Frenchmans Cap is one of Tasmania’s highest peaks at 1446m, situated in the Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park. This challenging four-day, 46km return trek is as stunning as it is satisfying.
- Exploring secluded wilderness only accessible by foot or raft
- Dense Australian rainforest, alpine heathland and spectacular cliffs all in one
- An unpredictable and infamous view at the top
- Refreshing lake swims
If you’re lucky enough to ascend the peak on one of Tasmania’s spectacularly clear days, you’ll be granted 360 degree views of the island’s untouched, wild south-west. The hike can be tackled year-round, though the weather can never be certain, and there is an optional side trip accessible via packraft for those extra adventurous. I embarked on this journey with my parents and sister on a hot January day, and while we weren’t so fortunate with views on the cap, the trek quickly became one of the most spectacular and rewarding I’ve completed.
Here’s how it went down.
Day 1 – Lyell Highway to Lake Vera Hut (16km)
The track commences at Lyell Highway, where you can park your vehicle for free in the carpark. The first day is about 15km, starting with a crossing of the Franklin River, then an undulating path through rainforest and open scrubby bush. After about two hours of walking under the searing hot sun, passing Mt Mullens we found reprieve at Lodden River.
An icy cold dip left me breathless but satisfied, and a stove-brewed coffee gave me the energy to keep on keeping on! Classic Aussie bush follows, where the rhythm of the hike starts to take pace. A large stretch of the track is now a boardwalk, to protect you from slogging through the deep treacherous bog of the infamous ‘Sodden Loddens’. A final stretch along a gravel trench-like path through button grass moorland leads to Lake Vera Hut. I’d recommend nabbing a tent platform for more serenity, though 20 people can sleep in the traditional wooden hut.
Some hikers bathe in a small drop pool near the hut, but Lake Vera itself is absolutely stunning – access is a little further down the track past the hut, where you can enter the water through a few reeds. I slipped into the cool water and stretched my body out, gazing up to the rocky cliff surrounds as the evening light cast across the mountains and lake. Surreal and so peaceful!
Day 2 – Lake Vera to Frenchmans Cap (5.5km), up to Frenchmans Cap (3.2km return)
Day two was more interesting and considerably more demanding for us all. We rose early to allow time for our ascent in the afternoon. The day starts by circumnavigating Lake Vera through an entrancing rainforest of mossy trees, rocks and logs, gradually moving up and up (400m over 3km). Steps cut into fallen tree trunks and the roots of trees conveniently form a type of hand-rail as you climb through the dense rainforest beside a flowing creek.
Absorbed in the voluminous green moss and watching our feet closely on the narrow, steep climb, we suddenly found ourselves at a saddle in the middle of Sharlands Peak and White Needle – two sharp rocky cliffs – with an open view of the whole valley. The striking Frenchmans Cap appeared in the distance. This section is called Barron Pass, about 950m above sea level.
Amazing quartzite cliffs loom over and you can spot lakes at the bottom of the steep valley. We walked along the ridge to discover that the rocky, alpine landscape is teeming with native plants and flowers such as spiky pandani, dracophyllum, white flag iris and the occasional Tasmanian waratah. New king billy pine trees had started to form, after the 1966 bushfires ravaged thousand-year-old pines, painting autumnal colours next to the Tassie beech trees.
After a couple more undulating kilometres on unsteady terrain, we reached the award-winning Lake Tahune hut, rebuilt in 2018 as the first hydro-powered hut in Australia. The park ranger told us of impending cloud cover, so we hurriedly ate some snacks and prepared for an early afternoon summit up the cap.
The Summit (3.2km return from Lake Tahune)
Though the sun was still shining brightly, we knew that cloud cover and potential rain was coming our way, so we set a fast pace up the steep rocky track to the summit. Larger white quartz boulders form most of the path, and fascinating microclimates of cushion plants and tiny wildflowers remarkably make their home further up the mountain.
Cloud and mist quickly infiltrate the air, and the very top is exceptionally windy. We considered whether we should turn back, but Mum laughed about the joy of ‘peak bagging’ – going to the top just for the sake of it. I definitely wouldn’t do it without a group, the top was exceptionally cold and windy and we could hardly see past our feet. We huddled behind the man-built cairn at the peak to munch on some chocolate before quickly and carefully making our way back down the now impossible-to-find path to find hot tea and rest. We were pretty shattered!
It’s vital that you only attempt to summit Frenchmans Cap if the weather appears to be clear enough, you’re not afraid of heights and are comfortable scrambling in some sections. Cloud cover can quickly swarm over the peak on any given day, and a storm would be treacherous! You’re better to wait it out in the warmth of the Lake Tahune hut, fitted with wide windows and with enough space to sleep 14, or take an extra day to conquer the summit alone.
Day 3 – Lake Tahune to Lake Vera (5.5km)
I woke on the third day to a gentle patter of misty rain, which soon turned to morning rays of sunshine. Despite being only 12 degrees I walked down to Lake Tahune, nestled between the hut, dense forest and the abrupt cliffs of Frenchmans Cap. The water reflected the beech trees and cliff line perfectly. I decided to swim – the freezing but replenishing water gave me energy and uplifted my mood for the windy, physically demanding day ahead.
Before leaving I took time to read through the visitors books stored in the hut, dating back over 50 years. It’s amazing to get a sense of everyone else’s journey, and it makes you feel part of something special knowing so many have hiked this trail before you. The wilderness never gets old.
We noticed different details going along Barron Pass, and further appreciated the clear weather of our second day, where the view stretched out all the way to Barn Bluff and The Acropolis on The Overland Track. This was a lot mistier and windier, and we sheltered closely together at the top of the saddle to cook up warming miso and noodles. The hike back follows the path we came, back down to Lake Vera. The steepness of the steps were fully realised by the pressure on my knees.
We took a final swim at Lake Vera in the evening, wading out between the forest, before reaching the hut to rest our weary feet.
Day 4 – Lake Vera to Lyell Highway (16km)
The final day was fairly straightforward, far cooler than the first few days and quite overcast. We spent the hours talking about our highlights and some of the people we met along the way. There were a few groups who had done this hike more than four times over the decades, and a few courageous trail marathon runners attempting the full circuit in one day. It’s always nice to see the route you came with a renewed sense of accomplishment.
I was fairly sore upon arrival back at the car, to say the least, but it was so worth it.
- Camp stove
- Warm sleeping bag
- Sleeping mat
- Sturdy walking boots
- Four days worth of food
- First aid kit
- Long sleeves/pants and warm layers including beanie, gloves for those cold Tasmanian mornings. More may be required depending on the season.
- Sunscreen and hat
- 2-3L of water per person. There is clear river water along the track (pack water purifiers for extra caution), and tanks at each hut to fill up.
- Friends to hike with!
- Do not bring soap or detergent to clean. This affects the waterways and natural environment.
How to Get There
The trailhead car park is located on Lyell Highway (A10), 55km before Queenstown and about 200km from Hobart. Access is by car or by infrequent shuttle buses run by West-Coast Connector Service.
Distance Covered/ Elevation Gain / Duration
46km/ 1000m/ 2-5 days
There is no trail fee, but you must pay national parks fees, as well as sign the hikers logbook at the start and completion of your journey.
See the Tasmania Parks and Wildlife website for all access information, weather and safety warnings.
Photos by Sarah Barlow | @sezbarlow