The Peak of Mt. Unnecessary overlooking Howe Sound below
Being one of the last long weekends of the summer with September now here and a slight fall chill in the morning air, we lucked out with some Saturday sun hiking the Howe Sound Crest Trail from Cypress mountain to the West Lion and back. One of the longest hikes I’ve ever done at almost 10 hours, it was also one of the most varied – hiking this trail you’ll never be bored!
45 minute drive from Vancouver.
Difficult hike – from Cypress Mountain to West Lion, return.
Trip date late August, no snow on trail.
Trail begins at Cypress Mountain ski parking lot.
Distance from parking lot to base of West Lion: 9.5km, 1500m elevation, 5 hours one way.
Total 19km from Cypress mountain to base of West Lion and return. 2077m cumulative elevation gain.
Preparing for a long day of hiking ahead, we started early being one of the first to park in the Cypress ski lot at 7.30am. There are multiple hiking trails you can do from here – if you turn right towards Eagle Bluffs you will get a great view of the city below. Today was my first time turning left instead following the Howe Sound Crest Trail.
First part of the trail – walking along the smooth gravel path
If you do the whole Howe Sound Crest Trail it will take you 29km from Cypress up to Porteau Cove and we saw several people backpacking who were doing the whole trail and planned to stay the night at the halfway point at Magnesia Meadows – which to me sounds like another adventure to plan for next summer!
For this trip the plan was only to head up to the Lions and then back again making it a 19km journey. The first part of the trail starting from Cypress you will hike along the Yew Lake trail and through an amazing part of old growth forest. After emerging from the old growth forest two relatively steep switchbacks that you need to hike up before it levels off. This part of the trail close to Stratchan Meadows has construction work happening on it on Monday – Friday throughout the summer which is something to note if you’re planning on hiking this early part of the trail during those days.
Soon the nice flat gravel path ends and you’ll see up ahead a very rooty and variable trail, which is pretty much the condition of the rest of the trail up to the Lions. Unpredictable and never boring.
The trail the rest of the way!
The trail goes up and down, never going one way for too long. There are some easy scrambling sections especially when you pass the “End of Maintained Trail” sign and there are a few fallen trees that you’ll need to navigate pass. After about 2.5hrs we passed St. Marks summit. The trail played peek-a-boo with the views of Howe Sound below before fully opening up to see it all when we were at the peak of Mt. Unnecessary. Up ahead we also saw the Lions in their glory.
The Lions beckons
For me this is where the trail got really fun and may test the mettle of some who are nervous of steeper sections. Once you pass Mt. Unnecessary the trail drops steeply for two sections – there is a rope to use to help you down. This is the part where if I was carrying a much heavier overnight pack I would navigate with extra caution and progress can be slow.
At the 4.5hr mark we were at the base of the West Lion and chose not to continue further up keeping in mind we needed to save energy for the return trip. One day I do plan on hiking up the Lions via the more direct Lions Binkert Trail and would like to see how far up I could go. Note that summiting the Lions from what I’ve read should only be done by experienced climbers as it’s quite exposed and falling would be fatal. Not worth it if you’re not comfortable (and not being overly confident either).
Standing on the back of the West Lion, 9km in and far enough for today!
The return journey was tough, especially the last two hours where it was getting hard to keep focused on not tripping up on loose rock and roots. Finally we reached the junction where the gravel path signaled we were close to heading back to the parking lot. Being tired as I was, I still did a quick detour to see the view from the Bowen Island lookout point. If you want a quick view Bowen Island lookout provides that but I thought the views from along the trail that you see past St. Marks are much nicer. Finally after 9.5hrs of hiking we were back at the Cypress parking lot and I spent the rest of the ride home napping in the car I was so tired!
Signage for the Howe Sound Crest trail throughout was good, keep your eye out for the orange markers on trees and pink/yellow tape
Elevation map of Howe Sound Crest Trail from Cypress Park to West Lion and back
You can find out more information about the Howe Sound Crest Trail along with maps and descriptions on the Cypress Provincial Park website.