Howe Sound Crest Trail to the Lions

trip report by besthike editor Rick McCharles

The Lions are a pair of pointed peaks (West Lion – 1,646 m (5,400 ft); East Lion – 1,606 m (5,269 ft)) along the North Shore Mountains in Metro Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. They can be seen from much of the Greater Vancouver area …

The city’s BC Lions CFL football team is also named in their honour. …

On the September long weekend, a friend dropped me off at Cypress Bowl Ski Resort, only 20min from North Vancouver.

Of several trailhead options to visit the Lions, I recommend this one. Check the elevation profile:

(Most hikers, instead, start closer to sea level on the Binkert Trail, a long slog uphill.)

Here’s my first view of the Lions:

The first hour or so climbing up out of Cypress is tree locked. But you soon find yourself on a wonderful ridge walk with vistas like this:

In early September the #1 question was still: “How’s the snow?”

No problem when I was there. In fact, where the trail crossed snow the footing was good, progress just as fast as on ground.

For lunch I decided to set up the tent on a warm rock.

I read my book. Listened to audiocasts on my iPod. And had a nap. The tent was essential to escape the voracious mosquitoes and bothersome noseeems, unusual on the west coast, especially in September. There were none at lower elevations.

Look closely and you’ll see people atop the west Lion:

There are helicopter rescues nearly every summer weekend. And hikers do fall.

On arriving at the base of the west Lion I instantly decided not to scramble up. It looks sketchy. And there were all kinds of inexperienced, unprepared idiots crowding the route.

Instead I continued on the Howe Sound Crest Trail between the Lions. This traverse section was the trickiest of all. Considerable exposure.

The views of the Lions are stunning from every angle.

east Lion

Past the Lions there are very few hikers. The trail is indistinct, to say the least.

Here I glissaded down towards the lake.

… Unfortunately, the actual trail stays high on the ridge. I need to bushwhack back up to find it.

At this point someone had installed a chain and comfort rope, not needed in this ideal weather.

In a nearby cairn, I left a Summit Stone.

Soon after that chain, the trail gets very rough. One hiker with a dog decided to turn around. It was canine impassible.

I got fed up myself after one particularly steep, ugly down scramble. And decided to finally set up my tent for the night.

There was no suitable cliff nor tree limb for hanging my food, so I used the Ursack system for the first time.

… 45min later I could hear some animal clawing a tree. I assumed a bear had taken my food.

I stayed the night as it was impossible to find the faint trail in the dark. When morning dawned I went to photograph the damage, and found the food untouched. One small tree nearby had been broken though. (… I’m still not sure what animal had caused the ruckus I heard the night before.)

Due to too rough trail, I decided to escape the Howe Sound Crest Trail early. The nearest exit was via some new (wet) trail recently hacked out of the woods. It was flagged but poorly signed. People had created home made signage to compensate. This was the most artistic:

I ended up in Lions Bay after connecting to the Binkert. From there you can find a bus back to Vancouver.


Leave a comment if you have a recommendation on the best trail back down to Highway 99. Is it worth continuing to the end of the HSC trail?

In the end, I’d still rank this as one of the best hikes in B.C.

On a clear day, the vistas are stunning.

I have 80 annotated photos posted from the 2 day hike.

4 Replies to “Howe Sound Crest Trail to the Lions”

  1. Hey RIck,

    I did this a couple of years ago with my wife and 2 friends. We also did it late season. We also did the Cypris to Lions Bay route.

    We stayed in the cleavage of the lions. Beautiful spot for a small camp.

    I will say you were lucky to have all the snow. We had no for our entire second day. access to water. Brutal and Hot.

    I agree about the view, once your at the crest the view in fantastic.

    All and all, incredibly rugged, proper back country trail for something 20 minutes from down town Vancouver. It is one of the triggers that convinced this Yukon boy that I could tolerate “the big city.”

    John Muir next year?

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