Stawamus Chief Hiking Trails
Towering 702 metres above Squamish.
Known locally as the Chief, this massive cliff face is one of North America's largest granite monoliths. It’s also home to one of the most classic hikes in the Sea to Sky Corridor. While not overly technical in nature, the Chief is nonetheless a challenging hike, mainly because it doesn’t beat around the bush. The trail goes straight up, right off the start, and is sure to get your heart and lungs into overdrive.
The Chief is divided into three distinct summits and all three are accessible from the main Chief Hiking Trail.
The closest of the three in terms of distance from the parking lot, First Peak is both the busiest and the best when it comes to views of Howe Sound. With sheer cliffs on three sides, it’s a spectacular perch from which to have lunch or a snack. Just be mindful of the drop offs because some of them go down a long way! The round-trip distance from the Chief parking lot is 4km, but due to the steep nature of the trail, allow yourself 2-3 hours for the hike. Fast parties can be done in 90 minutes.
The largest of the three summits, Second Peak, even on busy days, is a worthy objective. Its sprawling summit has all kinds of perches and viewpoints that offer panoramic views of Howe Sound, Squamish and the peaks of Garibaldi Provincial Park. Both First Peak and Third Peak are visible from here and even on a busy day, there is plenty of room for everyone. Be careful as, like First Peak, there are ledges and drop offs that should be given a wide berth. They also might produce the odd rock climber topping out on their adventure.
Ending at the top of a large granite slab sits the treed summit of Third Peak. Accessible from the Chief Trail itself or from Second Peak (recommended), Third Peak is the highest of the three summits. It feels endless up here and if you are coming from Second Peak, you will pass over the North Gully. One of coolest viewpoints in the area, the North Gully sits between Second and Third Peak and has sheer cliff walls with a 60 metre gap in between. It offers a stunning view of Mt. Garibaldi and the Squamish townsite below. Be careful as the drops here are considerable.
Depending on where you go, times will vary. First Peak is a 4km round trip from the Chief parking lot and will take an average group around 3 to 4 hours. Fast parties can do it 1.5-2 hours. Second Peak is a little longer at 5km and will take most groups 4 to 5 hours. Third Peak is 7km and should be given 5 to 7 hours.
The classic route for a good half to full day hike is to ascend Second Peak and then continue on, following the orange trail blazes, to Third Peak. This is also a 7km round trip and should be given 6 to 7 hours to accomplish.
The Chief is located on Highway 99 just south of Squamish and just North of Shannon Falls. To get there, turn off Highway 99 at either Shannon Falls or Stawamus Chief Provincial Park. While the trail begins near the Chief Campground, access from Shannon Falls and the Sea to Sky Gondola is well marked and only takes a few minutes. You’ll know you’re at the start of the trail at the foot of the stairs. The trail is obvious and well marked with diamond shaped trail blazes on trees. The turn offs for each peak are posted on signposts along the way.
Hiking the Chief is a challenge. Graded as an intermediate hike, there are, on First and Second Peak, chains and ladders for some of the more technical parts of the trail to aid you in getting to the top. When it’s wet, the rock is slippery so keep that in mind, as there are drop offs on the summits that fall hundreds of feet. Bring plenty of water and some extra clothing as weather in the mountains can change at the drop of a hat.