Lynn Headwaters Regional Park in North Vancouver is a hidden jewel, located just out of sight of the uppermost homes on Lynn Valley Road. Within minutes of entering the park, all vestiges of nearby habitation drop from sight. Even the sounds of the city evaporate and are replaced by the constant rhythm of water splashing on boulders in chilly Lynn Creek.
Hiking trails begin at the entrance to the park, just beyond the caretaker’s cottage (please don’t disturb, except in an emergency). An information kiosk located on the east side of Lynn Creek acquaints visitors with the area and reminds hikers of the importance of advance preparation. The weather in the narrow valley through which the creek runs is volatile and can quickly change from welcoming to threatening. Hikers are asked to self-register at the kiosk. A series of trails leads visitors into the headwaters region. You can choose a relatively gentle, half-day creekside walk along the Headwaters Trail (9.5 miles/15.5 km return) to Norvan Creek, or a full-day trip to either Lynn Lake (15 miles/24 km return) or the top of Grouse Mountain on the rigorous Hanes Valley Loop route (9 miles/15 km one way) via Crown Pass.
Although Lynn Headwaters Regional Park is characterized by a rugged landscape, there’s no need to feel that every hike has to be in the thigh-burning category. Far from it. Two gentle trails, Lynn Loop Trail (1 mile/1.7 km) and Cedar Mill Trail (1.3 miles/2.1 km) follow the creek for much of the way towards Norvan Falls. Pick the length and degree of difficulty that best suit you. All trails begin at the visitor registration kiosk. An ancient logging road serves as a trail and leads off into the park along first the Lynn Loop and then the Cedar Mill Trail.
A network of steep staircases on the suitably named Switchback Trail links the valley floor with the midelevation Headwaters Trail. From bottom to top this short but demanding ascent will send your heart rate climbing at a pace equal to the elevation gain. Once at the top you can head back to the park entrance on the Lynn Loop Trail or begin the long hike north to the headwaters. If you don’t feel that you need an aerobic workout, stay beside Lynn Creek and follow the Cedar Mill Trail north to its junction with the Headwaters Trail. The round trip is 5.8 miles (9.5 km). Plan on taking three hours to cover the entire distance. Along the way are a variety of places to pause and enjoy the sequestered, boulder-filled valley bottom. Boulders in Lynn Creek are round and smooth from years of being tumbled by rainy-season runoff.
Owing to the steepness of the valley, only the top of Mount Fromme is visible from the creek. The park’s more rugged formations, such as the Needles and Coliseum Mountain, only begin to reveal themselves as you make your way along the Headwaters Trail to Norvan Creek. Signs of logging camps that flourished here a century ago crop up along the trails: old boots, kettles, and blue glass jars decorate the forest where they’ve been unearthed. Trunks of sturdy second growth thrust up through the chassis of abandoned vehicles. A short side trail leads up to a viewpoint of Norvan Falls from the Headwaters Trail as it nears its northern terminus. Eminently fine views abound here. Beginning in late summer, the forest floor is dotted by the colourful caps of a dozen or more species of fungi.
In summer, when water levels in Lynn Creek are at their lowest ebb, experienced hikers can follow the Lynn Lake Route, which otherwise lies sequestered in the northern extremities of the park, isolated by the fact that part of the trail—the creekbed itself—lies underwater. On the park map (available at the information kiosk at the entrance to the park) a small notation makes mention of the fact that the trail to the lake is incomplete. Although that is the case in places, yellow metal tags affixed to trees and red tape tied to branches identify much of the route. As there is no camping allowed in the park and the time required to do the 7.5-mile (12-km) hike to Lynn Lake is five hours one way, you should be at the park gates when they open at 8am. If you wish to get hiking before then, park beside the gate and walk into the park from Lynn Valley Road. Note: Walking into the park on the access road tacks on another mile to your journey; come the end of day, you may not wish to take one more step than is absolutely necessary. Carry plenty of drinking water, wear sturdy high-top footwear for support when negotiating the boulders, and consult with a GVRD attendant for final words of wisdom before setting out. One is often on duty near the registration kiosk at the park entrance.
The Hanes Valley Hiking Route (9 miles/15 km one way), a 7- to 8-hour grunt through Lynn Headwaters, presents a level of difficulty equal to that of the Lynn Lake Route. In places there are few signs of a trail, and hikers must be wary if visibility deteriorates. The route is well marked to the foot of a treacherous scree slope beside Hanes Creek. Beyond this, there are no trees on the rocky incline to which markers might be affixed. Bamboo poles wrapped in reflective tape help show the way to Crown Pass at the top of Hanes Valley. From the pass you look west to Howe Sound and north to the distinctively shaped outcropping called the Camel beside Crown Mountain. Crown Pass epitomizes the extreme ruggedness of the North Shore. The mountain slopes away on each side with dizzying rapidity. From Crown Pass the trail becomes much easier to discern and less demanding on leg muscles as you head for Grouse Mountain via Little Goat, Dam, and Goat Mountains. At the end of this journey, make your descent into North Vancouver on the Grouse Mountain Skyride. The alternative, a descent on the Grouse Grind Trail (see below) is probably more than most hikers’ knees are willing to endure. If you need to return to Lynn Headwaters Regional Park to retrieve your vehicle, catch the Lonsdale Quay (#236) bus from Grouse Mountain and transfer to the Lynn Valley (#229).
A third strenuous hike in this wilderness park climbs Lynn Peak. Although the hiking time is shorter than that required for either the Lynn Lake or the Hanes Valley routes, the 4.5-mile (7.2-km) round-trip journey to the peak (elevation 3,021 feet/921 m) is equally demanding. Your rewards are two splendid viewpoints and a visit to one of the last stands of ancient forest in the park. The approach begins from the park kiosk via Lynn Loop Trail. Watch for the well-marked turn away from this main trail onto the rougher Lynn Crest Trail (also referred to as the Lynn Peak Trail). The trail begins to climb sharply uphill, following the course of a small streambed in places. Depending on the season, this route may be wet or bone-dry. Bring plenty of drinking water, as the effort required to ascend this trail will dehydrate you at any time of the year. The first viewpoint appears after 1.2 miles (2 km). Catch your breath as you gaze east across the Seymour River Valley. The sound of the river rises from below, reminding you that Lynn Creek’s familiar voice faded away as you climbed.
Farther along, you pass through the Enchanted Forest, where the high sound of wind in the boughs will have you guessing whether it’s created by the breeze or the creek. You can tell when you’ve reached the ancient grove, as the understorey begins to thin out. Far less nourishing sunlight reaches the forest floor here; the towering trees don’t even begin to put out branches until 100 feet (30 m) or more above the ground. As the final viewpoint of Lynn Peak is only 0.3 mile (0.5 km) farther along, you have plenty of time to linger here and appreciate the majesty of the location. Allow two to three hours to complete this challenging hike. (Note: The clearing in which the highest viewpoint is located was the site of a blimp logging operation carried out here in the early 1970s.)
Winter recreationists can cut their own cross-country skiing tracks along the Lynn Loop Trail (2 miles/3.5 km return) and Cedar Mill Trail (2.5 miles/4 km return), both of which run beside Lynn Creek, with only limited elevation gain.
For an update on current trail conditions at any time of the year in Lynn Headwaters Regional Park, call 604-985-1690. For a map of hiking trails, contact the GVRD Park’s West Office, 604-224-5739. A detailed topographic map of North Vancouver (Geological Survey of Canada map #92G/6) is helpful. These are available from several sources in the Lower Mainland, including the Geological Survey of Canada, 605 Robson St, 604- 666-0271.
Lynn Headwaters Regional Park has been welcoming a steadily increasing flow of visitors since it opened to the public in 1985 after being kept off-limits for decades as part of the extensive North Shore watershed system. To reach the park, take Lynn Valley Rd in North Vancouver to its uppermost end, following the signs to Lynn Headwaters GVRD Park. Public transit to the park’s doorstep runs from the SeaBus terminal in North Vancouver; catch the Lynn Valley (# 229) bus.
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