially beautiful in the afternoon, then the larches are back-lit. It almost looks like the mountain is covered in smokeless flames.
Just here for the larches?
If you like the idea of seeing the larch meadows in Manning, but you don’t think you can quite manage a 23km hike, these amazing views from the high point of the meadows are 9-9.5km in (18-19km return). Or, you can just visit the lower larches 8km (16km return).
There are some incredible cliffs with super steep drop-offs just above the main larch meadows. This is where you should decide if you fancy continuing up Frosty or not.
Frosty Mountain Summit
If you are anything like us, there is no question that you’ll want to keep going to see the larches from even higher on Frosty Mountain. The next section of trail is steep, and on a scree slope. This is probably the hardest part of the trail as you need to watch your feet on the sliding rocks.
It is hard to see from my photos, but the trail is pretty obvious. The rocks look worn where thousands of hikers have trodden before you. It must be more difficult once the trail is covered in snow; So be ready to turn back if you are unsure and the path is not easy to locate.
Frosty Mountain Ridge
Once you make it to the ridge there is a worn sign telling hikers to “use extreme caution beyond this point.” This is because there are some steep drop offs. Having said that, we found the path along the ridge relatively easy in good weather. It was a walk, rather than a scramble. This would (of course) be very different if the rocks were icy, so please be careful if you follow the fabulous ridge to the Frosty Mountain summit.
These are the kind of views you’ll be treated to. Swoon-worthy eh!? All those beautiful mountains are actually in Washington as the USA border is just beyond Frosty Mountain.
The final stretch
This is the view up the last little climb up Frosty Mountain. There is a faint path to follow the whole way up, so it is far easier than I was expecting.
If you don’t mind heights, the views down into the valley below Frosty Mountain’s ridge are fabulous. Especially when they are also full of golden larches.
It’s busy, but didn’t feel crazy
As you can see, there were plenty of hikers up enjoying the views from Frosty’s summit. However it didn’t feel too crowded as there is enough space at the peak for everyone to spread out, sunbathe and enjoy the incredible views.
Views from Frosty Mountain
Once you make it to the summit the views from Frosty Mountain are simply spectacular. We spent a whole hour up here taking photos, having lunch and just enjoying the scenery.
If you look down to the southwest, there is a beautiful valley full of more larches and a couple of small gem-like tarns. It would be hard work to reach that area; But it looks gorgeous from above. There are also layers and layers of spikey mountains in the USA.
This is the view southeast (also the USA). The lush green valley in between those mountains is the start of the Pacific Crest Trail that allows epic hikers to walk the whole way to Mexico.
I love this summit photo! The views this way are looking North into Canada.
True Summit of Frosty Mountain
The summit we visited is 2409m. The true summit is slightly further west and an extra 17m higher at 2426m. This looks quite a lot tougher for an extra 17m elevation gain. We stuck with the main “tourist summit”.
Windy or Frosty?
Once you reach the summit of Mount Frosty it can be pretty windy! However there is a pretty good rock wall shelter that can allow you to warm up before you start your descent.
Heading down from Frosty Mountain
Retrace your steps to head back down to Lightning Lake. In some ways the hike back is even more beautiful than the way up; You get so many views through the larch meadows with mountains spread out below. Quite a few of my photos above were taken on our return, rather than the way up!
Panoramas of Frosty Mountain larches
I’ll finish with a few panoramas to give you an idea of the scale of the larch-filled meadows as well as just how fantastic the views are from Frosty Mountain!
I hope you all like the look of the golden larches in Manning Park and the incredible Frosty Mountain views! I think there may be a few more days left before the larches drop their needles, so if you can, try to head out and find some!