Hiking the Howe Sound Crest Trail

An absolutely amazing 29km hike in beautiful British Columbia ☀️❄️

View over Howe Sound from St. Mark’s summit

I did this hike with two good friends in early October. The weather report promised sun and blue skies, so we were confident that it would be an amazing couple of days! Before I dive into our experience, let me list some stats.

Trail stats

  • It’s a 29km one-way hike, starting from the Cypress parking lot (N 49°23'47", W 123°12'16") to Porteau Cove.
  • Aim for 2-3 days. It’s possible to do in 2 days, but that makes for a very tough first day!
  • Cumulative elevation gain/loss is approximately 1850m/2600m.
  • Peaks transversed along the trail: St. Mark’s summit, Unnecessary Mt (South & North), Lion’s ridge, James Peak and David Peak.

I want to emphasize that this is a very tough hike and shouldn’t be attempted in bad weather or by inexperienced hikers! With that said, this hike is one of the best in the area. The views over Howe Sound and the interior mountains are no less than breath taking and plentiful.

We were aiming at arriving at Magnesia Meadows (N 49°28'46", W 123°11'22"), our overnight campsite, around dinner time. Magnesia Meadows is the first real campsite along the trail, but to reach it one have to transverse all six peaks mentioned above! Alternatively, pitching the tent between Unnecessary Mt and the Loins will make for a nice 3 day tour.

The height profile of our first day.
The height profile of our first day.

We started out at 7:30am, leaving the car in lot 3B. The sun greeted us as we took the first steps along the nice and broad path. We met a couple heading towards the parking lot, that told us that they just saw a black bear a bit further along the path. We didn’t see any signs of the bear, which can properly be attributed to our rather loud conversation. After approximately 1km we got the first glimpse of the Loins (Twin Sisters) in the distance. Even though they seemed quite far away, we knew that they only marked the half way point of our hardships that day. Af 5.5km we reached St. Mark’s summit. Here we had our first break, enjoying the views over Howe Sound. Right after the summit the path narrows to a single track, leaving the highly used broad, nice trail behind. We had some problems finding the correct path leaving St. Mark’s summit, but eventually found the descending path. The elevation drop is about 175m, before starting the ascend of Unnecessary Mt. At the foot of the climb we encountered a sign saying “End of serviced trail”. We laughed a little, how bad could it really be!? We quickly found out why it’s called Unnecessary… It’s unnecessarily steep and absolutely NOT serviced. I had prior to this hike never needed hiking poles, but for some unknown reason I convinced myself that it was a good idea to bring a pair. I didn’t really anticipate to use them. Oh, how wrong I was. I’m pretty sure I never would have made it without them. After a very tough climb we reached the south peak of Unnecessary Mt., where we enjoyed a snack and the stunningly beautiful scenery. I’m told that it’s called Unnecessary Mt. because the old trail to the Loins, from Lions bay, went over it.

The view from the North peak of Unnecessary Mt. towards the Lions.
The view from the North peak of Unnecessary Mt. towards the Lions.

From the south peak to the Lions, along Unnecessary ridge, the trail is easy compared to the ascend to the south peak. But don’t be fooled, it’s relentlessly up and down without any flat parts. We reached the base of the west Lion by lunch time. I cooked some ravioli pasta, which was much needed, as I was running on fumes at this point. Because we wanted to reach Magnesia Meadows before dark, we skipped the climb to the top of the west Lion. The trail up the Lion is very steep and shouldn’t be attempted unless it’s dry and sunny. The same goes for the trail going on from the Lions ridge. There are some very exposed sections that would be very dangerous in bad weather! There is a trail leading down to the highway from the Lions that could be used if the weather is to bad or one could camp and wait for better weather.

Moving on from the Lions we ran into the first rope sections on the trail, they are less scary than it sounds. Mostly they are a great help getting down some steep rocks. Before starting the ascend to James Peak, we crossed a big bolder field having Thomas Peak on our left side. At this point we were starting to feel the strain from a full day in difficult terrain. Unfortunately, the ascends and descends, off both James Peak and David Peak, are very steep. Going up is more of a scramble than hiking and going down was very slow due to the loose surface. Once we reached the top of David Peak we looked back at the 5 peaks we had crossed, towering in the distance. We couldn’t quite believe that we had come this far, but we also agreed that the hike had been way tougher than expected. The last bit of trail before reaching the campsite follows the trail to Mt. Harvey going up about 200m. We foolishly didn’t realize that there could be more up hill after David Peak, so this last bit of elevation really didn’t sit well with us. We reached Magnesia Meadows a little after 6PM, having been on the trail for more than 10 hours. We pinched our tents at the best spots, as we were the only people at the campsite that day.

The view from the campsite, overlooking Howe Sound.
The view from the campsite, overlooking Howe Sound.

Following a nice dinner and a very cold beer, we went to bed around 8PM. Totally exhausted, but happy. We woke up the next morning to a completely new scenery! A fresh layer of snow on the ground and more falling. Snow wasn’t what we had hoped for, but it wasn’t a disaster either. The trail from Magnesia Meadows to the parking lot at Porteau Cove is flat or downhill, without any dangerous parts. We had been talking about summiting Mt. Brunswick, which we would pass not long after the campsite. That plan was quickly dropped. After descending 200-300m, from the campsite, the snow turned into rain. Luckily never more than a light drizzle. Ater passing the trail leading to the summit of Mt. Brunswick, we encountered a string of lakes. The three bigger lakes that we passed were Brunswick lake, Hanover lake and Deeks lake. The trail was now very wet, but pleasant to walk along. After Deeks lake the trail descends towards an old logging road, that covers the last couple of kilometers until the parking lot appears. At this point we were wet and tired and was looking forward to a hot shower.

I’m looking forward to the start of the hiking season next spring/summer. I’ll hike the Howe Sound Crest Trail ones more, this time properly taking it a little slower and spending two nights along the trail. This way there is more time for excursions to the top of the west Lion, Mt. Harvey just before Magnesia Meadows and Mt. Brunswick.

The water sources are non existing until Magnesia Meadows, so bring plenty of fresh water for the first half. The hike can of coarse also be done starting from Porteau Cove, this will invert the elevation gain/loss numbers I quoted at the top, making it even harder. The trail can be completed in one day, we were overtaken by ~10 trail runners. The upside being that you don’t have to bring a large back pack, but I can’t recommend running the trail in one day if you haven’t hiked it before!