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.
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:
- About Spectrum Lake
- Hike experience
- Hiking guide
Spectrum Lake Trail
Location: Monashee Provincial Park, British Columbia
Distance: 6km one-way
Elevation gain: 210m
Hike type: Out and back
Time: Allow 1.5-2.5 hours each way
Dogs: Not permitted
Before heading to Spectrum Lake:
- Remember to bring the 10 Essentials
- Know how to stay safe and also avoid negative bear encounters
- Understand how to Leave No Trace to help keep nature beautiful
- Be prepared to pack out everything you bring with you
- Check out our recommended gear
- Need a backpacking checklist? Sign up to our newsletter for a free one
Published June 2021, updated April 2022. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Spectrum Lake Hiking Guide
In this section, you’ll find all the nitty-gritty info about the Spectrum Lake Trail.
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. The journey time is around 1 hour and 45 minutes.
- 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.
What to expect
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.
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
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.
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 the BC Parks camping website.
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.
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.
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 three sites
- Campsite 12 is located behind the outhouses so can be a bit smelly
- Campsites 9 is situated opposite the lake dock
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.
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.
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.
Navigating the Spectrum Lake Trail
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.
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).
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
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.
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
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!
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
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
- 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
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One half of the Canadian/British couple behind Off Track Travel, Gemma is happiest when hiking on the trail or planning the next big travel adventure. JR and Gemma are currently based in the beautiful Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada