Hiking The Lions

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The Lions are two peaks towering above Vancouver that give their name to the famous Lions Gate Bridge. Of all the things to do in Vancouver, I’d wanted to try hiking The Lions (also known as the Twin Sisters) forever.

So, while visiting Eric’s sister and our brother-in-law, we four decided to seize the opportunity of a blue-sky day, and take on this iconic, strenuous hike.

Because we’re not rock climbers, our goal was to reach the ridge located immediately below the two pinnacles.

I had always imagined being able to stand between The Lions to gaze down at the city sprawling below.

We were not disappointed and quickly discovered why this is one of the most popular hikes in the Vancouver area.

For more attractions in Vancouver and on Vancouver Island read:

Hiking The Lions

The view from the lions
Hiking The Lions brings amazing views. Photo: Eric Fletcher

Although this 6.6km hike sometimes seemed like a never-ending uphill (it’s a 1,120m elevation gain) struggle, ocean views and serenity offered generous rewards.

When we emerged from the forest into the openness of the subalpine meadows, the fresh, cool mountain air raised our spirits even more.

The panoramic views were breathtaking, from the West Lion of Vancouver to Howe Sound, Lion’s Bay and the Coastal Mountains.

My tip? Start your ascent early in the morning. The steep elevation gain – and tricky descent that’s hard on knees, hips and feet – took the four of us fit hikers five hours.

Plus, it’s all too easy to forget that sunlight fades early in the mountains because their height casts shadows earlier in the afternoon than one might expect.

Don’t be caught out: we should have begun well before 10 am, particularly because perhaps like you, we always dawdle both en-route and while lunching and exploring at the summit.

The Lions Binkert Trail

the lions binkert trail
The Lions Binkdert Trail. Photo: Eric Fletcher

After parking in the trailhead’s small lot (another reason to leave early) take the Lions Binkert Trail.

You immediately start a gentle ascent along a gravel logging road.

You’ll identify broadleaf maples (which turn golden yellow in autumn), towering Douglas firs, cedars, plus low-lying fruit bushes.

In berry season, look for edible thimbleberries and salmonberries.

After about 45 minutes, the trail forks.

A signpost points right, to the Lions.

Hiking through the forest

hiking the lions
The views are magnificent hiking The Lions. Photo: Eric Fletcher

Continue, watching for gaps in the forest offering enticing views of crystal-blue Howe Sound below you.

Watch for ferries or sailboats, which appear satisfyingly tiny as you gain elevation.

By now the broad road has narrowed into a trail.

After about 1.5 hours Harvey Creek appears where a picturesque bridge affords fabulous views.

harvey creek bridge at the lions
Harvey Creek Bridge on The Lions hike. Photo: Eric Fletcher

It’s a refreshing spot to pause because from here, the now well-marked trail sharply ascends, making many hairpin turns.

Perhaps as you clamber ever-upwards over tree roots and rocks you’ll be like me and think of Emily Carr, the Canadian artist who so loved painting BC’s wild evergreen forests.

After another 2.5 hours, you emerge from the treeline into a plateau of the sub-alpine landscape of rocks, windswept shrubs and wildflowers.

To the north, you’ll see the raw-looking clear-cut slope of Mount Harvey.

To the west, appreciate more extraordinary deep-blue views of Howe Sound and the Gulf Islands.

Orange dots painted on rocks now mark the trail.

West Lion

west lion
Keep on hiking until you see West Lion. Photo: Eric Fletcher

You’ll clamber up and up, attaining a fabulous view of the West Lion ahead along with intriguingly named Unnecessary Mountain to the south.

It gets its name from the fact that the ascent to the Lions used to be via this mountain but, once the trail was altered… that mountain became “unnecessary”.)

After yet another small rise, you meet your reward “The View.”

This spectacular panorama from the Lions is the reason you’ve made this push.

Vancouver sprawls from mountains to ocean below you, framed by snow-clad Mount Baker, looming in the distance.

Swivel west to take in Vancouver Island’s snow-tipped mountains and to the north, find the volcanic plug which is Garibaldi Park’s famous Black Tusk Mountain (another splendid hike).

Eric and I continued to hike, scrambling on the rocks just a bit further up so we could get an even more thrilling view.

Reluctantly we turned back to retrace our steps – and not a moment too soon because dusk did descend upon us before we reached our car.

Was it worth it? Yes indeed. Now, when we visit Vancouver we can peer up at The Lions, recognizing we’ve both done one of British Columbia’s – if not Canada’s – most iconic hikes.

How long does it take to hike The Lions?

If you are like us and want to linger, take photos and birdwatch to thoroughly enjoy your uphill journey, leave early (be at the trailhead at 8 am). Allow a generous eight to nine hours for your hike (not the seven hours often recommended by websites and hiking clubs). Why? That way you can enjoy your daypack full of treats, lunch, and water.

Directions to Lions Hike Trailhead

Note that the Lions Hike is also called Twin Sisters hike.

Take Highway 99 North to Lions Bay and exit on Oceanview Road.

Turn left on Cross Creek Road, right on Center Road, left on Bayview, another left onto Mountain Drive.

Continue 2 km to Sunset Drive.

Park at the small parking lot.

Here’s an online view of our hike, as recorded by Eric’s GPS.

5 More Vancouver Hikes and other activities

1- Black Tusk, Garibaldi Mountain (North of Vancouver)

Located in Garibaldi Provincial Park, 30km north of Vancouver we hiked this basaltic plug – a remnant of a volcano – several years ago.

Once you’ve accomplished this 9.5km pull, you’ll have ticked off yet another outstanding if not iconic British Columbian hike.

Best time to go? I think August because you’ll get long sunny days and glorious wildflowers. However, this is also a (challenging) cross-country ski destination in winter.

Tips for hiking Garibaldi Mountain

  • Carefully read the website description of Black Tusk/Garibaldi Lake area because in this park you cannot reserve campgrounds. Therefore, set out early.
  • Also, you must purchase a backcountry camping permit prior to heading out (available online).
  • We hiked the Tusk in a two-day hike, tenting one night. Although entirely doable, if doing it again, I’d take three days and camp for two. Why? There’s lots to see and do up top, and once you’ve gained the 1,400-metre elevation, why rush back?

2- Rollerblade, bike and swim Stanley Park Seawall

A cyclist on the seawall in Stanley Park rides past downtown Vancouver. Photo: Destination BC/Patrice Halley

Whether you rent rollerblades, bicycles, or choose to jog, walk the dog, or stroll Stanley Park Seawall, this is an outdoorsy person’s bucket list outing in Vancouver.

What’s the Seawall?

At 28 kilometres, Vancouver has the world’s longest uninterrupted pathway, and part of this urban route is the Seawall.

This constructed wall helps preserve Stanley Park from being eroded by the ocean.

Yes, you’re correct: it’s absolutely touristy here, but after all, aren’t we tourists?

So head out to this picturesque park where you’ll discover totem poles, a statue commemorating Tekahionwake, a First Nations poet whose English name was Pauline Johnson.

Access Stanley Park via Lions Gate Bridge – that’s the bridge I mentioned in my Lions’ hike story, so you can gaze up at The Lions before you go and then look down upon Stanley Park from aloft – or vice versa.

Full disclosure: Although I admit I’ve never rollerbladed the Sea Wall, I’ve biked and strolled it, plus I’ve swum during summer at the beaches which are always packed with sun worshippers come summertime.

Outfitters: Inlineskatevancouver Bikes and Blades; Bayshore Bike Rentals

3- Strolling Queen Elizabeth Park

Want pretty views of the North Shore Mountains embracing the city core?

Want to enjoy a delightful stroll of lush floral gardens?

Head to the 52-hectare Queen Elizabeth Park where you’ll find the Bloedell Floral Conservatory, too.

See the quarry garden, arboretum featuring native flora, Henry Moore sculptures – and why not top off your visit by taking along a picnic lunch?

At the Conservatory find more than 200 exotic birds which fly about among 500 or more species of exotic plants.

4- Kayak False Creek in the heart of the city

Downtown Vancouver skyline and False Creek. Photo: Destination BC/Alex Strohl

False Creek is an inlet located immediately east of English Bay which bisects downtown Vancouver.

Science World marks the inlet’s eastern end, and the inlet is spanned by three bridges: Granville, Cambie and Burrard.

Granville Island is a feature of False Creek, where it’s fun to watch buskers and musicians during summer’s long and lazy days.

Hop on a water taxi to get great views of the city… Or? Rent a kayak and discover the city’s skyline while paddling through the usually calm watercourse.

Outfitters: Creekside kayaks; Ecomarine Paddlesport Centres

5- Walk and picnic at Lighthouse Park

When visiting our family in Vancouver, Lighthouse Park in Vancouver’s North Shore was a favourite, totally family-friendly destination.

We still adore it.

That’s because its broad, easy paths lead through fragrant cedar forests to rocky lookouts affording spectacular views of the ocean.

For kids, there’s nothing better: scrambling the rocky shoreline provides hours of fun, while the dark forest offers shady, cool relief from the sunshine.

Tip: Take a picnic for sure as there are many picnic tables on grassy lawns, and consider taking a meal to barbecue.

As you can see, there are many wonderful hikes in the Vancouver area.

For more about Canada read:

Hiking The Lions

Hiking The Lions