The complete Howe Sound Crest Trail is NOT a walk in the park. The HSCT is an ambitious overnight hike that will surely kick your butt and supply some breathtaking views. You start your day (early! or you'll run out of daylight) at Cypress Bowl ski lodge, stay the night in Magnesia meadow's emergency hut, and finish at Porteau Cove.
It has taken me 3 attempts to complete this trail, the last go (August 16/17th 2009) was successful due in large part to previous training and lucky weather. Do not attempt this trail under poor weather conditions or too early in the season unless yu are equipped and comfortable with ice/snow hiking/climbing (it takes a while for all of the snow to recede enough to spot trail markers and cross the quarry between the Lions).
It has been recently re-tagged so it is easy to follow which is awesome.
Make sure to check out the forecast, other reviews, and print off a reliable topographical map before you head out.
I walked the trail September 4th/5th 2009 and like to provide some more information. Following there is a list of hiking times for those who intend to hike parts of it. There was equipment for two days and no hurry, but please add +10% or more to the times if you are not used to hike for 6 hours under these conditions:
- Cypress Bowl ski lodge
2 h The trail is partly quiet rough and there is ongoing construction.
- Mt. St. Marks
1 h There is a good hiking trail from Mt. St. Marks to the ridge between The Lions.
- Mt. Unnecessary south peak
- Mt. Unnecessary north peak
25 min I do not recommend to hike the ridge from Mt. Unnecessary to The Lions under bad weather weather conditions due to exposed parts.
- Intersection to Lions Bay
50 min There is the option to climb The Lions but no need. The trail leads on the south side around the west peak.
- ridge between The Lions
2 h This part of the trail is the most rarely used one. Do not underestimate it, you loose and gain about 500 m in elevation.
- intersection to Lions Bay
30 min You find a ridge with a trail to climb Mt. Harvey. Without backpack I needed 40 min up and down.
-Magnesia Meadows emergency hut
35 min There is a good trail down to Deeks Lake. Although I missed the view the trail was walkable under rainy and foggy conditions.
- Intersection to Lions Bay
- Brunswick Lake emergency hut
- Deeks Lake
1 h 45 min
-Parking lot on HWY 99, about 1 km south of Proteau Cove Provincial Park
To get to the Howe Sound Crest Trail, take Hwy 99 in West Vancouver to the Cypress Bowl Exit, and drive all the way up to the Downhill Ski area, parking just in front of the ski purchase pass area (obviously closed for the summer).
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Posted By: juliepaulphysio
- Sun Aug 12 03:03:59 UTC 2018
UpsideBeautiful views. DownsideCould be dangerous in poor weather, or for inexperienced or underprepared hikers (due to limited information on this hike) CommentThank you DeanWhaley for your accurate review on this site! It helped us immensely with our expectations, as the specific timeline info is limited!
I did this hike August 4th-5th, 2018 with my friend. Weâre both in our 20âs, no significant pre-existing injuries and both physically active. Itâs one of the most beautiful hikes with breathtaking views of the tops of the North Shore Mountains, but the most technically difficult, physically demanding hike I have ever done. (And I am avid hiker, have done the West Coast Trail, Tour du Mont Blanc, and most major hikes in the Vancouver and Whistler areas)
Advice and Safety Tips: - Recommended (by us and everyone we met) as a 2 night, 3 day hike (Contrary to trail info and reviews that it can be a SINGLE overnight...Heck NO! Not if you want to be able to walk the next day!) - Magnificent (but gruelling) first day ~9-11 hours - VERY steep and technical ascents and descents *careful of your footing when wearing a heavy pack!* - Would be extremely dangerous pre, post, or during a storm (DO NOT CONTINUE) - On your first day, there is no water until you reach Magnesia Meadows (recommended to camp earlier) after you ascend and partially descend: 1. St. Markâs Summit (1371m) 2. Unnecessary Mtn (South&North Peaks)(1548m) 3. The Lions Ridge (~1520m) 4. Thomas Peak (1430m) 5. Enchantment Pass (~1380m) 6. James Peak (1466m) *We camped in the meadow after James Peak* 7. David Peak (1496m) 8. Harvey Pass (~1460m) - PACK SNOW WHEN YOU SEE IT (treat snowmelt water with Aquatabs) - James Peak signage is easy to miss (and many people did) *just before the top, look for markers to exit down to the LEFT to save yourself time and effort* - As a single overnight, option to take Mount Brunswick Trail down to Lions Bay (as we did) 1480m down to 220m over 3-4hrs. Tough on the knees!
- GEAR MUST HAVES: - North Shore Trail Map (SAVED US!) - Bear Spray (hikers saw a black bear near our trail) - Satellite Phone (would be VERY easy to slip and get injured and be in a dangerous spot fast) - Hiking poles (NECESSARY for the knees on downhills) - Hiking boots (especially to protect toes and ankles with weight of a camping pack) - 5L of water (replenish at EVERY opportunity! Many groups had to hike 2-3 more hours in order to get water, when they were physically DONE) - Bug spray/bug shirt/bug hat (very buggy in the shade) - Trip plan! (Especially wherever you park your car: appropriate lot or leave a note!) - 10 Essentials & proper food, clothing, etc
*In some areas the flagging is inconsistent and you have to keep your eyes peeled for the next marker (mostly after the Lions and on James Peak), for the most part the trail is obvious.
Posted By: deanwhaley
- Tue Aug 02 20:02:28 UTC 2016
UpsideAmazing views, scenery; mountains, cliffs, lakes, waterfalls, and rivers. Also the emergency hut at Magnesia Meadows was vacant, so I stayed there and was very thankful for it. DownsideVERY HARD, dangerous when hiking near the edge of cliffs, no water sources until you reach the meadows. CommentI am 20 years old and have completed many hikes in the area such as Diez Vistas, Grouse Grind, The Chief, and Garabaldi (but this hike is something else...). I also have played soccer at least 3 times a week for years, go for runs, and work out at the gym.
I began this hike with one friend at 9:45am on July 31, 2016 with 35lb back packs. Looking back we should have started earlier. As early as possible. I had printed out some maps and also the estimated times between destinations on this website, they turned out to be very confusing and far off from what my friend and I achieved.
We made it to St. Marks summit just under 2 hours which agreed with the time on this website, but that was the only time that agreed. Then from St. Marks to the Lions the trail was not too bad, but it took us 4.5 hours (this website seems to say it should take about 2.5 I dont understand how anybody could do that with back packs).
Once we entered the ridge between the Lions we were definitely on a new chapter of the hike. This is by far the most difficult. You can see 4 peaks and the last one has a dirt road winding up it. Behind that last peak lies Magnesia Meadows, our destination for the night. It doesnt look far away in distance, but you have to go up and down 4 peaks to get there. At this point we had been hiking for 6.5 hours and my friend was beginning to get leg cramps. We went down Enchantment Pass and had to slide along some snow, and maneuver over many boulders. We had no cell phone service at this point and I kept thinking if one of us broke a leg in these boulders (which would be very easy), we would be screwed.
After scaling and descending 2 peaks, and having 2 more to go we were losing hope. We got low on water and knew we had to make it to the Meadows because there was no water around these peaks. At the summit of the second last peak (David Peak) I looked down to see a deep valley we had to descend and another peak to ascend after that. At this point the sun was setting behind a ridge, my friend could barely walk, and we were very worried about our situation.
I removed some items from my friends bag and put them into mine and gave him some advil. We knew we had to make the final push to the Magnesia Meadows to get water, because we were now on our last liter. We struggled, and my friend was in immense pain but we made it to the Meadows just as the sun set below the horizon at 8:45pm, 11 hours after we began the hike. We were so happy we were yelling into the mountains and went for a quick swim in a small lake and refilled our water. We were so thirsty we drank the lake water.
Of the 3 other groups of people we talked to along the way who said they also were planning to camp in Magnesia Meadows, none of them made it... There was nobody else at Magnesia Meadows, and we saw nobody on the 4.5 hour hike from the Lions to the Meadows. My friend and I stayed in the emergency hut and it was exactly what we needed.
The next day we began our hike at 11:00am. The hike from Magnesia meadows past Brunswick and Hanover Lake, to Deeks Lake was beautiful and quite easy going compared to that stretch from the Lions to Magnesia Meadows. We reached Deeks lake at about 4:30pm, so it took 5.5 hours from Magnesia Meadows to Deeks Lake.
The last stretch according to whoever wrote the times on this website would take 1hr 45 mins. This again was not even close. We had been hiking for 5.5 hours with 35lb back packs and were sore from the day before. This never ending last stretch of descent took a huge toll on my knees and took us 3.5 hours.
This hike was one of the hardest things I have done in my entire life, not just physically but mentally too. I am so happy we completed it, and that my friend powered through leg cramps and blisters he was very determined. I also want to mention that boiling water was a very slow process. We needed about 5L a day each and boiling water would not work. We ended up drinking water from the lakes on the second day and we have both been fine and not gotten sick.
Prepare well for this hike. Bring lots of water. Do not go by the times posted on this website. Understand that making it from Cypress to Magnesia Meadows in one day with heavy packs is very difficult. If you choose to do this leave as early as possible and only take short breaks. From reading other peoples posts and my own experience it should take 8-12 hours to get from Cypress to Magnesia Meadows. And day 2 is beautiful and quite tame except for the descent from Deeks Lake. It is very long and we were so tired at that point.
Good luck to anybody who attempts this, dont underestimate it, I definitely did even after reading stories like my own which was very arrogant of me.
Posted By: nharri
- Fri Oct 02 20:56:03 UTC 2015
I hiked the Howe Sound Crest Trail with a few friends as an overnighter September 6th.
When I returned home my new Patagonia Jacket was missing from my pack :( I believe it fell out of my bag and onto the trail somewhere in between James Peak and Porteau cove. If anyone has found a bright red womans patagonia jacket size medium please contact me! I only bought it the week prior to the hike, so I was extremely bummed when I realized it had been lost on the trail. Reward for its return = beer!
PS I would highly recommend doing this hike as a 2 night hike. There are so many beautiful spots to hang out and relax, but a 1 night hike didn't give us enough time for that. I would also strongly discourage doing the entire trail with a dog! We brought our dog and had to carry her down & across the rope sections. She had a great time, but it was definitely an extra level of stress that I would skip if you can!ANSWERS are in this forum: Lost Patagonia Jacket
Posted By: ConorL
- Mon Jun 29 13:39:18 UTC 2015
UpsideStunning views, great swimming DownsideFew water sources, difficult trail CommentThis was my first hike in a while and I went with a friend who had never hiked before. We packed for 3 days but only made it as far as the North peak of Mt Unnecessary the first day due to a lack of water. Camped out by some little lakes below the peak on the east side. Water was great for swimming and no odd flavor when boiled. We experienced a lot of bugs there too.
Posted By: LaurenH
- Mon May 25 15:57:00 UTC 2015
I'm wondering if it's a good idea to do the Howe Sound Crest Trail from Porteau Cove to Cypress, instead of the other direction which seems the usual way. I don't mind uphill sections, but have difficulty on long downhill sections due to knee issues. I'm a strong hiker, and but plan on doing this hike over 2 days to enjoy it thoroughly. ANSWERS are in this forum: Howe Sound Crest Trail...in reverse?
Posted By: MattHos
- Mon Sep 22 22:24:42 UTC 2014
UpsideOutstanding views, great workout, swimming, photos, Blueberries!<BR> DownsideSlow going, lack of water CommentI did this hike last weekend (Sept 20-21) from Cypress to Porteau Cove on an over night trip. It was one of the best hikes I've done in a long time. Beautiful scenery with a great mix of ridge hiking, meadows and lakes.
This hike should not be underestimated! I read how tough it was before going in and it was still much more rugged than I had anticipated. I'm fairly fit, (grouse grind in late 30's) but this hike was something else! The elevation gain is 6000 ft and decent is 8500 ft. That's 14000ft! For comparison (for you vancouverites) the Grind is 2600 ft in elevation gain.
The gradient is steep going up and down and the trail is rugged, making progress slow. We did Cypress - Magnesia Meadows, 15 km (the halfway point) in 8hrs with minimal breaks. That's less than 2 km and hour.
Additionally, late in summer the snow is melted, leaving very little water sources. There are small ponds along the way that we used but they are sporadic and it wasn't ideal. Bring water purification tablets, filters etc.
There are sections between the Lions and Harvey Ridge that are very exposed ie, narrow ridges with steep drop-offs. I honestly don't know how people trail run this. One false step or slip in some of these spots and you're going to fall for a very long time. Clear, dry weather is recommended to cross this section.
We camped in Magnesia Meadows where there is a small lake to restock your water supply. The meadows is a great spot to pitch a tent. We had a great sunset with amazing views of the Howe Sound, the islands, Sunshine Coast and Vancouver Island, followed by a starry night.
The terrain for the second half is a lot easier. You essentially have already done all the elevation gain and the rest is down hill. You round Brunswick to the west and descend down towards Brunswick Lake. The blueberries were everywhere and we made frequent stops to snack.
The trail is quite good and you can cover ground a lot faster on this half of the trail. The lakes are great swimming holes. We even saw people fishing!
The last 7 km of the trail is from Deeks Lake to the Parking Lot. The first 3 km of this is pretty steep and can be quite grueling but you soon come out on to an old logging road which meanders you down to the parking lot. We managed this second 15 km leg of the trip in 6 hours with an hours worth of breaks.
Personally, I'd recommend a more leisurely 3 day / 2 night trip to enjoy the lakes and vistas more.
The HSCT is not for the inexperienced and should not be taken on unless property prepared. There are spots that are not well traveled so you and your group should have the tools necessary to get out in any condition. We met two groups along the way that needed assistance; neither of which had a map. One group had underestimated the Lions - Harvey circuit and needed help to find a trail to get them down to Lions Bay before dark. The other group didn't know where they were and were considering exiting (at dusk) to Lions Bay when they were 1 km from there destination - Magnesia Meadows.
Come prepared and you'll be fine :)
Posted By: Kris18
- Mon Sep 15 21:45:56 UTC 2014
CommentHSCT is stunning and one of the best trail experiences I have ever had.
Our group chose to do it in a day (with about an hour long stop plus for photos, swimming, playing catch up, etc...) we took 10.5 hours. Depending on your group's abilities it can be completed in 8 - 11.
Even for experienced trail runners\ hikers, it is a long tough day. Start early. We started at 7 am from cypress to Porteau Cove - which is a net downhill. Don't be fooled, there is a LOT of climbing. Bring lots of water and also water purification tablets. Most of our group carried a hydration pack (2L) and handheld and then refilled at Magnesium hut. Bring more food than you think you will need (including real food - i.e. a sandwich etc). water is scarce along the route. <BR><BR>The usual safety back country pre -cautions apply particularly as HSCT is remote back country.
The course is very well marked and flagged (pink/orange) but pay attention
It is a very technical trail - exposed sections, narrow ledges - sections you use ropes to go down, sections where I slid down on my rear. I did a lot more hiking than running. If you are afraid of heights, this may not be the trail for you.
If you are fit, this is an incredible hike with views that are out of this world.
Personally, I would not have done this as an over night trip only because I could not imagine navigating some of the terrain we did with a heavy pack on my back.
Posted By: Rudycan
- Fri Aug 15 19:10:08 UTC 2014
UpsideSpectacular vistas and scenery DownsideLack of water CommentWe did the trail as an overnight hike and the going was slow - not just because of difficult terrain and heavy packs but because we took lots of breaks for photos and dips in the lakes and just generally soaking up the back country. We went south to north with a car left overnight at the parking lot at Porteau Road parking lot. The signage says "no camping" but nothing about overnight parking. The weather was hot and water was definitely an issue between James Peak and Magnesia Meadows. We could see beautiful Hanging Lake and Enchantment Lake way below us but it would have been a crazy bushwhack to get all the way down and back up to the trail. Needless to say we were pretty happy to get to the meadows and finally replenish our water. Purifying is recommended as what looks like a lovely little running stream actually originates from a very small lake/puddle up nearer the emergency hut. I would love to do this hike again but I'd spend 2 nights on the trail in order to have more time at the waterfalls and lakes on the backside of the trail. Alternately, starting at Porteau and heading up to just as far as Deeks and Brunswick Lakes for an out and back hike would be great too.
Posted By: notsonaturegirl
- Tue Jul 29 19:00:26 UTC 2014
UpsideINCREDIBLE VIEWS! AND THREE BEAUTIFUL PRISTINE LAKES Downsidethis is VERY tough. Not for casual hikers. Water is pretty much non-existent until Magnesia Meadows. The trail can be easy to lose in some portions. Watch for markers!~ CommentThis is the best hike I've ever done. The views are spectacular. But it is NOT easy. It takes a LOT of mental strength to power through the tough parts. We hiked from Cypress to Magnesia Meadows on Day 1 - a hot day - Jul 27/14.
With heavy packs it took us 10.5 hours to get to Magnesia Meadows and the remaining portion (mostly downhill) was done in ~6 hours the next day.
Only small patches of snow off-trail. I brought 2 litres of water and wished I brought more because there was no creeks until Magnesia Meadows (and I found that a bit sketchy so used tablets). Close to the lakes, there are heavy waterfalls, so lots of great water.
I highly recommend this hike to anyone that is fit and not afraid of heights.
Posted By: departurebay
- Mon Oct 01 14:46:42 UTC 2012
UpsideStunning views, lots of exercise. DownsideVery rough trail, some scrambling and exposed sections. Lack of water. CommentI did this hike last week (September 2012) for the first time, south to north, starting at Sunset Marina (just north of Horseshoe Bay) and ending at the Porteau Road interchange on Highway 99 (there is a trail from Sunset Marina to Cypress Bowl). Although this saved on transportation costs (I was using taxis), I would recommend starting at Cypress Bowl. The section of the hike from the West Lion to Magnesia Meadows is more of a mountaineering route than a "hike", and, as others have pointed out, progress will be little more than one kilometre per hour. Although the presence of a beautiful campsite halfway along the trail at Magnesia Meadows suggests a travel time of two days, three days would be more comfortable. Perfect for a long weekend. Be prepared for some scrambling and exposed sections in the middle part of the trail. Be aware that during the driest part of the season, there is little or no water between the West Lion and Magnesia Meadows. I would recommend carrying two litres of water per person for this section. The trail has recently been retaped.
Posted By: rmackellar
- Thu Aug 05 04:00:39 UTC 2010
UpsideI have hiked the Howe Sound Crest Trail twice. The views are spectacular. This is an awesome hike for those fit enough to do it. The camping on any of the peaks after St. Marks is spectacular with great views of Vancouver, the Lions and Howe Sound. Sitting watching the sun go down and the stars come up is something that everyone should do. <BR><BR>Camping at Magnesia Meadows is also awesome. We chose to use our tent, not the shelter, as the shelter has no way of keeping mosquitos and black flies out.
DownsideThis is not an easy hike. From Cypress Bowl to Unnecessary Mountain (just berfore the Lions) is straightforward and from Magnesia Meadows to Porteau Cove is relatively easy. BUT, from Unnecessary Mountain to Magnesia Meadows is an advanced hike where demanding terrain can slow progress to as little as 1km per hour. Be careful on snow, rock fall, exposure, route finding difficulties and steep terrain.
CommentFirst hike: September 2008. Completed the HSCT in one day, taking 13 hours 20 minutes, just over 2km per hour. This was going light and fast where the amount of daylight was only just enough to complete the hike. I decided to go in sneakers to be quick - this was a big mistake, as the terrain is significantly more than a walk in the park and the sneakers were a right-off at the end.
The second hike was a more leisurely 3 day (Friday night to Sunday) affair in July/August 2010. The snow was not insignificant. At the Lions the trail dropped down into steep snow and without an ice axe crossing the snow field was not safe. We chose to climb down the mountain and cross the snow at less of an angle, however, the down climb and the the upclimb were not for everyone. Particularly the climb back up to the trail had some exposure that would make some people bail, or at least think twice.
After the Lions the terrain is rough, with steep up and down, significant snow fields and elevation gain/loss that makes for slow progress. We took 4.5 hours from the Lions to Magnesia Meadows, a distance of only ~6km. This is with packs for overnight camping.
The trail become overgrown and, at times, can be a little difficult to follow between the Lions and Magnesia Meadows.<BR><BR>The hike from Magnesia Meadows to Porteau is a relative walk in the park. The trail is good, obvious and (relatively) less steep.
When we woke on the third day of our trip, the clouds had obliterated the view. We set off following the fading steps of the previous day's hikers across the snow, hoping it led to the trail, which it did.
This is a hike that is truly wonderful, spectacular views, but those afraid of heights or not willing to put in a LONG day, should not attempt it.
Posted By: Tschilla
- Wed Dec 09 13:37:46 UTC 2009
CommentI posted a more detailed description. Click on Wiki Update Review