The Stawamus Chief Hiking Trail

Hiking The Stawamus Chief in Squamish

  • Sky Pilot mountain seen to the south, from Peak 3.

    Sky Pilot mountain seen to the south, from Peak 3. Photo: Karl Woll

  • Between Peak 2 and 3, this view emerges of Mount Garibaldi.

    Between Peak 2 and 3, this view emerges of Mount Garibaldi. Photo: Karl Woll

  • Watch your step. The Chief has many precipices.

    Watch your step. The Chief has many precipices. Photo: Karl Woll

  • The Squamish Estuary and Spit - renowned for its perfect kitesurfing conditions.

    The Squamish Estuary and Spit - renowned for its perfect kitesurfing conditions. Photo: Karl Woll

  • The sun rises over Peak 1 lighting up Howe Sound. Photo is taken from Peak 2.

    The sun rises over Peak 1 lighting up Howe Sound. Photo is taken from Peak 2. Photo: Karl Woll

Essential info

  • Destination: Southwest British Columbia
  • Season: March-November
  • Difficulty: Medium
  • Distance: 5.6 kilometers (loop)
  • Elevation Gain: 690 meters
  • Duration: 3-5 hours

About The Stawamus Chief

The Stawamus Chief is one of the most popular hiking trails around Vancouver and is also a popular rock climbing site. Simply referred to as the ‘The Chief’, this hike is located in Stawamus Chief Provincial Park in the District of Squamish. Easy access and rewarding views of Howe Sound make this a must-do hike. On this hike there are three separate summits you can climb: the South (Peak 1), the Centre (Peak 2), and the North (Peak 3). You can do each summit individually, or, if you’re feeling ambitious you can tackle all three.

The Stawamus Chief gets snow during the winter, but not as much as some of the other nearby mountains. For this reason, The Chief enjoys a fairly long hiking season. The summit is usually free of snow in the early spring, making this a great warm-up hike for the summer months ahead.

Also, as The Chief is one of the most popular hikes around Vancouver, and the trail gets exceptionally busy during the summer. If you want to avoid the long lines of people hiking up and down the trail, you’re best to go during a weekday, or in the spring and fall.

Getting there

Take Highway #99 heading north past Horseshoe Bay towards Squamish. Keep driving along the Sea to Sky highway all the way towards Squamish for about 35 minutes. Watch for the signs for Shannon Falls. You can park at the Shannon Falls lot but this is pay parking. If you keep driving north for a few seconds more, you can park in the Stawamus Chief Provincial Park parking lot for free.

Trail description

The hike has a roughly 500 m elevation gain to peak 1, and 590 m and 630 m gains to Peaks 2 and 3. It is considered an intermediate hike, and takes about 90 minutes to reach Peak 1, and slightly longer if you choose to ascend one of the other two peaks. To challenge yourself a little more, you can hike up to Peak 2, and carry on to Peak 3 before heading back down. There is also a spectacular drop off between the Peaks 2 and 3, which provides a great view.

The hike described here completes both Peaks 2 and 3, as this offers the best views, least amount of people and most bang for your buck. Doing this route adds some distance to the above total – the Peak 2 and 3 loop is closer the 6 km.

To start the hike, you will find the trailhead at the east end of the Stawamus Chief campground. There will be a sign warning you that the climb ahead is not for the ill-prepared. The initial climb will take you up a series of wooden stairs and immediately get the blood flowing. The main trail begins climbing alongside Oleson Creek and very soon there is a junction which connects to Shannon Falls. Stay left. (As an aside, you can also park at the Shannon Falls lot, and begin your hike from there. This junction is where you will join the Chief trail).

Further up the trail, there is another split for the Upper Shannon Falls and Sea to Summit Trail. You will also stay to the left here. Shortly after, there is a third minor junction and once again you will stay left. Then, you will come to a major split in the trails with signposts to direct you. Left will take you to the Peak 1 (South) and/or Peak 2 (Centre). A right will take you directly to the Peak 3 (North), which is the trail you will return on, completing a mini-loop. So head left towards Peak 1 and you’ll quickly come to yet another split in the trail. This time, head right on the trail marked for Peak 2.

From here just climb on up following the trail markers until you finally reach the rocky, open surface of Peak 2. Scramble up the final few meters to find a view, taking extra caution if the rock surface is wet and slippery, as it often is. There is no shame in using your hands and going slowly here. Once you’ve scrambled up, take a rest here, enjoying the views of the Peak 1, Squamish and Howe Sound. You should be able to clearly see a small crowd of people on top of Peak 1.

When you’re ready to carry on, keep pushing on over the Peak 2 summit and look for the orange markers in the trees. It may take a few minutes to locate the markers, but they are there. Follow the trail down through to the North Gully and an incredible view of Mount Garibaldi. Continue to follow the trail as it climbs back up. You’ll come to a narrow ledge with a chain-rope to assist your climb. Simply follow the trail markers from here and you’ll quickly come to the open, smooth-rock surface of Peak 3. Scramble up, again taking caution on a few steep and narrow sections of rock, that may be extremely slippery.

From the summit of The Chief you can soak in the view of Mount Garibaldi and the Tantalus Range and rest your legs for the long descent ahead. To return back to the parking lot, reverse down Peak 3 back to the North Gully. However, instead of carrying all the way back the Peak 2 from which you came, you can shortcut down onto the trail that bisects Peaks 2 and 3, right down into the gully. Descend down the steep, technical trail until you eventually cross Oleson Creek once more back onto the main trail. You’ll come out where the major junction for Peak 1/2 is. From here, simply follow the way back down to the parking lot.

Another option for this hike is to start from nearby Shannon Falls, and follow the signs for the trail that cuts over to the base of the Chief. If you haven’t seen the falls before, it is well worth the extra distance.

Facts

  • The Stawamus Chief is the second largest granite monolith in the world. In other words, it’s just one giant rock!

Amenities

  • Free parking 
  • Dogs Allowed

Where to stay

If you are interested in camping, there are 47 campsites in the Stawamus Chief campground, which are a short walk-in from the parking lot. They are non-reservable and $8/person per night, for persons over the age of 6.

Map

Questions or comments? Let us know.

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By Karl Woll

Karl is the founder of outdoorvancouver.ca, an adventure blog for the Vancouver area.

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