As urban Vancouver runners, we criss-cross the abandoned CPR line through the Arbutus Corridor on a daily basis. The corridor bisects the city, roughly north-south, from False Creek just east of the Burrard Bridge to a swing bridge on the Fraser River just west of the Oak Street Bridge. I had run parts of it many times before, so naturally I wondered what it would be like to run the entire thing. Out and back, the route is basically a half marathon, and last summer I decided the give it a try.
Because it is an old rail bed, the Hobo Run route follows a fairly gentle grade. There is currently no danger of encountering a train and as a result, also very little chance of meeting an actual hobo. The tracks are ‘runnable’ for much of the length, although there is also a narrow path to at least one side the tracks in most places. In case the distance isn’t enough, running on the rail ties between the rails provides an added calf workout which is great for honing your trail running footing or tap dance steps.
I started and finished the Hobo Run at the north end of the tracks at the oddly-named Cultural Harmony Grove on the edge of False Creek west of Granville Island, just below Burrard Bridge, so I will describe the route from north to south below.
The north terminus of the tracks is buried in trees in the eastern shadow of Burrard Bridge just west of Creekside Drive near Granville Island. The run starts on an open dirt path which parallels the bridge and then follows the left-curving arc of the railway track — which becomes visible a few hundred metres into the run – to the southeast between the Credit Union building to the left and the Seaforth Armoury/Molson brewery yard to the right. The tracks cross First Avenue to the first of many community gardens before turning south.
Undoubtedly, Hobo Run purists will want to stick to the tracks and take their chances, but Fourth Avenue is the first of several major road crossings which may convince you to take a slight detour to the nearest crosswalk.
The tracks curve to the right at Fifth Avenue and cross to the west side of Fir again. This three-block section between Pine and Maple is home to a large colony of public gardens, complete with welcome signs, benches and notice boards.
The rails curve left again at Maple before heading due south through the Arbutus Corridor proper. Avenues are spaced closer together than streets in Vancouver so runners will encounter road crossings more frequently through this stretch of the run. The tracks run a straight line along the backside of businesses and condos which face Arbutus Street to the right to 16th Avenue and then through an open, undeveloped section from 16th to King Edward.
At King Edward, the tracks veer slightly away from Arbutus left behind the Sperling Substation. Nanton is the only road crossing between King Edward and 33rd Avenue so keep an eye out for Range Rovers heading to and from the Arbutus Club. They don’t usually stop for hobos.
After crossing 33rd Avenue, the tracks snake along a bit of a ridge which offers a beautiful view of the North Shore to the north, before reuniting with Arbutus Street just before crossing 37th Avenue.
This section of line next to Point Grey Secondary School from 37th to 41st Avenues is largely overgrown with impassable, flesh-shredding brambles so smart hobos don’t even try. Flip a coin and run the road and parking lots which flank the tracks on either side to 41st Avenue. It should be noted that at 37th Avenue, Arbutus Street to the right becomes West Boulevard and is twinned to the left side of the tracks by East Boulevard, creating a buffer for the rail corridor that continues for several kilometres. Just before 49th Avenue, the tracks veer east momentarily losing West Boulevard. Below 49th Avenue, the first of the southern community gardens appear as an almost unbroken chain until 57th Avenue. From here, West and East Boulevards take turns shepherding the tracks through south Vancouver until reaching SW Marine Drive.
From SW Marine Drive, it’s about a mile to the end of the line at the Fraser River swing bridge. The last kilometre is basically run through a railyard, minus — at least on the day I ran it — the vicious guard dogs.
A locked, chainlink gate marks the end of the line and the beginning of the northward run back to False Creek.