Location: Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park
Length: 46 kilometres return
Grade: 5 (very experienced bushwalkers only with navigation and first aid skills)
Distance from: Hobart - 180 km, Launceston - 175 km, Devonport - 183 km
Even the most experienced hikers are challenged on the Frenchmans Cap Trail. This trail is considered more difficult than other tracks in Tasmania and it is recommended that hikers gain experience on other challenging Tasmanian walks before heading up to Frenchmans Cap. Many choose to train on the Overland Track beforehand.
Intrepid hikers will be rewarded with incredible panoramic views of Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park and beyond. Frenchmans Cap is a shimmering Precambrian quartzite dome sitting in the heart of one of the wildest areas of Tasmania. The trail will bring you through multiple ecosystems including buttongrass plains, stands of rare Huon Pine, deep glacial valleys and alpine lakes. With two unmanned huts along the way, this challenging trail takes most hikers 3 to 5 days to complete.
Time It Right
You'll want as much sunlight as possible to complete this incredibly challenging track. The summer months from December to April feature the longest daylight hours and the most comfortable temperatures. But weather can change rapidly and hikers should be prepared for all types of weather at any time of year. Weather becomes even more unstable as you near the summit.
Hikers have reported experiencing an entire year's worth of seasons in a single day on the Frenchmans Cap Trail. Cold whipping winds, sleet, snow, freezing rain, high temperatures and unrelenting sun can challenge even the most indomitable walker in the span of 24 hours.
Pick Up A Map
Most outdoor gear shops in Tasmania will offer up the Frenchmans Cap Map and Notes booklet. This essential map can also be downloaded online from the Tasmanian government. It is accurate to a 1:50,000 scale and will help any experienced navigator.
Packing precisely for the Frenchmans Cap Trail is essential for success. You don't want to pack superfluous gear as you'll weigh too much, and you don't want to under-pack because you'll be underprepared. Packing just the right amount will also help you minimize your impact on the beautiful environment of the Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park.
Here's An Essential Gear Checklist
backpack liner to keep everything dry
all weather tent
sleeping bag rated for -10°C
waterproof coat with hood
waterproof over trousers
walking boots with ankle support
longsleeved thermal tops and bottoms
moisture-wicking walking close
warm sleeping clothes
first aid kit
antibacterial hand gel
fuel stove with fuel
torch with spare batteries
You may also choose to pack optional gear such as a camera, binoculars, trekking poles, GPS, card games and thongs.
The trailhead to the Frenchmans Cap Trail is inside the boundaries of the Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park. There are no accommodations or facilities in this Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. So, if you want a good night's rest before heading up the mountain, you'll have to seek accommodations in nearby Derwent Bridge or Queenstown.
The Frenchmans Cap Trail starts on the Lyell Highway inside the Wild Rivers National Park. It is well signposted about 200 kilometres from Hobart or about 55 kilometers east of Queenstown. You may park at the signposted carpark, but vehicles have been known to be robbed or vandalized in this area. Alternatively, park at Lake St Clair and arrange for transportation to the trailhead.
Logbook And Letting Everyone Know
Always leave detailed itineraries with friends and loved ones before taking up the challenge of the Frenchmans Cap Trail. And when you arrive in the National Park to start your hike, make sure to place your name and your intentions in the logbook. You can find the logbook near the start of your walk on the Lyell Highway. You'll also encounter to more logbooks at the unmanned huts along the hike. Be sure to sign in at each logbook for your safety. Logbook data is also used for national park management purposes.
Wilderness Huts and Camping
You'll find two unattended wilderness huts along the hike. The first, at Lake Vera, accommodates 20 people while the one at Lake Tahune only accommodates 16. Park officials encourage sleeping in one of the bunks inside these huts to minimize impact to the environment, but you'll have to carry a tent if the huts are fully occupied upon arrival. And accommodation inside these huts is sparse. You'll find rustic bunk beds, brickette fuel heating stoves, compost toilets and rainwater tanks for drinking water. You will not find cooking stoves or utensils. And the Frenchmans Cap Trail is a fuel stove-only area; no firewood or open fires permitted.
There are a number of recommended camping locations if the huts are occupied. A number of tent sites can be found just before crossing the Franklin River, Loddon River and Philps Creek. There are a number of flat sites near the hut at Lake Vera. At Lake Tahune, you'll find the sites by taking an overgrown trail leading away from the hut that veers left.
You can use the two unmanned huts and the summit to time your hike.
Trailhead to Lake Vera Hut - 6 hours
Lake Vera Hut to Lake Tahune Hut - 4 hours
Lake Tahune Hut to Summit - 1 to 2 hours
Experienced hikers may choose to pass the Lake Tahune Hut on their way to the summit on the second day. But it is always recommended to wait a bit at the Lake Tahune Hut to measure the weather on Frenchmans Cap before making the summit.
The first few kilometres are easy as you march 500 metres through buttongrass plains before crossing the Franklin River over a suspension bridge. You'll then gently ascend the next three kilometres through fragrant tea tree forests on the slopes of Mount Mullens before the landscape opens up. That's when you get your first glimpse of Frenchmans Cap some 20 kilometres in the distance. But it's only just a peek before you descend down to Lodden River. The suspension bridge crossing here is the second and final on the trail.
A well-marked track brings you up to the foothills of Pickax Ridge. A sharp ascent through thick rainforest brings you to a buttongrass saddle before descending down a muddy trail to the Lake Vera Hut. It's a hard-earned 14 kilometres and six hours to the first hiking station.
The hike from Lake Vera Hut begins easily before ascending sharply 400 metres over 3 kilometres to Barron Pass. The ascent is rather beautiful with overhanging rainforest all around and crystal-clear creeks bubbling underfoot. Barron Pass is a sharp rock slide sitting about 950 metres above sea level. The steep cliffs of White Needle and Sharlands Peak on your left and right will make you feel as small as you have ever felt. Between these cliff peaks on Barron Pass, you'll have a direct line of sight to the shimmering Eastern face of Frenchmans Cap.
You'll take a right towards Sharlands Peak where you'll undulate on a rocky trail into rainforest and up onto rock faces before descending to the beautiful Lake Tahune and the second and final wilderness hut. It's best to rest here a bit while watching the weather on the summit before continuing on.
The last 1.5 kilometres are the most difficult. Ascending more than 450 metres, you'll zigzag up a rock face following cairns before bouldering up the final ascent on the back face of the cap. This should not be attempted if the weather is poor. Intrepid hikers will be rewarded with 360° views of the Tasmanian World Heritage Area for as far as the eye can see.
This track, once known as the Sodden Loddens, can be incredibly mucky so pack durable boots. Do not attempt to skirt bogs or walk around large puddles of mud as you will increase the size of these obstacles and wear away the trail.
Do not hike alone but always hike in groups smaller than six. Large groups are difficult to accommodate at the wilderness huts and make a greater impact on the environment.
Soaps and detergents are not allowed on the trail as they infect the water table in the Tasmanian World Heritage Area. Pets are also not allowed.