Hiking to Tunnel Bluffs: A Hidden Gem Overlooking Howe Sound

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Looking over Howe Sound from Tunnel Bluffs—C.Helbig

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!

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One of the first viewpoints along the Tunnel Point Trail—C.Helbig

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.

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Another Howe Sound viewpoint a bit further up the Tunnel Point Trail—C.Helbig

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.

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Beautiful Arbutus trees at one of the overlooks—C.Helbig

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.

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Tunnel Bluffs with view to Bowyer, Bowen, Gambier Islands and Sunshine Coast—C.Helbig

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.

 

Categories: Activities, British Columbia, Hiking, Places | Tags: , , , , | 15 Comments

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15 thoughts on “Hiking to Tunnel Bluffs: A Hidden Gem Overlooking Howe Sound

  1. With a view like that this is a hike that I would do over and over again if it was close to my home:)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This sounds wonderful! Perhaps we can do a (short) hike together later in the year when I’m more healed. *Finally* found some people who seem to be able to actually help me heal rather than just dismissing me as old and arthritic (three different doctors!) I actually had one doctor say “welcome to the club” and offer me anti-inflamitories! What I have is long-term muscle imbalance and I’m finally feeling I’ve found a way through to being fit and healthy again. Yay!
    You got some wonderful photos! I love Vancouver for all it’s connection to nature and wilderness. I don’t think I’ll ever get over being scared of bears though. Having been raised in Oz I’d much rather encounter snakes and spiders. But definitely not wasps!
    Wanna make a coffee date?
    Alison

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    • Hey Allison, sounds like you’ve been through a challenging healthy journey. I’m interested in hearing more as I too feel that I’ve been dismissed in the past for ongoing issues. I’d love to get together for a hike later in the season and absolutely lets do coffee soon. I’ve got relatives here at the moment, then off on another multi-day hike followed by a kayak trip, with a little work thrown in (I know…rough life!). I have a small window next Tuesday afternoon and possible Wednesday. If not, it’ll have to wait until Aug 15 on. Why don’t you send me a note at caroline_helbig@hotmail.com and let me know what’s good for you. Snakes and spiders…really!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Bears, wasps, ticks and 0h wait rockfalls. Rivalling the best of Aussie dangers here Caroline. The sound looks beautiful, your photos are lovely. You certainly are lucky to have all this close to home.

    Liked by 2 people

    • haha…I didn’t do such a good job promoting this trail, did I! Thankfully we came out unscathed…except for my old hips that are a little sore! By the way, the rockfall warning is for the highway (just thought I’d clarify). As I mentioned before, some of your Aussie dangers scare the life out of me, particularly snakes. Cheers Louise!

      Liked by 1 person

    • You’re an Aussie?! How did I miss that!
      Alison

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Incredibly beautiful photos. Thanks for sharing. TT

    Liked by 1 person

  5. The description of rope assists and steep switchbacks has my stomach in my heart just reading about it. You are quite the intrepid hiker obviously. It is not heights that scare me as much as sheer drops, which I guess I actually have quite a fear of and they make me sweat.

    However, I have to say that those views are quite magnificent and I will bookmark these for next time we are in Vancouver (we just were there for the first time a few months back ). Is there a way to experience the joys without the scare (for me?) factor? Beautiful photography.

    I look forward to checking out the link to read about the medicinal qualities of the flora. That is a topic that is very fascinating… the plant world is so full of healing properties.

    Peta

    Liked by 1 person

    • Peta, it’s actually not that bad. There are no sheer drop-offs along the trail itself (more just a grunt). The ropes are there to assist on steeper sections but it’s not dangerous).The drop-offs are at the viewpoints but you can stay well back and still get great views.
      There are a ton of view hikes in this area…all levels from easy to difficult with different scare factors. Let me know before you come next time and I can recommend some based on what you want to see/how much time/effort you want to put in. I particularly like some of the hikes in Cypress Provincial Park, in West Vancouver. If you don’t mind gondolas, there are amazing views and non-scary hikes at the Sea to Sky Gondola just before Squamish (about an hour drive from downtown) as well as Grouse Mountain in North Vancouver.
      Cheers! Caroline

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