Paddling Lightning Lake at Manning Park

Quick Facts

  • Parking and Launching:
  • Launching type: small dock at Lightning Lake Day Use Area and sandy beach at Spruce Bay
  • Difficulty – very easy
  • No cell phone service.
  • Boat traffic – no motor boats
  • View – layers of mountains surrounding a zig-zagging lake that reveals itself slowly as you paddle through
  • Facilities: pit toilets
  • Overall score – 9/10

Lightning Lake in E.C. Manning Provincial Park is a popular paddling destination in the summer. It’s a 2.5hour drive from Vancouver, and the scenic drive takes you through some beautiful valleys and mountain passes until you reach Lightning Lake, 1,247m above sea level.

This is the focal point and main attraction of Manning Park in the summer. There are two day-use parking areas; Lightning Lake Day Use Area has a much shorter distance from parking to launch, as well a boat rental service. Spruce Bay Parking area requires a small hike down some trails to reach the lake. No motor boats allowed on Lightning Lake.

To stay overnight at Lightning Lake, the convenient and posh-for-the-mountains Manning Park Resort is just down the road. However, if you are lucky and committed enough to grab a campsite at the Lightning Lake Campground, you could have the easiest access to the lake to paddle as much as you want.

The best campsites for paddling Lighting Lake is in the large loop, as close to the access trail to Spruce Bay as possible. However, it was a nearly impossible feat as these sites were instantly booked up the second they opened for booking, so we settled for the small loop. Unfortunately there is no trail connecting the two loops, so we had to walk about 600m from our campsite to reach the water. Small price to pay for a fantastic paddle.

Morning Paddle

I arrived at Spruce Bay around 5am and was greeted with a mesmerizing dance of mist and morning light.

I turned right and headed into the small creek connecting the two parts of the lake. Lightning Lake has a zig-zagging shape, and each turn reveals a different view. The iconic Rainbow Bridge soon appeared. The water level in parts of the creek was quite shallow and my 9 inch fin was caught on the sand bank, but I was able to find a deeper pocket quite easily.

I passed a few beavers that did some angry tail slaps as if they were throwing a tantrum because I woke them up.

The southern part of Lighting Lake was the larger of the two. There were no visible human-made structures here, giving it a remote natural feel. I paddled to the end of the lake and confirmed that one cannot paddle on to reach Flash Lake.

I turned around, went through the Rainbow Bridge, and explored Spruce Bay a little more. Some lingering morning mist was just lifting off the lake, giving it a dream-like impression to paddle through. I tried to be as quiet as possible and enjoyed the stillness.

There is a small cove near the boat rental area, so I explored it. It’s next to the Lone Duck group campground, and a dad with some kids were already up and fishing.

Boat Rental
Campers at Lone Duck Group Campground

I finally headed back to Spruce Bay Beach around 6:50am and back to our campsite to start our day. There was no one else on the trail or on the water during my early morning paddle, granting me a fantastic 2 hours of solitude. It would have been pretty epic to have some photos of a lone paddleboarder through the fog though.

Afternoon Fun

We went on a hike around Lightning Lake later that morning, and the paddlers were out in force.

I imagine I usually look pretty similar to this guy, but with a PFD and ankle leash.
Traffic jam under the Rainbow Bridge.

In the evening, our whole group came back to enjoy some family paddling fun. Unlike the lakes in the Lower Mainland, Lightning Lake remained very calm in the afternoon and evening.

Our turn!
Shuttling Little Bro
Mom took Junior for a spin.
Junior decided to be a goof and sat sideways the entire paddle.
Amy and Aaron also had a go with their little one on the paddleboards.
The brothers attempted a paddleboard runaway together. Mom was right there to catch them.

Although the whole loop around the lake is only 7.5km or so, the special shape and features of the lake makes it a lot of fun to explore. The absence of motorboats is another welcomed bonus.

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