Frenchmans Cap is a challenging, exceptionally scenic 44.2km out-and-back walk in the Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park, Tasmania. The hike offers rivers, lakes, rainforests, open plains, rugged passes, and the quartzite peak of Frenchmans Cap with captivating 360⁰ views at a height of 1,446m.
In February 2021, six intrepid Sole Sisters hiked Frenchmans Cap over 4 days. Thanks to Gina for organising us, and Katrina for writing the story and photos. Enjoy Katrina’s stories of her many other adventures from the Pennine Way to the Pacific Crest Trail on her blog.
Frenchmans Cap – Track Notes
The path is a mixture of boardwalk, raised track, narrow channels through button grass, steps, tree roots, tricky rock, and scrambles on your final ascent to the peak. And then there are the unique Frenchmans Cap Ladders, short poles of wood with strategically placed notches which act as steps.
The walk is free but you must pay a small fee for a Tasmania Parks Pass.
Frenchmans Cap is a grade 4 hike and much more physically demanding than the Overland Track. The weather can change from heat wave to high winds and snowfall in a single day. Planning a 3-to-5-day hike gives walkers the best opportunity for a safe weather window to summit.
We walked over 4-days, spending our first night at Lake Vera Hut, our second at Lake Tahune Hut and our third night back at Lake Vera Hut before returning to the car park on Day 4.
Huts at Lake Vera and Lake Tahune offer generous bunk accommodation and plentiful platforms for tent camping, tank water and a toilet. There is no cost to stay at the huts, but COVID-19 safety requires you to register. Accommodation in the huts is on a first come first serve basis.
Lake Vera Hut, completed in 1978, is a rustic wooden hut comfortably accommodating 12-16 hikers on bunk wooden platforms. A sturdy stainless-steel table with bench seating and surrounding bench tops is good for cooking and socialising, with a stove for warmth in cooler months. Outside, tank water is available. Walk to the Jetty to wash in the lake outflow, or the Lake for a swim. There is a clean compost toilet a short distance away, via board walk.
If you find Lake Vera Hut fully occupied, a number of tent platforms are available with anchor points for securing your tent.
Lake Tahune hut, beneath Frenchmans Cap, was completed in 2018, replacing the previous 45 year old hut. It heralds a new generation of hut comfort and environmental sustainability. Sleeping is on wooden bunks, but the little touches– old explorers’ quotes etched on the walls and wide expanses of glass for commanding views of the valley–makes you want to pay top dollars for this swanky overnight sojourn in one of Tasmania’s spectacular wilderness areas. Outside are tent platforms, helipad and a sparkling, airy long drop you might actually want to linger in while you enjoy the stunning view through the window.
Thanks to the Tasmanian Government and generous donations from Dick Smith to reroute the track on day 1 to avoid the Sodden Loddons, and to build the new Lake Tahune hut.
Day 1 – Frenchmans Cap car park to Lake Vera Hut (15km)
After a few hours’ drive to the start, we set out from Frenchmans Cap Carpark on the Lyell Highway at 11.20am. Tas Parks estimate the 15km distance should take 5-7 hours. The sky is cloudless; almost too perfect, and we expect few difficulties on Day 1. But a hot day is forecast. We have water, sun screen and electrolytes to avoid dehydration.
Fifteen minutes after leaving the car park,we cross the famous Franklin River single file on a suspension bridge. We use a boot cleaning station to avoid carrying any traces of phytophthora cinnamomi, notorious for causing root rot and destroying plants found in this world heritage wilderness area.
Afterwards we climb up to a pass and catch the first glimpse of Frenchmans Cap. The trail descends and crosses a buttongrass-filled plain, with another suspension bridge across the Loddon. Some of us eat lunch on the track, others on benches beside the Loddon River, but the flies force us to move on.
After a long slow hot climb (with a short pause while a large tiger snake slithers away), we at last enter rainforest which offers welcome protection from the sun. The track climbs steep never-ending wooden steps, some of which feel more like hurdles. We have separated into smaller groups as the heat makes it tough going. The faster hikers in our group secure bunk accommodation for all of us.
Day 2 – Lake Vera to Lake Tahune Hut (5.5km)
The heat wave has eased, and blue skies herald a cracking day. If we make it to Lake Tahune in good time, we plan to summit Frenchmans Cap in the afternoon.
Leaving at 7.30am the trail skirts around Lake Vera in rainforest beautifully framed by pandani trees, babbling streams and dense tree root paths. We shed some of our pack weight at Lake Vera Hut and find this section most enjoyable, before beginning the steep ascent to Barron Pass. Orange arrows mark the way as we climb to 950m.
The light brightens and we emerge from the rainforest at Barron Pass. This is a morning tea stop to die for. With no clouds to impede our view, we look in a south westerly direction past picturesque tarns Lake Gertrude and Lake Cecily to the mountain of Clytemnestra at 1,011m. In a more southerly direction, White Needle, a 2.6km unmarked side route to its 1,117m peak, stands tall beside us.
We traverse beneath Sharlands Peak in a northwesterly direction and pass another impressive needle of quartzite called Nicoles Needle. In inclement weather, this section of track would be extremely difficult. It involves scrambling over quartzite boulders and smaller, looser rocks, in exposed conditions. And of course, in a more northwesterly direction, we spot our goal —Frenchmans Cap.
There is only about 2kms left until we reach Lake Tahune Hut. Most of us can easily walk 3kms an hour in the bush. We think it will take us maybe 40 minutes to reach the hut. It ends up taking us 90 minutes to walk beneath Sharlands Peak, through the garden of Artichoke Valley, up a set of vertical stairs to reach the next plateau and then meander through sub-alpine heathland before we reach Lake Tahune Hut nestled directly beneath Frenchmans Cap.
Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security with the small distance today. It is slow going and takes concentration, but feels most satisfying when you reach Lake Tahune Hut. With glorious weather, we have plenty of time for lunch and a rest before tackling the 3.2km return route to summit Frenchmans Cap in the afternoon.
Day 2 – The Summit (3.2km return)
We swap out our full packs for day packs. We carry the bare minimum – drink, snacks, first aid, PLB and weather protection. From the hut Frenchmans Cap towers 450m above us. We ascend towards North Col on a well cairned steep path before traversing terraces above Lake Tahune. Half way up we meet a steep scramble section where we help each other up. The rest of the ascent involves a switch back route supported by cairn markings. The wind is strong up top, but there’s plenty of space and the view makes it worthwhile.
Day 3 – Lake Tahune Hut to Lake Vera Hut (5.5km)
Today is another low mileage day, but we know it’s not without its challenges. The difficulties we encountered on Day 2 are reversed. Sunrise heralds another lovely day, but early morning mist shrouds the higher elevated sections.
We arrive at Lake Vera Hut by lunchtime. It is possible for us to complete the walk today but we while away the afternoon cooling ourselves in Lake Vera, sun baking on the tent platforms or just chilling however we like. There is no rush, and the serenity and peacefulness of this little piece of heaven is worth enjoying a little longer.
Day 4 – Lake Vera Hut to car park (15km)
Full of energy and trail fitness, we set a cracking pace and easily retrace our steps to Frenchmans car park in 3 to 4 hours. We feel a great sense of achievement in tackling and conquering the Frenchmans Cap Track.
- The fastest known time for the trip from the Lyell Highway to the Summit and back is an incredible 6 hours and 19 minutes, but Hanny Allston. Good on her!
- The 350 meter SE quartzite face is one of sheerest vertical drops in all of Australia. There was a large group of rock climbers when we hiked. The first ascent was in 1965, the climbers christened the route “A toi la Gloire” (Thine be the glory), it is now known as the Sydney route.
Tips for walking Frenchmans Cap
- Full packs with tents should hut accommodation be unavailable, adequate sleep system, clothing for all weather. For a 4-day hike, we carried 4 lunches, 3 breakfasts and 3 dinners.
- There is adequate water supply en route and untreated water in tanks is available at the Lake Vera and Lake Tahune hut/camp sites.
- Comfortable and proper footwear is essential. If you hike in minimal footwear like trail runners, you will need good grip for rock scrambling and slippery surfaces.
- The trail is technical in places. Trekking poles can help with balance, but care is needed to avoid catching them in crevices and they are a hindrance in steep sections, particularly when facing the rock is the safest way to descend.
- Your ability to traverse the varied terrain will depend on your pack weight. We were carrying 14-16kgs in weight. We ended Day 3 around noon and chilled at Lake Vera Hut for the rest of the day. It is possible we could have walked out on the third day, but fatigued muscles and warm conditions could have hampered our efforts to complete the distance injury-free.
[route-map id=13357 map=1 graph=1 topinfo =1 params=1 mapheight=400]
The Frenchmans Cap trailhead is 200 km from both Launceston and Hobart, 57km east of Queenstown, 29km west of Derwent Bridge, or 34 km from Lake Saint Clair (the southern terminus of the Overland Track) just off the Lyell Highway (A10). The car park is free and has room for around twenty cars.
For other transport options, such as bus and hitchhiking, read Halfway Anywhere’s Blog. For alternative parking arrangements, from a safety point of view, read Kelly Runs and Eats Blog, who left their car at the Lake St Clair Visitor Centre because it’s staffed, monitored and secure and used the Mersey Link (bus charter) to get to Frenchmans Cap carpark. No one stole any items from our cars, although there have been previous reports of vandalism at this car park.
Words by Katrina