Deciduous conifers of Frosty Mountain: Manning Park, British Columbia

No, it’s not an oxymoron. While hiking the Frosty Mountain trail in E.C. Manning Provincial Park, I was introduced to the alpine larch, a deciduous conifer that sheds its needles every fall and grows them back in spring. For a few weeks, in late September/early October, the Frosty Mountain larches become a blaze of golden colour. My hiking buddy Eva and I timed our October 2 hike perfectly for this stunning fall display and learned some cool things about British Columbia’s toughest and oldest tree.

Alpine larches are not found in the coastal forests around my Vancouver neighbourhood. The closest place to see these trees (from Vancouver) is in Manning Park, about a 3 hour drive east of the city.

To view the Manning Park larches you need to hike to the Frosty Mountain larch plateau, an 18 km out-and-back trip. There’s an optional 4 km extension to the top of Frosty Mountain, which has great views to the colourful plateau and mountains beyond.

The Lightning Lake day-use parking lot, where the trail begins, was already three-quarters full when we arrived early on a Friday morning. We heard later that the weekend was a zoo. This hike has become extremely popular during the short fall colour period.

Kudos to the trail designers/builders. The terrain up to Frosty Mountain, the highest peak in Manning Park (2408 m) is steep, but the switchback that snake through the forest for the first 5 km have a moderate grade and the trail is amazingly smooth. Despite the continuous elevation gain, we found it easy going and enjoyed the lovely views down to Lightning Lake. The trail flattens out considerably over the next 2 km and in no time we passed by the Frosty Creek backcountry camp, at the 7 km mark.

Just beyond the camp, the alpine larches begin to appear. There’s a plaque along the trail with information that blew us away. Larches are one of the few tree species that thrive in cold, harsh conditions. The ones in Manning Park are only found above 2000 m and many of them are reportedly approaching 2000 years old!

The larch plateau is a big, wide-open area that starts around the 8 km mark and continues for about a kilometre. The golden-hued larches sparkle in the sunlight, nestled among crimson coloured ground cover and set against a backdrop of the stark scree slopes of Frosty Mountain. Eva and I found the perfect lunch spot to take in the magical scene. It’s a place that should not be rushed. For those who aren’t interested in continuing to Frosty’s peak, the larch plateau makes a totally satisfying end destination.

There must be something about the golden larches that makes visitors (us included) especially happy. Most of the hikers we encountered on the trail were noticeably joyful. I’m sure the unseasonably warm weather didn’t hurt either.

It was tough to drag ourselves from the plateau, but with lots of daylight and curiosity left, we decided to carry on. Above the larch plateau, the trail becomes narrow and rocky as it sharply zig-zags to the Frosty Mountain ridge. This is the steepest part of the entire trail, but it doesn’t last long. There are pink markings on the rocks for route guidance. Once on the ridge (at the intersection with the Windy Joe trail), the incline levels a bit and it’s only about 500 m to Frosty’s east summit at 2408 m. The west summit, about a kilometre further and only 20 m higher, is the true summit, but venturing beyond the east summit is not recommended due to the challenging terrain.

The sky was a bit hazy from smoke caused by fires in the U.S. Northwest, but the views down to the larch plateau did not disappoint. We shared the summit with a group of enthusiastic high school students from the town of Hope. I’m a little jealous that I never got to do anything this adventures when I was in high school, and I’m in awe of the principal and teachers who were in charge of the “youngins”.

The return trip was perhaps even more spectacular than the way up. The late afternoon sun gave the larches an incredibly warm, golden-orange glow. We couldn’t resist a 15-minute nap/meditation in a pretty meadow. It was the ultimate closure for our introduction to the amazing alpine larch trees and an all-around terrific hike.

Frosty Mountain Trail Information

Distance: 18 km (11 mi) out-and-back to larch plateau. 22 km (14 mi) out-and-back to Frosty Mountain east summit. There is a loop option via Windy Joe trail but this adds considerable distance.

Time: 7.5 hours, but add a buffer for frequent photo stops

Elevation gain: 800 m (2625 ft) to larch plateau 1160 m (3,805 ft) to Frosty Mountain summit

High point: 2408 m (7,900 ft)

Trailhead: Lightning Lake day-use area, Manning Park

Directions/map: Refer to vancouvertrails.com

Lodging/Camping: Manning Park has a lodge and several campgrounds. Lightning Lake is the closest campground to the Frosty Mountain trailhead. Campgrounds have a combination of reservable and first-come sites. Reservations can be made at discovercamping.ca. Starting mid-September, campgrounds that remain open are all first-come-first-serve. Manning is a popular park, so plan ahead.

Tips: During the golden larch period, do this hike on a weekday if possible. Bring all the water you need for a full day hike as water sources along the trail are very limited.

More Manning Park hikes: We also did the Three Brothers Trail, which is awesome. For great posts about several Manning hikes check out Josy’s blog A Walk and a Lark.

Categories: British Columbia, Hiking | Tags: , , , , | 41 Comments

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41 thoughts on “Deciduous conifers of Frosty Mountain: Manning Park, British Columbia

  1. Wonderful to see your larch trees! They are quite the attraction here and areas like Larch Valley near Lake Louise are often very busy to see the beauties. It looks like you had a gorgeous, blue bird day. Fabulous photos of these incredible trees. I also like how you included the information on the hike in a summary, Very helpful for anyone planning to follow in your footsteps.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Sue. You are lucky to have the larches close by. I’m a bit embarrassed that I didn’t know much about them. For the last few years, I’d heard people raving about the Manning Park larches but didn’t know that they’re conifers until just before this hike. They’re a big attraction at Manning, and now I see why. We were super lucky to get such a nice day (felt like summer).

      Liked by 1 person

  2. what an amazing scenery

    Liked by 1 person

  3. trishehunt

    Beautiful Caroline and Eva, wished I could have join you! Do you recommend a repeat visit?
    Trish

    Liked by 1 person

    • You would have loved it Trish. I’m definitely going back to Manning. There are so many great hikes that I’m now aware of—really keen on one in particular that apparently has a stunning wildflower display in late July/early August. We may be sticking around beautiful B.C. again next summer–not such a hardship.

      Like

  4. Gorgeous Caroline, wished I was there with you and Eva. Would you recommend a repeat visit?
    T.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. josypheen

    Wowza Carol! It looks like you had the perfect day for the weather, the lack of crowds aaaand for those larches! I am soooo happy that Manning Park showed you its best side.

    I reeeally wanted to visit the larches this year, but it just sounded a bit too busy at the weekends. I will have to copy you and take a day off to visit on a week day next year.

    p.s. Lucky high school students – I would have LOVED that as a school trip!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for all your Manning Park tips and encouragement, Josy. Frosty Mountain and the larches totally lived up to my lofty expectations, and then some. If you’re going to hike Frosty during golden larch time I highly recommend you take a day off and go on a weekday. Even the Friday was pretty busy, but not in an unpleasant way. Word is out!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Spectacular-looking hike! The trees alone are worth it, but the other views and the chance to do a little summiting (always fun!) makes this a real winner. Now I think I’ll move my (existent only in my head) trip to Vancouver and much more of western Canada to the fall next year!

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re right Lex, the hike has lots going for it when it comes to options and variety. When we started out we weren’t sure we’d go to the summit. It was actually kind of nice to enjoy the trees and not feel pressure to go to the top. I’m glad we did though!
      Fall can be nice here but the weather is unpredictable, especially beyond September. If hiking/outdoor is your priority, which I’m guessing it is, I’d stick to mid-July to mid/late September.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Beautiful pictures! I love larches in the fall. We weren’t able to do the larch hikes around here this year because it was either too smoky or pouring rain. Now, we’re in the middle of a week long snow storm! There are a few larches in the Kicking Horse community so we saw a few, but not amazing views like you’ve had.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Maggie. I’m so happy we managed to get in this hike. I was a tad disappointed about the hazy skies (it started just as we got to Manning) but it wasn’t anywhere as bad as in mid-September. I heard about your snow! At least ski season is not too far off (though I’m happy to get in a few more non-snowy hikes).

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Wow! What a nice post with stunning photos! Thanks for sharing your experience on this mountain.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I’ve always wanted to go hiking in the mountains when the larches turn golden. They look especially beautiful when the skies are blue. Looks like such a lovely fall hike.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. The golden autumn foliage against sunny blue skies (despite the slight haze) is incredibly beautiful! It’s nice that you and Eva timed your visit for the peak of this changing of seasons — the forest looks like it’s a dwelling for magical creatures. I was supposed to fly to Canada around this time of the year, but due to the pandemic I have to postpone it to sometime in the future. For the time being I’ll just keep dreaming of seeing your country’s beautiful landscape.

    Liked by 1 person

    • We were lucky. The timing of this hike is tricky—too early and the larches are still green, too late and the needles are gone, plus trying to find a non-rainy/windy day. Sometimes snow is already on the ground there, which is beautiful, but makes hiking trickier. I’m sorry that you won’t get to Canada this year, Bama. Hopefully next year! I was supposed to be heading to India in November. We will all have to keep dreaming about foreign travel.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. This sounds absolutely fabulous and your photos are stunning. I knew of Manning Park, but had no idea about the Larch plateau, or that they’re conifers! What a beautiful hike.
    Alison

    Liked by 1 person

    • I must admit Alison that while I had heard about the larch plateau, I thought they were deciduous trees. Until this experience, I didn’t know that conifers could lose/grow their needles annually. It was a cool piece of learning and a lovely hike. I have driven by Manning, enroute to other places, many times. It was nice to finally explore it a bit. Apparently the July/August wildflower meadows are also spectacular.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Amazing views! Well captured! Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. What cool trees, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a larch before.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m not sure I had either, or at least I wasn’t aware that it turns golden and drops its needles. Apparently, the alpine larch is only found in parts of BC, Alberta, Montana and Idaho (mostly in the Rocky Mountains). There are different varieties in other parts of the world.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Wow, so many beautiful photographs, Caroline. I’m glad to hear you had a great time exploring Manning Park. Now I know that October is the best time to visit your part of the world to see the famous larches displaying autumn colours. The trees are starting to change colours in Ireland, too, but it’s nowhere near as beautiful as in Canada. Thanks for sharing and have a good day. I hope all is well 😊 Aiva

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Aiva! The fall in Canada is indeed beautiful. The golden larches were a novelty for me and I highly recommend seeing them if you’re in Manning Park or the Canadian Rockies during this time. I must admit though that the fall colours in eastern Canada (Quebec/Ontario) may be even more spectacular. The abundant maple trees there turn brilliant shades of red/orange. I love it all! I’m doing well, thanks. Hope you are too.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Beautiful!! Some of the best hiking in the world in your neck of the woods! Glad you are getting out.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I like your words, ‘a place that should not be rushed’, it’s true that fall hiking is not about performance, it’s about taking the time to properly infuse the spectacular fall landscape. A request I would like to make to The Time too, please give us more time before winter, there is no rush.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m totally with you on your request to give us more time before winter hits. I’ve been somewhat of a zealot about getting out into nature before the true monsoon hits here in November.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Some truly wonderful views!!

    Liked by 1 person

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