July 2022 Vancouver Area Hike of the Month: Lightning Lakes Loop

View from the Lightning Lakes day use area in Manning Park

View from the Lightning Lakes Day Use area in E.C. Manning Provincial Park. Photo: Taryn Eyton/HappiestOutdoors.ca

On a hot summer day, a hike with lots of shade and a lake to jump into is the best plan. Make a day trip out to E.C. Manning Provincial Park to hike the Lightning Lakes Loop Trail, finishing with a swim.

Trail Info: Easy, 8.5 km loop, no elevation gain, 2.5-3 hours, dogs allowed on leash

Safety First: AdventureSmart recommends bringing a backpack with essential safety and first aid gear on every hike. Check the forecast and pack extra clothing for the weather. Leave a trip plan so someone knows where you are going and when you will be back.

Getting There: From Vancouver, take Highway 1 east to Hope then take Highway 3 east into E.C. Manning Provincial Park. Turn right onto Gibson Pass Road at the flashing light. Follow Gibson Pass Road for three kilometres, then take the left fork to the Lightning Lakes Day Use Area.

The Trail: The trail network around Lightning Lakes is easy to follow with signs at all junctions. This park map will also help keep you on track. This hike begins and ends at the Lightning Lake Day Use Area which has a sandy beach, perfect for an apres-hike swim.

Start your hike by heading to the left along the lakeshore. Cross a small bridge over the lake outlet, then continue along the top of an earthen dam, built in the late 1960s. Before the dam was built, the Lightning Lakes drained into Ross Lake in Washington’s North Cascades National Park. But now they drain to the northeast as well, flowing out under the bridge you just crossed, then eventually into the Similkameen River.

Continue on the trail as it passes a turn-off for Frosty Mountain. The trail stays near the lake but is shaded with Engelmann spruce, lodgepole pine, and subalpine fir trees, which is great for hot days. About 1.5 km from the start, arrive at Rainbow Bridge which spans the narrowest part of Lightning Lake. Wander out on the bridge to admire the view down the lake or watch canoeists paddling below you.

Lightning Lakes in Manning Park

View from near Rainbow Bridge. Photo: Taryn Eyton/HappiestOutdoors.ca

When you are ready to continue, retrace your steps back to the east side of the bridge and stay on the Lightning Lake Trail as it undulates through the forest beside the lake. Reach the end of Lightning Lake about 3.5 km from the start. Cross a small bridge over Lightning Creek and arrive at a junction. Your return route is to the right.

But if you want to extend your trip, turn left and follow the trail past a marshy section to Flash Lake. Look for beavers swimming near the lodge on the far side of the lake. The hike to the far end of Flash Lake adds another 3 km (1 hour) to your trip. You can also continue past Flash Lake to Strike and Thunder Lakes, which adds a further 10 km (2.5 hours).

Hiking along Flash Lake in Manning Provincial Park

Hiking along Flash Lake. Photo: Taryn Eyton/HappiestOutdoors.ca

To complete the main Lightning Lakes Loop, turn right at the bridge and follow the trail along the west side of Lightning Lake. Ignore a junction with the Skyline Trail branching to the left about 1 km later. A few minutes later, stay right on the Lightning Lakes Trail – the route to the left goes to the Lightning Lakes campground. The trail is wider here as it is a former road.

About 2 km past the end of the lake, arrive back at Rainbow Bridge. If you want the shortest route back to your car, cross the bridge and turn left to retrace your steps back to the parking lot. But to complete the Lightning Lake Loop, stay on the west side of the lake and follow the trail as it curves around into Spruce Bay and passes through a day use area.

Just before the trail enters the Lightning Lake Campground, turn right to stay on the trail. The path stays along the shoreline and curls left to follow the lake into Lone Duck Bay. Follow the trail around the bay as it passes another day use area and becomes a wide gravel path, another former road. As you come around to the other side of Lone Duck Bay, the trail finishes at the Lightning Lakes day use area parking area, completing the loop.

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