Skip to Content

Spectrum Lake Trail: Complete Hiking Guide

Part of Monashee Provincial Park, Spectrum Lake is an ideal first time or family backpacking destination. The trail is short (just 6km one way), the difficulty low and the reward satisfying.

Spectrum Lake itself is beautiful, featuring turquoise water and a mountainous backdrop. The backcountry campgrounds on its shores are some of the best in BC, with nicely defined campsites and well maintained facilities.

Spectrum Lake reflections, as seen through the trees. There is a mountain peak on the left, reflected onto the mirror like surface of the lake
Spectrum Lake

Not only a destination, Spectrum Lake can also be visited on the way to Monashee Provincial Park’s spectacular sub-alpine areas.

This post shares everything you need to know about hiking to Spectrum Lake, as a day hike or backpacking trip.

The breakdown looks like this:

Spectrum Lake Trail
Location: Monashee Provincial Park, British Columbia
Distance: 6km one-way
Elevation change: 209m overall, mostly gained
Hike type: Out and back
Time: Allow 1.5-2.5 hours each way
Difficulty: Low
Dogs: Not permitted

Please note that Monashee Provincial Park is currently closed due to wildfire risk (28th July 2021). Check the Monashee Provincial Park webpage for updates

Looking across Spectrum Lake towards mountain peaks on the far shore
Looking up to the sub alpine areas of Monashee Provincial Park from Spectrum Lake

Hiking necessities

Before heading to Spectrum Lake:

Published June 2021. This post contains some affiliate links. If you make a purchase via one of these links, I may receive a small percentage of the sale at no extra cost to you.

Side view of elevated wooden tent platform with light coloured tent set up on it, with picnic shelter in background. The lake is visible through the trees
Camping at Spectrum Lake

About Spectrum Lake

Spectrum Lake is the gateway to Monashee Provincial Park, which protects over 20,000 hectares of undeveloped wilderness.

Sitting at an elevation of 975m, Spectrum Lake is ringed by impressive mountains. It is a peaceful spot, an ideal place to relax in nature.

The surrounding park features a number of different ecosystems, from gorgeous old growth cedar and hemlock forests to sub-alpine meadows and wetlands. It is also possible to summit spectacular summits such as Mount Fosthall (2679m).

Monashee Provincial Park is a backcountry destination only – there is no vehicle access.

Looking at the water of Spectrum Lake from shore, which is turquoise coloured and very clear. It’s possible to see the bottom of the lake
Spectrum Lake has beautiful turquoise coloured water in the sun. It’s also very clear!

Spectrum Lake: Hike Experience

The Spectrum Lake Trail is a short, straightforward hike through a mixed forest of lodgepole pine, birch, Douglas fir, hemlock and cedar.

Starting from the parking lot, the path is initially flat as it enters the forest and crosses Spectrum Creek with the help of a large wooden bridge. It then meanders through a carpet of ferns, past some surprisingly large trees and along a section of boardwalk.

Back view of Gemma hiking away from camera on wooden bridge over river, carrying large turquoise backpack
Crossing the first bridge on the Spectrum Lake Trail

After 500m, there’s an abrupt turn to the right. The rest of the hike continues in this direction, occasionally interrupted by creek crossings (all with bridges) and short rocky sections.

The trail starts to gradually climb from this right turn. It is a slow ascent, with many flat sections.

Boardwalk trail leading through forest, with large trees and ferns covering the ground
The start of the Spectrum Lake Trail was my favourite part. This forest is so beautiful!

Mountain views, creeks and the final descent

Ptarmigan Creek, at the 2.2km mark, is a highlight and is an ideal stopping place if you need a break.

Mountain peaks start to appear through the trees after 3.5km, becoming more visible as the trees start to thin out. The park boundary is crossed not long after.

Wooden bridge crossing river, with Ptarmigan Creek name on side. Water is visibly rushing underneath the bridge
Ptarmigan Creek

At 5km, there is a trail junction. Turn right to continue to Spectrum Lake, turn left to head towards Little Peter’s Lake.

From here, the path starts to descend. One last creek necessities a short, steep climb and then it’s all downhill.

The final descent is a little rocky (watch your footing!), but seeing the campground through the trees is the perfect motivator.

Looking through the trees at snow capped peaks on the Spectrum Lake Trail
Mountain peaks start to appear through the trees after 3.5km, becoming more visible as the trees start to thin out

Once at the lake, it’s time to relax! Swimming and sunbathing on the dock are popular activities, alongside all of the traditional camping activities. There are rainbow trout in the lake.

It is possible to day hike from Spectrum Lake up to Monashee Provincial Park’s sub-alpine areas but this is recommended for experienced hikers only. More information here.

Looking across a T shaped dock on a lake to the mountain peak beyond. The lake surface is very calm
The Spectrum Lake dock in the main campground

Spectrum Lake Hiking Guide

In this section, you’ll find all the nitty-gritty info about the Spectrum Lake Trail.

Location

Spectrum Lake is located in Monashee Provincial Park, British Columbia. The trailhead is northeast of Cherryville, a small community east of the city of Vernon.

  • Turn off Highway 6 onto Sugar Lake Road. If you’re driving from Vernon, Sugar Lake Road is before the main access road to Cherryville
  • Continue on Sugar Lake Road for 16km. Most of this road is paved, with the last 2km turning to gravel
  • Stay left at the junction just before Sugar Lake. Cross the bridge and then continue for 21.5km.
  • Look for a blue ‘Monashee Provincial Park’ sign on the right, indicating the turn-off onto Spectrum Creek FSR
  • Continue for 1.3km. At the junction, turn right (again, look out for the blue signs). Stay on this main road for 12km

Please note that the roads beyond Cherryville are heavily used by industrial vehicles and there is active logging in the area. Remain alert and expect to meet large logging trucks as well as smaller, fast moving worker trucks. Give way to all industrial traffic.

The last gas stop is at Cherryville. Make sure you have enough gas to make the 100+km return journey.

Looking across calm deep blue lake with rolling hills in background
Sugar Lake from the bridge at the southern end

What to expect

Compared to other roads we’ve personally driven in the area (such as those to Pinnacle Lake, Twin Lakes), the road to Spectrum Lake is in better driving condition.

This is particularly true when referring to the section alongside Sugar Lake, which is very wide, quite flat and generally clear of debris.

The final 10km to the parking lot is the roughest part of the journey, with uneven surfaces and loose rock on the road. The road gains elevation here, about 300m total. There are also some narrow sections (1.5 vehicle width), with a drop-off to the right.

A high clearance vehicle would definitely be preferable to avoid damage. AWD or 4X4 is a bonus. We drove to the trailhead in our GMC Savana van. Other hikers used trucks.

Driving distances/time:

Cherryville: 51km, 1 hour
Vernon: 104km, 1 hour 45 minutes
Kelowna: 104km, 2 hours 30 minutes

Driving distances/times are approximate and based on our own experience

View through vehicle windscreen towards unpaved road, with mountains in background
Much of the road (Sugar Lake onwards) to Spectrum Lake looks like this

Parking

The Spectrum Lake parking lot is the main backcountry trailhead for Monashee Provincial Park. It is actually located beyond the park boundaries.

There is space for around 20 vehicles to park comfortably off the road. A single outhouse sits just beyond the parking lot in the forest (bring yourown toilet paper).

Park signage indicates the start of the Spectrum Lake Trail and also provides detail for other hikes in the area.

Somewhat depressingly, there is a large cut-block visible just beyond the parking lot.

Looking across unpaved parking lot with singular vehicle parked on right hand side. The parking lot is surrounded by trees, except for a cutblock (caused by logging) ahead
Spectrum Lake’s parking lot, with the aforementioned cut block

Camping at Spectrum Lake

There are two BC Parks’ background campgrounds at Spectrum Lake.

Both campgrounds work on a first come, first serve basis. Camping permit fees are $5 per person, per night, payable at the campground (cash only) or online via DiscoverCamping.

Please note that the information below is based on our visit to the Spectrum Lake campgrounds in June 2021. The BC Parks website lists slightly different facilities (more tent pads, more outhouses).

The Spectrum Lake campgrounds are very popular on weekends. If possible, plan to visit during the week. During our visit in late June, there were only two other groups in the main campground.

If weekends are the only option, I would suggest arriving as early as possible.

Side view of erected light coloured tent on raised wooden platform, surrounded by trees
This is campsite 5 at the main Spectrum Lake campground

Main Spectrum Lake campground

The Spectrum Lake campground is located right on the forested lakeshore. There are a number of access points to the water but the best is a T-shaped dock (perfect for swimming!)

As for the other facilities, the Spectrum Lake campground is pretty cushy as backcountry campgrounds go.

There are 12 designated tent pads, each with a corresponding campsite number. Campsite 5 has a ‘bonus’ tent pad (no appointed number) so technically there are 13 spots total.

Raised wooden tent pad in front of picnic table with shelter, with lake visible in the background
This is campsite 6 in the main campground

Most of these tent pads take the form of large, raised wooden platforms. There are metal hooks on the side of the platform to help with tent construction. The other tent pads are dirt squares, framed by wood.

Each of the campsites as a picnic table and metal fire ring. Five of the sites have wooden shelters over the picnic tables.

All of the campsites are pretty nice, with plenty of space and shade. Some have views.

The level of privacy varies, however, with those closest to the lake being more intimate and also inevitably receiving a fair amount of foot traffic from other campers.

  • Campsites 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 are set a bit apart from the others, potentially a little quieter on busy weekends
  • Campsite 5 (the one we chose) has a ‘bonus’ dirt tent pad immediately next to the wooden tent platform
  • One of my favourites was Campsite 6, a spacious site with water on tree sites
  • Campsite 12 is located behind the outhouses so can be a bit smelly
  • Campsites 9 is situated opposite the lake dock
Distant view of wooden tent pad next to picnic table with shelter, with lake visible in the background
Another view of campsite 6 at Spectrum Lake campground
Other facilities

There are two bear hangs in the Spectrum Lake campground, one to the north and the other to the south. There are six cables per bear hang pole.

Two outhouses sit on a high point in the middle of the campground. Right at the back, close to the access trail, is a single level ranger’s cabin.

Looking up at metal bear hang with cables hanging off round top, set into forest at Spectrum Lake campground
One of the bear hangs at the main Spectrum Lake campground

Spectrum Lake group campground

A short walk (100m) north of the main campground is Spectrum Lake’s group campground. It’s also located in the forest next to the lake, though this campground has a lovely stream running through it.

This smaller campground has 8 tent pads (mostly dirt, with one huge raised wooden platform), most with picnic tables. Only one site has a metal fire ring, with the others sharing a communal fire pit.

In the middle of this campground is a large wooden shelter, with additional picnic tables underneath. A singular outhouse (again, with toilet paper on our visit) sits on the hill above the campground.

There is a large bear cache located between the group campground and the main campground.

Officially, as per BC Parks’ policy, a group camping party consists of 15 or more adults (aged 16 or older) or a minimum of 12 young people.

There is no reservation system for this campground, unlike most BC Parks’ group campgrounds.

Looking across communal fit pit area with benches to large shelter with three picnic tables underneath in Spectrum Lake group campground
Spectrum Lake’s group campground has a large shelter as well as a communal fire pit

The best time to go

Spectrum Lake is situated at 975m elevation, 200m higher than the parking lot.

The trail is usually snow free from early June to early October. Depending on the year, it may be possible to hike without snow earlier or later in the season.

Monashee Provincial Park is technically open year round so it is possible to visit Spectrum Lake outside this snow-free period, if you are prepared for snow and are able to access the trailhead.

Looking to continue hiking from Spectrum Lake to Little Peter’s Lake and beyond? This area isn’t snow free until later in the season. Mid July to early September is a good bet.

Close up of orange wildflower on the Spectrum Lake hike, with blurred background
We were able to spot some pretty wildflowers on our late June Spectrum Lake hike

The hike to Spectrum Lake follows a well defined trail from the parking lot all the way to the lake itself. There is signage at the parking lot, at the first corner and also at the junction with the trail to Little Peter’s Lake.

Bright orange kilometre markers are attached to trees along the trail, indicating when an additional kilometre has been hiked. There are also intermittent orange diamond markers, also attached to trees, to indicate the route.

The Spectrum Lake hike is clearly marked on our favourite trail app, Maps.me. A map of the trail and campground can be found on the BC Parks’ website here.

Looking up at tree with orange kilometre marker (2km) and orange diamond blaze
There are kilometres markers and diamond blazes along the Spectrum Lake Trail

Difficulty

BC Parks’ rates the Spectrum Lake Trail as ‘easy’, a rating I would also agree with.

Keep in mind that this is a backcountry trail rating, meaning that the hike still retains some rugged aspects e.g. dirt path with uneven, rocky and muddy sections.

The trail distance is 6km one-way. It takes around 1.5 hours to 2.5 hours to hike, with 2 hours being the average (3km/hour pace).

View of start of hiking trail, with dirt path leading through forest. There is a signpost with trail distances on the left.
The start of the Spectrum Lake hike

There are no technical elements to this trail. Here’s what to expect in terms of difficulty:

  • Most of the trail surface is dirt. There are some boardwalk stretches and bridges, as well as some short, rocky sections
  • There a number of creek crossings along the route, but all have well maintained bridges. In late spring and early summer, the flow of the creeks can provide a welcome cooling breeze
  • The first 500m is almost completely flat
  • The next 4.5km features a slow, gradual ascent. The trail is mostly shaded so even on a sunny day, there are places to stop, catch your breath and cool down
  • The last 1km (after the Little Peter’s Lake junction) is mostly downhill, with the exception of a short climb after a creek. The final descent into the campground is a little rocky in places, with some uneven surfaces
Back view of JR hiking on Spectrum Lake Trail through the forest. The trail itself is a mix of rock and dirt
Some sections of the trail are rockier than others

Wildlife

Monashee Provincial Park is home to a vast array of animals including moose, black bears, grizzly bears, cougars, deer and mountain goats. The endangered mountain caribou and wolverine are also found here.

At night, you may hear the haunting calls of loons on Spectrum Lake. The threatened Northern Goshawk (a medium size raptor) also lives in the park.

To avoid negative wildlife interactions:

  • Make noise to warn wildlife of your approach
  • Carry bear spray, know how to use it and keep it accessible
  • Stay alert and be aware of your surroundings
  • Pack out everything you bring with you (including biodegrable items like banana peels and apple cores)
  • Store food and smelly items properly when not in use, using the provided bear hangs and bear cache
  • Leave your dog at home. Dogs are not permitted in Monashee Provincial Park
  • If you do see animals – keep your distance, don’t feed and always leave them with an escape route

Check out our complete guide to bear safety for more info.

Forest view of small grey rabbit with white feet on ground
We didn’t any big animals on our trip to Spectrum Lake but we did see this rabbit, a toad, bald eagles and loons.

Extending your trip

Spectrum Lake is an ideal backpacking destination for one or two nights.

If you’re looking for a longer trip, consider hiking beyond Spectrum Lake to Monashee Provincial Park’s sub-alpine areas.

This is recommended for experienced hikers only, as the ascent to Little Peter’s Lake is rated difficult. We can’t wait to return to the area to explore the sub-alpine!

  • Little Peter’s Lake: 6.5km one-way from Spectrum Lake with 762m elevation gain (2-4 hours). There is a campground here with two tent pads and an outhouse
  • Big Peter’s Lake: 2.5km one-way from Little Peter’s Lake, with 0m elevation gain (1 hour). There is a campground here with 10 tent pads, a bear pole, food cache and an outhouse
Hiking trail leading away with wooden signpost on left stating 'Peters Lake' with arrow
The start of the trail from Spectrum Lake to Little Peter’s Lake

From Big Peter’s Lake, there are hiking routes to Fawn Lake, Valley of the Moon, South Caribou Pass, Mount Fosthall and Margie Lake.

  • Big Peter’s Lake to Margie Lake: 4.57km with 122m elevation gain (2 hours). There is a campground here with two tent pads, a bear pole and an outhouse

On the way to/from the Spectrum Lake trailhead, I’d highly recommend a stop at Rainbow Falls. The turn-off is 9.2km before the Spectrum Lake parking lot. The slightly rough road leads 1km to a parking lot, where there is a 1km trail down to the spectacular falls.

There are two viewing platforms to check out – one just above Spectrum Creek and the other on the rocks closer to the thundering water. Visit in late spring and early summer for the best show!

Back view of Gemma on wooden platform looking up at huge thundering waterfall cascading down from rockface
Thundering Rainbow Falls

Trail hazards and important safety info

As a low difficulty trail, the Spectrum Lake hike doesn’t feature many specific hazards. This is one of the reasons why Spectrum Lake is such a great destination for families and/or first time backpackers.

  • If you’re bringing children, one of the biggest hazards to be aware of is the depth of the Spectrum Lake itself. From the shore, it does become deep quite quickly. The temperature is also cold (but wonderfully refreshing for swimming on hot days!)
  • The Spectrum Lake Trail crosses a number of streams and creeks. The bridges are well maintained. Keep in mind, however, that most of these creeks feature fast moving water, especially during snow melt in spring and early summer
  • Besides water hazards, it’s also important to be aware of wildlife (see previous section) and the remote location
  • There is no phone signal beyond Cherryville. Consider carrying a satellite communication device like the InReach for emergencies
Sunset reflections on Spectrum Lake, with mountain peak lit up in red visible on lake surface
Sunset reflections on Spectrum Lake

Essentials items to bring

  • Carabiner for bear hang: As mentioned above, the Spectrum Lake campground has two bear hangs. There’s a pole and six cables on each, but I’d recommend bringing a carabiner so you can secure your food bag properly
  • Bear spray. Monashee Provincial Park is home to both grizzly and black bears. Carry bear spray in an accessible place and know how to use it
  • Quick dry towel: Spectrum Lake is the perfect place to go swimming on a hot day. Bring a swimsuit and quick dry towel to take advantage! We like the PackTowl brand, made with nylon microfiber
Looking past the end of the wooden dock at Spectrum Lake to calm lake surface with mountain peak in the background
The dock in the main Spectrum Lake campground is perfect for swimming and sunbathing!
  • Insect repellent. We didn’t have problems with mosquitoes in late June but the blackflies were pretty aggressive, especially in the evening. Be sure to bring your favourite insect repellent!
  • Fully inflated spare tire: The dirt roads leading to the Spectrum Lake parking lot are in fairly good condition, but it’s a good idea to double check your spare tire before heading out. Be sure it’s a proper spare tire, not a temporary (donut) one, and that you know how to change it
Part of Monashee Provincial Park, Spectrum Lake is an ideal first time or family backpacking destination. The trail is short (just 6km one way), the difficulty low and the reward satisfying. This post shares everything you need to know about hiking to Spectrum Lake, as a day hike or backpacking trip!

Other Okanagan Valley hiking posts

Pinnacle Lake Trail Guide, Cherryville

Twin Lakes Trail Guide, Cherryville

Enderby Cliffs Trail Guide, Enderby

9 Fast and Fun Hikes in Vernon

Hiking Pincushion Mountain, Peachland

16 Fast and Fun Hikes in Penticton

Hiking the Myra Trestles, Kelowna

Hiking the Peach Cliff Trail, Okanagan Falls

FREE PRINTABLE HIKING PACKING CHECKLIST

Sign up to our monthly newsletter and receive a completely free download of our printable, customisable packing checklist for multi-day hiking trips