Bikes and BladesIntrepid hikers are rewarded with unsurpassable views in this renoOutfitterswned British Columbian hike. The Lions are two peaks towering above the City of Vancouver that give their name to the famous Lions Gate Bridge.
I’d wanted to hike The Lions (also known as the Twin Sisters) forever and 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!
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. And when we emerged from the forest into to the openness of the sub-alpine 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 10am, particularly because perhaps like you, we always dawdle both en-route and while lunching and exploring at the summit.
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. 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. 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 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. 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.
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 8am). 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 Best Eco-Activities in Vancouver
1-Hike 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: 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 then swim (in summer) Stanley Park Seawall
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.
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 a long 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
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.
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.
Katharine Fletcher is a freelance writer, author and visual artist. Eric Fletcher is a photographer.