Unnecessary Mountain – Howe Sound Crest Trail

Unnecessary Mountain – Howe Sound Crest Trail

Unnecessary Mountain - along the Howe Sound Crest TrailI have been wanting to hike along to Unnecessary Mountain for a while, so on Canada Day Marc and I finally gave it a go. The hike has to be one of the most epic adventures in the North Shore Mountains near Vancouver. Seriously, the views are simply spectacular and the path is really fun, if a bit tough and technical in places. Unnecessary Mountain itself turned out to have multiple peaks, and I have to admit, some of those did seem a bit unnecessary by the end of the day!

Somehow we didn’t get jelly legs from this hike BUT it was one of the hardest hikes I have done for a while. This means I have to share loooads of photos, so grab a cuppa, this may be a long post!

Howe Sound Crest Trail Map

Unnecessary Mountain – the basics

18 km depending on which peak you finish at. 20 km to the West Lion. 
Elevation gain
638m (but the path goes up and down sooo much that the actual elevation gain is more than double that.
Highest Point:
1548m (1654m if you make it all the way to the West Lion.)
8 hours to Unnecessary Mountain.
It took us 12 hours to go the whole way to the Lions.
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 or facilities along the trail.
Dogs are not encouraged here, but you can bring them if they stay on a lead.
Just, don’t bring a dog past the South Peak of Unnecessary Mountain. There are sections where you need to scramble down on a rope which wouldn’t be possible for a dog.
How hard is it?
This is a difficult (but fantastic) hike. I wouldn’t recommend it for the first hike of the season.

How can a mountain be Unnecessary?

It turns out that the hike we did along the Howe Sound Crest Trail used to be the main route to the Lions (otherwise known as the Two Sisters) that you can see from all over Vancouver. Lots of people want to hike up to the most iconic mountains that they can see from home. But to reach the Lions, everyone used to have to also climb up (and down) and up (and down again) this superfluous mountain! So, that is how this amazing mountain got stuck with the name Unnecessary.

Nowadays most hikers use a different (steep) route up to the Lions from down in Lion’s Bay. I think Unnecessary Mountain is a fantastic adventure on it’s own. Maybe it should have been called “Bonus Mountain” instead!?

Alpine Flowers

The start of the summer is always amazing for flowers up in the alpine. The heather was already in bloom the whole way along the ridge. We also found subalpine spirea (I think!) close to Cypress Bowl, as well as bunchberry (dogwood) flowers.

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Howe Sound Crest Trail

The Howe Sound Crest Trail is an epic 29 km long trail from Cypress Bowl to Porteau Cove. This may may sound possible to do in a day, but the trail is technical, there isn’t much water and you have to climb up and down so many mountains along the way, that most people take at least one night. Our walk involved the first 10 km of the trail. If you like the sound of this, but you don’t think you could manage the entire walk to Unnecessary Mountain or the Lions, you can aim for one of the other gorgeous mountains or viewpoints along the way.

  • Bowen Lookout – 990m (129m elevation gain, 4 km return)
  • St Mark’s Summit – 1371m (479m elevation gain, 12 km return)
  • Unnecessary Mountain South Peak – 1548m (789m elevation gain, 16.4 km return)
  • Unnecessary Mountain North Peak – 1543m (833m elevation gain, 17.4 km return)
  • West Lion – 1654m (1009m elevation gain, 20.8 km return)

All the figures for elevation gain are a bit wonky. The trail goes up and down so often that the real figures are much higher. Still, this gives you an idea about what to expect. I got these figures from the app, Maps.Me.

Bowen Lookout

The first gorgeous viewpoint along the trail (and my first jump shot of the day) is the Bowen Lookout. You can see pretty views down to Howe Sound, Bowen Island (and Mount Gardner.) We arrived at about 7:30 am, so there were not many people around, although there were several chatty Stellar’s Jays. For some reason one of them decided to stay still(ish) for once, so I could take a photo of his gorgeous blue feathers.

Bowen Lookout to St Mark’s Summit

Once you’ve finished admiring the first view, you get to hike through some charming old growth forest on the way up to St Mark’s. I was really surprised to see so many huge old trees in Cypress Provincial Park. This part of the trail may get your heart pumping, but the path is quite wide and very easy to follow.

St Marks Summit

St Mark’s Summit has such a lovely view! You can see Bowen Island and Mount Gardner behind me.

Considering it only takes 2 hours to reach this area, it’s not surprising that it is pretty busy! We arrived at 9 am, and there were already at least 10 other people up there, including someone who’d set up their tent! There are sheer drops right behind the rocks, so don’t peek over the edge if you’re afraid of heights! I’d like to come back and visit this in the evening after work. It’s just such a fun, easy hike.

Between St Marks and Unnecessary

Right, this is where the going gets tough! There is a steep climb down from St Marks, and then another heart-pumping climb up to the next peak. You’ll be climbing down 175m, and then up 400m, all within 2 km. The trail becomes less obvious after St Marks, so you have to keep your eyes peeled for way-markers as you walk. The trail may be tough, but it’s really rooty and fun!

Unnecessary Mountain’s false Peak

There is a mini peak on Unnecessary Mountain that doesn’t count. We actually stopped here for lunch (thinking it was the South Peak.) The views are fantastic, and it is a gorgeous place to catch your breath after the workout getting up here!  We called this un-named spot Mount Awkward.

You’ll get your first views East towards the other North Shore Mountains. It is pretty awesome to see them in this direction for the first time. I love seeing layers and layers of blue mountains like this!

Unnecessary Mountain South Peak

There is a sign on the South Peak, so you’ll know when you’ve made it there. You can look back along the ridge to (the totally unofficial) Mount Awkward, St Marks, as well as Mount Strachan and Black Mountain.

The views are pretty spectacular in all directions. There are some trees, a little snow, as well as some pretty epic drops. Just be extra careful not to trip on a root up here!!

This is the glorious view of the Lions from the South Peak. They look so close, but it still took us a couple of hours to get over there!

Next, we headed for Unnecessary Mountain’s North Peak. You can see it in the photo below, it’s the tree-covered bump to the left. There is another drop down, before you climb back up to it. The path gets sketchier and sketchier along this part of the trail, so get ready to use your hands as you scramble down and then back up between the cliffs.

We stopped for a break right before this drop-off, and Marc managed to get a picture of me jumping over the Lions! Squeee!

This is looking back at the middle peak. You can see those impressive cliffs we’d just been peering down. It’s gorgeous!

Unnecessary Mountain North Peak

This is the view of the Lions just before we made it to the North Peak. We had to decide if we should keep going to reach the West Lion. The views were already excellent, and you can see it’ll be a hard slog down to the next ridge before climbing back up into Lion-land. If I did this hike again, I’d probably call it a day at this point.

On to the Lions?

The thing is, a further 1.6 km is soooo close! We knew we’d be exhausted, but we were both really keen to go just a little further to walk to the West Lion. I mean look into Marc’s eyes, the Lion’s are right there in the sunglasses! We decided to keep going. I’ll write a second post about the Lions, as this description is already a bit too long with too many photos!

The Return Journey

Needless to say, if you decide to try this fantastic hike, save some energy for the return journey back to Cypress Bowl. Each time you descend between peaks, you need to find the enthusiasm to climb back up. Although the views are impressive the whole way along the trail, I have to admit, they seem to sparkle a little less once your legs are exhausted!

Having said that, the climbs on the return journey are a little easier than on the hike out, and the path keeps getting better and better as you get closer to the car park. There is a loop at the end of the trail, so you can take a slightly shorter route that avoids returning past Bowen Lookout.

If you are feeling energetic one weekend, I promise, Unnecessary Mountain can be a very necessary edition to your hiking summer plans. Marc and I both had achy legs for the last couple of days, but the pain was totally worth it! Click here if you’d like to read about the next section of the trail to the Lions!

Click on the pins below if you’d like to save this hike for later!

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27 thoughts on “Unnecessary Mountain – Howe Sound Crest Trail

  1. I don’t believe there’s any such thing as an unnecessary mountain, and those views are eye watering, but the name gets your attention—that’s for sure. Great account of what looks and sounds to be a stunning walk.

    1. Thanks George!

      I have to admit, I was partially drawn to this hike because of the name of the mountain! It almost seems more necessary to climb when the peaks are called Unnecessary!

  2. Unnecessary? Maybe the jumping? That just made me feel old. Though the gravity obviously got stronger as the walk progress given the elevation of each jump (tee hee!). I must say that is one inviting walk. Whew!

    1. Lol that is probably true. I was a lot less jumpy by the end of the day! At least the chipmunks because more friendly as we moved further into the back country!

  3. Well that definitely looks ambitious. I think I’d have called it a day about half the distance you did in this post. The views are pretty epic though. As usual, your photos are stunning.

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

    1. Thanks Madhu! I can keep slowly tempting you to come and visit Canada! Now you’re a hiker, you’ll love it! 😉

  4. Wow the views are incredible! I was just about to say why unnecessary mountain but glad you explained 😀 Would love to hike this someday when I visit Vancouver.

    1. I feel like now you don’t have to climb via Unnecessary Mountain, it should be changed to Bonus Mountain.. or something more positive!

      But to be fair, the name does make me smile!

  5. Ahhhh! I wanted to do St Mark’s Summit so badly but didn’t get around to it! It looks amazing! I’m not sure if I’d do the whole hike or just that part, but the whole thing looks incredible. Love your photos of the Lions!

    1. You know I was worried about doing St Marks when there was still snow, but I think it would actually be fine. The path is wide and easy to follow up to St Marks (it only gets dodgy after that!)

      When you come back, I can even take you up after work!

  6. Probably a little too challenging for us, at least right now, but it looks amazing! One day…

    Thanks for sharing. Love all the great pics.

    1. Thanks Trina!

      If you like the look of the views to Howe Sound, you can always take the gondola up (slightly further down the highway in Squamish.) That might even be better as you can have a beer at the top there!

  7. Beautiful photos Josy. It brings back memories of my trip on the HSCT last year. We had a bit of smoke on our first day to Unnecessary Mountain though, so your photos are much nicer than mine!

    The trail you hiked is usually called the Howe Sound Crest Trail to Unnecessary Mountain. There’s actually a different trail to Unnecessary from Lions Bay that’s called the Unnecessary Mountain trail. It joins the HSCT near North Unnecessary peak.

    1. Thanks Taryn!
      It must have been pretty scary to go on that trail with a large backpack! I am so impressed!

      A while ago you wrote about “The Glorious Mountains of Vancouver’s North Shore” I went and bought that book and I am loving learning about the history of these gorgeous mountains! Anyway, belated thanks for the recommendation.

  8. Great post. I’ve hiked to Unnecessary a few times and also found it to be exhausting but amazing. I was originally under the impression that once you’ve reached St. Mark’s you’d hit the crest and basically be following a ridge. How wrong I was! It’s crazy the number of steep up and downs there are on this hike.Good that you gave options for shorter hikes. As painful as it is, you’ve tempted me to do it again.

    1. Thanks Caroline! Hah! I can see it would have been a bit of a surprise if you were expecting an easy ridge walk!

      Sorry to be a bad (good) influence, but it really is a stunning walk, especially if you get good weather like last weekend!

    1. Lol that is the main reason that we wanted to visit this mountain! How can you resist when even the name says it’s unnecessary!?

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