Stretching along the eastern shore of Howe Sound, Lions Bay to Britannia Beach is a series of small communities and parks offering some gorgeous views, outdoor recreation and 30 km of some of the most spectacular driving in Canada. For many travellers, the area is quickly passed through on the way to Whistler, but if you have the time, there are some options if you want to stop and explore.
Beginning north of West Vancouver and extending northwards along the coast to Shannon Falls Provincial Park, the area is dominated by Howe Sound and the Coast Mountains. The mountains are steep so there is very little area for settlement, so it makes for dramatic scenery but just a handful of communities and parks — Lions Bay, Porteau Cove, Furry Creek and Britannia Beach.
Historically, the area was important for its logging and mineral resources. These industries have declined so the focus has shifted to tourism and accommodating the spillover growth from Vancouver, Whistler and Squamish.
The only road in and out of the area is the Sea-to-Sky Highway (Hwy 99), which connects the communities to West Vancouver and Vancouver to the south and Squamish and Whistler to the north. It is roughly a 30-45 minute drive from Vancouver.
Translink provides daily bus service, Route C12, connecting Lions Bay to the Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal and Caulfeild Village in West Vancouver. The bus generally runs hourly. Other communities in the area, such as Porteau Cove and Britannia Beach, are not reachable by bus.
A car is pretty much the only way to get around. You can cycle, but Highway 99 is hilly and windy, and the traffic moves fast.
See and do
- 1 Britannia Mine Museum (British Columbia Museum of Mining), Hwy 99, Britannia Beach, ☏ , toll-free: . Daily 9AM-5:30PM. An interesting look at the history and operations of the Britannia Mine, which operated for 70 years and was one of the largest copper producing mines in the world at its peak. Admission includes a guided tour on a train into one of the old tunnels with demonstrations of some of the machinery that was used in the mine and, BOOM!, a movie and special effects show that brings to life the old mill that separated the copper from the stone. There are also a number of exhibits on the history of the mine and the community around it, a machine shop with relics of the mining years, some videos on geology and mining, and the opportunity to do some goldpanning. There's stuff for the kids to do as well, with a play area outside and a number of exhibits designed to interest children. The guided tours are at specific times and should be booked when purchasing your ticket. $20/$29/$32/$35 (child 5-12/youth 13-18/seniors/adult). Family pass $125.
- 1 Furry Creek Golf & Country Club, 150 Country Club Road, Furry Creek, ☏ , toll-free: . Open mid-March to mid-Oct. 18-hole, par-72 golf course with abundant scenery and wildlife. Made famous by the Happy Gilmore movie. $99 July-Sept with discounted rates at other times of the year and for matinee/twilight tee times (fee includes golf cart).
- 2 Murrin Provincial Park, Hwy 99 (2 km north of Britannia Beach and 9 km south of Squamish). Open year round. A small day-use park with a good lake for swimming (it's small enough to get warm in summer), some short hiking trails and a range of rock climbing routes. The Browning Lake Trail circles and the lake and the nearly 2 km Loop Trail climbs through forest and by rock outcrops to the Quercus Viewpoint, which has a very nice view of Howe Sound, the Coast Mountains and the Tantalus Range. The Loop Trail has some steep sections with rocks and roots (total elevation gain is about 130 m) so is considered more intermediate in difficulty. On the east side of the road, across from the Murrin Park parking lot and about 100 m north, is the trailhead for the Petgill Lake hike. The hike is about 11.5 km and offers some great views of Squamish and Howe Sound. The elevation gain is about 600 m and there are some steep sections. Free.
- 3 Porteau Cove Provincial Park, Hwy 99 (38 km north of Vancouver and 20 km south of Squamish). Open year round. A small provincial park on Howe Sound for day-use or camping. There is a beach although the water is very cold for swimming. Diving is also popular with an artificial reef created by two sunken ships just offshore. Day use is free.
Hiking the Howe Sound Crest
Running along the ridge of the Coast Mountains from Porteau Cove south to the Cypress Bowl ski area in West Vancouver, is the Howe Sound Crest Trail. This 29-km hike passes over or by some thirteen peaks and many lakes, tarns and alpine meadows, including the Lions, the distinctive two bumps seen on the Vancouver skyline. Tackling the entire 29-km hike should be planned carefully as campsites and sources of freshwater are limited. However, if you don't mind walking up a mountain, access points from Lions Bay and Porteau Cove make for popular dayhikes that offer some tremendous views and ample exercise. These hikes access high mountain terrain and are often under snow cover from November through June (and sometimes longer, depending on weather conditions). Trailheads near Highway 99 are:
- 4 Deeks Lake Trailhead, Porteau Rd exit (1 km south of Porteau Cove). This is the northern terminus of the Howe Sound Crest Trail. The hike leads to Deeks Lake and the start of it provides some nice views of Howe Sound. It is roughly 14-km round-trip to the lake and back, with 1000-m of elevation gain.
- 5 Lions Bay - Sunset Dr Trailhead, end of Sunset Dr, Lions Bay (take the Lions Bay Ave exit to Bayview Dr and make a left on to Sunset Dr). This is the trailhead for three hikes that access different points -- The Lions, Mount Harvey and Brunswick Mountain -- on the Howe Sound Crest Trail. These are very steep hikes (1300-1600 m of elevation gain) and fairly lengthy, coming in between 13 - 15 km round-trip. The trail to the Lions is also referred to as the Blinkert Trail.
- 6 Lions Bay - Mt Unnecessary Trailhead, end of Oceanview Rd (take the Lions Bay Ave exit and turn right onto Oceanview Rd). Trailhead for the hike to Mt Unnecessary. Round-trip is about 9.5 km and 1300 m of elevation gain. As with other the other hikes listed here, there are some pretty good views from the top.
- There is a general store in Lions Bay next to the cafe.
- There is a souvenir shop at the entrance to the Britannia Mine Museum in Britannia Beach.
Restaurant options are few in this area. There are a couple of coffee shops/cafes and a restaurant associated with the golf club. More diverse food options are available in Squamish and West Vancouver.
- 1 Lions Bay Cafe, 350 Centre Rd, Lions Bay (take the Lions Bay Ave exit and turn left onto Crossing Creek Rd and then left onto Centre Rd), ☏ . Daily 8AM-7PM. General store and cafe with a selection of sandwiches and baked goods. Drinks include coffee, tea and some local craft beers. There's a small patio outside, which if you don't mind the sound of the highway traffic below, has a beautiful view of Bowen Island and Howe Sound. $3-11.
- 2 Mountain Woman, 50 Britannia Frontage Rd, ☏ . M-Th 11:30AM-4:30PM, F 11:30AM-6PM, Sa-Su noon-5:30PM. Fast-ish food and good value if you're in the mood for burgers, hot dogs, fish and chips, poutine or ice cream. Portions are reasonable and the food is not as greasy as you'd expect. The location is unique with the kitchen in a blue bus, a small indoor seating area (with some kids toys) and an outdoor patio. $5-11.
Like restaurants, accommodation options are fairly sparse and lower end. More options are available in Squamish and Vancouver.
- 1 Porteau Cove Campground, Hwy 99 - Porteau Cove PP (see directions above). There are 44 drive-in sites with electrical hook-up and 16 walk-in sites. Showers and flush toilets are available. Not all facilities may be available during the low season (Nov - Feb). Drive-in sites $30 (+ $8 for electrical hook-up) outside of low season, $16 otherwise. Walk-in sites $16 year-round.
- 2 Porteau Cove Legacy Cabins, Hwy 99 - Porteau Cove PP (see directions above). Log cabins that were built for the 2010 Winter Olympics and now available for the public to use. The cabins are one bedroom with a loft and can handle up to four occupants. They're set just back from the beach at Porteau Cove with a deck that provides views of Howe Sound and the Tantalus Range. Other amenities include a stove, mini-fridge, BBQ, microwave and three piece bathroom. $139 mid-Oct - mid-May, $179-219 at other times. Minimum stay of three nights is required Mar-Oct.
Cell phone coverage exists along the highway, although it can get weak at times. If you go hiking, cell signal will be variable. Expect to encounter blind spots.
|Routes through Britannia Beach|
|Whistler ← Squamish ←||N S||→ West Vancouver → Vancouver|