Location: E.C. Manning Provincial Park (map)
Description: The Lightning Lakes Chain is a trail between four thematically named lakes in Manning Provincial Park – Lightning, Flash, Strike, and Thunder. It’s a great hike because it’s relatively flat, it is snow-free before many of the other hikes in the area (like Mount Frosty and Poland Lake), and there is a well serviced hike-in campsite at Strike Lake.
The hike follows the edge of the four lakes, and the creek that connects them, offering many stunning views of nature and animals. Between Strike Lake and Thunder Lake the scenery changes and the evergreen forest gives way to alpine meadows and rock slides. The campsite at Strike Lake has spots for 8 tents. The hike can be done as one long day-hike, but we enjoyed relaxing in the evening and camping at Strike Lake.
The hike starts at Lightning Lake, which is extremely popular with car campers, day trippers, and canoeists. The northern part of the lake is busy with people and surrounded by a wide flat trail. Once you pass the Rainbow Bridge (which spans the skinny part of the lake) the trail becomes more like hiking and less like walking in the park. The Rainbow Bridge is a popular spot for swimmers and daredevils who like to jump into the shallow-looking creek bellow. It must be deeper than it looks because no one got hurt while we watched.
The area around Lightning Lake is a maze of alternate trails. The junctions aren’t very well signed, but as long as you keep heading in the right general direction, you should arrive at Flash Lake. Just stay off the Fisherman’s Trail (see map) on the west side just past the Rainbow Bridge. We made the mistake of taking it, but it is covered with fallen trees that we had to scamper over, under, and between. After scraping our way past dozens of trees we eventually gave up on the trail and scrambled up a steep hill to the main trail. But not before one of the many branches we had to duck under destroyed a bag of chips I was saving for an evening snack.
Both Flash and Lightning Lakes have loop trails, so you can take an alternate route on our return trip. We took the east side of Lightning Lake on our way back and it wasn’t any longer then the hiking the other way. Just check the trail report (PDF) before. The eastern Flash Lake trail is currently closed.
The campground, just past Strike Lake, is really nice. We were worried it would be busy, but only 2 other sites were taken. Unlike many other hike-in campsites, not only does Strike Lake allow campfires but there are firepits and free wood provided at the campsite. We had a great time sitting around the fire at night. There’s also an outhouse and a food cache to keep the bears and deer away – not that it dissuaded a pair of deer from wandering into our campsite and within 5 feet of us looking for food.
From the Strike Lake campground, you can leave your packs behind and hike to Thunder Lake. This section of the trail was more rugged and less traveled then the rest. In some of the meadows, the plants are really crowding the trail. I recommend wearing pants.
Time: 6 hours of total hiking (2 1/4 hours to the campsite)
Lone Duck Parking Lot to Rainbow Bridge: 30 minutes
Rainbow Bridge to the end of the Lightning lake: 45 minutes (longer if you take Fisherman’s Trail)
Flash Lake to start of Strike Lake: 30 minutes
Start of Strike Lake to the Campsite: 30 minutes
Campsite to Thunder Lake: 45 minutes (without large packs)
Transportation: The starting point for the hike is 3 hours east of Vancouver in the E.C. Manning Provincial Park. Driving directions. You can either start the hike at the Lightning Lake day use area, the Lone Duck group campground, or the main Lightning Lake campground. We started from the Lone Duck parking lot.
Cost: Parking is currently free, but backcountry camping is $5 per person. You can pay online and print out a receipt.
Pictures: Lightning Lakes 2011