Frenchmans Cap is the most prominent peak in Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park and located south of Tasmania's Lyell Highway between Queenstown to the west and Derwent Bridge (where most people finish the Overland Track) to the east.
As a side trip (or as a continuation if you have a packraft or off-trail navigation skills), you can continue on the Frenchmans Cap track to Irenabyss where the trail runs into the Franklin River (there is camping here). You can (apparently) packraft down the river or cross it and continue out to Lyell Highway via the Raglan Range (there is no trail here). I haven't done either of these things, but if you're feeling adventurous and want to extend your Frenchmans Cap trip, these might be worth looking into.
Frenchmans Cap Basics
Frenchmans Cap is a relatively straightforward out-and-back to the 4,744 ft / 1,446 m summit of, you guessed it, Frenchmans Cap. The track has a “recommended time” of three to five days, but I would suggest doing it in two (a long one-day trip would be possible). There are two unstaffed and well-equipped huts along the trail (that is, they have tables, bunks, windows, and stoves – they're not just wooden shacks that are going to blow down with a strong gust of wind) – Lake Vera Hut (20 bunks) and Lake Tahune Hut (16 bunks).
- Location: Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park, Tasmania
- Roundtrip Length: 28.58 mi / 46 km
- Type: Out-and-back
- Officially Recommended Time: 3 to 5 days
- My Suggested Time: 2 days
- Possible Time: 1 day
- Booking Required: No
- Booking Cost: A$0
- Permit Required: Tasmania Parks Pass (buy)
- Permit Cost: A$12-$60 (chart here)
- Trailhead Location: South of Lyell Highway (A10) – -42.208706, 145.980739
- Elevation Gain: 3,280 ft / 1,000 m*
- Highest Point: 4,744 ft / 1,446 m
- Difficulty: Strenuous
- Notes: If you read anything about the “Sodden Lodden”, you're reading an old trip report – the trail has been improved and is in better shape now compared to what it was before.
*This number is not exact and is approximated from maps.
How To Get To Frenchmans Cap
- Accessible via public transportation: Yes
- Trailhead parking: Yes (free, unmetered)
- Trailhead coordinates: -42.208706, 145.980739
BY CAR: Via car, the Frenchmans Cap trailhead is 124 mi / 200 km from both Launceston and Hobart, 35 mi / 57 km east of Queenstown, 18 mi / 29 km west of Derwent Bridge, or 34 km from Lake Saint Clair (the southern terminus of the Overland Track). The entire way to the trailhead is on sealed roads – the exception being the parking area which is dirt. The parking has room for probably around twenty cars and is free and unmetered parking.
BY TRAIN: Sorry, no trains.
The good news? There is a bus that stops at the trailhead. The bad news? It's infrequent and can be expensive depending on where you're coming from. You want the Tassielink West Coast Service runs between Hobart and Strahan making stops at New Norfolk, Gretna, Hamilton, Ouse, Tarraleah, Bronte Junction, Lake St. Clair, Derwent Bridge, Frenchmans Cap, and Queenstown. From Hobart, the bus costs A$55.70, from Derwent Bridge it's A$12.70, and from Queenstown, it's $19.30. There is one bus per day in each direction on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Sunday.
2019 UPDATE: Unfortunately, the bus service to Frenchman's Cap has been discontinued. For Tasmania bus information and timetables, check Tassielink. Have different information? Get in touch or leave a comment below.
BY PRIVATE TRANSPORT: There are a number of companies in Hobart and around Tasmania offering transport to/from trailheads. If you're up for shoveling out a bit of cash for a ride, then go for it.
HITCHHIKING: Hitchhiking to the start of the Frenchmans Cap Traverse is possible. There is a fair amount of traffic on this road (for Tasmania) and in my experience, hitchhiking around the island has been relatively easy.
Notes On Frenchmans Cap
The following are some notes to help you more easily understand exactly what I'm saying in this post, since when I was doing my research I found things to be a little confusing.
- As noted above, the “Sodden Lodden” is no more, and the trail is in better condition than it once was. There may still be mud at some points, but don't expect to be wading through a river of it up to your waist.
- There are two unstaffed huts on the Frenchmans Cap Track – Lake Vera Hut (20 bunks) and Lake Tahune Hut (16 bunks). Both huts are in good condition and have camping available nearby.
- There is plenty of suitable camping along the Frenchmans Cap Track – camping options are not limited to the huts.
- There are no fires permitted anywhere along the Frenchmans Cap Track.
- Tasmania is notorious for its unpredictable and quickly changing weather. Make good decisions.
- There are composting toilets at both of the huts.
- The fungus, phytophthora cinnamomi, is rampant in Tasmania and kills native plants. The Frenchmans Cap Track is free of this fungus so be sure to clean your shoes, gaiters, trowel, etc. before hitting the track.
- I try to write things correctly and despite my instincts telling me that “Frenchmans Cap” should be “Frenchman's Cap”, it's written without an apostrophe on all of my maps, the Tasmania National Parks website, and on other sources I consider “official” (this, of course, includes Wikipedia). So if the missing punctuation bothers you, don't get upset with me.
Frenchmans Cap Itinerary
The suggested Frenchmans Cap Traverse itinerary calls for three to five days. Five days would be an incredibly leisurely pace as the entire track is only 28.58 mi / 46 km. I completed the track in two days having spent the night at the halfway point – on top of Frenchmans Cap. A one day trip would be possible if you really wanted to go for it. Most people might be most comfortable with three days (but personally, I would recommend two).
Here are some example itineraries:
- Day 1: 10 mi / 16.1 km – Trailhead to Lake Vera Hut
- Day 2: 2.8 mi / 4.5 km – Lake Vera Hut to Lake Tahune Hut
- Day 3: 3.23 mi / 5.2 km – Return to Lake Tahune Hut via Frenchmans Cap
- Day 4: 2.8 mi / 4.5 km – Lake Tahune Hut to Lake Vera Hut
- Day 5: 10 mi / 16.1 km – Lake Vera Hut to Trailhead
- Day 1: 12.8 mi / 20.6 km – Trailhead to Lake Tahune Hut
- Day 2: 6.03 mi / 9.7 km – Lake Tahune Hut to Lake Vera Hut via Frenchmans Cap
- Day 3: 10 mi / 16.1 km – Lake Vera Hut to Trailhead
Here's what I did:
- Day 1: 14.29 mi / 23 km – Trailhead to Frenchmans Cap
- Day 2: 14.29 mi / 23 km – Frenchmans Cap to Trailhead
If you're interested in the approximate locations of Lake Vera and Lake Tahune Huts, you camp find them here.
Frenchmans Cap Alternates
There are a couple of side trips and variations you can make on the Frenchmans Cap Track if you're feeling adventurous.
Irenabyss: From the junction for Frenchmans Cap, you can continue north and descend nearly 3,280 ft / 1,000 m to Irenabyss. Once there, you can either turn around and head back out to the Frenchmans Cap trailhead or cross the river and cross the Raglan Range back to the Lyell Highway. The latter is best suited for those with lots of experience and navigation skills as there is no official track leading out this way (and it involves a potentially hazardous crossing of the Franklin River. There is suitable camping at Irenabyss if you decide to extend your trip. (Map)
White Needle and Phillips Peak: From Barron Pass on the Frenchmans Cap Track (the pass you reach after passing Lake Vera), there is a 1.62 mi / 2.6 km unmarked route up to White Needle (3,665 ft / 1,117 m). From here, you can follow the ridge to Phillips Peak (4,206 ft / 1,282 m) and then either return to Barron Pass the way you came or you can continue southeast, east, and then northeast to loop back around and meet the Frenchmans Cap Track near Rumney Creek. The climb up to White Needle/Phillips Peak is a scramble and the loop back should only be attempted by experienced hikers. (Map)
Tahune Hut Ridge: From Tahune Hut you can follow an unmarked route southeast up a steep scramble to a ridge above the lake offering views of the face of Frenchmans Cap. Do not attempt this route unless you're comfortable scrambling. (Map)
Frenchmans Cap Track
Leaving the parking lot, the track heads down to a walker registration point at the Franklin River. You cross the river via a suspension bridge and begin climbing up a well-defined track to a pass at around 1,969 ft / 600 m. From here, if the weather is nice, you can catch your first glimpse of Frenchmans Cap (but don't go photo crazy because you are going to be getting much better views).
The trail descends and flattens out as you head through a button grass-filled plain before crossing the London River via another suspension bridge. There are some good campsites on both sides of the river in case you've already exhausted yourself. On a side note, when I came through here, two elderly hikers warned me to be careful because they “saw two snakes yesterday”. Yes, there are snakes here. You telling me to be careful because you saw some does not help me. The snakes are here whether we see them or not. Basically, this is me warning you about snakes. Don't be freaked out about them, just know they exist (and are going to kill you).
The trail through here is mostly flat boardwalk (I am pretty sure this is where the Sodden Lodden once was – if you don't know what that is, don't worry, it's not important). You'll catch another glimpse of Frenchmans Cap before reaching Lake Vera and the Lake Vera Hut. Inside the unstaffed hut you'll find some bunks, a stove, a trail register, all the garbage random reading material hikers leave behind, and the usual “crap you find in backcountry huts” stuff. Nearby are some platforms for tenting and more nice campsites on the other side of an outlet you cross.
The trail follows the lake before beginning a steep climb up to Barron Pass (3,110 ft / 948 m) to the west. You'll find some orange arrows marking the way, but the trail isn't difficult to follow (just a bit steep). From the pass you have a great view of Frenchmans Cap along with Lake Cecily and Lake Gertrude below. And, if you're up for it, you can scramble up to White Needle (3,665 ft / 1,117 m) or Philips Peak (4,206 ft / 1,282 m) to the south of Barron Pass.
You then get a nice northwest traverse below the ridge and up to a lookout over Artichoke Valley before descending to Lake Tahune and the Lake Tahune Hut. When I hiked through there were major renovations going on at the Lake Tahune Hut and I was not able to enter, but according to the Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service, the hut has a composting toilet, accommodates 16 people, and is “passively heated with a fixed background temperature” (supposedly the hut has “high thermal properties designed to retain heat”).
From Lake Tahune Hut it's nearly 1,476 ft / 450 m up to the summit of Frenchmans Cap over a steep 1.62 mi / 2.6 km climb. There are plenty of cairns dotting the northern slope, but as long as you're going up, you're going the right way. At the summit, there is (or at least was) a small wind break made of rocks and excellent views in all directions (but particularly to the south) if you're lucky enough to have good weather.
The summit is large and there are plenty of flat areas suitable for camping. I took a chance with the clouds and decided to cowboy camp on the summit (no tent). It paid off wonderfully as I woke up to one of my best mornings ever on trail.
Frenchmans Cap Conclusion
I enjoyed Frenchmans Cap and the highlight was definitely sleeping and waking up on top. But maybe it's just because I got lucky with the weather and had great views both days of my hike. If you're hiking the Overland Track, Frenchmans Cap would be a great track to do once you finish the Overland at Lake Saint Clair (you can even catch the bus from there if you're not keen on hitchhiking or paying for a pickup).
If you think you've got the weather window, Frenchmans Cap as an overnighter is a great option for a shorter Tassie hike. If I make it back, I will probably head down to Irenabyss next time to do some exploring in the Raglan Range (or I'll bring my packraft…and someone who knows what they're doing with it).
I'm always looking to improve this information, so if you have any suggestions to improve or update this information then please leave a comment below or get in touch.