Vancouver Trails

The 5 Most Challenging Hiking Trails Near Vancouver

The five most challenging hiking trails

With a challenge often comes a big reward. Whether a sense of accomplishment or, often in the case of very difficult hiking trails, an incredible view from the top of a mountain.

These are the most challenging day-hikes on Vancouver Trails:

Golden Ears

The upper section of the Golden Ears trail is steep, it’s not always clear that you’re on a trail, and it feels like it continues forever. Great views, if you’re not in the clouds.

Without question, Golden Ears is one of the most challenging hikes on Vancouver Trails due to it’s length, elevation gain, and ruggedness from not being maintained as well as other trails. The trail doesn’t start out too bad as it’s relatively flat for awhile before it begins to climb and you reach the campsite at Alder Flats. After that, the real climbing begins and it seems as though the trail goes on and on forever. The trail reaches a second campsite where many people stop, however it continues right to the peak.

The walk back down is challenging on the tired legs and many people have been caught returning in the dark. If you don’t plan to camp at Alder Flats and make this into a multi-day trip, make sure to leave very early and that you are in extremely good physical condition.

Wedgemount Lake

You may have hiked 6km but the final section of the trail to Wedgemount Lake goes straight up those rocks.

It’s only 7km one-way to the lake, which seems easy, right? Not quite as the trail to Wedgemount Lake climbs more than 1400-meters and the scramble up the final section feels like you’re going straight up a wall. The reward is worth it though as the turquoise lake situated in the bowl with a glacier at the far end of the lake is nothing short of spectacular. There is also several campsite spots at the lake for those willing to stay overnight. One recommendation is to pack a light jacket as the temperature at the lake with the lack of sunlight and winds is often much lower than in the Whistler valley area. After enjoying your time at the lack, watch your step as you navigate your way back down the steep section, before following the rest of the trail back to the parking lot.

The Lions

The view from the Lions is incredible but if you’re following the Howe Sound Crest Trail from Cypress, it’s a long route over two mountains.

Those two mountain peaks that you can see from the city seem so far away. And they are! There are 2 different routes to get to the Lions:

  1. The Binkert Trail – Starting from Lions Bay, this route follows an old logging road through switchbacks for awhile before veering off and climb through the forest. The climb is steady and continues as you exit the forest and hike up the open rock areas towards the Lions, taking time to enjoy the views of Howe Sound below. Eventually, you reach the crest and a short walk takes you to the base of the West Lion.
  1. Howe Sound Crest Trail – Don’t let the idea of driving up to Cypress Mountain fool you into thinking this route is easier. The trail starts from the downhill ski area at Cypress Mountain before climbing up to the St. Mark’s Summit. Then you descend from there and climb up a second mountain fittingly called Unnecessary Mountain. You then descend again, although not as far, before making your way up to the Lions. Keep in mind that you have to go over these two mountains on your return trip back to Cypress.

Panorama Ridge

The final ascent to Panorama Ridge involves hiking up plenty of loose rock and some snowy patches that linger well into July.

The incredible viewpoint from Panorama Ridge overlooks Garibaldi Lake with Black Tusk in the distance making it one of the most scenic views in the region. To do this hike in a day, you have to start early and keep a steady pass as the route is about 30km, although could be a bit shorter if you decide to return via Taylor Meadows and not go to Garibaldi Lake. The only really steep section is the final scramble up the rocks to the top. There are several kilometers, like the section of trail that passes through Taylor Meadows, that has very little elevation gain and you can gain distance quite quickly. However, 30km round trip still makes for a very long day. Pack plenty of water and snacks on a warm summers day, there are very few options for drinking water along the trail.

Black Tusk

This photo was taken on the trail to Panorama Ridge but the Black Tusk trail will take you right up to the edge of the volcanic rock.

The unique black rock and pointed shape that makes Black Tusk visible from the Sea To Sky highway entices many to want to hike the mountain. To do this in a day, you will need to start early at the Rubble Creek parking lot, hike the first 6km up the switchbacks, before turning left and going through Taylor Meadows. The Black Tusk junction is not far beyond the Taylor Meadows campsite, at which point the trail begins to climb between the grass and wildflowers before reaching an elevation where the vegetation completely disappears. The moving rocks under your feet make the trek even more challenging as you slide back from time to time as you make your way up the steep slope.

For many, reaching the base of the Tusk is good goal as the stunning views span across a large swath of Garibaldi Provincial Park. Climbing to the top should only be attempted by experienced and well prepared as the chute on the far side is difficult and dangerous to pull yourself up through. Don’t take chances if you are not comfortable, help is a long ways away.

Bonus Challenge

The Hanes Valley

The Hanes Valley route in North Vancouver starts out fairly easy, until you get to this.

The Hanes Valley is a one-way trail that starts from Lynn Headwaters in Lynn Valley and ends on top of Grouse Mountain. This is not for the faint at heart. While it starts out fairly easy and you can make great time to Norvan Falls and even well beyond the Hanes Valley / Lynn Lake junction, your pace will become much slower when you reach the steep rock slide. It’s only 1.5km up but you gain more than 800 meters. The sense of accomplishment once getting to the Crown Mountain junction is great, however the next 1km out of the Crown Mountain trail towards Grouse Mountain is also very steep, muddy, and difficult. It should be noted that this trail should only be attempted during the summer months by those who are in very good physical fitness as this trail is one of the areas where the North Shore Rescue is called out to very frequently.