The Lower Mainland
One of my favourite views of Vancouver can be found from the top of Grouse Mountain. Billing itself as the “Peak of Vancouver”, the mountain is actually located in North Vancouver, just across the Burrard Inlet. You can distinguish this mountain from the others on the North Shore by the enormous, wind turbine near the top, but I’ll get to that in a bit.
First, you must get to the top and there are a few ways of doing so. Take the road up the mountain passed the Capilano Suspension Bridge, to the main parking lot at the base. There is plenty of free and paid parking if you choose to drive or you can take public transit. The more adventurous of us pedal their way up but be forewarned, the road is quite steep.
Once there, you can climb the infamous “Grouse Grind” or you can take the gondola, also known as The Skyride. I’ve done the climb and I must say it really is exactly as advertised: “Mother Nature’s Stairmaster”! Open only during the summer months, the Grind is not for everyone and certainly worth trying once. Many people do it all the time and there is even a system to time your efforts. Check out the board at Alpine Guest Services to see your results or those of your fellow climbers. Daily best times are also posted on their website. For most, the hike will take an average of an hour and a half, but the daily bests are much faster than that. It took me about an hour last time I did it.
The Grind can be pretty hectic, more like a motorway. If you want to enjoy the hike as well as get some exercise, there is an alternative route that runs close to the main trail. Taking a bit longer and covering more ground, this trail, called the BCMC, can be found roughly 200 metres up the Grouse Grind where a junction splits the trails. The GG heads up to the left but you will keep straight here and cross a dry creek bed. On the other side of the creek bed there is another junction (the Baden-Powell trail heads straight), turn left here heading up the hill, following the markers. A word of caution: the North Shore mountains are steeper and more rugged than they appear; never leave the trail and always tell someone where you are going and when you expect to return. Many hikers have found themselves lost on these mountains and not all have lived to tell the tale.
If you didn’t bring your hiking shoes or the GG sounds like your idea of a bad time, then the gondola ride may be more your style. You will need to pay a fee to ride but the view is worth it. If you’re a local, you may want to consider a pass. If you have dinner reservations at The Observatory, the ride up and down is complimentary. The Skyride is actually a fun ride, if you don’t mind riding a bit like a standing sardine and swaying to and fro occasionally. The staff do their best to entertain and inform the groups on the way up and if you’re lucky enough to secure a window spot, the ride provides you with your first opportunity to see Vancouver as it gets increasingly smaller.
Waiting for the Skyride
At the top, there is plenty to do no matter what time of year you visit. In the summer you can: observe animals, watch a lumber jack show, head up the turbine, watch a movie, paraglide, zipline and of course, eat.
There is a grizzly bear habitat on the mountaintop and these large animals amble about their enclosure for our viewing pleasure. Both bears were found as cubs, one orphaned and the other seemingly so. Now they are full-grown and living side by side, which is not normal bear behaviour but fortunately works for them. There’s an interpretive program if your interests run more towards learning than observing.
If you’ve never seen a Grizzly up close, behind a fence is the best way
Relieving himself of an itch
New to Grouse is the Remarkable Raptor program. Featuring owls, hawks, a vulture and an eagle, the objective is to experience these birds of prey through the Birds of Motion show or via a guided eco-walk through their natural territory. Grouse Mountain is also doing their part to raise awareness for BC’s rarest bird: the Northern Spotted Owl. Nearly extinct in the region, the owl, which lives primarily in old growth forests, is being breed in captivity in hopes of repopulating the wild. For more information visit the Mountain View Conservation and Viewing Centre‘s website.
On your way up the Skyride, you may have noticed what you thought were dogs, just off the parking lot. You would be greatly mistaken though as these are actually wolves. Hand raised for the entertainment industry and no longer needed, these wolves now call Grouse their home since releasing them into the wild was not an option. Be sure to check them out from the parking lot.
The wind turbine or The Eye of the Wind, as it’s called is the only wind turbine to have a viewPOD allowing for a 360° view of the surrounding area. The glass pod is only metres from the spinning blades but an ongoing dispute between BC Hydro and the mountain means that the wind turbine is often off, which is a shame since it was built to generate 25% of the energy that the mountain uses.
Eye of the Wind
Notice the ViewPOD near the blades
I have not tried the other summer activities, which include ziplining and paragliding, but paragliding is on my list for next summer. I’ll tell you how it goes, I expect it will be amazing.
The mountain provides just as much value in the winter with skiing, snowboarding, and ice skating taking centre stage. There are also sleigh rides, Snow-Limo, zipling and the turbine to explore. Not to mention having a cup of hot cocoa in the lodge.
Speaking of drinks, there are several places to eat at the top. There’s Lupins, a cafe style eatery, Beaver Tails for an iconic Canadian Treat, the Altitudes Bistro for casual dining and lastly The Observatory for fine dining.
You can spend an entire day here, regardless of the season and you will feel miles away from city below. Head up on clear day for the best views but even in the fog, the adventure can be worth the trip.
Grouse Mountain is located at: 6400 Nancy Greene Way, North Vancouver, BC and is open daily from 9 am to 10 pm 365 days a year.
The Grind is a one-way trail, so be prepared to pay for the Skyride for your return trip. Alternatively, you can hike down the BCMC trail.