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St. Mark’s Summit Hike in West Vancouver

St. Mark’s Summit Hike in West Vancouver

With incredible panoramic views of the waters of Howe Sound dotted with small islands, the St. Mark’s Summit trail is one of Vancouver’s best hikes. I also love the gorgeous forest on the way to the peak.

I’ve hiked this trail countless times and the view at the end always amazes me. While the first half of the trail is fairly straightforward, the second half is rough and if you aren’t paying attention, you might get off track.

Since I’ve hiked this trail so many times (and it’s in my book, Backpacking in Southwestern British Columbia), I can help you plan the best route to St. Mark’s Summit and give some tips on how to find all the viewpoints.

In this guide, I’ve got everything you need to know to hike to St. Mark’s Summit. It includes:

This is a sensitive wilderness area. Learn how to Leave No Trace to keep the wilderness wild. Make sure you are prepared by bringing the 10 Essentials. Get ready for adventure with this checklist of things to do before every hike.

Hey there: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, which means I earn a small commission at no cost to you. Thanks for your support. -Taryn

View from a cleft in the rocks down to Howe Sound and the Sea to Sky Highway from St. Mark's Summit
Looking down to Howe Sound and the Sea to Sky Highway from the trail to the viewpoint.

St Marks Summit Trail Stats

Here are the basic stats that you need to know about hiking the St. Mark’s Summit Trail:

Location: The St Marks Summit Trail is located on the southern part of the Howe Sound Crest Trail in Cypress Provincial Park in West Vancouver. It starts next to the lodge at Cypress Mountain Ski Resort.

Duration: 3.5 to 4.5 hours

Distance: 11.5 km

Difficulty: Moderate

Elevation Change: ~600 m of elevation gain

Best Time to Go: Mid-June to early November when the trail is snow-free. Pick a clear day to enjoy the views. The trail has significant avalanche danger in the winter (see the snowshoeing section below.)

Day Passes: As of 2024, you do NOT need a BC Parks day pass to hike to St. Mark’s Summit. A few years ago, you did need a day pass for Cypress Provincial Park, but that hasn’t been the case since 2021. Read my guide to BC Parks day passes for more info.

Toilets: There are toilets in the Black Mountain Lodge and Cypress Creek Lodge next to the parking lot. There are no toilets on the trail.

Dogs: Dogs are allowed on this trail but BC Parks rules require them to be on a leash. Use caution near the viewpoints – a dog nearly died here a few years ago when it slipped out of its harness and went over the edge of the cliff.

Bears: This area has black bears. Hike in a group, make noise, and carry bear spray.

Indigenous Context: The St Marks Summit Trail is in the traditional territory of the Skwxwu7mesh (Squamish), xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), and səl̓ilwətaɁɬ təməxʷ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations.

What’s with the name? Sometimes spelled “Saint Mark’s Summit”, the peak got its name because for many years St. Mark’s Anglican Church operated a summer camp in Lions Bay below the mountain.

View of Howe Sound and islands from St. Mark's Summit. There are rocky cliffs and forest in the foreground.
Looking down to Howe Sound from the viewpoint.

Tips for the St Marks Hike

  • Check the weather before you go. City weather forecasts are useless in the backcountry. Use an algorithmic spot forecast for Saint Mark’s Summit like Spotwx. (Read my guide to weather apps for hikers for more tips.)
  • Check trail conditions online using AllTrails or Instagram. This is especially important in the spring or fall when the trail can be icy or snowy.
  • Bring a rain jacket and warm clothing just in case. It can be much colder, windier, and rainier in the mountains than in the city.
  • Wear trail running shoes or hiking boots. The trail is very rocky and rooty in places. It can also be muddy. Regular running shoes don’t have enough grip or ankle support.
  • Bring water and snacks. It is not safe to drink the water from the creeks without boiling, filtering, or treating it because you never know if people or animals have pooped or died upstream. Gross! (I use a Katadyn BeFree to filter water.)
  • Bring the 10 Essentials. These are key safety items you should have on every hike.
  • Pack out all your garbage. There are no garbage cans here so you must take your garbage home with you. Leaving it on the trails attracts animals.
  • Bring a camera – it’s gorgeous and you will want tons of pics! But leave the drone at home. Drones aren’t allowed in BC Parks without a commercial filming permit.
  • Be Bear aware: There are black bears in this area. Hike in a group, make noise, and carry bear spray. Read my bear safety tips for more info.

St Marks Summit Trail Map

While the first half of the trail is easy to follow, the second half is rough and can get confusing. Pay close attention to trail markers, especially on the switchbacks. There have been lots of Search and Rescue call-outs for hikers who accidentally went off-trail. I recommend using a GPS mapping app like Gaia GPS to stay on track.

Psst! Want to save 20% off a premium Gaia GPS annual membership, which includes the maps I use on my trips? Use this link.

I made a map of the St Mark’s Summit Trail for you using Gaia GPS, my favourite GPS and mapping app. Click through to zoom in (and download the GPX track).

I made you this custom map of the St. Mark’s Summit Trail in Gaia GPS. Click through to zoom in and explore.

You can also use the Cypress Provincial Park map, but it isn’t very detailed so I don’t find it very helpful.

St Marks Summit Driving Directions

The trailhead is about 45 minutes from Vancouver. There is no public transportation to the trailhead so you will need to drive yourself. You can also take a taxi or an Uber, but it can be expensive and sometimes drivers won’t want to come pick you up afterwards.

Here are step-by-step driving directions to the St Mark’s Summit trailhead:

  • From Vancouver, go north over the Lions Gate Bridge.
  • Follow signs along Marine Drive and Taylor Way to get onto Highway 1 westbound.
  • Take Exit 8 onto Cypress Bowl Road.
  • Follow Cypress Bowl Road up the mountain to its end at the Cypress Creek Lodge. There is lots of parking in the huge lot.

Here are Google Maps driving directions.

St. Marks Summit Hiking Directions

The route to Saint Mark’s Summit is mostly on the Howe Sound Crest Trail. However, there are a few different options for starting the hike.

My recommended route below adds about 0.5 km more distance than the most direct route. But it includes a walk through a unique subalpine meadow and a great viewpoint. On the way back, my route takes the most direct way to the parking lot.

To help keep you on track, here is a brief overview of the key distances on the hike to St. Mark’s Summit:

LocationDistanceElevation
Parking Lot0 km920 m
Lodge/Start of Yew Lake Loop Trail0.2 km925 m
Junction with Black Mountain Trail0.5 km935 m
Junction with Old Growth Trail1.2 km940 m
Junction with gravel road1.4 km955 m
Junction with HSCT West1.7 km950 m
Junction with Bowen Lookout Trail2.3 km1040 m
Bowen Lookout2.5 km1005 m
Junction with Bowen Lookout Trail2.7 km1040 m
HSCT East/West Junction and Info Kiosk3 km1080 m
Strachan Meadows Bridge3.9 km1080 m
Start of ridge top section4.8 km1195 m
St Mark’s Summit Main Viewpoint6.3 km1345 m
St Mark’s Summit Lower Viewpoint6.4 km1325 m
St Mark’s Summit Main Viewpoint6.5 km1345 m
End of ridge top section 8.1 km1195 m
Strachan Meadows Bridge9 km1080 m
HSCT East/West Junction and Info Kiosk9.9 km1080 m
Trail leaves gravel road10.6 km1030 m
Trail joins gravel road11 km975 m
Trail leaves gravel road11.2 km945 m
Bottom of ski hill/lodge11.4 km920 m
Parking lot11.6 km920 m

Trailhead to the HSCT Junction Info Kiosk

To start the hike, walk through the parking lot and past the lodge. Depending on when you visit, the restaurant and cafe here may be open. Just past the end of the lodge, go straight onto the Yew Lake Trail leading into the trees. A minute later, follow the trail as it goes around the bottom of the ski lift and continues into the forest.

Ignore a trail heading left a few minutes later. It goes uphill to Black Mountain, Cabin Lake, and Eagle Bluffs. Continue straight. The trail here is part of wheelchair accessible loop so it is wide and flat. The babbling waters of Cypress Creek are to your left.

A wide and flat gravel trail goes straight between tall trees and low bushes. This is the Yew Lake Trail at Cypress Provincial Park
The wide and flat wheelchair accessible Yew Lake Trail.

A few minutes later, arrive on the shores of marshy Yew Lake, which is more of a pond. Stay on the trail as it goes around the lake and then curls right into a swampy meadow with some small ponds. Ignore a trail going right – this is the other half of the Yew Lake Trail.

A view of Yew Lake at Cypress Provincial Park in West Vancouver. The lake is more of a small pond with lily pads. It surrounded by tall hemlock and cedar trees with grass at the edges.
Yew Lake
A tiny pond in a sub-alpine meadow next to a trail on the Yew Lake Loop in Cypress Provincial Park
A frosty fall morning in the meadow at the end of the Yew Lake Trail.

Instead, to straight onto the Old Growth Trail. Walk back into the forest, which includes some huge Old Growth trees. At a fork, you can go either right or left – they meet up again less than 100 m later. A minute after the two trails meet up, emerge onto an old gravel road. This road is also known as the Howe Sound Crest Trail West (HSCT West).

A sign post marks the junction between the Howe Sound Crest Trail to St. Mark's Summit and the Yew Lake Trail at Cypress Mountain Provincial Park. The sign post is on the side of a gravel road with tall coniferous trees on either side.
The signpost where the Old Growth Trail meets the HSCT West.

Turn left and follow the road for a few minutes until the road ends and a trail goes right. Head uphill on switchbacks. This is the first real climb of the hike and it is steep in places. About 0.6 km later after gaining about 90 m, reach another junction.

Turn left and follow the trail gently downhill to Bowen Lookout. There is a great view down to Howe Sound, Bowen Island, and the Sunshine Coast. The trees are growing up a little bit and starting to block the view, but it’s still a great place to take a break.

The view from Bowen Lookout on the Howe Sound Crest Trail near Vancouver. There are small cedar trees in the foreground and two very tall dead tree trunks. The view is of Howe Sound and several small islands.
The view from Bowen Lookout.

When you are ready to continue, retrace your steps back to the HSCT West. Turn left and follow it uphill for a few minutes to a junction. There is a large info kiosk sign here with a trail map. The HSCT East heads downhill to the right.

A large roofed info kiosk with a map on the Howe Sound Crest Trail on the way to St. Mark's Summit near Vancouver. The kiosk sits at the intersection of two wide gravel trails. There are tall hemlock trees all around a group of hikers walking away from the camera.
The info kiosk at the HSCT Junction

HSCT Junction Info Kiosk to Strachan Meadows

From the info kiosk, turn left onto the main Howe Sound Crest Trail. There is a brief gap in the trees here with a distant view of the Lions.

View of the Lions Mountains from a gap in the trees on the Howe Sound Crest Trail near Vancouver
Zoomed in view of the Lions.

Follow the trail down a small hill. The trail curls north and stays fairly flat for the next kilometre. Keep an eye out for some huge trees through here.

A huge cedar tree next to a gravel trail in an old-growth forest on the Howe Sound Crest Trail in West Vancouver
A huge old-growth cedar tree.

You’ll cross two creek gullies. In the early season, these will be wet, but they mostly dry up by the end of summer. When you pass through these gullies notice how there are bushes here instead of trees. That’s because avalanches roar through here every winter and spring.

About 3.9 km from the start, reach a bridge in an open area known as Strachan Meadows. If you need water, this is the only reliable place on the hike to get it. But be sure to filter or treat it first as it is not safe to drink.

A small bridge on a gravel trail in Strachan Meadows on the way to St. Mark's Summit near Vancouver
The bridge in Strachan Meadows

Strachan Meadows to the Summit

The first few minutes after the bridge continue along on the same wide and well-maintained gravel trail you have been following since the beginning. The trail heads up a few switchbacks and eventually, the smooth gravel disappears and the trail becomes very rough, rooty, rocky, and eroded.

A badly eroded and rooty section of the Howe Sound Crest Trail on the way to St. Mark's Summit in Vancouver
I know it doesn’t look like it, but this IS the trail!

BC Parks has slowly been working on upgrading this trail for over 10 years, but due to chronic underfunding, they are only able to fix a few dozen meters of trail per year. And the remaining trail keeps getting more and more eroded. If you want to help make a change, write to your MLA to ask them to increase the BC Parks budget and focus on trail maintenance projects.

Pay close attention to trail markers as you work your way up the deteriorating trail. Many hikers have gotten lost in this section when they accidentally went off-trail. About 4.8 km from the trailhead, the trail reaches the top of a ridge.

The next few minutes are almost flat as you walk through the forest on a broad ridge top. But about half a kilometre later the trail starts to climb again, sometimes with the help of wooden stairs.

Wooden stairs in a sunny forest on the way to St. Mark's Summit in Vancouver
Wooden stairs in the forest

About 6 km from the start the trail starts to flatten out and you go through some mucky areas and past some tiny ponds. There are some sections of boardwalk to keep you out of the mud, but in other places, its unavoidable.

A section of boardwalk in a muddy section on the Howe Sound Crest Trail in Cypress Provincial Park near St. Mark's Summit
One of the boardwalk sections.

Reach the main viewpoint 6.3 km from the trailhead. You can scramble up onto the rock outcropping to the left of the trail to get a great view of Howe Sound and its islands. You can also look across to a clifftop perch jutting out to the north and slightly lower. That’s the lower viewpoint.

View of Howe Sound and islands from the main viewpoint at St. Mark's Summit
View to the southwest from the main viewpoint
View of Howe Sound, islands, and people on a nearby cliff from St. Mark's Summit
Looking across to people at the lower viewpoint.

To get to the lower viewpoint, continue on the main trail for a few more minutes, then follow a faint trail to the left. This trail is not officially maintained and in a couple of places is very steep. Be careful as you follow it down to the viewpoint. There are actually several trails here so choose the most travelled and safest options.

View of Howe Sound and Bowen Island from the top of St. Mark's Summit in Cypress Provincial Park in Vancouver
View from the Lower Viewpoint

You’ll get a panoramic view from the lower viewpoint, but be careful as the drop-offs are deadly. A dog nearly died here a few years ago when it slipped out of its harness. And please make room for others at the viewpoint. It might seem like a great place to chat and have lunch, but you’ll be preventing other people from enjoying the view if you sit down here.

Eleven hikers sitting on a rock and blocking the viewpoint at St. Mark's Summit
All of these hikers are sitting down to have a break at the viewpoint, blocking access to the view for other hikers. Many of them are not even sitting in a way that faces the view! Please don’t do this. Make room for everyone at the viewpoint.

When you are done, make your way back to the main trail. Some trails from the lower viewpoint go north to connect with the HSCT on its way to Unnecessary Mountain and beyond to the Lions and eventually Porteau Cove. Make sure you are going south if you want to get back to the parking lot!

Note: None of the viewpoints are at the true peak of St. Mark’s Summit. It’s about 20 minutes higher in the trees to the east of the trail. There are a few faint boot paths through the trees to get there, but the summit itself is in the forest with no views, so few people bother.

Summit Back to the Trailhead

To get back to the trailhead, retrace your steps past the main viewpoint, down past the mucky ponds, across the ridge, and down the switchbacks. Continue on the smoother trail over the bridge in Strachan Meadows, and then through the gullies in the flat section.

Arrive back at the Info Kiosk Junction 9.9 km into your hike. You can follow your earlier route back to the parking lot, but instead, I recommend a more direct route.

From the kiosk, go straight on the HSCT East (don’t turn right onto the HSCT West towards Bowen Lookout). Follow the trail downhill. Within a few minutes, it turns into a gravel road. A few hundred metres later, look for a sign pointing to a trail going right. You can stay on the gravel road and follow it onto a ski run, but the trail is much nicer.

Turn right onto the trail and take it downhill into a beautiful forest. The trail emerges onto another gravel road next to a huge green water tower a few minutes later. Follow the road (which is actually a ski run) downhill. At an open area on your right about 200 m later, you can choose to stay on the ski or go right onto a forest trail one last time.

A giant green water tower next to a trail sign on the Howe Sound Creat Trail.
The junction of the HSCT East at the water tower.

The ski run route and the forest trail route meet up in front of the lodge within a few minutes. Follow the path along the side of the lodge to head back to the parking lot and finish the hike.

The end of the Howe Sound Crest Trail near the bottom of the ski lifts and the lodge at Cypress Mountain in West Vancouver.
The end of the trail near the bottom of the ski lifts and the lodge.

Winter Hiking and Snowshoeing to St Mark’s Summit

With plowed road access to the trailhead thanks to its location at Cypress Mountain ski area, it can be tempting to think that St Mark’s Summit makes a great snowshoeing destination.

However, it is a much more challenging and potentially dangerous trip in winter. The trail markers are harder to see, so it is easy to get off track. You will need to be comfortable with navigation. I use the Gaia GPS app.

Each winter there are several Search and Rescue call-outs for lost skiers and snowshoers in this area. It has lots of steep cliffs and terrain traps. Several people have died when they got lost in the snow and then either succumbed to hypothermia or fell off cliffs looking for a way back to the trail.

The trail also has dangerous avalanche terrain, especially between the junction of the two branches of the HSCT and the bridge in Strachan Meadows. Right after the junction, the trail passes through several avalanche chutes. Each winter, avalanches come roaring down these chutes, right across the trail. One year a friend of mine was crossing one of these chutes in the spring and was knocked down by a small avalanche. Thankfully the outcome wasn’t worse!

Map showing the avalanche hazard on the St Mark's Summit Trail near Vancouver. The map is colour coded to show areas with more potential hazard.
This map shows the slope angle along the trail. Darker colours have steeper slopes. As you can see, there are very steep slopes above and/or across the first part of the trail. These are the areas of the greatest potential avalanche hazard. I used the premium version of Gaia GPS to generate this map. It’s a great tool for identifying avalanche terrain.

The first part of the trail up to Bowen Lookout makes a great snowshoe trip since it isn’t in avalanche terrain (and it’s on my list of the best places to snowshoe near Vancouver).

Winter hiking at Bowen Lookout
Hikers at Bowen Lookout in winter.

But you should not attempt the trail to St Mark’s Summit past Bowen Lookout in winter unless you have winter navigation experience and avalanche training. Check the avalanche forecast before your trip.

The trail to Saint Mark’s Summit is one of the most popular trails in Vancouver, which isn’t surprising since it has such an amazing view. If you have questions about the trail, ask them in the comments. I’d love to help.

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Taryn Eyton