The famous Grouse Grind hike is commonly referred to as “Mother Nature’s Stairmaster.” For those of us that have taken this challenging Grouse Mountain hike on the north shore of Vancouver, British Columbia, it is one that will test your fitness level and stamina.
If you have a few days in Vancouver or you arrive before your cruise leaves for Alaska, the “Grind” (as locals like to call it) is a must-do hike in Vancouver.
I first hiked the Grouse Grind back in 2003 and used it as part of a fitness and training program. I had heard about the Grind shortly after moving to Vancouver.
However, I wasn’t sure why everyone seemed to talk about it as if it was a ‘Badge of Honor.’ I thought, “How hard can it be?” and “What’s the big deal about this Grind?”
Well, I finally decided to see for myself. Once I completed the hike the first time, I could understand why it was so revered!
For those of you who are fitness buffs, the Grouse Grind in Vancouver can be addictive. After I had completed a few hikes up the Grind, I began to focus on trying to improve my best time. I’d use that as a measure of my fitness.
One time, I hiked up the trail, walked down to the start, and hiked the trail again! That was a day I drove home totally exhausted, but feeling so exhilarated. I couldn’t wait to go back again the following week and do it again!
If you find the Grouse Grind a little challenging, the Coquitlam Crunch is less grueling and you can hike sections of the trail. It’s a dog-friendly pathway that’s wide, to allow for social distancing and avid runners to pass.
Preparing For The Grouse Grind Trail
The first time you attempt the Grouse Grind, you should prepare for it the same way you would undertake any strenuous activity such as a 10k run, or a half-marathon.
If you are already an avid hiker, you should be able to complete the Grind without too much problem. However, if you are a walker on level ground, you are likely unprepared for a hike of this caliber.
One of the training techniques I found worked for me was running stairs. If you live in a hilly area and are an avid or daily walker, you may already be moderately prepared for a hike such as the Grouse Grind.
Since the grind has tree roots, rocks, and lots of stairs, it’s essential to have proper footwear. I would recommend a first runner with a good grip. Or even better, an adequate hiking boot that both protects your feet from the jagged surfaces and strengthens your ankles.
It takes the average person 2 to 2-1/2 hours to complete the climb. In stark contrast, the official course time is 25.01. Even more astonishing is one climber completed 19 Grouse Grinds in a single day!
Driving Directions To The Grouse Grind
Grouse Mountain is at the end of Capilano Road in North Vancouver, British Columbia. It is easy to drive to no matter where you are in the Greater Vancouver Regional District (GVRD).
You will drive by Vancouver’s famous Suspension Bridge on the way to Grouse Mountain Regional Park.
The start of the Grind Trail is located at 6400 Nancy Greene Way, North Vancouver. Google Maps or using your GPS, will get you accurate driving directions to the base of Grouse Mountain.
There are four pay parking lots – A, B, C, and D. During peak times, it can be a challenge to find a spot in the parking lot, so you should either arrive early or later. The optimum times are before 9 am, or after 3 pm, to have a better chance of finding a spot.
Alternatively, you can use a complimentary shuttle from downtown Vancouver.
Grouse Grind Cost
The Grind trail is free to all hikers. However, if after successfully reaching the top of Guest Services at the Grouse Mountain Chalet, there are only two ways to get back down.
First, you take the gondola ride back down (for CAD 20). Alternatively, you hike back down using the BCMC trail (since you are not allowed to hike down the Grind trail).
If you are new to the Grind, the idea of downhill hiking after complete exhaustion, may be out of the question. Therefore, the only option is the Skyride. With the increasing number of climbers, came the increasing cost of the tram.
While the cost had been CAD 5 and then increased to CAD 10, but recently was increased again to CAD 20. Blame it on inflation, but it’s still worth it to get a scenic ride down the mountain. Plus, your body will thank you for not trying to save the fare.
Should You Get A Grouse Mountain Annual Pass?
If you plan to do the grind multiple times during the year, it makes sense to get the Annual Pass. The Regular Pass provides one year (365 days) of unlimited rides on the tram.
The Deluxe Pass offers all the benefits of the mountain admission plus access to some of the mountain top attractions. Additionally, there are savings for your accompanying guests.
In my view, both the Regular and Deluxe passes provide good value if you live in the Greater Vancouver area.
The start of the Grouse Grind includes three separate trails, although the Grind is by far the most popular. As you can see from the chart below, the Grouse Grind Trail and BCMC Trail Route are very comparable in difficulty, while the Baden Powell Trail is more for novice hikers.
As you can see, while the Grouse Grind’s 2.5-kilometer trail isn’t the longest, it has the highest elevation gain.
Elevation Of Grouse Grind
The Grouse Grind starts at the base of the mountain at an elevation of about 300 meters or 1,000-feet above sea level. With an elevation gain of 800 meters, at the top by the peak chalet, you are about 1,100 meters (3600’).
Grouse Mountain’s height is 1,231 meters (4039’), so if you have enough energy when you get to the top of the grind, you can continue up to the peak of the mountain for an extra challenge.
Before You Start the Grind
The Grouse Grind trail generally closes during the winter as snow makes the climb too hazardous. With heavy foot traffic in the summer months, the trail requires constant maintenance, which is usually done in the spring before opening again.
There is excellent signage at the entrance to the trail, and it’s important to note that there are no washrooms or trash cans on the trail. Also, dogs are not allowed on the trail.
I would recommend doing some stretching before you start to limber up your muscles and joints. Also, consume some of your water to ensure you are hydrated at the start.
Once you start the trail, it’s easy to become dehydrated once you are well into the hike, depending on the season and temperature.
Be aware that the Grouse Grind conditions can change. During the early or late season, rain may cause the trail to be muddy. Also, temperatures at the top of the mountain can be much cooler than those at the start.
Also, note the park hours on the sign on the fence. The open hours change regularly depending on the season and especially if it is your first time you want to ensure you can complete the hike comfortably during daylight hours.
The closing time is typically one and a half hours before sunset.
Tips For Hiking
The following tips are also recommended to ensure you have a good hike:
- Wear suitable hiking footwear – no flip-flops, flimsy runners, or heels. I’ve usually used just good runners, but I will be investing in the right hiking boot because as I get older, I like to support my feet and ankles more than when I was younger.
- Take a minimum of 1 liter of drinking water. I had taken just 500ml and ended up rationing it so I didn’t run out of water. That won’t happen again!
- Bring a snack (e.g., nuts, dried fruit). When I did the Grind recently, I hiked without anything to eat but my challenge was more staying hydrated than trying to provide fuel for my body. Do whatever works for you.
- Bring a jacket or sweater – to keep warm if you stop. Although the temperature can drop up to 10 degrees Fahrenheit (6 degrees Celsius) from the bottom to the top, during the summer months a coat is generally not needed.
- Bring a cell phone. This is a good recommendation, but I found there were a few spots where cell coverage was spotty and not reliable. However, the best use for a cell phone is being able to take that “Victory Selfie” when you reach the top!
- Stay on the trail – going off can dislodge rocks that can hurt people below. This is just common sense, but some spots can be dangerous if you go off-trail, and the worse thing that can happen is getting injured because rescue is a challenge.
- If you are hiking near closing time for the trail, consider bringing a small flashlight just in case you are stranded on the Grind during darkness due to being unprepared for the difficulty or incurring an injury and not having enough time to complete the hike before sunset.
The Grouse Grind App
Be sure to download the app if you’re a regular grinder or if you are competitive. The app allows you to see your name online for bragging rights. Unfortunately, the app is available for IOS only and not Android, as of this writing.
Hopefully, they release the Android version shortly. However, there is a Grouse Mountain Resort app available on both IOS and Android.
It has some of the same features available in the Grouse Grind app. One of the exciting functions to help motivate you is RANKINGS, which lists the top finishers for the current season.
If you want to get more details on the stats and rankings, check out the stats page on the Grouse Mountain website.
How Dangerous Is The Grouse Grind?
There have been three deaths on the Grouse Grind, and two of them were men over the age of 50 in 2006 and 2010 who died of a heart attack. The 3rd death was a young hiker in 1999 who died in an avalanche while hiking in January.
Obviously, doing the Grind during snowfall is a dangerous thing to do, and why the Grind is officially closed during the winter months.
The North Shore Search and Rescue handle rescues on the Grind. The team handles about 130 rescues annually, and a significant percentage of them involve the Grouse Grind.
The Grind difficulty increases tremendously once daylight is gone. Due to the steepness of sections of the trail, trying to navigate the 2800 steps that make up the Grind can be almost impossible after sunset.
As mentioned earlier, carry a small flashlight with you in case you are hiking near the end of daylight. Also, heavy rainfall or early morning frost makes the trail hazardous too. The wooden steps along the Grind can become treacherous and easily lead to twisted ankles or worse.
What to Expect On The Grouse Grind
Heading out from the entrance and if it is your first time tackling Vancouver’s Grouse Grind, you immediately sense the fragrance and beauty of the rich forests and trees that make up the trail.
Initially, the Grind starts with relatively level ground and a gradual incline. Don’t misinterpret this leisurely start by thinking the path is easy, and completing it will be no problem. After the first quarter of the hike, the trail becomes quite steep.
When I returned to Grinding after a five-year hiatus, I mistakenly thought somehow it was easier than I remembered. The first 10 to 15 minutes of the trail seemed relatively easy.
However, 10 minutes more and my lungs were burning, my heart rate elevated, and I thought I might collapse. However, by persevering and taking frequent rest stops along the way, I was able to succeed.
Initially, they had markings only every ¼ segment along the trail. This was quite disheartening.
I remember hiking for what seemed like a very long time, starting to feel exhausted, and when you reached the first quarter marking, you feel defeated and wondered if you can complete the hike?
However, in recent years, they have improved the markings and now have a sign on trees at every 1/40th interval. As a result, you have a lot more indicators of where you are on the trail.
Also, it is much easier to pace yourself with quick wins from marker to marker. The additional markers also make it much easier to locate you if you get into trouble and need help.
The rescue team will have a higher chance of reaching you quickly if you indicate that “I’m just past the 7/40th marker,” rather than saying you are “somewhere around the halfway mark.”
There are some areas along the trail where you can easily step a few feet off the path so that you can rest while others continue past you. As with most hiking trails, the general rule is “Keep Right Except to Pass.”
During my last hike of the Grouse Grind, I probably took about 20 rest breaks. While I felt I was completely out of shape for a hike of this difficulty, I couldn’t help but notice many of the other hikers were taking the same number of breaks as I was.
However, trail runners sprint the distance as if training for Tough Mudder or other more challenging races.
The Steepness Of The Grouse Grind
After the ¼ mark along the trail, the steepness of the hike increases dramatically, and the helpful signage suggests checking to ensure you are up for completing the rest of the trail.
It’s important to note that you can turn around and hike down from the first quarter mark if needed. However, after that mark, you are not allowed to return to the starting point for safety reasons. From here, it’s a one-way trail and you’re committed to completing it.
There are sections of the trail that are very steep. However, they are supported by handrails to assist in your climb and navigation.
Increasingly, the Grind has become so popular that some days, the high volume of hikers creates congestion on the trail.
With slower and faster hikers jockeying for space, there’s an increased risk of accident or injury.
During my last hike, there was a group of a dozen international travelers hiking the trail, and they would frequently stop during the ascent.
Due to the size of their group, they provided a natural barrier when they stopped. However, even though they were considerate and respectful, it made for a challenge for other hikers to continue past them.
This was especially true in sections that were only wide enough for one or two people at a time.
As you start nearing the top, the trail gets brighter because the trees are thinning, and more sunlight can filter through.
There’s a natural feel of excitement and anticipation when you reach the top even though the trail is still quite steep. Once you make it this far, you can proudly exclaim to yourself, “I Made It!” and it’s the perfect time for a selfie.
If it’s a clear day, take some time to enjoy the spectacular vistas of Vancouver before heading down again. Congratulations, and I hope you enjoyed the trail as much as I did and will try to do it again the next time you are passing through Vancouver. Well done!
Happy hiking ~ Brian