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If you’ve ever visited Vancouver and looked towards the north from downtown the chances are that you’ve seen The Lions. The two mounds that rise up are landmarks of the city of Vancouver. Lions Gate Bridge gets its name from them as does the town of Lions Bay. It’s fair to say they’re Vancouver (and southwestern BC) icons.
Hiking to the lions has been on my list of Vancouver hikes for a while now and this summer the perfect opportunity came. Thom and I headed out to Lions Bay with our friends to tackle the hike and take in the most incredible panoramic views of the Lower Mainland.
If you’re considering hiking the lions near Vancouver then check out this guide to make sure you know what to expect, what to pack and get an idea for the views that you’ll be rewarded with.
About The Lions and where are the Lions?
The two lions in North Vancouver are said to get their name from when the sun sets and lights up the two mountains in shades of orange and yellow (just like a lion). Going out to the lions is a known challenge but who can resist the challenge to visit such well-known landmarks?
There are two peaks that make up the lions; the west lion and the east lion. Only the west one is accessible as the east lion lies within the Greater Vancouver watershed.
You can climb right to the top of the west lion, but it’s a tough scramble with a lot of exposure and any misstep you make is very, very dangerous. For this reason, it’s not exactly encouraged, and most hikers to the lions will stop just at the bottom which you might see referred to as the “bench”, “shoulder” or “foot of the lions”.
How to get to the trailhead for The Lions
There are two different trails you can hike to get to the lions. You can hike the Howe Sound Crest Trail from Cypress Mountain, or hike from Lions Bay. We hiked from Lions Bay which is a slightly shorter hike with a tiny bit less elevation.
The advantage of starting from Cypress Mountain is that there’s a lot more parking, and it’s free. It’s also arguably a more picturesque route and you can claim 3 summits in one hike. The other two summits you’ll hike to are St Mark’s Summit and Unnecessary Mountain. The lions hike from Cypress takes you along the Howe Sound Crest Trail which doesn’t have any reliable water source until Magnesia Meadows so make sure you’ve packed plenty.
If you choose to hike from Lions Bay, you’ll drive to the end of Sunset Drive off of Hwy 99 towards Whistler. you’ll need to get there early as there’s very limited parking. It’s usually full up by 8 am in the summer. You’re also now required to pay for parking at $16 a day. There are a few spots down the road which you can park on, but make sure to abide by the signs or you’ll get ticketed.
The Lions hike statistics
Here are a few important details you’ll need to know before you hike the lions mountain in Vancouver.
The Lions Binkert trail map
This map to the left shows the trail you’ll follow for the Lions Binkert hike. It’s from AllTrails which I highly recommend downloading if you’re a keen hiker. For some reason, the trail map on AllTrails ends a little before you reach the shoulder of the lions (I’ve extended the route in red on this map). It’s very obvious which way you go so you shouldn’t get lost.
Hiking the lions trail near Vancouver
We started our hike early at just before 8 am which meant we could grab a parking space in the car park at the top of Sunset Drive. It was the last spot so we’d timed it pretty well.
This trailhead leads to a few other Vancouver hikes including Mt Brunswick and Mt Harvey so the first part of the trail tends to be reasonably busy until the other trails branch off.
For the first part of the hike, you’ll walk along an old logging road with a steady incline and a rocky and uneven terrain underfoot. This part isn’t too steep and the path is quite wide.
After almost 3km, you’ll branch off towards your right and enjoy a small downhill section as you head into the woods and cross over Harvey Creek. There are bridges so you shouldn’t get wet shoes unlike the Heliotrope Trail near Mt Baker!
From here the climb gets tougher as you walk through the forest. In some case, you’ll have to use your hands to help navigate over tree roots and rocks.
Eventually, you come out into the open and get your first views of how high you’ve come so far. Behind you, you will be able to see Howe Sound and, on a super clear day, the Sunshine Coast and Vancouver Island.
This section of the hike to the lions in Vancouver isn’t quite as steep as through the woods. There are lots of rocks to navigate over though so it’s not exactly fast either. Then you’ll soon come across a relatively easy, but steep, scramble up to the shoulder of the lions. Take your time, use your hands if necessary and take breaks as required.
At the top of the scramble, you’ll join up with the Howe Sound Crest Trail and see Unnecessary Mountain to your right (if you’re looking north). Take a left towards the lions and your final push before coming out at the bench.
Most hikers stop here, that’s where we stopped this time around (although have plans to tackle it another day!). You should have some climbing experience to take on the true summit of the west lion and be aware that any fall could be fatal. Don’t be pressured into trying it if you’re not 100% comfortable with the idea.
The views from both viewpoints are going to be much the same and they’re still incredibly impressive from the sub-summit. You’ll see the islands of the Howe Sound including Gambier, Keats, and Bowen Island, and the Sunshine Coast as well as Unnecessary Mountain and the lions themselves! And, if you look towards the north you can even see black tusk on a clear day!
What to pack to hike the lions, Vancouver
- Bug spray: There are a tonne of bugs in the summer around Vancouver.
- Sun cream: You’re going to want suncream no matter what season you hike in. This one is my favourite.
- Bear spray: Ideally with a holster as it’s useless if you can’t get it out of your bag quickly!
- Lots of snacks & food
- Plenty of warm layers & waterproofs
- Good hiking boots or shoes
- Camera or phone
Things to know before hiking the Lions, Vancouver
- Are dogs allowed on the lions hike, Vancouver?: Yes, dogs are allowed on leash. However, the trail is steep so exercise caution taking dogs with you.
- Best time to hike the lions: In summer when the days are longer and there’s little chance of snow.
- Be adventure smart: Remember to respect the terrain, environment, and other users while you are enjoying the trails. Follow the three Ts—trip planning, training, and taking the essentials. AdventureSmart is a great resource to help you get informed before heading outdoors.
- Pack your 10 essentials
- Remember to leave no trace