Top Trail Towns: North Vancouver, BC
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North Americans joke that the Canadian contingent is the friendliest among our intra-continental bunch. When it comes to the trail-running culture of “North Van,” Gary Robbins, race director of the nearby Squamish 50 and record holder for Hawaii’s tough HURT 100 Mile, says, “The North Van trail-running culture has grown immensely, yet it has retained its core values and is inclusive and friendly.”
Robbins is quick to volunteer that North Van, which refers to the developed area across Vancouver Harbor from Vancouver proper, is about more than just running. “It has world-class coffee, sushi and trails, all out my front door. During my biggest training month ever, I didn’t drive to a single trailhead. In North Van, you are never more than a few kilometers from endless trail access.”
Ease of access is where the friendliness of North Van’s trails ends—the trail system, which extends north of the city and into the mountains beyond, is known for being uber-rocky, rooty, muddy and laden with stupid amounts of vertical, the kind of terrain that seriously challenges all stripes of trail runner.
> Lynn Loop Trail / New to trail running or intimidated by the gnarly North Van terrain? Robbins suggests this starter loop, which is about 3.5 miles long, at Lynn Headwaters Regional Park. The park offers plenty more trail mileage, so you can add distance and more challenging terrain.
> Grouse Grind / Go big or go home with the “Grind,” a 1.8-mile trail that ascends 2,798 feet from the bottom to the top of Grouse Mountain, which looms over North Van. Once at the top, reverse course and head down, or take the gondola!
> Knee Knackering North Shore Trail Run / A 30-mile trail race that held its first edition in 1989, the course travels point-to-point and west-to-east along the famous (and infamous!) Baden Powell Trail through the North Shore Mountains. Roughly 8,000 feet of steep climbing (and sore quad muscles) await you.
> Squamish 50 / Put on in Squamish, north of North Vancouver, by Robbins and co-director Geoff Langford, this relatively new event includes an August weekend of festivities with a 50-mile, 50K, 23K and Kids’ Run. The courses are just as challenging as the trails of North Van, with the added bonus of stunner alpine scenery.
> Get There / Fly into Vancouver International Airport, and take the well-developed bus system to North Van. Run to many trails from the city, or use Car2Go car sharing or Uber to access the slightly more distant trailheads.
> Play Tourist / If you’re going all the way to North Vancouver, keep on going a bit farther to Squamish. Here, damp, deciduous, coastal terrain connects with the big alpine of inland British Columbia. Bring all your traveling companions and ride the Sea to Sky Gondola, especially for sunrise or sunset. Also, it’s all about the seafood around here, so indulge at one of the on-every-street-corner sushi joints.
> Take Note / The summer months offer the greatest (but still not guaranteed) reprieve from the region’s persistent rain. Consider using a trail-running shoe with deep lugs to give you traction in the mud.
BY THE NUMBERS
97.5 Inches of rain that fall in an average year in North Van.
600 Number of sushi restaurants in the Vancouver metro area in 2014, according to The Vancouver Sun.
This article originally appeared in our December 2015 issue.