Story and photos by Brandon Fralic
British Columbia provides everything you need for “mountainbeering” adventures: challenging hiking trails with big rewards, beers at cozy mountaintop lodges and enclosed cabin gondola rides down to even more drinking and dining options.
Hike these trails in late summer and early fall for cooler weather, smaller crowds and changing colors. Taps change seasonally too, with fresh hop and harvest ales taking over come fall. Here are three of the best hike-and-beer combos with gondola assists in lower left Canada.
Squamish: Sea to Summit Trail
Length: 4.6 miles (7.5 kilometers) one way
Total Elevation Gain: 3,012 feet (918 meters)
Getting There: From Vancouver, head northwest on BC-99 to Trans Canada Highway/BC-1 W/BC-99. Merge onto the highway to continue west, then north, for approximately 50 kilometers (31 miles). Turn left into the Darrell Bay parking area, directly across from the entrance to Shannon Falls.
Cost: $10 CA for a one-way ride down on the gondola
The Hike: Perhaps somewhat underrated in terms of difficulty, Sea to Summit trail gains 3,000 feet over terrain so steep that fixed ropes and chains are in place to assist you. Yet the payoff is oh so worth it. Trailside waterfalls gush with snowmelt, and views of Howe Sound improve with every step. Gondolas pass quietly overhead – a reminder that your hike is only one way. Fortunately, most of the route is under tree cover, providing shelter from the elements.
From the Darrell Bay parking area, cross the street into Shannon Falls Provincial Park. Take a gander at B.C.’s third tallest waterfall before following the Connector Trail towards Sea to Summit. The route is well signed. You’ll climb steep staircases, cross bridges and scramble over rocks, enjoying a mix of flat and downhill sections to balance things out along the way. This is one trail where the estimated 3-5 hours hiking time is no exaggeration. Take your time, and remember that it’s smooth sailing once you reach the top.
The Beer: Replace those burned calories with a beer and some food on the deck at The Summit Lodge. You’ve earned it. At 2,900 feet above Howe Sound, the Summit Eatery and Edge Bar serves local food and drinks — at a price. If you’d rather save a few loonies, take the Sea to Sky Gondola down and drive to Howe Sound Brewing in Squamish. This award-winning brewery has been serving up fine B.C. beers for 20 years. Try the classic Bay Ale or the new Skypilot Northwest Pale Ale – brewed in collaboration with Sea to Sky Gondola.
North Vancouver: Grouse Grind
Length: 1.8 miles (2.9 kilometers) one way
Gain: 2,800 feet (853 meters)
Getting There: From downtown Vancouver, drive north across Lions Gate Bridge. Take the right-hand exit to North Vancouver. Turn left onto Capilano Road and follow it north 6 kilometers to the Grouse Mountain parking lot.
Cost: $10 CA for a one-way ride down on the gondola (walking down the trail isn’t permitted).
The Hike: The legendary Grouse Grind needs little in the way of introduction. Known as “Mother Nature’s Stairmaster,” the Grind is perhaps Vancouver’s most iconic trail. It’s certainly the most-used, with more than 150,000 hikers every year. Enthusiasts seek out the Grind for a challenge; many train regularly on the route and take advantage of the built-in Grind Timer to track their workout. Don’t expect solitude or much scenery beyond trees and stairs during your ascent. Grouse Grind is all about pushing your limits and the sense of accomplishment you’ll feel at the top.
Step-by-step directions for this trail are unnecessary. The route is simple: up. You’ll encounter quarter-marker signs along the way to encourage (or perhaps discourage) your continued ascent. Expect a well-trodden trail full of hikers and runners of all abilities, making their way up the 2,830 steps – approximately one step for every foot of elevation gain – to Peak Chalet.
The Beer: Enjoy a victory beer at Altitudes Bistro inside Peak Chalet. The outdoor patio offers awesome views from 3,700 feet above Vancouver. When you’re ready, take the Skyride gondola back down the mountain. IPA fans can drive 20 minutes south to Green Leaf Brewing, located within the thriving Lonsdale Quay Market. This brewery always has four unique IPAs on tap, along with a selection of seasonal and experimental brews.
Whistler: High Note Trail
Length: 5.8-mile loop (9.4 kilometers)
Gain: 846 feet (258 meters)
Getting There: From Whistler Village, take the Whistler Village Gondola up to Roundhouse Lodge. Walk the short Peak Express Traverse to the Peak Express chairlift. The trail begins behind the large stone Inukshuk statue.
Cost: $40 US for an adult gondola ticket if purchased five days in advance. A ticket allows for rides on the Peak 2 Peak Gondola in addition to the Whistler Village Gondola.
The Hike: Said to be the best hiking experience on Whistler Mountain, High Note Trail may very well be the best hiking experience in all of Whistler Blackcomb. This one’s a little different from the other gondola hikes; you’ll take a round-trip on the gondola instead of climbing to a summit lodge.
From the trailhead at Top of the World Summit, descend into Garibaldi Provincial Park. Peer down on the turquoise waters of Cheakamus Lake and across the valley to Black Tusk before coming to an intersection with the Half Note Trail. This connector is a shortcut back to Roundhouse Lodge via Pika’s Traverse Road. Stay right to continue along the High Note Trail. At a second junction, a trail goes right toward Flute Summit and Singing Pass, an adventure for another day. Stay left to follow High Note Trail all the way back – past Symphony and Harmony lakes – to Roundhouse Lodge.
The Beer: Enjoy bird’s-eye views with your brew at Roundhouse Lodge. Then download to the village for Whistler’s largest selection of B.C. beer on tap at Beacon Pub. With 12 taps, there’s something for everyone including clean B.C. lagers, a local cider, and of course the almighty IPA. People watching here is prime. The pub provides front row outdoor seating at the Village Stroll, Whistler’s pedestrian highway. Best of all, the Beacon is only a 200-meter walk from the gondola.
Brandon Fralic writes about Pacific Northwest trails, ales, and travel for a handful of regional publications. brandonfralic.com