The St Marks Summit hike is part of the epic Howe Sound Crest Trail that towers above the Sea to Sky Highway. At the summit, you’ll get uninterrupted views over Howe Sound and across to the Sunshine Coast. The trail starts at Cypress Mountain and winds its way up to the ridgeline where you’ll catch some of the most sought after views in Vancouver.
Accessing this trail is easy as it is less than a 40-minute drive from downtown Vancouver. And once you arrive, it isn’t even a particularly difficult hike to get to the viewpoint. It is the perfect combination for a day hike due to its close proximity to the city, moderate difficulty and spectacular views and this is why it is easily one of our favourite Vancouver hikes.
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St Marks Summit Trail Overview
How to Get to Cypress Provincial Park
To reach Cypress Mountain from downtown Vancouver, take the Trans-Canada Highway, Highway 1, out towards Whistler. The exit you need to take is Exit 8 onto the Cypress Bowl Road towards Cypress Mountain Ski Resort, which is well signposted.
The drive up to the base of the ski area is a fairly steep road via long switchbacks. There is a viewpoint about 1/3 of the way up this road called the Highview Lookout that is worth stopping at. It has uninterrupted views the whole way across the city, and it looks just as good at night time as well.
Once you reach the top of the mountain, there are several places to park your car. The main car park closes the gate at 7pm so if you plan on heading later in the evening, make sure you park in one of the many parking spots outside the gates. There is no fee for parking your car here.
If you wish to camp overnight along the Howe Sound Crest trail, then you must park in parking lot 3B. This is the only place where you are allowed to park overnight.
St Marks Summit Hike
There are a couple of different routes you can take to reach the summit but we recommend taking the slightly more scenic route to take in Yew Lake and Bowen Lookout. This makes the trail slightly longer but most of the extra distance is along flat gravel paths and it doesn’t involve any extra elevation gain.
From the parking lot, head straight passed the main lodge at the base of the ski lifts and as you enter the ski area you will see a trail marker with several different options. As you make your way passed the lodge keep an eye out for bears further up on the ski runs. They are extremely common here and if you have a good eye, you have a great chance of spotting black bears in the distance. They are also common on the trail, so make sure you are bear aware and have a bear bell and/or bear spray.
After around 5 minutes of walking along the gravel path, you will come to Yew Lake which sits in the valley between Mount Strachan and Black Mountain and is surrounded by dense forest. The trail meanders along the lake and through the meadow for several hundred metres before turning right and slightly upwards into the forest.
The entire trail is very well signposted and once you have passed Yew Lake you can follow signs for Bowen Lookout. After coming out of the forested area, you will come to a 3-way junction. Turn left to reach the lookout. After walking on this more open gravel path for a few minutes you will come to the base of the steep switchbacks which will take you higher up the mountain.
Although it is a steep climb, it only takes about 10 minutes to complete and you will catch glimpses of Howe Sound through the trees as you ascend. After a few hundred metres of following these switchbacks, there is another junction where you will turn left to reach Bowen Lookout which is less than 100 metres from the junction.
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The view from Bowen Lookout is a bit of a sneak peek at what the view from St Marks will look like. While you don’t get completely unobstructed views, you do get a good look straight across to Bowen Island and over to the Sunshine Coast.
Keep an eye out for wildlife as we saw chipmunks, lots of birds and a rabbit hopping around when we visited. Once you have taken in the scenery you can head back along the path and when you reach the junction turn left to continue up the trail to Saint Mark’s Summit.
After a few hundred metres you will reach another junction where you will turn left. From this junction you descend shortly and cross over a couple of streams. This is a good place to refill your water bottles as in the height of summer there are few other water sources available later in the hike.
Shortly after this, you will reach the beginning of another set of steep switchbacks. This is the steepest part of the hike but it is relatively short. Once you reach the top of the switchbacks it flattens out briefly before descending again. This is the end of the well maintained section of this hike and there are no more well-constructed gravel paths to walk along. It gets very muddy and the trail is covered in tree roots, so you will need to watch your step.
The trail remains flat for around 10 minutes before you reach another tricky part of the hike as you climb steeply up through the trees and navigate between the roots. Up until late summer this trail is extremely muddy and even in late summer there are still some muddy sections to pick your way through.
Eventually you will exit the forest and start to climb up what looks like a dry river bed (or what may actually be a small creek depending on the time of year you visit). Climb this for around 10 minutes to reach the summit.
St Marks Summit Viewpoint
Once you reach the top of the St Marks Summit hike there is a wall of rock to your left which you can climb up and you will see the entirety of Howe Sound open up in front of you. You get uninterrupted views across all of the different islands including Bowen and Gambier as well as all the way over to Vancouver Island.
The viewpoint is right on the edge of a cliff and it drops away dramatically several hundred metres below, adding to the whole experience. It really is a special view and it’s amazing to look over to the Sunshine Coast and see all of the mountains rising up on the opposite shores that just seem to go on forever. You also get a wicked view over to the next peak along the Howe Sound Crest trail which is Unnecessary Mountain.
From this main viewpoint, you can also see a secondary viewpoint as well, which in our opinion is even cooler. Follow the trail slightly further on until you see a trail off to the left. Follow this down until you reach the second viewpoint which gives you better views further up Howe Sound towards Squamish and Anvil Island.
Enjoy hanging out on the rocks here and having your mind blown by the views. As we have mentioned, this is one of the busiest hikes in Vancouver so our recommendation to beat the crowds is to go for sunset. Not only will you have fewer people around but the view is about 100x better at sunset.
The sky turns orange and purple and the mountains surrounding you get lit up with golden light which is special to witness. If you stay for sunset, then you can either hike back using a strong headlamp or you can actually camp along the Howe Sound Crest Trail.
Another good tip is to visit during the week when there will be fewer people. The weekends can get a little crazy here and all of the hikes around Cypress, like Eagle Bluffs, will be super busy.
Camping along the Howe Sound Crest Trail
Backcountry camping is actually allowed anywhere along the Howe Sound Crest Trail as long as you are outside of the Cypress Alpine and Nordic ski areas. No facilities are provided so you need to pack in what you pack out and there are no bathrooms up here. While you can camp anywhere along the trail there are a few recommended spots from BC Parks. These are Magnesia Meadows, Brunswick Lake and Deeks Lake.
There are no defined tent pads along this trail and campers are encouraged to find areas that are already clear to minimize the environmental impacts. Unfortunately, there are also no campfires permitted along the trail. Check out our full guide on the best tents for hiking and backpacking!
You can read more about camping along the Howe Sound Crest Trail here.
Whether you stay overnight or just come for the day, you will still take the same route home. Follow almost the same route all the way back to the parking lot. The only difference when returning is that when you reach the junction for Bowen Lookout you should go straight rather than turning right towards the lookout. This is a faster route home and provides different scenery than you will have seen on the way up.
Follow the trail through the trees and eventually, you will come out next to a large green water tank. Turn left here towards the main ski runs and follow the ski run back to the base of the ski lifts and on towards the parking lot.
The journey home is much quicker and easier than the hike in as the majority of it is downhill.
The St Marks Summit hike was top of our summer bucket list for hikes around Vancouver and even though we went in with high expectations, we still thought it was phenomenal. The uninterrupted views of Howe Sound are unbeatable and watching it all bathed in golden light was something special.
If you haven’t done this hike yet, then this is the sign you were looking for to complete it. And if you have completed it let us know if this is your favourite hike near the city or what other hikes would you recommend?
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