Frenchmans Cap is a 46km, 3 to 5 day, out and back walk through the plains, hills, lakes and passes of the Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park. The destination is a remote and rugged 1446m peak with 360 degree views of stunning South West Tasmania. Although the views from the summit are the drawcard, the whole walk is like a highlight reel of all the best that hiking in Tasmania has to offer – beautiful, wild, varied, breathtaking.
We spent 4 days walking this track, camping at the Lake Vera and Lake Tahune sites. The steep ascents and quite technical trails make this a challenging hike, especially with packs. However, with the long summer days, we took our time and never felt like we had to hurry to the next destination.
On Day 1 we walked 14km to Lake Vera. We had a wonderful encounter with an echidna. We were rained on a little, but this cleared up in time for lunch.
On Day 2 we walked 6km to Lake Tahune. This was steep, sweaty work, particularly through the temperate rainforest up to Barrons Pass. The next rock-hopping section after lunch was also slow going. The campsite at Lake Tahune was spectacular and the sunset was unforgettable.
On the morning of Day 3 we hiked the 3km round trip to the summit. Also steep work but easier going without packs. We spent an hour relaxing at the summit (mostly on our own), soaking up the views and the sunshine. Back at Lake Tahune we packed up and set off on the 6km walk back to Lake Vera. This was much easier than Day 2 but I did roll my ankle towards the end – a classic sign of fatigue!
On Day 4 we did the reverse of Day 1 and walked the 14km from Lake Vera to the carpark. A quicker day, but still a long walk out.
Trail running and other options:
For fastpackers and keen runners, the return journey to Frenchmans Cap could be completed in a day. You could arrive at the trailhead early (or even camp by the river, a 10 minute walk from the car park) and then with only a light pack you could move quickly and jog sections of the relatively easy 14km to Lake Vera, which consists of boardwalk and well-groomed trail. From there to the summit there is a lot of ascending on technical trails, but on fresh legs and in good weather, it would be fine. I’ve seen a photo of someone’s sports watch on social media, confirming that people have run up to the summit in under 4 hours.
And if you only have 3 days to spare for the hike, you can push on to Lake Tahune on the first day (we spoke to lots of people doing this) or spend 2 nights at Lake Vera and simply hike to the summit on the middle day with a smaller pack (also saw people doing this).
We left our car at the Lake St Clair Visitor Centre which was about a 30 minute drive from the trailhead and arranged pick up and drop off through Mersey Link (bus charter). We preferred this because of the bikes in our car and the Visitor Centre is staffed, monitored and secure. There were lots of cars at the Frenchmans Cap carpark, however be aware that break ins have occurred there.
For the first 2 nights we camped on tent platforms provided at the camp sites (rather than staying in the cabins). Note that there are only 3 platforms at Lake Tahune, compared to about 8 (?) at Lake Vera so if you want some privacy it helps to arrive by mid-afternoon. The site has been refurbished recently – the cabin is swanky and new and the toilet block is immaculate. The scenery is unbelievable – it’s one of the best campsites I’ve ever visited. On the 3rd night we pitched our tent among the trees next to Lake Vera.
If you didn’t already know this, you should expect all kinds of weather in Tasmania, even during the summer. You can virtually suffer from heatstroke and frostbite on the same day! Don’t rely on the water tanks at the campsites (Lake Vera was empty on the 3rd night) – bring a water purifier or tablets (although the creek water is fine and absolutely delicious). Carry enough food. Comfortable and appropriate shoes are essential. You don’t need boots – we both hiked in our trail running shoes – but decent grip is important because of all the rock scrambling and slippery surfaces. Here is a link to the TasTrails page which helped us plan our trip: https://tastrails.com/frenchmans-cap/. Finally, we used dehydrated food for the first time and we were ridiculously happy with how tasty the (vegetarian) meals from Strive Food were. Here is their site: https://strivefood.com.au/ .
What I’d do differently next time:
- Pack my swimmers!
- Spend an extra night at Lake Tahune.
- Climb the summit at a different time of day to enjoy different light and colours (e.g. late afternoon.)