This is an absolute gem of a trail, perhaps one of the best on the North Shore, taking you through the most spectacular places that the area has to offer. The views of a sparkling ocean dotted with islands are stunning, the trail follows a beautiful granite ridge line, passing immediately next to the Vancouver’s iconic mountain, The Lions, and leading you to some exquisite swimming tarns.
However, as with everything North-Shore, the trail is steep, often bluffy and scrambly and physically demanding but if you’ve done some hiking around here already, particularly to peaks like Mount Elsay, Coliseum Mountain or Mount Bishop, you are mentally prepared.
To trail travels from West Vancouver to Porteau Cove and covers 29km and 2,000m of combined elevation gain. It is recommended to travel in south-to-north direction because you will be starting higher. Because your entry and exit points are not the same you will need to arrange for a car shuttle. Leave one car in Porteau Cove at Deeks Lake trailhead parking lot and drive the other one to Cypress ski hill area (exit 8 off Hwy 1/99). You can park overnight here (in winter, observe signs for a designated overnight parking). Note that the entire Howe Sound Crest Trail is a part of Cypress Provincial Park. A great description of each section of the trail with distances and estimated travel times is on BC Parks website.
The trail starts at Cypress ski hill area and initially follows a trail to Yew Lake. Pay attention however, to the signage as it will soon divert you uphill. There are currently two spurs of Howe Sound Crest Trail which you can take – HSCT West, taking you on a scenic route past Bowen Lookout and a more direct HSCT East – but they both do merge just a little higher up. See this map for a better orientation. The trail here is wide and well maintained and travels through some old-growth forest.
The first subalpine peak you will encounter after about 1 hour of hiking is St. Mark’s summit with a 180-degree view of Howe Sound down below. This little viewpoint is well worth a short day trip from Vancouver by itself. To continue along HSCT, drop down past St Mark’s summit and then climb up again to a blocky summit of Unnecessary Mountain. From now on the views open up and, as you travel north, you’ll be getting closer and closer to the Lions. Looking at steep faces of West and East Lion one must appreciate how rugged the terrain on the North Shore is.
HSCT sneaks its way between the Lions and it is here that some easy class 2 scrambling begins. The route follows natural lines over the ridges and ledges (sometimes quite narrow) and is sort of well marked if you keep your eyes open. Do not try to forge your own route and stick to an official trail as you might get bluffed out. Follow the marked trail and it will lead you safely through these mountains.
Most people try to make it to Magnesia Meadows for the first night where there is a good source of water and even an emergency shelter. However, this makes for one LOOOOOOONG day (~10 hrs, depending on how heavy your backpack is and how fit you are). If you run out of daylight there are a couple of alternate spots for camping: Enchantment Flats (just before James Peak) or a small tarn to the right (east) and 40 vertical meters down from the trail just past Thomas Peak. If you are forced to camp at the flats, beware of the water situation: this is a dry year and there is NO water on the ridge. Also, running creeks are unusually dry this year so bring plenty of water (3L per person). Other recomended campsites along the route are:
- Brunswick Lake (kilometer 19), has a cabin / emergency shelter
- Deeks Lake (kilometer 22), campsite only
but because of their distance from the southern starting point are likely NOT your preferred destination for the 1st night.
After spending the night at Magnesia Meadows, continue along HSCT towards Brunswick Mt. The trail and markings are in considerably better shape here and also there is less or none scrambling. About 45mins after Magnesia Meadows you will come to an intersection. The trail to your left leads to the summit of Mount Brunswick and the one to your right goes to Hwy 99 and a parking lot at Lions Bay. HSCT continues straight, taking you to Hat Pass and to your first glimpse of Brunswick Lake.
Brunswick Lake might be the favourite point on the HSCT trail for me: azure blue with a Tahiti-like white sand beach at its southern end. Cold but fantastic for swimming. Absolutely loved it! If you love to splash in water you’re in for a great treat as the trail passes by two more lakes: Hanover and Deeks, with Deeks having better access to the shore, pebbly beach and a small campsite. Continuing further, the rest of the route follows a creek and passes by a nice waterfall or two and a small canyon and is simply very enjoyable. The last 4km out is on a good forest service road but can be tedious and boring. If you have the right vehicle, you can potentially drive up to here and shorten the hike out.
Howe Sound Crest Trail is a superb trip.