Lions Binkert Trail, North Vancouver, B.C.
Vancouver’s North Shore mountains are a trail running paradise, but most of the routes tend to play out in a similar fashion – trees, trees, trees… more trees, a big, stunning view, then back to more trees before finding yourself at home. As wonderful as it is to run under the canopy of the rainforest, the Lions Binkert also spends a lot of time giving you spectacular views of downtown Vancouver, English Bay, and, to the west, the fjordlike Howe Sound and its mountainous islands. In fact, quite counter to the norm on the North Shore, the Lions Binkert trail features incredible views for more than half of your total running time (this is especially so if you hammer the downhill). Named after Paul Binkert of the British Columbia Mountaineering Club ( bcmc), the trail was built in 1971 and climbs directly out of the town of Lions Bay to Vancouver’s iconic Lions, two side-by-side rocky peaks which are one of the dominant features of the landscape when looking north from the city. There are dozens of things in Vancouver
named for the Lions, including the historic bridge connecting downtown to North and West Vancouver.
All of this adds up to a very popular climb, so head out early (I’ve been there at 6 a.m. on a summer morning and not remotely been the first one there – parking near the trailhead is quite limited, and parking regulations are strictly enforced).
The first section of trail is an initially steep fire road, which becomes quite runnable soon enough. After a while you reach a creek bed with the usual uneven surfaces and loose stones, but this does not last long and soon gives way to a southbound traverse through typical North Shore forested trail. There are a couple of nice waterfalls, a short but scenic bridge crossing and a lookout with a nice but narrow tease of the view to come. And then the trail turns uphill. This section of trail is steep and heavily wooded, but eventually breaks out onto the ridge line just to the west of the Lions. As soon as you crest this ridge, the real joys of the trail become evident.
First, you see the northwest side of the West Lion looming over you – for first timers, it’s exciting to see up-close something that has always been such an important but distant part of the Vancouver landscape. As you follow the ridge to the south, you escape the trees and enter a boulder field, and the uninterrupted panoramic views start in earnest. Note: it is quite easy to reach this boulder field early enough that morning dew and a lingering freeze may be conspiring to make the rocks quite slick.
Wayfinding through the boulder field is straightforward with abundant paint markers and f lagging, and you are eventually funnelled into a short steep section which gains you the ridge line. Turning left at a “T” (and thus merging with the other main incoming trail to this area – the Howe Sound Crest Trail) you are now headed north again for the final approach to the Lions.
The ridge does not take long to climb, and before you know it you are right there – the huge West Lion, directly in front of you, and the East Lion off to the right revealing itself to be significantly lower in elevation, and a considerably steeper and nastier-looking peak.
The end of the trail is at the ridge just under the Lion. Here, you get incredible panoramic views including the Capilano watershed and reservoir, downtown Vancouver, the Inlet, Georgia Straight, Howe Sound, Enchantment Lake and many peaks to the north and east. You are also perched atop an amazingly sheer cliff to the west that, in and of itself, is exciting. Watch your step. (There is plenty of nice f lat space to hang out on – but that edge has a gravitational pull for those who can handle heights.)
Actually summiting the West Lion is a class-three scramble, so don’t attempt this unless you know what you are doing. But for those who are prepared, it’s very rewarding to summit a feature that is viewed from so many different locations in the city and surrounding areas on a daily basis.
Descending is made all the better because now those views are in front of you as you make your way back down the ridge, back down the boulder field, and down into the trees. But once you do finally find yourself back under that familiar canopy, it’s time to run fast. And it is an extremely fun, quad-pounding descent. By the time you reach the final steeper pitches of the fire road, you will likely find yourself grateful for the licence to hit the brakes and ease your way down the last little bit to the car.