I love discovering a new hike close to home. Tunnel Point Trail (to Tunnel Bluffs) is a hidden gem near Lions Bay, about 40 minutes from downtown Vancouver. It has amazing views over Howe Sound and you don’t even need to hike the entire 4.5 km to the bluffs for payoff—there are many terrific viewpoints along the way. For some reason, this trail doesn’t appear in any of the hiking books, and there is no signage on the highway, so it gets very little traffic. Once you get on the trail though, it is very well marked. At 9 km return, with 650 m elevation gain, it’s a great workout with a view, but it doesn’t eat up the entire day (budget about 4 hours including stops).
I’ve driven past the scenic pullout on the Sea to Sky Highway, 3 km north of Lions Bay, hundreds of times but I never knew there was a trail on the other side. The trail starts by the “Rockfall Hazard” highway sign where you’ll head into the forest. Almost immediately, there’s a big Douglas fir with a yellow sign announcing the Tunnel Point Trail. A few steps further, there’s an information board with map and messages. If you’re wondering what all the sticks on the ground are for, take one…your knees will appreciate it, especially on the way down.
The information board had a note about swarming wasps, and we saw another warning painted on a rock. This made me very nervous (I’d far rather see a bear than swarming wasps). We treaded lightly and listened carefully, but thankfully no sign of the nasty creatures. There’s also a notice about ticks in the area. Perhaps all this scary stuff has kept the trail quiet!
The trail is very steep for about an hour, but there are at least 4-5 marked viewpoints where you can take a break. The photo above is from an overlook just a few minutes from the highway and already it looks and feels very peaceful.
As you get further up the steep and gnarly switchbacks (there are a couple of rope assists but nothing difficult) the views become more panoramic, looking out over Bowyer, Bowen and Gambier islands.
Besides the outstanding views, there are impressive stands of old growth, Arbutus trees, and a few cool discoveries like the monotropa uniflora (also known ghost plant, Indian pipe plant and corpse plant). Check out the photo below of this fascinating parasitic plant. My hiking buddy, Shannon, passed on a great link that provides interesting facts about the ghost plant and its medicinal qualities—everything from relieving toothaches to nervous disorders.
After about an hour of relentless uphill, the trail levels out and it’s another pleasant 30-45 minutes to Tunnel Bluffs. The views over Howe Sound are sublime and there’s plenty of space to relax and take it all before the knee-knackering downhill.
On our way back down we met a man coming up with a giant piece of wood strapped to his back. “It’s the door for the outhouse at the Hat Hilton,” he said. “You should check it out.” Now that’s dedication schlepping a heavy door up a steep trail! The Hat Hilton is a cabin enroute to Hat Mountain (a long, steep slog up from where we are). It was built by volunteers for the hiking and mountaineering community. It sounds intriguing, but we’ll have to save a trip to the Hilton for another day!
Directions and Parking (from outdoorvancouver.ca)
Heading from Vancouver, the parking lot is about 3 km north of Lions Bay along the Sea to Sky Highway. You will cross over a small bridge over a creek marked “M”, and the parking lot is about 100 m further. However, you will need to drive about 1 km past the parking lot before you can get to a turnaround point. If you reach Porteau Cove, you’ve gone too far. Turn around when you can and pull into the parking lot. It will be marked as a rest area/ viewpoint. The lot has 24 parking spots and there are usually plenty of spaces available to park. You have to run across the highway (carefully) to the trailhead. Look for the “Rockfall Hazard” sign and head into the forest there.