The Lions – Howe Sound Crest Trail

The Lions – Howe Sound Crest Trail

The Lions - Our most epic hike so far this year! A hike to the Lions has to be one of the most iconic adventures you can try in Vancouver. The Lions (or the Two Sisters) are the two bumps that loom over Vancouver like a giant Totoro. Only experienced climbers should attempt to climb up above the West Lion, as it is a technical climb and falling from that height would kill you. However you can walk/scramble up to the base of the West Lion as long as you have strong legs and plenty of water (and determination!) Don’t attempt to climb up the East Lion as it located entirely within the Capilano Watershed.

There are two ways to reach the Lions, for a truly epic day hike from Vancouver. The normal way is to climb up from Lions Bay the Lions-Binkert trail which is a 16 km round trip with elevation gain of 1280m. However there is another possibility – following the picturesque Howe Sound Crest Trail along past several peaks to reach the Lions. We were not actually planning to hike all the way to the Lions, but after our hike to Unnecessary Mountain, the West Lion was so tantalizingly close, we had to keep going!

The Lions Via Howe Sound Crest Trail Map

The Lions Hike – the basics

Distance: 20 km 
Elevation gain
: 740m (but the actual elevation gain is double that.)
Highest Point: 1654m
Time: It took us 12 hours.
What to bring:
Hiking poles (your knees will thank you!)
Loads of water (as there is hardly any on the trail apart from a couple of small snow patches)
The 10 Essentials
There is water and toilets at the Cypress resort. No toilets, water or facilities along the trail.
No. Don’t bring a doggy to this one. There is too much scrambling that is not suitable for paws.
How hard is it?
Difficult. Amazing, but difficult.

Lions or Totoro?

Do you know about My Neighbor Totoro? It’s an awesome Japanese cartoon. If you haven’t ever heard of it, see if you can find it; You can thank me later! Anyway, when we first arrived in Vancouver, Marc mentioned that the Lions sort of look like Totoro’s ears. Ever since then we almost always call this mountain Totoro…it makes me happy to think of a giant totoro guarding Vancouver from the North. You’ll probably think I am loopy, but this is what I imagine when I see this mountain…

The Lions via the Howe Sound Crest Trail

As I mentioned above, we reached the Lions on the Howe Sound Crest Trail via Unnecessary Mountain. There is a mere 1.6 km between the Lions and Unnecessary Mountain. Still, this is probably the hardest 1.6 km I have ever done! You have to drop down quite a long way, before scrambling back up to the West Lion. I think it took us around 1.5 hours just to hike along this small stretch of the HSCT(!)

Partly we were slow going because the scenery is so blooming pretty! I had to keep stopping to take photos. But partly it was because the route is hard work.

This is the view down between Unnecessary Mountain and the Lions. The distance we still had to climb seemed to stretch and grow as we inched closer! You can see teeny people ahead of us to give you a sense of scale.

This is when we were sooo close! We were suddenly treated to views of the mountains between the Lions!

Should you Summit the West Lion?

If you are an experienced climber, you totally can! Just be very careful. There are large drops in all directions and you may have to watch out for inexperienced climbers clambering up in front (or behind) you.

Views from the Lions

We were not planning to walk as far as the Lions, and neither of us felt prepared enough to climb up the rock face, so we enjoyed the impressive views from the base of the West Lion (Totoro’s left ear.) As you can see, this is a pretty sweet spot to stop and rest!

You can see the route North along the Howe Sound Crest Trail to the giants, Mount Harvey and Mount Brunswick.

This is the view through the middle of the Lions with Cathedral Mountain in the background. The bump in the middle, between the Lions is called Thomas Peak.

Wave to Vancouver!

This is the view back to Vancouver. It’s funny looking down to the Capilano Lake and Grouse Mountain, when we are so used to looking up to the Lions from there!

The views looking down were a bit, erm, vertical.

We sat and ate some trail mix and strawberries, so look who popped out to say hello! This little chipmunk was very sure that we should be sharing our snacks with him. (We didn’t.)

Back to Unnecessary Mountain and home

This is the view back the way we needed to head home. We were both pretty tired at this point, so it was a little daunting to know we still had to climb back up that steep slope (then down and up, and down and up again between each peak.) I was particularly worried about the steep ascent back to Unnecessary as there were some sketchy rocks to climb with ropes.

In the end, we both discovered we have more energy than we think, and our legs can keep going quite a bit further when we’re tired. The return journey past the Unnecessary Peaks, St Marks Summit and back to Cypress Bowl was not that bad at all.

I have four epic goals for 2019. I wanted to climb the Mountains we can see from home; The Lions, Crown Mountain and Mount Burwell (we’ve made it up to Coliseum Mountain, but we want go that little bit further to to Mount Burwell.) I also want to go hiking more than once a week, so at least 52 times in 2019. Now we’ve made it to the Lions I have a bit more confidence that I’ll be able to manage my other goals.

Next time we visit the Cleveland Dam or grouse Mountain, I’ll be able to look up at this view and remember what it is like to perch up there on Totoro’s left ear. Squeeee! 😄

I hope you liked seeing these views as much as I did in real life! Click on the pins below to save this post for later.

Up close to the Lions - Amazing hikes near Vancouver The Lions - One of the most amazing hikes near Vancouver The Lions - Our most epic hike so far this year!

29 thoughts on “The Lions – Howe Sound Crest Trail

  1. What an absolutely stunning hike! I don’t think I’d be experienced enough to try it but one day I’d love to. Those views are gorgeous! Would this hike be doable with a baby in a carrier?

    1. Thanks Steph!

      I personally wouldn’t bring a baby on this part of the hike (the path is too sketchy and it’s pretty exposed) BUT the first part of the walk (to Bowen Lookout or St Mark’s Summit) would be perfect for bring a baby in one of those baby backpacks! We often see babies (with their parents) out on the trails on the North Shore. 🙂

    1. Heh! I love seeing chipmunks and squirrels on the trail! The squirrels always shout at us, and the chipmunks always beg for food… They are so sweet that I don’t mind when they attempt to be cheeky!

  2. You both are really great in finding good trails to hike with a great view! I don’t know if we will be able to do this but for now I’m just drooling and enjoying every bit of what you find! Take care both on your adventure!

    1. Thanks April! Yeah, this one wouldn’t be good to bring kids, but I love sharing the views with you all anyway! 😉

    1. Difficult! Although the other mountains on the way there are easy, then moderate…so you can stop earlier if the path seems too sketchy!

  3. I love the imagery of The Lions as a giant totoro guarding Vancouver from the North! Truthfully, it’s a hike that’s probably beyond my ability. Thank you for giving me the information I need to decide whether I could make this hike–and for sharing a detailed account and photos to make me feel as though I’d done it myself! And, I’ll never look at this range again without thinking of a totoro! LOL! Love it.

    1. Hehehe I told another hiking friend that it always reminds me of Totoro, and she said the same thing!!

      Don’t worry, if you come to Vancouver and fancy an easier hike I can help you find good ones. It took us a couple of years to work up the courage to tackle the Lions so I know how it feels to think of this as a bit out of reach!

  4. Stunning scenery and how amazing to climb that incredible mountain. We visited and loved Vancouver but just never made it to the mountains. Next time hopefully. Great post.

    1. Let me know if you come back Jonno! I bet we can think of some fun hikes to get you into the mountains!

    1. I think so too! Although the views were pretty impressive in all directions!

      We need to hike along more of the Sea to Sky trails. It’s awesome having island views on one side and mountain views the other!!

  5. Goodness – that’s ambitious!! Good for you guys. And you have some very ambitious goals ahead of you as well. I can’t wait for the reports back. And the photos. Always LOVE the photos.

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

  6. That looks an amazing hike. What iconic peaks. I don’t understand why you can’t climb the eastern Lion because it’s in the Capilano Watershed. (Sorry if I’m being thick).

    1. I think it is just to protect the water for Vancouver. There are a couple of watershed areas that are closed to people so that the water doesn’t get polluted.

      Other places have open watershed areas, so I am not sure why they decided to close it. Still, it’s nice that there are some areas where the wildlife can live in peace without us humans crashing through on our hikes!!

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