Spring is probably the nicest time of year to hike this section of the Baden-Powell trail and the Lynn Valley Link offered a surprisingly nice way to turn it into a loop hike, despite several kilometres of street walking. It won’t win prizes for views or solitude, and more than half of the uphill climb takes place near the end, but on a sunny day and with a dry trail it was just the hike we needed.
We parked on Prospect Road where we were surprised to find plenty of parking. From there we hiked the Baden-Powell Trail east to Lynn Headwaters, where we picked up the Varley Trail and then the various connecting streets and parks of the shorter version of the Lynn Valley Link westwards to Princess Park and then north to rejoin the Baden-Powell Trail, where we retraced our route back to the trailhead.
The Baden-Powell trail between Mosquito Creek and Lynn Headwaters was mostly dry with very little mud and/or puddles. The trail was in pretty good condition – for a North Shore trail! – and was mostly quite good hiking, again by North Shore standards. The Varley Trail was a delight, as were a few trail segments in other parks.
The Lynn Valley Link was a new “trail” to us, and joins various parks and trails together to form several loop walks. (Some sections of the routes can also be used for mountain biking, though it’s not beginner terrain.) Read more about the Lynn Valley Link route (and download a PDF map) on the Lynn Valley Community Association website. We found the route to be well-marked, except in a couple of places where we should have stuck to the obvious main path rather than try to (over) interpret the route on the map we had photographed.
The section of Baden-Powell Trail from the top of Lynn Valley Drive through to Lynn Canyon suspension bridge was closed for boardwalk upgrades. The sign said the upgrades should be complete by July 2021.
Parking in Lynn Headwaters was $2 per hour up to a maximum of $12 for all day parking. There were (welcome!) washrooms at Lynn Headwaters and Princess Park.
Signs of spring were everywhere. In bud or bloom were yellow violet, streambank spring beauty, Siberian miners’ lettuce, skunk cabbage, Oregon grape, salmonberry, false lily-of-the-valley, wood anemone, bleeding heart, and something I recognized but couldn’t identify (could have been false Solomon’s seal?). We saw bunchberry shoots, sword ferns, while the blueberry and red huckleberry bushes are mostly out in full leaf. Plenty of birds were singing in the forest, including chickadees, robins, wrens, flickers, ravens, Anna’s hummingbirds, spotted towhees, and the chewy-chewy-chewy-chew-chip bird. (One day I’ll get a glimpse of it only to see it’s yet another little brown bird…!
Distance: 16.5 km
Elevation gain: 600 m
Route on AllTrails
- 🙂 Sunlight catching all the fresh spring greenery in the dark forest
- 🙂 Lunch in the sun next to Lynn Creek
- 🙂 Seeing the forest come to life again with patches of yellow violets and others
- 🙂 The sounds of the creeks and streams
- 🙂 Quiet moments on the trail
- 🙂 Discovering various small parks
- ☹️ Not much really – the street walking was hard on our feet in hiking boots, and the uphill at the end was tiring
This is not one of those Plan B hikes, but we certainly didn’t stick to our Plan A of yo-yo hiking a section of the Baden-Powell trail. Oh no. We had to go and make it longer with the requisite extra elevation gain, most of which was in the second-half of the hike. Anyhoo, it all worked out and we had a fine day of hiking. I mean, it literally was a fine day; a bit cloudy to start but soon clearing up to glorious sunshine, and the perfect temperature for hiking.
We parked at the end of Prospect Road, a short walk from the bridge over Mosquito Creek, and picked up the Baden-Powell Trail heading east towards Lynn Headwaters. The first few steps were a steep climb up away from the creek that quickly got us out of breath, but the path soon eased off to a gentler gradient through the forest, ascending among tall trees for the next kilometre or so. We passed a few hikers and mountain bikers, exchanging cheerful greetings each time, all of us clearly enjoying being outdoors.
Spring was making the forest come alive with fresh green growth showing up in patches here and there to brighten the dark and otherwise fairly barren ground. Many areas of second-growth forest on the North Shore are quite desolate and still feel like they’re only just recovering from the shock of logging, nearly a century later. The trees stand tall and straight, blending in to a solid backdrop in only a short distance, their canopies up to 50 m above our heads. Rusty-coloured dead snags of Douglas fir look ready to topple as they rot from below, while the burned-out remnants from past forest fires serve as a grim reminder of the past. Recovery takes time, more time than humans often like to allow.
However, this section of the trail has fared better than others and now has a developing understory of salal, Oregon grape, and western hemlock saplings, all of which add much-needed greens to the forest. Today, red huckleberry leaves glowed green where they caught the sun. Joining in were pink salmonberry along with bright yellow Oregon grape and violets. From high in the canopy, birdsong echoed through the forest. Add to that, the trail was dry and for once we didn’t mind the roots and rocks, soon settling into a steady hiking pace.
We reached the high point of the trail and began descending on a mix of mud, roots, and rocks, many of the latter placed to create a better trail for mountain bikers, a mixed blessing for hikers as the sloping rocks can be slippy. Trail builders had added rock steps in some spots to help out the hikers, which was much appreciated. Boardwalks crossed over small creeks and a few other wet sections. I’m not a fan of mixed-use trails but today (almost) everyone we encountered was respectful of other trail users which made the walking all the more relaxing.
The trail led us over streams and creeks that created a gentle background of white noise which rose and fell in volume as we walked. We came to a junction with a map we hadn’t seen before, highlighting a circuit called the Lynn Valley Link. Always looking for a way to hike a loop rather than simply go out-and-back we checked it out and discussed the possibility of adding it to our day. Being unsure of the distances we decided to let the idea sit at the back of our minds awhile. Descending to Mountain Highway we came to another map that showed something the previous map hadn’t: a shorter option that looked quite appealing.
As we approached Lynn Headwaters, we began encountering more hikers, and got caught behind a large group descending the zig-zagging steps down to the road. Thankfully everyone fanned out as we emerged from the forest and we turned left to find a spot for lunch, passing numerous patches of wood anemone in full bloom. We found a bench overlooking Lynn Creek and dropped our packs to take a seat, the cool breeze encouraging us to pull on our jackets again. Brr! But the sunshine was glorious and we basked as we ate our sandwiches. The rushing water was a wonderfully soothing backdrop and we found it hard to convince ourselves to move on again.
Over lunch we’d made our decision to turn our hike into a loop using the shorter version of the Lynn Valley Link. We backtracked to the parking lot, where I was momentarily distracted by another patch of wood anemones, and then headed off on the Varley Trail, which we learned was named after one of the famous Group of Seven artists, Frederick Varley. To our surprise, we read he was originally from Sheffield, a city close to where Maria grew up! We’ve often hiked this section of the Varley Trail when we’ve parked further down the road, but today it felt like a new trail and we found ourselves thoroughly enjoying the easy walking, all the while accompanied by the sound of the creek. Skunk cabbage bloomed in abundance in the boggy areas, its less-than-subtle perfume drifting across our noses. In truth I really quite like the smell of skunk cabbage, and it’s become one of my favourite signs of spring.
For nearly one-and-a-half kilometres the easy trail was a delight to walk. I’ve come to appreciate these easier trails in recent years; after spending so long hauling myself up and over roots and rocks, it’s nice to just walk. The Varley Trail ended with a climb up to meet the road at the entrance to Lynn Headwaters park, where we had to dodge the stream of people walking in. We had planned to continue on the Baden-Powell Trail but the next section was closed for boardwalk upgrades, which prompted us to reassess our route. We checked the map to find a way through to pick up the Link again near Lynn Canyon suspension bridge and set off down the road, soon reaching the side-street that would lead us there. Off the main road the world was suddenly much quieter again and we relaxed into the first part of our tour of the houses of North Vancouver. On a sunny day like this, it was hard to imagine a nicer place to live; peaceful, airy, and quiet with nature so close, though I suspect it’s a different story in the middle of winter when it’s grey and the rain is pouring.
We re-entered the trees and followed a gravel and mulch path for the next little while, encountering almost no one. The stillness of the forest was glorious and we were really enjoying a gentler start to the second half of our hike. Ha! Did I say second half? We hadn’t really taken on board that we weren’t yet half-way…. The trail led us back out into a sunny and peaceful cul-de-sac and we followed the signposts that directed us left then right, through a small park and out onto another street. We crossed Lynn Valley Road where we stopped to read a bit more about the trail: each of the larger maps had some information about its location, and here we read about early settler life in the Lynn Valley area.
Continuing east along more streets, we soon wished we had brought sunscreen and sunglasses: I’d left mine in the car on the assumption that we’d spend the entire day in the trees! Lesson learned. A short while later we entered Hunter Park where the newly-upgraded trail followed the meanders of Hastings Creek, a tiny patch of wilderness in the neighbourhood and the kind of area that I would have lived in as a kid. We had woodland backing on to our garden when I was young, and we had more woodland nearby where I spent so many hours exploring with friends, falling into streams and out of trees.
After another short spell of road walking (where we crossed the intersection of William and Shakespeare Avenues) we entered Princess Park and began a dusty climb underneath power lines, the ground below recently cleared of pretty much all living things. This was probably the least interesting part of the trail, especially as we now started climbing again, and it was used as a speedy descent for mountain bikers (as we soon found out…). Thankfully it wasn’t long before we could get back into the forest, although we lost the signs and ended up making our own way through the trees to rejoin the trail. We stopped for a break in the park, standing in the warm sun to try and dry off my t-shirt and backpack.
Feeling refreshed once more, we rejoined the trail and continued a gentle ascent, first in the trees then back under the power lines until we reached Braemar Road. Here we turned right, past all the bike-rack equipped cars and entered the cool forest again on the For The Kids trail, used as an ascent route for mountain bikers. This trail was fun as it zig-zagged back and forth in exaggerated meanders to maintain a gentle gradient, almost like walking the many turns of a labyrinth. Up and up we climbed, stopping to let a few mountain bikers pass before continuing upwards. Despite the climb, we were still really enjoying the day, sunlight streaming through the forest and a pure blue sky overhead.
At last we rejoined the Baden-Powell Trail and turned west to return to the car. Somehow we still hadn’t appreciated that our work was not done, and we spent the next 20 minutes wondering when the uphill would end! Despite that, the temperature was perfect and the forest was quiet, as most of the hikers, runners, and bikers had put in their mileage for the day. Finally the trail levelled off and we began to descend on tired legs. We were very glad the trail was dry so we didn’t have to work as hard to avoid slippery roots and mud, and we could more-or-less just hike. Another 20 minutes later and we reached the edge of the descent to Mosquito Creek, down the steps and over onto the bridge across the creek. We paused here for a moment to soak in the coolness of the air before the final few minutes back to the car.
Checking the stats later we realized we’d hiked over 16 km, somewhat more than our intended 11! Still, despite the road walking, we’d really enjoyed the hike, a little bit of rejuvenating forest, light, and water therapy to set us up for the work week. After a well-earned gelato stop in North Vancouver, we had a smooth and relaxing drive home, which is always a nice way to end a day of hiking!
We were surprised at how much we enjoyed this hike. If someone had put it to us beforehand we probably would have far less enthusiastic, but the unexpected bonus of discovering new places meant that we relaxed and let the route unfold before us. After this experience, I think we’ll try the whole loop at some point, and, on balance, I think I would definitely recommend this loop.