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West Lion Hike via the Howe Sound Crest

Cypress Provincial Park

Vancouver Metro Area, British Columbia

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West Lion Hike via the Howe Sound Crest

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  • The first section of the trail is wide, well travelled, and hard packed. - West Lion Hike via the Howe Sound Crest
  • Toward the top of St. Mark's the trail becomes more challenging. - West Lion Hike via the Howe Sound Crest
  • St. Mark's has many people, even earlier in the morning. Prepare for crowds and the ever-present frustration of Bluetooth speakers. - West Lion Hike via the Howe Sound Crest
  • The trail on the ridge is scenic but rough. - West Lion Hike via the Howe Sound Crest
  • The trail meanders through the woods, between short alpine trees. - West Lion Hike via the Howe Sound Crest
  • Occasional tarns and ponds make appearances, though there is no safe drinking water. - West Lion Hike via the Howe Sound Crest
  • First summit of Unnecessary Mountain. - West Lion Hike via the Howe Sound Crest
  • Rocky granite ground that is typical of the alpine section of the trail. - West Lion Hike via the Howe Sound Crest
  • Occasional obstacles, like this shelf and boulders, are common. - West Lion Hike via the Howe Sound Crest
  • The trail spends a lot of time on rock, so paying careful attention to where the dirt starts again is key. - West Lion Hike via the Howe Sound Crest
  • The first glimpse of the Lions.- West Lion Hike via the Howe Sound Crest
  • Plenty of big sky to be had. - West Lion Hike via the Howe Sound Crest
  • Weaving through narrow Krumholtz trees. - West Lion Hike via the Howe Sound Crest
  • Looking out toward Mount Harvey, Mount Brunswick, and Mount Hannover, with the West Lion to the right. - West Lion Hike via the Howe Sound Crest
  • The Lions in all their glory. From the top third of Unnecessary Peak, they are incredibly enticing. - West Lion Hike via the Howe Sound Crest
  • Even in late July in a mediocre snow year there is plenty of snow on the trail in patches. Avalanches are still common in June. - West Lion Hike via the Howe Sound Crest
  • Another viewpoint that is too tempting to miss. - West Lion Hike via the Howe Sound Crest
  • Heading down the rope on one of the longer steep sections. - West Lion Hike via the Howe Sound Crest
  • Looking back toward one of the many peaks descended.- West Lion Hike via the Howe Sound Crest
  • The scramble section heading to the base of the West Lion. - West Lion Hike via the Howe Sound Crest
  • The Howe Sound Crest Trail with Mount Unnecessary in the center. - West Lion Hike via the Howe Sound Crest
  • Howe Sound Crest.- West Lion Hike via the Howe Sound Crest
Overview + Weather
Pros: 
Amazing views. Lots of time in the alpine. Fun scrambling and hiking with ropes.
Cons: 
Very long and undulating. Crowded. Very rough ground.
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Region:
Vancouver Metro Area, BC
Congestion: 
High
Pets allowed: 
Yes, with restrictions
Highest point: 
1,560.00 m (5,118.11 ft)
Year round: 
Yes
Parking Pass: 
Provincial Park
Permit required: 
No
Preferable Season(s):
Summer, Fall
Total Distance: 
19.80 km (12.30 mi)
Total elevation gain: 
1,930.00 m (6,332.02 ft)
Trail type: 
There-and-back
Trailhead Elevation: 
1,070.00 m (3,510.50 ft)
Typically multi-day: 
No
Current Local Weather:
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Hike Description

Hike Description

Pro Contributor

The Lions, known as Twin Sisters or Ch'ich'iyúy Elxwík in local Skwxwu7mesh language, are two of the most prominenet and recognizable peaks in Vancouver. Visible from nearly everywhere in central Vancouver and beyond, the West Lion is an enticing and well known objective. While the peak is frequently climbed, and no climbing gear (except a helmet) is required, it is still a daunting climb. Many bold but inexperienced people ascend this peak because the route is made challenging by it's exposure and routefinding more than it's climbing difficulty.

There are two ways to get to the base of the West Lion.The Cypress Mountain access along the Howe Sound Crest is that harder of the two, with a third more length and altitude gain, but it has much better views and a much more interesting trail.

Some people find it worthwhile to do in two days, camping along the route. This is still allowed, though this is a rare privilege for an alpine area as crowded as this. Campfires are not allowed, and make sure to practice Leave No Trace ethics so that we can use this amazing trail for years to come. 

In addition to the usual 10 Essentials, bring lots of food and a good deal of water. Once you gain the ridge, you will be in the sun for much of the day, and in July it is freqently very hot. The steep climbs add to that. There is no safe drinking water availble, so bring your own. Due to the steep ups and downs, trekking poles are highly recommended. They greatly reduce the strain on your knees. 

The route

The trail begins at Cypress. There are many ways to start, but often the best place is just behind the main lodge, near the small lake. Signposts point upward to the Howe Sound Crest East Trail, but the most scenic and gentle variation is to follow the trail to St. Mark's/Bowen Lookout. You'll wind through the old-growth forests and past alpine lakes. At the next junction, head for the Howe Sound Crest. The trail starts heading upward, briefly meets a gravel road, then quickly starts ascending gravel. This brings you to a signpost with a splendid view of the Lions framed by the trees.

From here the trail is very obvious. Be sure to keep an eye out for orange markers; overuse has seen accidental trails carved into the fragile undergrowth. It starts graveling before turning to interesting rooty trail at the first subpeak. Beyond this you get your first incredible view of St. Mark's summit. Most of your fellow hikers will end their day here.

Keep following the main trail curving down toward Unnecessary Mountain. A deep dive down follows the ridge to a meadow that frequently is used for campsites. After descending once more, you'll quickly find yourself climbing again. The trail is pretty steep in sections and requires a hand here or there. This gains the first summit of Unnecessary Mountain. From here you will be mostly in the sun and out on the ridge proper. The route meanders up and down along the ridge. From the second peak there is a small trail that goes down to the lakes, and shelves off to the side. This is a lovely spot if you have time to spare, or if you fancy camping. 

The route becomes increasingly rocky as you proceed, with each descent being increasingly steep. The descent off the third peak requires a rope to descend. Eventually it brings you down to the main trial from Lion's Bay and you ascend the slabby rock and a rolling trail to the base of the lion. Just before the base there is a steeper third class scrambling section that can be daunting for those scared of heights or with heavy packs. Take confidence in the solid rock and positive granite that grips your shoes. Above this are superb views, an excellent lunch spot, and a terrific view of the West Lion.

If you are scrambling the Lion from here, check out the West Lion Scramble adventuer that details exactly how to scale the Lions.

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Location + Directions

Nearby Camping + Lodging

(7 within a 30 mile radius)

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(71 within a 30 mile radius)

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