Your Guide to the Heather Trail

Hiking the Heather Trail in EC Manning Provincial Park

Looking for a stunning alpine hike? How about meadows full of wildflowers? How about an easy overnighter? Touted as a great beginner hike for new backpackers, as well as one of British Colombia’s most beautiful hikes, the Heather Trail, in Manning Park, is a low effort hike with unbelievable views. It might even make you fall in love with backpacking. And with numerous camping options, you can make this anywhere from a 1 to 5 day hike. Some other highlights include amazing wildflowers, unobstructed mountain views, and a trailhead that starts nearly on the top of the ridge! Read on for details, and make the Heather Trail your next adventure!

Colourful wildflowers in rolling alpine meadows. Heaven.

Getting There

The Heather trail is located in EC Manning Provincial Park, off highway 3, and next to Manning Ski Resort. About 2.5 hours from Vancouver, the last portion of this drive through the park is absolutely beautiful. Take the first left turn off highway 3 (onto Owl Rd) once you reach the ski resort (you’ll see the pub, resort, store, etc. on the right side of the highway). Once on Owl, take the first left onto Blackwall Rd. Drive all the way up this road (make sure to stop at the pull-out viewpoint for a photo).

Near the end, the road will turn to gravel – while it’s accessible for 2WD cars, take it easy here, as it’s quite bumpy. However, my little Toyota Echo made it no problem. Park at either the upper or lower lot (there’s only a couple hundred meters difference in trails between the two), and you’re ready to begin!

The Trail

The Heather Trail is very beginner friendly. The main path is obvious, and all turn-offs are marked with wooden signs indicating directions. Simply follow signs for the Heather Trail, and take turn-offs as needed (like to your campsite of choice, or to summit the Three Brothers, a small detour).

Clear and insanely inviting trail. How could you not want to skip down this path!?

The first 5 km to the first campsite is a breeze, and gives you time to warm up. Gently rolling, you won’t even work up a sweat. Following this, you’ll do a bit of climbing up through the trees to the ridge. This is the hardest part of the hike, but don’t worry – it doesn’t last long! Once the trees begin to break, a final climb leaves you at the meadows. From here, the trail rolls gently through STUNNING alpine grass, flowers, and mountain views.

Gold and blue.
Unreal mountain views.
Can you see why this is one of BC’s best?

As you traverse the alpine, a couple turn-offs to your right mark alternate trails: Bonnevier, and the summit of the Three Brothers. If you’re up for some extra kilometers, drop your pack at the junction and do the extra 1 km to this summit for some stellar views. Note that this trail is pretty steep and rocky, but you’ll be rewarded with a 360 panorama on top, and basically be king of the world. Fun fact: there are actually four Brothers mountains – you’ll pass all of them on the trail – but only one (technically known as the First Brother) has a trail to the summit.

The detour to summit the First Brother.

One of the highlights of this hike is the colourful array of wildflowers. Aim for July – August if you can for green and gold hills with sparkling drops of colour. Water is easy to find all year round as well; all campsites have streams/lakes, and a couple small creeks cross the trail past the Brothers. Also, if you’re a fisherman, the fishing in Nicoman lake is rumored to be excellent.

So many flowers!

While the hike has fairly minimal elevation gain due to the high parking lot, note that the nights will be pretty cold at the high altitude. Following a 30 degree C August day, I woke to a layer of frost in the campsite. Gloves and a toque, plus a warm sleeping bag, are a good idea.

Warm sunset on the grass.
Cool sunrise in the early morning.

Check out a full park map here to visualize all the route and campsite options.

The Campsites

There are three campsites along the Heather Trail: Buckhorn (5 km in from the trailhead), Kicking Horse (13.5 km), and Nicoman Lake (21 km). All three have tent pads, outhouses, bear caches, and water sources. Simply pick how far you’d like to hike each day, and off you go!

Note that you’ll need a backcountry camping permit for each night. Grab these online from BC Parks, or stop by the vistor’s centre (just past Owl Rd off highway 3) to buy one before you begin. Permits are $5 per person per night as of 2020.

Buckhorn campsite. Picnic tables are pretty decent!
Moonrise at Kicking Horse campsite.

The Extension

The full Heather Trail could be done as a through-hike with a car drop, although hiking to Nicoman and back is more common. For the through-hike, start in Manning Park at the above trailhead, and continue past Nicoman Lake. Another campsite, Grainger, awaits you on this end. Unfortunately, the trail from Nicoman to Grainger is fairly dull, but offers a pleasant forest walk with no uphill (it drops about 800 m, in fact!). The final leg takes you on the Hope Pass Trail to Cayuse Flats, another downhill section. Note that the portion from Nicoman to Cayuse is long and not very interesting, which explains the popularity of an out-and-back approach to this trail.

To complete the through-hike, you’ll have to leave one car at Cayuse Flats, and another at the Blackwall parking lot. It’s probably best to complete the hike in the direction described, as the opposite way (starting at Cayuse) will leave you with a TON of forest trail with intense elevation gain.

Morning shade on the hills.

The Pitch

The Heather Trail is an epic multi-day hike with minimal elevation gain, stunning views, and beautiful wildflowers. Rated as one of the top trails in the province, this is one that all Pacific Northwest hikers need to complete.

Done the Heather Trail? How many days did it take you, and where did you camp? I’d love to hear some creative itineraries, as options for this trail seem plentiful. Drop me a note in the comments below!

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