If you’re looking for a getaway less than three hours’ drive from Vancouver, Manning Provincial Park is it. Named for E. C. Manning, chief forester of British Columbia from 1935 to 1940, the park has rain forests on its west side and grassland slopes on its east side. Between the two extremes lies a land of wild rivers, crystal lakes, towering peaks, and alpine meadows that is brimming with recreational opportunities year-round.
Manning Provincial Park features tremendously diverse landscapes and plentiful flora and fauna. Hiking trails are its chief draw, but the park also offers horseback riding, swimming, canoeing, fishing, mountain biking, and, in winter, cross-country and downhill skiing.
Lying between the moist coast and the dry interior, Manning contains examples of 5 of British Columbia’s 14 biogeoclimatic zones. Lush coastal growth gives way to dryland stands of pine and, near the timberline, stands of alpine larch. One of the most spectacular is on Mount Frosty’s eastern shoulder, where some of the trees are nearly a yard (1 metre) in diameter. Conifers such as Douglas fir, western red cedar, western hemlock, subalpine fir, Englemann spruce, and lodgepole pine may be seen in the park, as well as aspen and cottonwood.
The park is perhaps best known for its magnificent midsummer displays of subalpine flowers, but there are other flora worth watching for. Rhododendron Flats, near the park’s western entrance, has a substantial colony of pinkish-red rhododendrons, a protected indigenous species that blooms early to mid-June. The California or red rhododendron is rarely found as far north as British Columbia. Strawberry Flats boasts a profusion of wild strawberries and rich variety of plant species. Orchids and other bog flora can be viewed June through July along the Rein Orchid Nature Trail.
Manning Provincial Park makes nature’s wonders available to everyone. Short self-guided nature trails allow visitors to experience the fascinating world of the subalpine zone or view magnificent stands of western red cedar and Douglas fir in a half-hour or less. Almost all of the park’s important features are easily reached from Highway 3. Small wonder, then, that Manning is the third most popular park in the province. Among the best times to visit are in May, once the snow has left the ground and before the biting insects become aggressive, and in September, when the first frosts trigger autumn colours here where the Cascade and Coast Mountains meet. No matter what the season, magic always freshens the mountain peaks at sunrise and sunset.
Manning Provincial Park boasts numerous trails to suit both novice and experienced hikers. North of Highway 3, the Blackwall Peak and Three Brothers Mountain area offers Canada’s finest and most extensive example of subalpine meadows accessible by vehicle. A partly paved, partly gravel road winds up the mountain to the parking area just below the 6,768-foot (2,063-metre) Blackwall Peak. At this level, the snow stays until late June and returns in September; as a result, all kinds of plants rush into flower. The magnificent floral displays peak from late July to mid-August, when the meadows provide a kaleidoscope of colours.
The short Paintbrush Trail (easy; less than 1 mile/1.6 km) beginning at the naturalist hut introduces visitors to the fascinating world of the subalpine zone. To experience more extensive floral displays and better views of the mountain peaks, hike along part or all of the Heather Trail (moderate; 26 miles/42 km return) to Nicomen Ridge. In places, the carpets of flowers spread 3 miles wide; in others, they condense into massive mats of arctic lupines speckled with Indian paintbrushes and subalpine daisies.
A park booklet helps with flower identification en route. Plants, of course, should never be damaged or removed, and hikers must not venture off the trail. Wilderness camping areas are located along the Kicking Horse Trail at Kicking Horse, at about 8 miles (13.5 km), and Nicomen Lake, at just over 14 miles (23 km). This area has a permanent ban on open fires, so backpacking stoves should be used for all cooking. Overnighters can return the same way or, with the use of two vehicles, along Grainger Creek Trail and Hope Pass Trail (moderate; 7.5 miles/12 km), coming out on Highway 3 at Cayuse Flats, about 15 miles (24 km) west of Manning Provincial Park headquarters.
Shorter trails in the park include one to the top of Windy Joe Mountain (moderate to difficult; 9.3 miles/15 km return), where an old fire lookout with interpretive panels identifies the surrounding mountains. Frosty Mountain Loop (difficult; 17 or 18 miles/28 or 29 km return, depending on route) is most colourful in the fall, when its beautiful larch forest is on fire with autumnal shades. The highest peak in the park at 7,900 feet (2,408 metres), Frosty offers fabulous views of the North Cascades.
Awe-inspiring peaks and wildflower meadows can be experienced along the Skyline I Trail (difficult; 12.7-mile/20-km loop) and Skyline II Trail (difficult; 7.8 miles/12.5 km to Mowich Camp), which heads west towards the Skagit Valley Provincial Park. Manning Provincial Park also contains a section of the Canada-wide National Trail, which enters the park in its southeast corner as Monument 83 Trail from Cathedral Provincial Park. For real long-distance hiking buffs, Manning is the start of the Pacific Crest Trail, which runs for 2,480 miles (4,000 km) to Mexico.
There are four summer drive-in campgrounds with a total of 355 sites and two areas set aside for winter camping (usually the day after Canada Thanksgiving to mid-May).
Hampton Campground – the camping fee at this campground includes the following services: pit toilets, firewood, tap water. The sites at this campground are larger, farther apart and because it is not on a water source is the least used campground in the park. The normal operating season for this campground is June to September.
Mule Deer Campground – several sites are located on the river and approximately half the sites are fairly open. The camping fee at this campground includes the following services: pit/flush toilets, firewood and tap water. This is the first campground to open in the spring. The usual operating season is April to October.
Coldspring Campground – a few sites overlook the Similkameen River. The camping fee at this campground includes the following services: pit toilets, fire wood and hand pumps for water. Operating season is usually May to September.
Lightning Lake Campground – this campground is especially popular during the summer months; reservations (recommended) for any site can be made by calling (800) 689-9025. Prior to May and October all sites are first come first serve. There are several hiking/walking trails that commence from this campground. Lightning Lake is a popular swimming and fishing lake. The Amphitheatre is also within a very short walk from all campsites. Since this campground receives the most amount of snow during the winter it is the last campground to open in the spring.
Winter camping for self-contained units is available at the Lightning Lake day-use area, and for tenters there is the Lone Duck winter camping area. The extensive trail system of the Cascade Provincial Recreation Area, which is accessed from Highway 3 in Manning Provincial Park, provides the opportunity for ski touring, but no huts or shelters are available.
Wilderness, backcountry or walk-in camping is allowed. Limited facilities are provided at 10 wilderness campgrounds with a total of 55 sites.
Buckhorn wilderness site located at 5 km on the Heather Trail, consists of 10 tent pads, bear cache and outhouses.
Frosty Mountain wilderness camp is at the 1850 m elevation on the Frosty Mountain Trail. The hike to the camp is a strenuous 7 km from the Lightning Lake Day Use area. This 2 or 3 tent camp consists of pit toilet, fire ring and a shelter.
Grainger Creek wilderness/horse camp is on the Hope Pass Trail just past the junction of the Hope Pass/Grainger Creek trail or 6 km from Cayuse Flats and 11.5 km from Nicomen Lake camp. The camp has space for 3 tents and consists of a fire pit, pit toilet and a good water source from Grainger Creek.
Kicking Horse wilderness site locate at 13.5 km on the Heather Trail consists of 8 tent pads and an outhouse. This wilderness camp is situated in the sub-alpine meadows.
Monument 78 wilderness/horse camp is located 11.5 km from the Monument 78 trailhead or .5 km before the Canada/US border. The camp has space for 4 tents and consists of a pit toilet, fire ring, horse corral and a good water source from Castle Creek.
Mowich wilderness site is located on the Skyline II Trail, 12.5 km from Strawberry Flats or 6.5 km from the Skyline I and Skyline II junction. It is at the 1600 m elevation, has a wilderness shelter, pit toilet, bear cache and a camping area for 4 tents.
Nicomen Lake wilderness site located at 23 km on the Heather Trail or 17.5 km from Cayuse Flats consists of an open 6 tent camping area near the lake, shelter and outhouse.
Pacific Crest wilderness camp is located on the Pacific Crest Trail, less than 1/2 km from the Pacific Crest Trail/Frosty Mountain Trail junction or 6.3 km from the PCT/Windy Joe/Frosty Mountain trailhead parking lot. While this camp does not have a shelter, there is a pit toilet, fire ring, space for 4 tents and a good stream for water.
Poland Lake wilderness site is located at the north/west end of Poland Lake. After hiking a fairly strenuous 8 km from Strawberry Flats you arrive at Poland Lake, the site consists of a camping area for 6 tents, bear cache, wilderness shelter, pit toilets.
Strike Lake wilderness site is nestled in a protective grove of tall Engelmann Spruce trees at the western end of Strike Lake. Strike Lake is the third of four lakes on the Lightning Lake Chain Trail. It is a relatively easy 1 – 1.5 hour hike to the camp. The camp consists of pit toilets, bear cache and a camping area for 8 tents. As this site is one of the easiest hikes and the first site to be free of snow it is very popular throughout the season.
Manning park has a day-use/picnic area at 7 locations as follows: West Gate Portal; Sumallo Grove; Coldspring campsite; Lightning Lake Day Use area; Spruce Bay; Sub-Alpine Meadows and Blowdown. As Manning Park is located in the Cascade Mountains the camping season is dependent on snow levels. Just outside the east entrance to the park is a service station, convenience store, restaurant, liquor outlet, postal service and Greyhound bus service.
Horse use has been traditional on the historic trails in Manning Provincial Park. Horses are allowed on designated trails only, these include: Monument 78/83; Dewdney; Hope Pass; Poland Lake; Pacific Crest; Windy Joe; Skagit Bluffs Similkameen East and West, North Gibson and Little Muddy.Trail riders can camp overnight at Monument 78; Dewdney and Hope Pass trails. Manning Park Stable and Tours operates a horse rental concession during the summer months. This includes hourly horse and pony rentals as well as overnight tours.
Manning Provincial Park provides excellent wildlife-viewing opportunities. Small mammals, including marmots, beavers, and chipmunks, share the wilderness areas with black bears, mule deer, and coyotes. Beavers, elk, and moose reside in the park but are seldom seen. Birdlife is abundant, especially in summer, with 206 species to watch for. Early morning is the best time for observing birds and mammals. As always in wilderness areas, hikers and campers should be alert for wild animals, especially bears, and take the necessary safety precautions.
Manning Provincial Park offers more than 62 miles (100 km) of ungroomed beginner, intermediate, and advanced cross-country ski trails, as well as snowshoeing opportunities. For downhill skiers and snowboarders, the Gibson Pass Ski Area, a private operation located in the park, offers a variety of slopes and runs with its two chairlifts, T-bar and beginners’ handle tow. It also features a ski school, groomed and track-set cross-country ski trails, equipment rentals, a day lodge, and day care. Total vertical drop here is 1,417 feet (431 metres).
Half a dozen trails in Manning Provincial Park are open to mountain bikers, as are the designated vehicle roadways.
The shortest is the Lone Duck Trail (easy; less than 1 mile/1.6 km one way), between the Lightning Lake campground and 20 Minute Lake. There are also three 2-mile-long (one way) trails beside Lightning Lake for intermediate to advanced riders. For the more advanced rider, there is the 9.3-mile (15-km) return ride on the Windy Joe Trail from the Beaver Pond over the top of Windy Joe Mountain. For a full list of mountain-bike trails, cyclists should obtain a park brochure and map from the visitors centre.
A chain of lakes flows southwest from Manning Provincial Park’s Lightning Lake, the biggest in the series, where there is an unpatrolled beach and swimming area. Visitors are urged to mind their water safety: Never swim alone and be vigilant when children are near or in the water. Pets must be leashed at all times and are not allowed in beach and picnic areas. Lightning Lake also provides good canoeing (there is a launch ramp at the day-use area), but powerboats are prohibited in the park.
Fly-fishing for rainbow trout in Lightning and Strike Lakes is usually good though the trout in these cold, nutrient-poor waters rarely exceed 2 pounds (1 kg). The Similkameen and Sumallo Rivers have dolly varden, and rainbow and cutthroat trout. Watch for good casting spots as Highway 3 runs beside both rivers on its journey through the park. You will need a British Columbia angling licence if you plan to fish in Manning Provincial Park.
The Manning Provincial Park Visitors Centre, situated just over 0.6 mile (1 km) east of the Manning Provincial Park Resort on Highway 3 it’s open June to September, and has displays depicting the natural and human history of the region. During the summer months, interpreters offer a variety of special programs ranging from nature walks to evening slide shows.
Manning Provincial Park straddles Highway 3 between Hope and Princeton. The park’s western entrance is 16 miles (26 km) east of Hope, its eastern entrance 30 miles (48 km) southwest of Princeton. Allison Pass, at an elevation of 4,403 feet (1,342 metres), is the high point of Highway 3 as it traverses the park.
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