The first recreational hiking trails on the North Shore were opened almost a century ago. You can still walk some of these trails today, including the original Grouse Mountain Trail.
Getting to the trailhead is the easy part of many of these rambles. Once on the trail the challenge is to stick to your route as, typically, many other fainter trails intersect with the one you’re following, be these old logging roads or newer mountain-bike routes. All the trails outlined below are well marked, usually with bright orange metal disks affixed to the trunks of sturdy trees. Do not make the mistake of using coloured plastic surveyor’s tape as your guide: the mountainsides are strung with it.
By far the longest route on the North Shore is the almost 30-mile (48-km) Baden-Powell Trail, the thread that knits the North Shore together into one continuous strand. The trail runs between its western terminus at West Vancouver’s Horseshoe Bay and Deep Cove on the eastern perimeter of North Vancouver. Along the way, it climbs and descends a well-trodden route that passes through both Cypress Provincial Park and Mount Seymour Provincial Park. You can devote days to discovering it bit by bit, or push yourself to your limit in a day. As hard as it is to believe, five hours is the time in which top-shape runners cover the trail in the annual North Shore Knee Knacker competition held in July. Altogether there are 12 entrances to the Baden-Powell Trail; most are located conveniently close to public transportation. The trail is well marked, with route maps, distances, and estimated completion times posted at trailheads and important junctions along the route.
A note about Robert Stephenson Smyth, the first Baron Baden-Powell: Anyone familiar with the scouting movement will recognize the name of its founder, who along with his sister Agnes also headed up the Girl Guides in 1910. In 1971, to commemorate British Columbia’s provincial centennial and honour the memory of their founder, Boy Scouts and Girl Guides of the Lower Mainland constructed and maintained their worthy endeavour, the Baden-Powell Trail, for the next 10 years. Once you encounter the wooden staircases and bridges that assist hikers along the route, you’ll realize this was no small undertaking. In recent years, maintenance of the trail has shifted to local municipalities and Adopt-a-Trail groups such as the North Shore Hikers, members of the Federation of Mountain Clubs of British Columbia, and even the occasional Scout or Guide troop.
This overview follows the Baden-Powell Trail from west to east. The western trailhead lies on the east side of Hwy 99 in Horseshoe Bay close to the BC Ferries terminal at the north end of Eagleridge Drive. Look for a clearing that usually contains at least one parked car. The eastern trailhead begins on Panorama Drive a short distance north of Gallant Avenue in Deep Cove. There’s ample parking nearby. Allow two to four days to complete the entire 30-mile (48-km) route.
The most challenging section of the Baden-Powell Trail crosses Eagle Ridge on Black Mountain near the western terminus, a distance of 5.3 miles (8.5 km). Plan on taking five hours to make the journey one way, as the elevation gain is almost 4,000 feet (1220 m). Eagle Ridge’s bare face rises above Horseshoe Bay and Eagle Cove, and only those in good physical condition should attempt it. (You know who you are.) Several delightful viewpoints of Howe Sound appear as you enjoy an easy walk for the first 1.75 miles (2.85 km), then the going gets tough along the approach to Eagle Ridge. You’ll have a much better idea of where you are when you finally gaze out from Eagle Ridge over the Lower Mainland: the view ranges from Mount Baker in the southeast to Victoria and Vancouver Island in the west, and from Texada Island in the northwest to the San Juan Islands in the south.
It’s not unusual to find snow on Black Mountain (elevation 4,012 feet/1224 m) and at comparable elevations on most of the North Shore’s other peaks well into June. Although ice may not coat the surface of the Cougar Lakes (a nest of pothole lakes beside the trail just above the ridge), a swim here on a hot August day quickly reveals that icy conditions lurk just beneath the surface in these pleasant, heavily forested pocket ponds. You’ll emerge breathlessly refreshed. More snow falls on Black Mountain than any other local mountain, including Whistler and Blackcomb. Winter storms moving inland from the Pacific encounter cold outflow winds on Howe Sound, and the result is that 10 feet (3 m) or more of snow falls annually here.
The next section of the Baden-Powell Trail runs from the downhill ski area on Black Mountain in Cypress Provincial Park to Grouse Mountain, a distance of about 7 miles (11 km) one way. The well-marked trail leads east across the slopes of Mount Strachan and Hollyburn Mountain and joins with a series of cross-country ski trails on Hollyburn Ridge. Although it’s rarely level – not much is, on these steep slopes – the trail is only moderately challenging. Small lakes appear at intervals and the open skies above them brighten the environment until you plunge back into the shaded forest once again. A series of creeks splashes down from unseen headwaters above: Lawson and Brothers Creeks are two of the major ones you’ll encounter. Once you reach West Vancouver’s British Properties neighbourhood, you’ll have to pick your way along several residential streets before the Baden-Powell Trail begins to descend to Capilano River Regional Park and beyond to the foot of Grouse Mountain at the north end of Capilano Road in North Vancouver.
This last portion is a more picturesque stretch, as the Capilano watershed opens in front of you. As you cross the Capilano River, the great divide, you pass from West into North Vancouver. From Grouse Mountain to Deep Cove, hikers are able to connect with BC Transit buses that will help you make a loop of your journey. Up to this point there have only been two possible transit connections, at Horseshoe Bay and the British Properties. There is no regular bus service to Cypress Provincial Park.
From Grouse Mountain east to Lynn Canyon Park, Mount Seymour Provincial Park, and eventually Deep Cove, the Baden-Powell Trail begins an almost uninterrupted 18-mile (30-km) ramble. You can break the journey up at Lynn Valley Road, about 6 miles (10 km) east of Grouse, or at the Mount Seymour Pkwy, about 15 miles (25 km) east of Grouse. Bus routes to consider for round-trip transportation or to reach trailheads in North Vancouver from elsewhere in Greater Vancouver are the Queens (#232), which runs between the Phibbs Exchange and Grouse Mountain, the Westlynn (#229) bus from Lonsdale Quay to Upper Lynn Valley Road, and the Seymour (#211) and Dollarton (#212) routes, which run between the Phibbs Exchange and Deep Cove.
Along the way between Grouse Mountain and the Baden-Powell Trail’s eastern terminus in Deep Cove, hikers cross the trail’s longest bridge, which spans aptly named Mosquito Creek, walk beneath miles of towering second-growth forest whose understorey is a mass of ferns and fungi, pass beside earth-shuddering waterfalls in Lynn Canyon, and encounter some of the best views of the entire trail as it nears Deep Cove. From the hillside above Deep Cove, Indian Arm spreads out with all the charm that Howe Sound presents near Eagle Ridge at the western terminus.
Cypress Provincial Park, a 7,400-acre (3000-hectare) provincial park in West Vancouver, was born out of controversy 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 the Hollyburn Mountain Trail. At 4,350 feet (1326 m), Hollyburn Mountain is one of the three peaks easily reached from the Cypress Pkwy. The others are Black Mountain to the west (see Baden-Powell Trail, above) at 4,016 feet (1224 m), and Mount Strachan (pronounced strawn) to the north at 4,770 feet (1454 m). 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.
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!
The well-marked Cypress Provincial Park exit from the Upper Levels Hwy in West Vancouver leads uphill to the Hollyburn Ridge parking lot. The Hollyburn Mountain Trail (4 miles/6 km return) begins here. Walk a short distance uphill beside a string of power lines on the Powerline Road to its junction with the Baden-Powell Trail. Follow the Baden-Powell uphill past the warming hut at Fourth Lake, at which point the Baden-Powell Trail links with the Hollyburn Mountain Trail. The summit of Hollyburn Mountain (4,345 feet/1325 m) lies 1.3 miles (2.1 km) uphill from here. Along the way you’ll pass a number of pocket lakes that act as reflecting ponds for the forest’s paintbox. Wear sturdy boots and watch your footing.
As on many of the trails on Hollyburn, much of the way is over exposed roots that ripple around the base of the thick firs. You’ll immediately notice the grandeur of the forest, one of Hollyburn’s most attractive features. The last easily accessible stand of giant hemlock in the Lower Mainland between Garibaldi Provincial Park and Chilliwack is located here. Add to this the fact that it hasn’t been touched by forest fires for at least 1,000 (and possibly 4,000) years, and you have a unique subalpine, old-growth rain-forest environment that many regular visitors passionately wish to preserve. (Rings on a stump atop Mount Strachan indicate it was nearly 1,200 years old when cut in 1988 as part of a commercial expansion.)
A well-placed rope helps hikers ascend the last steep rock section before the top. From the summit you look west to the top of the chairlift on Mount Strachan, past Black Mountain to the waters of Howe Sound and over to Gibsons on the Sunshine Coast in the distance. The majestic Lions, or Two Sisters, soar above Capilano Lake to the north. From Hollyburn’s open summit, hikers are also rewarded with views of the mountain ranges to the north not visible from the city. Retracing your steps, you’ll be treated to views over the Fraser Estuary as far south as Boundary Bay.
For a more extensive hike on Hollyburn, follow the Baden-Powell Trail downhill past Fourth Lake to the Wells Gray Trail and First Lake. Follow the Burfield Trail from the lake back to the parking lot. For added variety, and a chance to walk some of the cross-country trails, continue hiking east from First Lake on the Mobraaten Trail to its intersection with the Grand National Trail, and continue around on Grand National about 0.5 mile (0.9 km) to West Lake. (Both Wells Gray and Mobraaten start from the warming hut at Fourth Lake and both intersect with Grand National.) Part of an old chairlift that operated until the 1950s can still be seen at the north end of West Lake. Return to the parking lot along the Burfield Trail, which passes beside a nest of old cabins, some of which date from the 1920s. BC Parks plans to restore the classic Hollyburn Lodge as a park interpretive centre so that Cypress, the busiest park in BC, with over a million visitors a year (a third of them skiers), will be a showcase for the province.
Additional hiking trails in Cypress Provincial Park begin from the traihead beside the Cypress Bowl parking lot located a short drive past the turnoff for Hollyburn Ridge at the top of the Cypress Pkwy. The Yew Lake Trail covers only about a mile but leads to a very picturesque location. The view of Black Mountain from here indicates what the entire bowl was like before logging began. Amazingly, considering the numbers of visitors to the park, you’ll often have the trail (and lakeside picnic table) to yourself. Recent upgrading has made this trail wheelchair-accessible.
The most challenging trail, hands-down, in the park is the 18-mile (29-km) Howe Sound Crest Trail, which traverses the spine of ridges and peaks from Cypress Bowl north to Porteau Cove 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. A cleared area suitable for camping is located at the outlet of Deeks Lake; otherwise, there are only emergency huts at Magnesia Meadows and Brunswick Lake. Note: Campfires are forbidden. With a couple of exceptions, views are limited for much of the way between Cypress Bowl and Mount Unnecessary; snow often covers parts of the trail well through June.
The best time to attempt the Howe Sound Crest trail is between mid-July and October. If you want to get a feel for the trail, try the first 3.4 miles (5.5 km) between the Cypress trailhead and St. Marks Summit viewpoint. Allow two hours one way. Along this way you’ll be treated to a view of the Lions from Strachan Meadows (1.6 miles/2.6 km) and then of Howe Sound at St. Marks Summit. Some hikers prefer to use the Howe Sound Crest Trail as a route to the Lions, then descend along the Lions Trail to Lions Bay. From Cypress Provincial Park to Lions Bay is a strenuous 11 miles (18 km). Allow nine hours to complete this hike one way. Allow two full days to complete the entire Howe Sound Crest Trail, a 15-hour trek one way. Note: Trail markers on open sections of Mount Unnecessary and other exposed sections are often difficult to follow even in good weather. Do not attempt this route unless you are confident in your pathfinding abilities.
Other trails to pursue in Cypress Provincial Park include the Black Mountain Loop Trail, a moderately difficult, 1.6-mile (2.5-km), 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.
As you drive the 5-mile (8-km) Cypress Parkway (Cypress Provincial Park) in West Vancouver, you’ll notice cars parked at its four switchbacks and elsewhere along the road. Their occupants have probably headed off along one of the many trails that crisscross the lower slopes of Black and Hollyburn Mountains. An easygoing route leads west from the first switchback (just past the road-maintenance yard) towards Cypress Falls Park, an enjoyable 4.5-mile (7-km) round-trip excursion. (Part of the trail covers the old Cypress Creek Logging Road that rambles 4.7 miles/7.6 km up the mountain from here to Cypress Bowl.) Although not as challenging as other hikes found higher up the slopes, the lower section that leads past Cypress Falls has the advantage of being open almost year-round. Snow rarely accumulates for any duration this close to sea level. In fact, winter is one of the most bewitching times to visit the falls. During those months, snow often blankets the outer boughs of the dense evergreen forest that surrounds Cypress Creek; water vapour thrown up by the splashing creek gels in icy formations.
It takes 30 minutes to walk beyond the logging road gate to reach the boundary of Cypress Falls Park, a distance of almost 1 mile (1.5 km). As you reach the park, pick up the Cypress Falls Trail that loops for 2.5 miles (4 km) around the creek’s lower and upper falls. Watch for the entrance to the trail on the south side of the logging road as it nears a BC Hydro substation. The hiking trail is a steep singletrack at the outset but quickly widens and becomes much more inviting. It will take you an hour to complete. Bright green bracken fern line the trail year-round. Majestic hemlock, Douglas fir, and western red cedar tower above. A rustic, moss-covered wooden bridge conveys hikers across to the west side of Cypress Creek. Just downstream from the bridge is a view of the creek as it pours into a canyon below.
The trail follows the west bank of the creek towards the upper falls. In places there are openings where you can clamber down and do some rock hopping. The hillside becomes steeper above the big cedars as the trail approaches the upper falls. You’ll have to peer through the forest to catch a glimpse of its foamy white veil. A short distance beyond this viewpoint the trail meets pavement. Bear right and follow along until it connects with the old logging road. A wooden bridge crosses Cypress Creek above the upper falls, but views from here are restricted by dense second-growth forest. The logging road loops past the municipal yard and back towards Cypress Pkwy. The most enjoyable section of the hike lies behind you now but the satisfaction derived from your visit to the falls persists. For an alternative approach to the park, take the Caulfeild-Woodgreen exit from Hwy 1. Once on Woodgreen, follow around to the third street on the right, Woodgreen Place. Drive to the end of this cul-de-sac. There’s parking in an old quarry next to some tennis courts and a playing field. The trail to the falls begins here.
If you’re searching for some shade when the temperature hits unusually high readings (anything above 77 Deg F/25 Deg C is considered hot in theLower Mainland), head for the Brother’s Creek Trail in West Vancouver. There’s no need to break out the sunscreen as you explore beneath the sheltering arms of mighty western red cedar and Douglas fir trees on the mountainside above the British Properties neighbourhood. This hike is moderately difficult and your heart rate will get a real boost during the 5.5-mile (9-km) round trip. It will really flutter at the sight of the two small lakes near the creek’s headwaters. Allow six hours to complete this hike. The trailhead is located at the top of Millstream Road, reached via Taylor Way (Hwy 99) and Eyremont Drive. Watch for a wooden signpost that announces Brother’s Creek. There’s room here for several cars to park beside a yellow gate. Nearby is a bus stop. If you travel on foot, catch the British Properties (#254) bus, which leaves Park Royal Shopping Centre on Marine Drive at 20 minutes before the hour. To reach the Brother’s Creek Trail, hikers must first ascend a rough fire road that intersects with the Baden-Powell Trail a short distance above Millstream. Distances and estimated hiking times to a variety of destinations are inscribed on metal trail markers here. It’s up to you which side of the creek you wish to ascend. Make a loop by going up one side and down the other.
Bridges span Brother’s Creek in three places and are located approximately 0.6 mile (1 km) apart. Hikers can either follow the fire road to the Second Bridge, a 1.25-mile (2-km) journey, or head west along the Baden-Powell Trail for about a mile to the First Bridge crossing. A trail leads uphill from First Bridge along the west bank of the creek. Watch for a stand of massive western red cedars that shelters the trail as it leads towards Second Bridge. Hefty Douglas fir dominate the forest on the east side of the creek between the fire road and Second Bridge. Mightier still are the cedar and fir that grow beside the fire road as it approaches Third Bridge. Blue Gentian Lake and Lost Lake lie 1 mile (1.6 km) uphill from Third Bridge. Allow between 15 and 30 minutes to reach them. Lost Lake is the larger of the two and on a hot day is a refreshing place to take a quick dip. Two picnic tables hug Blue Gentian’s shoreline.
Capilano River Regional Park and its waterfront partner, Ambleside Park, are among the most sociable gathering places on the North Shore. Visitors come to stretch their legs and exercise their dogs while taking in the view of others doing the same across First Narrows on the Stanley Park Seawall. Although most of the leisure activity takes place close to the Capilano River’s confluence with the ocean, Capilano River Regional Park’s hiking trail runs 5 miles (8 km) north from Ambleside Park to Capilano Lake.
Ambleside Park is easily reached from numerous entrances along Marine Drive, including the south end of Taylor Way. (Taylor is the first major intersection west of the Lions Gate Bridge.) There’s usually a buzz of marine activity offshore from Ambleside beneath the Lions Gate Bridge. On Saturday evenings in summer this is a picture-perfect place to watch gaily lit cruise ships power their way out of port. When salmon are running in the Capilano River in September, you can count on seeing dozens of small pleasure craft drift-fishing just offshore. Upstream at such times, residents of the Capilano Indian Reserve, on whose land Ambleside Park and the north end of the Lions Gate Bridge are located, will also be fishing along the riverbank. Tidal currents ripple the surface of First Narrows, but the water at Ambleside’s sandy beach is predictably calm. Skip a stone, toss a stick, talk to your neighbour: it’s that kind of park.
As you follow the Capilano River Trail upstream from Ambleside Park (a short section of the trail is also signed as West Vancouver’s Town Trail), it will lead you through a residential neighbourhood around the Park Royal Hotel before reaching the wilder side of the park. From this point north there’s easy access to the boulder-filled river. For many visitors, this sea-level section of the park provides enough exploring to take up an entire visit. For others, there’s a long ribbon of trail to follow as the Capilano-Pacific Trail leads along the west side of Capilano Canyon to the Fish Hatchery and Cleveland Dam. Allow three to four hours to complete the round trip from Ambleside Park.
As you make your way north from Ambleside, the banks of the Capilano River begin to narrow. Near Hwy 1, the trail climbs away from the river and follows Keith Road for a short distance north beneath the Upper Levels Hwy Bridge. If your plan is simply to hike the forest trail and explore some of the pools in the Capilano River Canyon, this is the best place to begin. By car, take Keith Road east off Taylor Way and drive to its end. Park here near the trailhead. A Greater Vancouver Regional District (GVRD) signpost indicates the start of this section of the Capilano-Pacific Trail. At this point the trail has the appearance of a charming country lane. The nearby forest is interlaced with old logging roads.
In 1926, once logging ended, Capilano became one of the first municipal parks on the North Shore. Occasionally a short secondary trail leads downhill into the Capilano River’s narrow canyon. The one to Ranger Pool is moderately steep in places, but worth the effort to enjoy the view of the canyon from its riverbed. The overstorey of tall evergreens, combined with a mass of ferns that carpet the forest floor, imbue the environment with a uniform green essence year-round. One of the great joys of visiting here is the quiet that permeates the atmosphere. Even when it’s raining, the branches of the forest are so sheltering that much of the moisture never reaches the ground. You’ll find a good spot to take a break at one magnificent viewpoint, where the canyon can be seen dropping away sharply to the river below. A conveniently placed bench sits beneath towering Douglas firs here. Just south of this viewpoint, a short trail leads down to the Sandy Point Pools.
North of the viewpoint the Capilano-Pacific Trail leaves the river for a while and crosses two major creeks. At Houlgate Creek, a branch of the main trail leads higher up to the Shinglebolt viewpoint. Explore the Shinglebolt on a clear day when the trail isn’t too muddy. As seen from the viewpoint, Capilano Lake spreads towards the Lions, and the landscape looks wonderfully composed. A warren of trails winds through the woods here. Despite logging, some beautiful old trees remain along the trails on the west bank. Easygoing Rabbit Lane Trail (2.5 miles/4 km return), which loops through the forest and links with the Capilano-Pacific Trail in several places, was the route used by the Capilano Timber Company railway and accounts for the gentle grade. Nearby is Capilano River Regional Park’s North Vancouver entrance.
There are several entrances in North Vancouver to Capilano River Regional Park, all within a short distance of each other. If you are travelling on Hwy 1, take the Capilano Road N exit (exit 14) to reach the park. Capilano Road can also be reached from Marine Drive in North Vancouver, a short distance east of the Lions Gate Bridge. Four parking lots are located near the fish hatchery in Capilano River Regional Park; another is at the picnic site beside Cleveland Dam. You can also catch the Grouse Mountain (#236) bus from North Vancouver’s Lonsdale Quay, which stops at the fish hatchery and Cleveland Dam.
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.
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 Road 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.
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 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.)
Almost 25 miles (40 km) of roads and trails run through the Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve in North Vancouver – sandwiched between Lynn Headwaters Regional Park and Mount Seymour Provincial Park. Hiking trails in the forest here are lengthy but easygoing. The most challenging ones are the Homestead, Twin Bridges, and Fisherman’s Trails, which lead down into the Seymour Valley and follow the Seymour River. The Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve is located at the north end of Lillooet Road. Take exit 22 from Hwy 1 at the north end of the Ironworkers Memorial Second Narrows Bridge. Trails head off in all directions from the parking lot’s gatehouse. It’s a 1.4-mile (2.2-km) walk down to the Seymour River, from where the Fisherman’s Trail heads north and Twin Bridges south. The winding Fisherman’s Trail leads to the Mid-Valley Bridge, a distance of about 3 miles (5 km). Plan on taking two hours to complete the distance one way. You can choose to retrace your steps, or return along the paved Seymour Mainline Road.
Walk the Forest Ecology Loop Trail in the Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve (0.25 mile/0.4 km). You’ll find it on the north side of Rice Lake, a short walk from the parking lot. Tie in this short walk with a more wide-ranging exploration of the forest. Maps and an interpretive brochure are available at the gatehouse.
If you enjoy hiking to viewpoints, there is a wealth of moderate hiking trails in Mount Seymour Provincial Park in North Vancouver. Use extreme caution when exploring its open summit, especially in the region around Mount Bishop, at 4,947 feet (1508 m) the tallest peak in the park. Weather conditions change quickly during storm season, and the route between peaks can become obscured. Each year this mountain gobbles an unwary hiker or two. To reach the park, travel east on Mount Seymour Parkway from the Ironworkers Memorial Second Narrows Bridge.
For an easygoing introduction to Mount Seymour Provincial Park, explore the 3-mile (5-km) section of the Baden-Powell Trail (see above) that runs east-west through the park near the base of the mountain. Watch for its well-marked trailhead and picnic area where it crosses Mount Seymour Road. If you wish, begin from the parking lot just inside the park entrance and follow the Old Buck Logging Road Trail uphill to reach the Baden-Powell route, a distance of about 1.5 miles (2.3 km). In total, Old Buck leads 3.4 miles (5.5 km) up the side of Mount Seymour to a junction with the Perimeter Trail. The lower section of Old Buck has recently been upgraded for biking, which also makes for easier hiking.
In summer, once the snow has melted, short hiking trails lead from the parking lot at the top of Mount Seymour Road to Dinky Peak and Goldie Lake, Mystery Lake, and Flower Lake. Distances to these spots aren’t great, the elevation gain is minimal, and hikers are rewarded with views of Greater Vancouver that are among the best in the Lower Mainland.
For a more extended hike, try the First Lake Trail to Dog Mountain from the parking lot at the top of Mount Seymour Road. Plan on taking two hours to complete the 3-mile (5-km) round-trip journey. Wear waterproof boots, as this trail is often soggy. If you set your sights on reaching Mount Seymour’s summit, try the moderately difficult 2.5-mile (4-km) hike to Mount Seymour’s First Pump and Second Pump peaks. The trail traverses Brockton Point on its way to the peaks. Owing to the panoramic view from here, this is a very popular trail. Other hiking routes on Mount Seymour include the 10-hour, 9-mile (14-km) round-trip trek to Elsay Lake. The initial section of the trail covers the same route as used to reach First Pump Peak. From there the trail to Elsay Lake passes Gopher Lake, then narrows as it enters the most exposed section of the mountain. Trail markers are often difficult to locate in bad weather along this rugged portion of the trail, and hikers should not hesitate to turn back. Only experienced, well-equipped hikers should attempt this difficult trail. An emergency shelter is located at Elsay Lake.
Other hiking routes to explore on the North Shore include the Grouse Mountain Trail, better known as the Grouse Grind. The first hiking trail up the side of Grouse Mountain was brushed out by the Vancouver Mountaineering Club in 1900 when a journey to the North Shore from town involved a boat ride, then a hike on foot or horseback to the base of the mountain. Almost a century later, Grouse continues to be a magnet for Vancouverites in search of a challenge – and companionship. The Grouse Grind, billed as the world’s biggest stair-climb, is the outdoor venue these days to work out and meet new friends. During summer months, hundreds of trim, fresh-faced hikers ascend the steep-sided mountain from its trailhead on the east side of the Grouse Mountain parking lot at the north end of Capilano Road, usually in groups of twos and threes.
A typical opening line once on top is, What’s your time?’ (If you complete the 1.8-mile/3-km climb with a elevation gain of 2,760 feet/842 m in less than an hour, you’re doing better than average. If you beat 32 minutes for men, or 36 minutes for women, you’re the champ!) A workout on the Grouse Grind is excellent preparation for a backpacking trip. This is a quick way to stretch your lower calf muscles (the ones you rarely call upon except with a 50-pound/22-kg pack on your back) into shape. If you’re hard-core, you’ll do the trail both ways. Otherwise, ride down in the Grouse Mountain Skyride gondola. Other trails on the side of Grouse Mountain include the BCMC Trail (2.2 miles/3.5 km one way; allow two and a half hours), which begins from the same location as the Grouse Grind.