Before the construction of the original Second Narrows Bridge in 1925, the North Shore was a world apart, linked by ferries from Vancouver to Ambleside in West Vancouver. Hikers in summer and skiers in winter would make their way up the side of Hollyburn Mountain, at first on foot or by wagon, later by car and bus. Cabins were constructed, and trails brushed out. Grouse and Seymour Mountains developed in much the same way, although Grouse Mountain has always been the leader in commercial development.
Located on Vancouver’s North Shore, only fifteen minutes from downtown Vancouver and 4,100 feet (1,200 m) into the sky, Grouse Mountain is a year-round mountaintop playground that offers hiking, helicopter tours, paragliding, picnics and logging shows, sleigh rides and skiing…and magical views of the city and its surroundings. Skiing on Grouse Mountain.
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Your adventure begins as you step into the Super Skyride, a 100-passenger tram that glides you up the steep mountainside. In eight minutes you’re 3,700 feet (1,100 m) above sea level, and near the top of Grouse Mountain. (The aerial-tramway runs year-round, departing every 15 minutes from 9 am to 10 pm in summer.)
A ‘must see’ is the incredible high-tech mythology and history presentation about Vancouver in the ‘Theatre in the Sky.’
The first hiking trail up the side of Grouse Mountain was brushed out by the Vancouver Mountaineering Club in 1900, when a journey to the North Shore from town involved a boat ride, then a hike on foot or horseback to the base of the mountain. Almost a century later, Grouse Mountain continues to be a magnet for Vancouverites in search of a challenge – and companionship.
The Grouse Grind, billed as the world’s biggest stair-climb, is the outdoor venue these days to work out at and to meet new friends. During summer months, hundreds of trim, fresh-faced hikers ascend the steep-sided mountain from its trailhead on the east side of the Grouse Mountain parking lot at the north end of Capilano Road, usually in groups of twos and threes. A typical opening line once on top is, ‘What’s your time?’. If you complete the 1.8-mile/3-km climb, with a elevation gain of 2,760 feet/842 metres, in less than an hour, you’re doing better than average. If you beat 32 minutes for men, or 36 minutes for women, you’re the champ! A workout on the Grouse Grind is excellent preparation for a backpacking trip. This is a quick way to stretch your lower calf muscles (the ones you rarely call upon except with a 50-pound/22.5-kg pack on your back) into shape. If you’re hard-core, you’ll do the trail both ways. Other trails on the side of Grouse Mountain include the BCMC Trail (2.2 miles/3.5 km one way; allow two and a half hours), which begins from the same location as the Grouse Grind.
Mountain Biking: Mount Fromme, to the east of Grouse Mountain, sports a number of trails that are open to mountain biking, most of which intersect with Old Grouse Mountain Highway. The gravel-surfaced road once carried busloads of visitors to the top of Grouse Mountain. It’s long been closed to vehicles, but not hikers or bikers. To reach the gated trailhead, head to the north end of Mountain Highway, one of the principal streets that intersect with both Lynn Valley Road and the Upper Levels Highway. The Old Grouse Mountain Highway first begins climbing the side of Fromme, then Grouse. Keep track of the switchbacks to locate pioneer mountain-bike trail builder Ross Kirkwood’s Seventh Secret, which descends from the seventh major bend. Griffen, Roadside Attraction, Leopard, Crinkum Crankum, Cedar, Egg, and Dweezil are trails open to mountain bikes. You’ll find them spread along the north (uphill) side of the road soon after beginning the climb.
Grouse Mountain – the Peak of Vancouver – is the closest of three ski hills to Vancouver. Intermediate and advanced level skiers and snowboarders gravitate to Cypress and Grouse, while Seymour has the distinction of being the place where three-quarters of Lower Mainlanders learn to ski, and it’s got 5,000 pairs of rental skis (and snowboards) to prove it.
All three North Shore mountains have snowboard parks – Cypress has a dozen or more sprinkled around its slopes – which is a big draw for those who like to practice their moves as they launch off the top of an old school bus and other props that have been positioned to create jumps and chutes.
Perfect powder conditions do occur on Vancouver’s North Shore and, day or night, that’s the time to hurry up the mountains to catch winter at its best.
Caution: Unless you have winter tires (not all-season tires), don’t attempt to drive to Mount Seymour or Cypress in a snowstorm. The roads are plowed frequently but can still be hair-raising, even with a good grip on the road.
Grouse Mountain’s aerial tramway is the safest bet during a snow dump. Because of the moderating influence of the ocean, the texture of the snow that drops on the North Shore is heavier than that which falls inland. Coast Cement is not just the name of a local concrete company! Still, on those days when the temperature drops low enough, you will discover light, fluffy flakes of magic on the trails. Sometimes it snows all night then clears at first light: that’s when being a member of the crack-of-dawn club pays dividends. All three mountains open early (8 to 8:30am) and close late (11pm), and all have lighted trails with specially priced lift tickets after 4pm.
Getting there: Grouse is 7.5 miles (12 km) north of Vancouver, a 15-minute drive from downtown via Lions Gate Bridge and Capilano. Call BC Transit, to check times on the #232 and #236 bus routes to Grouse Mountain.