Perhaps the most compelling reason to visit North Vancouver (known as North Van) is the trip itself – preferably by SeaBus – which provides views of not only the Downtown skyline but also the teeming port area, a side of the city otherwise easily missed. Most of North Van itself is residential, as is neighbouring West Vancouver. You’ll probably cross to the north shore less for these leafy suburbs than to sample the outstanding areas of natural beauty here: Lynn Canyon, Grouse Mountain, Capilano River Regional Park (the most popular excursion), Mount Seymour and Lighthouse Park. All are found in the mountains that rear up dramatically almost from the West Van waterfront, the proximity of Vancouver’s residential areas to genuine wilderness being one of the city’s most remarkable aspects. Your best bet if you wish to hike, and want the wildest scenery close to Downtown, is Mount Seymour.
The trip to Grouse Mountain – named by hikers in 1894 who stumbled across a blue grouse – is a popular one. This is mainly due to the cable cars – North America’s largest – which run from the 290m base station to the mountain’s 1231m summit. A favourite among people learning to ski or snowboard after work, the mountain’s brightly illuminated slopes and dozen or so runs are a North Vancouver landmark on winter evenings. In summer, it’s possible to walk up the aptly named Grouse Grind Trail, but it’s a tough hike (known as “nature’s stairmaster”), so you’d do better to settle instead into the queue for the cable car (get here early if you can).
After two stomach-churning lurches over the cables’ twin towers you reach the summit, which, with its restaurants and tourist paraphernalia, is anything but wild. Yet the views are astonishing, sometimes stretching as far as the San Juan Islands 160km away in Washington State.
Walk up the paved paths away from the centre and you come to the scene of the “World Famous Lumberjack Show” (three daily; free), with crowd-pleasing sawing and wood-chopping displays. Other nearby attractions include a grizzly bear habitat and a birds of prey display. Also here is the Peak Chairlift (included in your ticket), which judders upwards for another eight minutes to the mountain’s summit. More recently added sights include five ziplines ($109), and the Eye of the Wind tour ($19.95), which heads to the top of a wind turbine, giving spectacular views from an enclosed observation deck. Check with the office at the lower cable-car base station for details of long hikes – many are down below rather than up at the summit proper. The best easy stroll is to Blue Grouse Lake (at the summit; 15min); the Goat Ridge Trail is for experienced hikers. More rugged paths lead into the mountains of the West Coast Range, but for these you’ll need maps.
Before leaving the mountain, take a peek at Grouse’s three adorable timber wolves – Alpha, Beta and Omega – who live in an enclosure just off the car park.