The very popular Tunnel Bluffs hike is a Vancouver favourite, reaching one of the best Howe Sound viewpoints in the region. On a clear day the views of the sound, Bowen Island, the Sunshine Coast, Horseshoe Bay and the Sea to Sky Highway are truly epic. While it does involve some strenuous uphill hiking and a fair distance, most of the hike is on a wide, easy trail that can be handled by almost anyone.
You do have to traverse a couple of narrow log bridges and there is a bit of rock scrambling at the very end but nothing particularly technical.
Unfortunately, the original trailhead can no longer be used due to a 30-minute parking limit (imposed to leave space for people stopping off the Sea to Sky Highway and stop people from crossing a busy highway) at the Tunnel Point parking lot. It is also illegal to park on the shoulder of the highway and walk in. So, unless you get dropped off, you will need to hike in from Lions Bay.
Tunnel Bluffs Hike from Lions Bay FAQ
How long does it take to hike to Tunnel Bluffs?
3-5 hours. If you are fit and don’t need to take any breaks on the way up you might manage it in 3 hours including a short stay at the top to admire the view. However, we saw a wide range of people doing this hike and I would expect some probably took as long as 5 hours. It is a pretty significant uphill climb.
How far are Tunnel Bluffs from Lions Bay?
11 kilometres round-trip with 520 metres elevation gain from the trailhead. Although most people end up parking farther down the hill, which could add a kilometre or two and a bit more elevation gain.
When can you hike to Tunnel Bluffs?
From March to November is the best time to hike. However, because it is a relatively low elevation hike it rarely has snow and can be hiked most of the year. By early spring the trail is usually clear and it remains fine late into the fall. The viewpoint is sublime any time of year and can be a wonderful place for sunset (just make sure you have headlamps or flashlights so you can get back down in the dark).
How difficult is the Tunnel Bluffs hike?
Moderate. It is a pretty noticeable uphill climb, especially since most of the 500 metres of elevation gain comes in the first two kilometres. After that, the next 3.5 kilometres are mostly flat with just small undulations.
On the other hand, the uphill part is on a wide, easy logging road so at least you don’t have rocks, roots or slippery footing to deal with. The flat part has some mud and a couple of narrow log bridges to traverse and then at the very end you will have to do a bit of rock scrambling to make it to the viewpoint but as long as you are careful and take your time it shouldn’t be a problem.
Where do you park for the Tunnel Bluffs hike from Lions Bay?
The trailhead is on Sunset Drive in Lions Bay. The Tunnel Bluffs hike parking lot is small and is also used for the Mount Brunswick, Mount Harvey, Hat Mountain and Lions hikes so it fills up quickly. To make matters worse, it is a pay parking lot – $3/hr, you buy tickets at the dispenser at the trailhead.
Most likely you will have to park on the street. There are numerous spots on the shoulder along the way up. For the several blocks closest to the trailhead you need a Tunnel Bluffs permit from May to September. Farther down the hill there are no restrictions. Your best bet is to drive right to the trailhead, then make your way back down choosing the best spot you can find. This is the option we chose and we got a spot about 500 metres away. But others ended up adding an extra km to each side of their hike.
How do you avoid the crowds on Tunnel Bluffs Lions Bay trail?
First step, try to go on a weekday, as weekends can be crazy. Another good idea is to visit in the off-season if possible. The hike is accessible from early spring to late fall so it is usually possible to find a less popular time (be sure to check latest conditions if hiking in the winter). Finally, try to get there as early as possible. The majority of hikers don’t arrive until after 9 am so if you show up soon after first light it should be much quieter.
It is also a great place to watch the sunset when most of the other hikers have gone. Of course, if you do this make sure you have good headlamps or flashlights so you can get back down in the dark.
How far is Tunnel Bluffs from Vancouver?
From downtown Vancouver it will take about 40 minutes to drive to the Sunset Trailhead. Head north on the Sea to Sky Highway (Highway 99) until you reach the Lions Bay Avenue exit. Take the exit and merge onto Oceanview Road, followed by a left onto Crosscreek Road. Next is a right onto Centre Road, a left onto Bayview Road, then a left onto Mountain Road. Once you reach Sunset Drive, take a left and follow it to the parking lot at the end. Unless you get pretty lucky, though, you’ll probably ending up parking along Mountain or Bayview Road.
In the off-season you may want to check the Sea to Sky Highway traffic report to see the conditions before starting out.
Is the Tunnel Bluffs hike dog friendly?
Yes, dogs are allowed. Just make sure you keep them on a leash and follow normal etiquette (i.e. pick up after them).
Is Tunnel Bluffs camping allowed?
No, officially, there is no camping on Tunnel Bluffs and we certainly don’t recommend it. However, many people still do it. So, if you decide to take your chances, make sure you go the extra mile to be courteous to other hikers trying to enjoy the view. There isn’t much space at the top so don’t put your tent up until after everyone else has gone. And, of course, clean up after yourself (there are no toilets), pack everything back out and “leave no trace”. There is no potable water up there so either carry enough with you or bring something to sterilize stream water.
Tunnel Bluffs Hike Trail Overview
Tunnel Bluffs is all about the big viewpoint. Almost all the elevation gain comes in the first 2 kilometres along a somewhat dull service road through the trees. No views but a lot of nice forest. Just a few minutes in you will pass Harrison Trail heading left – just stay on the road past the water station on your right. After another 15 minutes or so you’ll reach a fork in the road with a gate straight ahead. Go right and head up on the road.
After 2 kilometres you will reach the Brunswick Trail / Lions junction – here the road ends and you follow the narrower Brunswick Trail to the left (north). From now on things are mostly flat and occasionally muddy.
Soon you should reach a junction with signs showing that Brunswick Trail continues to the right but you will want to follow the small plastic marker showing “Tunnel Bluffs” to the left. Now you are on Hat Trail and when you reach the final fork in the trail, stay left for Tunnel Bluffs (to the right the trail continues to Hat Peak).
The rest of the hike is pretty much in the trees the entire way – pleasant enough but never more than just a hint of a view. Other than a couple log bridge crossings over Magnesia Creek and M (Yahoo) Creek there is nothing unusual to deal with. At the very end you will need to scramble up some rocks and along some ledges but nothing that feels overly dangerous. Just take your time and watch your footing.
Then, from the rocky ledge at the top you are treated to a phenomenal look at Howe Sound featuring Bowen, Gambier and Anvil Islands.
On a clear day you can see all the way to Vancouver Island. There is a fair amount of space for people to spread out, take a break and enjoy the stunning view. It was the perfect spot for our lunch stop but others had the same idea which is why its a good idea to come early if possible.
Bring layers as it was noticeably cooler at the top. It is a steep drop off at the viewpoint so be cautious when near the edge. We watched a neighboring couples orange escape them and slowly roll over the cliff into oblivion. So, make sure to keep an eye on your belongings. We recommend downloading the Tunnel Bluffs AllTrails GPS map from Lions Bay so it can be used even when you are offline.
More Hikes Near Tunnel Bluffs
In an area full of outstanding viewpoints, Tunnel Bluffs still manages to stand out as one of the top picks in our 22 Best Squamish Hikes. On a clear sunny day it is absolutely worth a few hours of time and effort to get to this standout spot.
You could also use Tunnel Bluffs as your warmup hike before tackling the epic Stawamus Chief hike. Located a bit farther north near Squamish, “The Chief” is a tricky, strenuous hike involving ladders, chains and nearly 800 metres of elevation gain but you get to enjoy stunning views from three different peaks. A truly classic coastal hike.
Closer to Vancouver, British Columbia the Eagle Bluffs hike on Cypress Mountain was the most impressive of many good choices in North Vancouver. There are some great hiking options on little Bowen Island along with fantastic Snug Cove and if you happen to make it over to Vancouver Island, the East Sooke Coast Trail on Vancouver Island is a phenomenal coastal route.
Further inland, hiking in Kelowna offers plenty of variety but lacks a standout option. Finally, if you have the time to make it into Alberta, the Canmore and Banff area features several of the best day hikes we’ve ever done.
What to Take
It is always important to be prepared when venturing out hiking, especially in the mountains. Obviously, long, challenging hikes require more advance planning and safety gear but even for short hikes you still need to be properly equipped.
Dressing properly will make the experience much more enjoyable and carrying useful safety supplies can ensure you are prepared in case mishaps take place (as they tend to). Here is a quick checklist of items we alway carry, wear or use while hiking:
A good day pack is essential. We have recently become big fans of Gregory packs and would recommend the Gregory Miwok 18 for short hikes or when your gear is split between two people. And the Gregory Optic 48 for longer hikes. I know 48L sounds big but it is a super-light and comfortable pack that cinches down smaller when it isn’t full.
Water is obviously important and we go back and forth between using a Camelbak bladder and just a couple of water bottles. We also keep a few Aquatabs with us at all times just in case we ever run low and want to treat some river or lake water.
They are tiny and every now and then come in quite handy. It is always a good idea to carry some snacks as well. It never hurts and sometimes hikes end up taking longer than planned.
Laynni always hikes in compression leggings that she swears by for the extra knee, hip and muscle support.
Layers, baby! You never know what kind of weather nature will throw at you so it pays to be ready for anything. Obviously, the forecast might change what you carry but if there is any doubt (and there almost always is in the mountains), bring extra.
And just in case we are so impressed by the scenery that we decide it’s worth a photo with both of us in it we always carry the tiny, extremely handy octopus tripod.
Of course, a comprehensive first-aid kit is key to make sure those “mishaps” are simply inconvenient and don’t ruin your whole day.
Other useful items that we sometimes carry and sometimes don’t, depending on the hike:
Well, that probably covers most of it, although somehow we have even more to say on the matter in our Day Hike Packing List post. Check it out if you’re looking for even more detailed info.
Other useful articles you may want to check out: