6 Badass Vancouver Hikes to Get You Dreaming

For those who eat mountains for breakfast.

Throughout our COVID quarantine crisis, I’ve tried to stay sane by keeping my eye on the mountains. Now, with the re-opening of parks and outdoor rec, plus some unseasonably hot spring weather, I’m more pumped than ever to get back to the trails. I thought I’d share with you a list of my favourite badass Vancouver-area hikes to help inspire some dreaming. While these behemoth peaks won’t be free from snow until July or August, now is the time to start training for long days in the mountains. Or, tackle them in the snow if you have the right gear and know-how. So read on, train hard, and be a rockstar!

Black Tusk

The king. Hard to miss the sharp tooth in a low blue sky on a summer drive up to Whistler. Its iconic spire makes it one of the most famous, and likely the most recognizable, peak north of Vancouver. It made the Badass List for a number of reasons: its length, its elevation gain, and the low-grade scrambling up some rock chimneys required to reach its summit. Clocking in at 27 km and 1750 m of gain, it is no small day trip. In fact, many elect to do it as a two-day trip, as there are some nice campgrounds (either Garibaldi Lake or Taylor Meadows) mid-way through. However, the terrain is relatively easy and well-paced (at least until the end), and can be done in a day.

Looking down on Garibaldi Lake as we make for the top of Black Tusk. Some famous peaks – most obviously the Table and the Garibaldi massif – can be seen in the top left.

A gradual climb to Taylor Meadows through the woods can be completed at a brisk pace, and the entire middle section through Taylor Meadows in stunning Garibaldi park is blissfully flat and insanely scenic. The next climb gets a little steep, and downright not fun as you trek up a loose scree slope, but following that, you get to enter full badass mode as you scramble up a couple rock chimneys to the summit. And don’t worry: you don’t have to be a rock climber. Just take your time, give others a lot of space, watch for falling rocks, and bring a helmet! This hike is easily conquerable in a day (8-10 hrs) if you’re in good shape.

Loose scree and patches of snow near the summit. This is was the hardest part, but kind of felt like being on the moon!

Golden Ears

The massive leader of prodigious Golden Ears Park, this one made the Badass List due to its length and lightly technical terrain. Coming in at a whopping 24 km round trip, with 1700 m of gain, many elect to do this as a two-day trip, staying the night in the Alder Flats campground part-way through the trail.

The view looking out on the Fraser River from the top of Golden Ears.

A slow start from the West Canyon trailhead through a lovely green forest becomes a solid crunch as you gain elevation midway through. But once you break free from the trees, about two thirds of the way through, you are treated to jaw-dropping panoramas from the ridgeline for the rest of the way. If you’re keen for sunrises and sunsets, trying camping just below the peak. Check this one out if you’re into high view-to-hike ratios!

Enjoying the wildflowers and the looming peak!

The Lions

Perhaps the most recognizable peaks on the Vancouver city skyline, this twin summit is not for the faint of heart, which has earned it a place on the Badass List. An unrelenting climb, plus 16 km of length and 1300 m of gain, the trail ends in an intense scramble up the West Lion. While accessible for non-rock climbers with some confidence, the high level of exposure on the class 4 terrain give many pause, and results in many hikers opting out of the final climb. You’ll know you’ve hit the end of the ‘safer’ trail when you’re on the plateau before the final wall (with the below view) – to begin the climb, you have to descend a bit via a fixed line, then head straight up!

The East and West Lion. This is about where you stop if you’re not comfortable scrambling up the rock face on the left-hand side.

Some tips for this one – don’t attempt the final climb unless you’re confident. Test your holds before putting your weight on them, take your time, and always maintain three points of contact with the rock (eg: two feet and one hand, or two hands and one foot). Remember that coming down can be harder than going up, so assess your comfort carefully. Finally, bring lots of water – unless you go earlier in the season and hit snow-melt, you won’t find much water on this trail, and you’re going to want it.

The view from the top of the West Lion, looking down on the East Lion and off towards Vancouver. You can’t actually climb the East Lion, as it’s in the protected watershed area.

Mt Elsay

A lesser-known trail, Mt Elsay made the list for several reasons: one, it is, in my opinion, one of the best hidden gems on the North Shore; two, it is full backcountry, and will require you to get some good directions; and three, it is pretty long, with tricky slopes and an unrelenting boulder field that may crush your soul. Plus, there’s Mario mushrooms (berserkers) along the trail, although I don’t advise you partake…

Looking down onto Elsay Lake, a popular backcountry campground, from the summit.

Elsay can be done in a loop from the Mt Seymour trail by diverging off the main trail at the col between the second and third peaks, skirting the west side of Seymour, and ending with a steep climb up Elsay. On the descent, you can take a left into the boulder field, taking you towards Elsay Lake, then follow the trail back up the other side side of Seymour until you encounter the Seymour-Elsay Lake junction (marked with a park sign). From here, follow Seymour’s trail back to the parking lot. For a more relaxed trek, consider camping at Elsay Lake, a popular site, for the weekend.

The peak of Elsay, looking out towards Vancouver.

Mt MacFarlene

MacFarlene has the distinction of being one of the hardest hikes I’ve ever done, and I’ll tell you why: grade. The start of this trail is insanely steep, and the creator clearly did not believe in switchbacks. My calves burned out quick, making the final summit push, a class 3 scramble, an absolutely exhausting endeavor, but boy was the view worth it.

Looking down onto Lower Pierce Lake. You’ll pass by this lake, then follow a stream up the basin to Upper Pierce Lake.

A bit of a drive from Vancouver, located in the Chilliwack River Valley on the way to Chilliwack Lake, this trail, like all the others, can be done as a two-day trip. Featuring two stunning lakes to camp at – Upper and Lower Pierce Lake – as well as an amazing panorama of peaks, including the edge of the towering Cascades in Washington, you won’t regret taking your time. At 20 km, 1800 m of gain, and serious grade, it’s an intense day trip, but a must-see trail any way you do it.

The top of MacFarlene, looking out towards an amazing ridgeline and the jagged peak of Mt Slesse.

Sky Pilot

Sky Pilot is the crown jewel of the Badass List. It is the most adventurous trail here, and I would caution that this is the line at which hiking begins to transition to light mountaineering. It should only be attempted by those in very good shape, with lots of experience in the mountains, and is a trail that should be properly researched and planned, as a guidebook and route finding skills are required. That being said, it’s probably my favourite Vancouver-area trail. The challenge, the view, and the satisfaction are unbeatable. It made the list for the feeling of full-fledged adventure that can be found surprisingly close to civilization: at hour four, you’re trekking up a glacier with an ice axe, and by hour ten (if you’re quick), you can be having a beer back in Squamish. BC rocks.

Stadium Glacier in September, looking back on Mt Habrich and Al Habrich’s Ridge. Mt Garibaldi looms in the background.

Located in Squamish beyond the Sea to Sky Gondola territory, you’ll have to either take the gondola up and down (and be mindful of operating hours!) or use a 4×4 to get up the Mamquam FSR, which ends pretty close to the top of the gondola. From here, follow the resort’s Sky Pilot Valley trail until the maintained trails ends at a large talus field. From here, the route finding begins. Using a guidebook, plus a few cairns and markers, you’ll make your way across a river, then across the side of the mountain to the bottom of Stadium Glacier. In early season, this will be snow and ice – an ice axe and spikes/crampons are recommended. In late season, the glacier is nearly gone (tragically). Topping out the glacier and making you way to the base of Sky Pilot will leave you at the infamous ‘pink slab’, the trickiest and most dangerous section of low fifth class scrambling, followed by a few fourth class chimneys. Some ups and downs will deposit you on the summit and leave you with some amazing views of Squamish, Garibaldi Park, and Howe Sound.

Looking up towards the top of Sky Pilot. Still a ways to go!

Tell me about your big objectives for the summer! What have you been dreaming about while parks have been closed? Leave me a note in the comments below!

4 thoughts on “6 Badass Vancouver Hikes to Get You Dreaming

    • Emily says:

      Depends which one! Elsay, MacFarlane, and Sky Pilot are pretty quiet, whereas the other three are quite famous, so get busy on hot summer weekends. Right now, things are quiet, but it’s still the early season. Thanks for reading! 🙂


  1. carolinehelbig says:

    Love this post! I’ve been wanting to go to Mt. Elsay for years and you’ve given me a kick to get out there this summer. I like the idea of camping there. Although I only made it to the base of Sky Pilot I loved this hike. Your last photo looks so familiar. I think it was right around there that we scrambled down a really steep, treed slope to return to the lodge via the Skyline Ridge trail.


    • Emily says:

      I’ve never taken the Skyline Ridge Trail back, but I’ve seen people heading that way for a loop. I’ll have to try that sometime. Hope you get the chance to get out to Elsay this summer – it’s definitely worth the effort!
      Thanks so much for reading Caroline! 🙂


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