The Grouse Grind,
Distance: 1.8 miles Time: 1 hour Type: One way
Easily-accessible from downtown, the Grind is a Vancouver institution: over 150,000 people hike the trail each year. But it's no casual undertaking. With an elevation gain of 853 metres in 1.8 miles, its name is well deserved. The views over the city are a fanstastic reward for the hard slog but for many the Grind is more of a test of fitness and endurance rather than a great hike per se.
I've hiked the Grind three times. The first was during a brief visit to Vancouver at the start of a coast-to-coast trip across Canada while I was a student. The second time was at the start of a month-long stay in Vancouver in summer 2014. On both occasions, I tackled the Grind as more of a 'welcome to Vancouver' hike rather than a serious effort to complete it as fast a time as possible.
My third attempt was a more serious effort during my month stay. I acheived a time of 50 minutes (the record is just under 24). It was one of the most exhausting experiences I can recall and I certainly learnt that it does not pay to set off too quickly when tackling a steep gradient. With the Grind, pacing is key.
The Grouse Mountain is located in North Vancouver, accessible either by car or on bus 232 and 236 from the city. The trail starts a little east of the car park and Skyride cable car. There are numerous signs at the base warning of the demanding nature of the path and the potential for an encounter with a bear (although this seems highly unlikely given the number of people on the trail).
Almost all of the hiking is undertaken in a thick forest and there are few views. And essentially the path just goes up, up and up some more, with a total of 2830 steps. There are quarter marks along the route which can be both useful and soul-crushing, as at each point you realise you still have yet more distance to climb. You may pass some serious Grinders (as they are called) on your way to the top and if so will probably feel quite humbled by the levels of fitness on display. We passed one guy carrying a baby up on his back.
It all ends with a huge surge of adrenaline as you see a break in the trees and the base of the visitor centre beyond. From the top, the views out to Vancouver and the Pacific beyond are indeed fantastic and a fine reward for all the hard work. Apart from the visitor centre and restaurant, there are a number of other attractions scattered on the mountain top, including a high-wire zipline experience and an enclosure containing two grizzly bears. Even though the bears were apparently rescued after being abandoned by their mother and would not survive in the wild, it's a pretty sorry sight and not how I would have chosen to see that most majestic of animals for the first time (my second time was far more memorable - see the Grinnel Glacier hike for that story).
Most people descend by the cable car as the trail has little to offer as a downhill hike. There is in fact a sign advising people not to walk downhill, as the steep gradient is a real knee-cruncher and likely to result in injury.