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Saint Marks Summit Hike

Vancouver Metro Area, British Columbia

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Saint Marks Summit Hike

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  • The trail as it leaves Cypress Mountain is quite pleasant, not going uphill much. - Saint Marks Summit Hike
  • Eventually the trail gets to a roadway, which turns into a steeper gravelly climb. - Saint Marks Summit Hike
  • The first view of the lines as you get beyond powerline hill and back into the trees. - Saint Marks Summit Hike
  • This junction can send you in a few different directions. Follow the signage to Saint Marks (How Sound Crest Trail North).- Saint Marks Summit Hike
  • The trail is very wide and pleasant most of the way. - Saint Marks Summit Hike
  • The trail narrows where construction has halted toward the top of switchbacks. From there it's steeper push through denser trees along a rockier trail. - Saint Marks Summit Hike
  • The classic Saint Marks view. - Saint Marks Summit Hike
  • Looking out to Bowen Island and out toward the Howe Sound and Georgia Strait. - Saint Marks Summit Hike
  • It gets very crowded, even on weekdays.- Saint Marks Summit Hike
  • The top is pretty flat with a few stagnant ponds, and the bugs get really bad later in the day. - Saint Marks Summit Hike
  • The views are beautiful once you make it to the ridge. - Saint Marks Summit Hike
  • Saint Marks has someone on it almost every day of the year. This photo is from June,Ha with the thick and heavy snowpack that is walkable. Earlier in the year people use snowshoes. - Saint Marks Summit Hike
  • Many people assume that because terrain is treed that there are no avalanches. Others just don't even think of this kind of thing. This was in June, and the avalanche was six hours old. We moved separately, one at a time, from safe spot to safe spot, to m- Saint Marks Summit Hike
Overview + Weather
Pros: 
Incredible views. Wide trails. Accessible. Pretty short for an alpine summit.
Cons: 
Crowded. Doubletrack trail. View appears only at the end. Some avalanche risk in spring/winter.
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Region:
Vancouver Metro Area, BC
Congestion: 
High
Pets allowed: 
Yes, with restrictions
Highest point: 
1,340.00 m (4,396.33 ft)
Year round: 
Yes
Parking Pass: 
National or state forest pass
Permit required: 
No
Preferable Season(s):
Summer, Fall
Total Distance: 
11.64 km (7.23 mi)
Total elevation gain: 
880.00 m (2,887.14 ft)
Trail type: 
There-and-back
Trailhead Elevation: 
910.00 m (2,985.56 ft)
Typically multi-day: 
No
Current Local Weather:
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Hike Description

Hike Description

Pro Contributor

In recent years, the first major viewpoint on the Howe Sound Crest Trail, known as Saint Marks Summit, has become a hugely popular destination. The views are spectacular and have played really well on social media, so the trail quickly became an iconic local spot. Since then most of the trail has been widened, making access even easier. It's incredibly popular on a weekend day in summer. Normally it's snow free by the first or second week of July, but check the BC Parks website for trail reports. You can normally get a good sense of the snow at altitude by looking at Grouse or the Lions from town. It's generally hikable until mid-November when snowshoes and some avalanche precautions become necessary.

The trail begins by parking at the Cypress Ski Resort. There is a big billboard, and there are signs right at the gate. This is the most confusing section of the hike thanks to the warren of signs and trails in the area. Taking either the Saint Marks Trail or the Howe Sound Crest Trail west and north will get you to the same place. The more southern, treed start that wanders past the marshes is much prettier. 

The trails meet on a service road of gravel and ambles along past a power station. Just beyond this the gravel trail climbs steeply, switchbacking. The alders make for a less interesting walk than the old-growth forest you just left, but you quickly find yourself once more in them. The trail forks (again, check the signs here) and heads downhill, wandering across the flanks of Mount Strachan. 

Eventually a trail follows a broad wooded col and veers off of Mount Strachan. If you're here when there is snow, be warned because this is the most risky part of the hike for avalanches (see bellow). The trail evens out pleasantly before you encounter the seemingly endless switchbacks. These end abruptly, and from here it's a narrower trail that wanders steeply at first through greenery before arriving at Saint Marks. 

The descent is back the way you came.  

Winter and spring travel

Ideally having AST 1 courses, tranceivers, and a shovel and probe is recommended for crossing terrain this steep in winter. Most people do not bother with this, but accidents have happened, and it's always good to be prepared. MEC offers rentals for $10 a day if you need anything. 

In terms of risk, the main issue is crossing Strachan. In particular there is one slope near where the trail moves off Mount Strachan. It's a big wide open slope. Historically this area has seen avalanches, and there have been smaller incidents further back along the trail. The best strategy is:

  1. Check the forecast on Avalanche.ca. If treeline rating is high, consider what risks not having gear and training will expose you too. 
  2. Move a decent distance apart, ideally a minimum of 6 meters. At the wide open area, cross one at a time. 
  3. Be sure not to go late in the day, especially in spring. Snow starts to move when it gets warmed up. Try and be back across the big slope before 3 p.m. at the very latest. 

What to bring

  • Many folks underestimate the time and distance this hike requires. In the hot summers, 1.5 liters of water is a good minimum. Extra food, layers, and rain jackets are good because bad weather can sweep from up the valley surprisingly quickly, even on bluebird days. I would also strongly recommend a headlamp. The casual appearence the trail has in local media means you're guaranteed to see folks with their smartphone lights on walking out past dark. Lastly, a map and compass is recommended. This trail is straightforward, but this is a great chance to become more comfortable with reading and understanding topo maps. Also, there is no signal for most of the way, so unless you use something like Gaia GPS apps and have predownloaded the correct segment, you may get hooped. 
  • The trail is mostly not that steep. Unless it's very rainy, even proper hiking boots aren't really that necessary. 
  • Trekking poles are nice to have for the hard-pounding descent on the switchback, but they aren't essential. 
  • Technically speaking camping is allowed in Cypress Provincial Park provided you are well away from the resort. But this is a very precarious privileged. In recent years, frequent fires during bans, trash, and damage to the fragile alpine plants has put this under threat.
  • If you are camping in the area, please be a steward to these places, and reach out to others to be the same. 
  • You can basically camp anywhere, but be warned. The bugs are awful closest to the trail near the ponds. Going about 1 kilometer further along the trail and along small trails is well worth it. There are a few smaller clearings, but it is tough to get even two-person tents into most places. There is capacity for 10 tents at most here, so it's easy to see why so much damage has been done when it's not uncommon to see more than 20 tents on a busy summer weekend.
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Location + Directions

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(9 within a 30 mile radius)

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