The majestic Cypress Park sits on high ground, overlooking the bustling metropolitan of British Columbia’s largest city, Vancouver. On a clear day, the views offered from lookout points within the park are spectacular! To the north is the sprawling metropolitan area of Vancouver, while in the southeast is the snow capped Mount Baker and the Cascade Mountains. To the west and southwest lie the Gulf Islands and Vancouver Island with Georgia Strait in the foreground.
The park itself is a sight to see, situated in the snow capped North Shore Mountains – Vancouver’s picturesque backdrop. This 3,000 hectare park is a haven for all outdoor recreationists alike and is one of the most popular parks in B.C. year round. The park encompasses several pristine mountain lakes, rugged snow capped peaks and forests of fir, hemlock and yellow cypress. It is from these stands of yellow cypress from which the park derives its name.
During the early 1900s, hikers and skiers had to take a ferry across the Burrard Inlet in order to access this area. Then in 1939, the Lions Gate Bridge opened connecting Vancouver with West Vancouver and thus ended the need for the Burrard Inlet ferry services. Now anyone could easily travel to the area known today as Cypress Provincial Park, and come they did. By 1975, there was enough public interest in the area that the B.C. government designated 2,100 hectares into the creation of a recreational park for hiking and skiing. Today, Cypress encompasses nearly 3,000 hectares, including the Howe Sound Crest Trail.
Cypress Provincial Park once encompassed beautiful old-growth forests. In the 1960s and 1970s after clandestine logging, carried out under the guise of cutting ski trails, devastated much of the landscape. The clear-cut can still be seen from Vancouver. Today, commercial development in Cypress is still a hot issue. To see why groups such as Friends of Cypress Park and the Sierra Club of Canada oppose any further logging in the park, take a hike on one of the park’s more moderate trails, such as Hollyburn Mountain Trail. At 4,350 feet (1326 m), Hollyburn Mountain is one of the three peaks easily reached from the Cypress Parkway. The others are Black Mountain to the west and Mount Strachan to the north. Much of the unique old-growth forest on both Black and Strachan was thinned, if not wiped out completely, by logging. The subsequent cutting of trails for downhill skiing eliminated even more.
Cypress Provincial Park provides excellent wildlife-viewing opportunities. Small mammals, including squirrels, hares, and weasels share the wilderness areas with deer, black bears, and coyotes. Birdlife consists of ravens, gray jays, chickadees, warblers, woodpeckers, grouse, hawks and owls. Early morning is the best time for observing birds and mammals. As always in wilderness areas, hikers should be alert for wild animals, especially bears, and take the necessary safety precautions.
Hollyburn Mountain’s slopes have lured hikers and skiers to West Vancouver since the 1920s. Vintage log cabins sequestered in the forest around First Lake attest to this tradition. In more recent years, Hollyburn’s trails have become the preserve of cross-country skiers in winter. In summer months these trails are overgrown with berry bushes where they are not tramped down by hikers on the Baden-Powell Trail or on the route that leads to Hollyburn’s summit. This is a particularly pleasant hike, well suited for a warm day in late summer once the threat of insects has waned. Otherwise, come prepared to do battle with the bugs! There is a leisurely 1.5-km self-guiding interpretive trail near the base of the Black Chairlift for those looking for a nice stroll through cool forests, open meadows and along a couple pristine mountain lakes. The most challenging trail in the park is the Howe Crest Sound Trail, which traverses the spine of ridges and peaks from Cypress Bowl north to Porteau Provincial Park. Along the way, this rugged trail crosses the top of suitably named Mount Unnecessary, skirts the base of the Lions, then crosses the ridges of Mounts Harvey and Brunswick before descending past Deeks Lake to a trailhead on Hwy 99 near Porteau Cove. This hike is only for those who are experienced and well equipped. Other trails to pursue in Cypress Provincial Park include the Black Mountain Loop Trail, a moderately difficult two hour tour of the mountain’s subalpine meadows and pocket lakes, complete with a terrific viewpoint on top. The loop trail ties in with the Yew Lake Trail, both of which begin at the base of the Black Mountain chairlift.
One note to backcountry hikers, during the period from November to May, a Backcountry Access Pass is required in order to travel through the Controlled Recreation Area, which is operated under permit by Cypress Bowl Resorts. This pass is available free of charge and may be obtained from Cypress Bowl Resort.
Wilderness, backcountry or walk-in camping is allowed at higher elevations beyond the alpine and Nordic ski areas and along the Howe Sound Crest Trail, but no facilities are provided. There are 4 preferred sites along the Howe Sound Crest trail; Plateau above Enchantment Lake (11km from Cypress Bowl); Magnesia Meadows (14.5km from Cypress Bowl ); Brunswick Lake (19km from Cypress Bowl) and Deeks Lake (22km from Cypress Bowl).
Cypress Bowl Recreations Ltd. is located within the provincial park. They offer a full range of downhill and cross-country skiing, tobogganing and snowshoeing trails in the Nordic ski area. The alpine ski area features three chairlifts and a double rope-tow that services a wide range of slopes and runs opportunities. BC Parks maintains three backcountry winter trails for snowshoeing and backcountry skiing. BC Parks provides a designated trail for snowmobile use. The trail begins at Parking lot 5, travels beside the road to the powerlines, then follows the powerlines to the Trans Canada Trail. Snowmobiles are permitted on the Trans Canada Trail within the Park. The trail is very dependent on the level of snow as Parking Lot 5 and much of the trail is at the 850m elevation level. Snowmobiles are not permitted outside of the designated areas. Tobogganing is only permitted in the designated area. Grouse Mountain and Mount Seymour offer skiing opportunities nearby.
Cypress Provincial Park in West Vancouver has only one official mountain-bike trail, named BLT (boulders, logs, and trees), which begins just north of the entrance to the old logging road at the first switchback on the Cypress Parkway. Another entrance is from the maintenance yard above the fourth switchback. BLT may be the only trail, but at least it’s got length (10 miles/16 km return) in its favour. There are a number of trails just outside the park, ranging from the idyllic Fern Trail to the psychotic Sex Boy, both of which link with BLT. Fern Trail begins where BLT meets Cypress Bowl Rd’s third switchback. Entrances to upper and lower Sex Boy occur along BLT north of a BC Hydro substation and the third switchback. Mountain biking elsewhere in the park is illegal (rigorously enforced). Expect fines or bike confiscation (as well as scorn and ridicule from park authorities) if caught. Another series of trails is found at the second switchback higher up Cypress Parkway. These trails, including Skyline, Panorama, No Stairs Allowed, and My Friend the Stupid Grouse, run through the forested British Properties neighbourhood. Although they haven’t been officially sanctioned, they haven’t been officially condemned, either.
Sightseers make their way into Cypress Provincial Park from the Upper Levels Hwy in West Vancouver along a 8 km (5 mile) paved highway. Although most visitors ride up on four wheels, others make do with two. There are four major switchbacks on the way to the top where the road ends at Cypress Bowl. The Cypress Park Viewpoint is at the second of the switchbacks – this is one of the most frequently visited locations in the park. There is ample room here and an accompanying interpretive sign identifies the geographical landmarks laid out before your eyes.
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