The majestic mountains visible from downtown Vancouver catch everybody’s eyes right away. Mount Seymour, Grouse Mountain, and Cypress Mountain are located north of Vancouver, just a few steps from nearby shopping malls, offices and restaurants. A twenty-minute drive from downtown Vancouver takes you to the beginning of hiking trails and world-class steep slopes. The altitude increases with every step uphill. It is no wonder that the mountains’ weather changes rapidly. It may be sunny in downtown Vancouver, in Coal Harbour or in Stanley Park, and rainy right under the mountains, only a few kilometres away.
From the office right to the hiking trail
It sounds unbelievable for many non-Vancouverites if you say that a few minutes after leaving your office in Vancouver, you can be hiking on a beautiful mountain trail. Particularly, Grouse Mountain trail, with the wind turbine on the top and the Skyride cable car, is easily and quickly accessible from the city centre via one of the city’s bridges. Driving via Stanley Park and the scenic Lions Gate Bridge makes your experience even better. After passing the Capilano River, with its Capilano Suspension Bridge, you will soon reach the end of the road, the convenient parking lots right under Grouse Mountain.
Local’s Pass feeling
The billboard facing the main parking lot tells you that feeling like a local must be great. Of course, in order to achieve this feeling, you have to buy an annual pass. The pass gives you round-trip access to the top of Grouse Mountain via the Skyride cable car, and includes some additional activities like watching grizzly bears behind the fenced area, summer programs for kids including shows with birds of prey, and more. Let’s focus on activities which can improve your health and overall wellbeing, like hiking to the top of the mountain.
The Grouse Grind trail
You can hike uphill on the Grouse Grind Trail, but to get back down you have to take the Skyride cable car. Hiking down the hill is prohibited for safety reasons. At first I thought this was a joke, but after trying to go downhill one day (please don’t tell anybody), I realized it was tricky, and you may risk falling, since your knees and feet quickly become weak if you are not used to hiking regularly.
Because of this, the annual pass for one-way Skyrides will come in handy, and will save you money if you are planning to hike the trail more than 13 times a year.
Marketing and a healthy life style
After you buy your annual local’s pass, you might feel like you have become a victim of the Grouse Mountain marketing strategists, but don’t be sad. Use it to your own advantage and make those marketing gurus cry. The only way to achieve that is to hike there frequently, which will also increase your wellbeing. Do you have friends who buy gym memberships and then stop exercising after the first few attempts? Don’t be like them, because that’s what marketing people count on. Be smart with your money.
Who can hike up Grouse Mountain
I have read some blogs and websites which imply that only experienced hikers are fit enough to hike the Grouse Grind, “Mother Nature’s Stairmaster.” Based on my own experience, I would say that any person in good health can hike this trail. The only variable is the amount of time it would take. People with less training might take two hours, with several breaks. Well-trained individuals can do it in less than an hour. In any case, if you do it regularly your timing will keep improving and your weight decreasing.
The Grouse Mountain experience
OK, let’s skip the preparation phase and focus on the hiking experience itself when you pass through the entrance gate, especially after hiking there multiple times. Going there often means that the trail becomes your friend or partner. You learn which parts are easy and which are difficult, where to save energy and where to use it to its maximum. You will know every stone and tree, and will memorize special signs, which will be significant to you and only you, as other hikers may memorize completely different signs. I call it customization of the trail features.
Here is the list of my personalized signs:
Sign 1: Big stone stairs
Your hike starts with big stone stairs. This is the indication that you are still at the beginning. No reason to celebrate yet.
Sign 2: Yellow billboard “NOTICE TO HIKERS”
There are two of these signs, one in front of the gate and a second one a few minutes after you start hiking. When you get to the second one, it means you are sure that you want to climb the mountain.
Sign 3: Red sign “GROUSE GRIND TRAIL THIS WAY” with arrow pointing to the left
The arrow directs you to a small wooden bridge. You will start feeling rewarded, because you know the ¼-Mark blue sign will show up soon.
Sign(s) 4: ¼-Mark sign ½-Mark and ¾-Mark signs
These quarter-mark signs inform you where you are on the trail, how much you have completed and what portion of the trail is still in front of you. They motivate you to continue. For some reason, and I don’t know why, the first quarter takes longer to hike than each of the other quarters. This might be a good question for the Grouse Mountain staff.
Sign 5: Wooden bench
The wooden bench offers you a short break, time to relax. I don’t use it because it only makes my hike longer. It will spoil you, and after sitting on it for a few minutes, you will feel lazy.
Sign 6: Black “coffin”
The black box shows up between the first and the second quarters of the hiking trail. I am not sure what it is, but I suspect it may contain some life-saving things like blankets or canned food, in case you get stuck in the forest after dusk in rain and snow. This box indicates that you might not be too far from the ½-Mark on the trail, a very encouraging feeling.
Sign 7: Wooden stairs with a handrail with a hole in the middle
This sign fills you with happiness, as you know the ½-Mark sign follows in 2 minutes
Sign 8: Another black “coffin” and a wooden handrail with an interesting shape
Both of these signs let you know that you are a well-established hiker situated in the second half of the trail, and that the way back would take longer than continuing to the top.
Sign 9: View of the city through the tree branches
This is the sign that you are not far away from the ¾-Mark
Sign 10: Wooden stairs with the handrails you might remember (I did)
This is a good indication that you are on the last quarter of the trail.
Sign 11: End of the handrail with a specific shape
You are almost at the top. This happy sign is like the wild boar statue in Butchart Gardens: you have to touch it for luck, like touching the boar’s snout. And most hikers do. That’s why it is so shiny, like a well-polished piece of furniture.
Sign 12: Many stairs with the arc-shaped stair portion
This definitely reminds you that you should speed up in order to improve your timing compared to your last hike, because you have only a few minutes left.
Sign 13: Steep stairs
You are definitely getting closer. You now have two options: going up these steep stairs, or choosing the less-steep side stairs, which are few meters longer.
Sign 14: The last few meters with the sky view and the “NO DOWNHILL TRAVEL” sign
This is where you start running to improve your timing.
Sign 15: Top of the hill
This is not a sign, but the end of your hike. Check your timing and be happy if you improved or sad if your timing is worse than last time. In any case, congratulate yourself. You did something to improve your health!
While hiking on Grouse Mountain trail, you must be aware of certain unpleasant details. Be prepared!
You might feel like all the other hikers are faster than you are. Don’t be disappointed. There will always be people who walk faster than you. On the other hand, you do not count the number of hikers you passed yourself. How do they feel? Did you think about that?
You can see little kids with parents in the first quarter of the trail who walk faster than you and in fact they are as fast as mountain goats. Well, again, don’t worry. These little creatures run on batteries that get exhausted quickly and need to recharge after a short period of time. Have you seen these kids reaching the fourth quarter of the trail? Now you know why, so relax. You are definitely a better hiker and in better shape than they are.
While on the trail, you might pass other hikers. They usually explain their slowness by telling you that they haven’t exercised in the last three years. Of course, they exaggerate. You are definitely a fast and very talented individual. Nevertheless, be respectful and do not encourage such hikers with words like “You are almost there.” I have tried that a few times, and their reaction was very defensive. That’s the moment when they tell you about their exercise three years ago. In the worst-case scenario, they will give you a nasty look.
Go! Try it for yourself and pick your own signs. Hiking to the top of the Grouse Mountain feels good.
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