Stawamus Chief - Squamish
Travel Update Summer 2020: Most destinations, sites and parks reopened with limitations. Check the official websites and read our crucial ‘BEST TIME TO GO' and ‘AVOIDING THE CROWDS’ tips:
The Chief hike is one of the most popular trails in British Columbia and also famous for climbing with just an hour drive from Vancouver. The hiking season starts in late March and lasts until the end of October. Best hiking conditions are during summer, but this is the peak season as well. August is the worst month due to the Canadian School Holidays. September is a lovely month. Continue reading to figure out all details for this breathtaking hike.
Stawamus Chief from Sea to Sky Gondola - Mt. Garibaldi in the back
This excellent trail is pretty busy during the weekends and in the summer; July and August. Spring and fall are less crowded. We hiked on a Friday morning to the peaks, and it was still busy in the afternoon. Plenty of hikers came to walk to the top of the first peak. If you like to climb this track with fewer people give the first peak a miss; it' the most frequented one. Fewer hikers continue to the second peak of the Chief and the third in the north is even less busy. The view from the first peak is already spectacular and gets even better from the second. If possible hike mid-week in spring or fall. The summer season is super busy, and campgrounds are fully booked. From the first of September onwards camping is more fun and there are plenty of campsites to choose from.
The Stawamus Chief Hike always up
Usually, you can hike from spring in March until late fall at the end of October. The Chief gets snow during winter. Anyhow, if it’s wet, the granite rocks are quite slippery. There are also slippery parts at dry weather where many hikers climbed up and down on the same route.
Parking the Car
The parking at Darrell Bay is limited in space. There are two parking lots for hikers and climbers, and it fills up soon in the morning. These two parking lots are for free. The parking for the sea to sky gondola nearby is limited for three hours. Tip: You can also start hiking from the nearby Shannon Falls if the two parking lots at Darrell Bay are full.
Squamish gets a high amount of precipitation throughout the year with its peak from October/November to February/March. Summer is the driest season of the year, but rain can occur so be prepared while hiking. From May to September the temps are pleasant, in summer around 20 °C / 68°F but can be hot as well with temps over 30 °C / 86 °F. Nights are cool even during summer with a maximum of 10 to 13 °C / 50 to 55 °F. Due to the location at Howe sound only freezing temps during the winter. There is often rainfall in Squamish while it is snowing on the Sea to Sky summit.
Where to Stay or Camp
Camping in Squamish; There are several opportunities for camping. These are our favorites:
- We enjoyed camping in the Alice Lake Provincial Park walk-in site for $ 23. There are 108 campsites, hot showers, swimming in the lake is cold but awesome, the Four Lakes Trail starts at the campground. Gets a bit windy though in the evening. Look where you pitch your tent. It’s quite popular during summer and reservations are advisable. Number 97-108 are walk-in sites. Campground Map of Alice Lake
- The Stawamus Chief campground with 47 sites, 10 $ p.p., pit toilet, and water, located close to HW 99.
- Hotels: We love the low budget Squamish Hotel during colder night temps. It's clean, quiet, washing and ice for free, and the most attentive staff.
The Chief is located close to the lovely town of Squamish in the Stawamus Chief Provincial Park. It is one of the largest granite monoliths in the world with a hight of 702 m more than 2300 feet. It represents a significant site for the First Nations; "The Squamish". The Chief has three peaks to climb up, so it’s quite a magnificent day trip of hiking steep uphill, climbing with chain ropes and ladders in elevation gain more than 800 m / 2625 feet to the three summits.
Chain ropes for the slippery climb to the top
There is the first peak in the south, the second in the middle and the third in the north. It’s worth doing all three, but if your time is limited, I suggest hiking the middle one which was much climbing, fun, and a much better view of the Garibaldi Mountains.
The trailhead is at the Stawamus Chief campground which is nestled in the forest popular for climbers. The descent is heart beating steep from the beginning over rocks, roots, and steps. It splits several times once to Shannon Falls to the right, afterward to the Upper Shannon Falls, and then to the Sea to Summit trail but stay left all the time until you get to the sign first and the second peak. Now you have to decide which one you would like to follow. The most stunning part of the trail is the second peak combined with the third. Between the second and the third is the North Gully with a fantastic view to high cliff walls with a 60 meters high gap. The scenery from the three peaks is spectacular to the Howe Sound, Squamish and the summits of Garibaldi Provincial Park (second and third only) and Garibaldi itself best from the third peak.
Hiking Time to the Different Peaks of Stawamus Chief
- It takes around 3-4 hours if hiking the first peak.
Howe Sound and the first peak of Stawamus Chief
- The second peak takes 4-5 hours, 5 km / 3.1 miles.
The second peak
- All peaks together depending on your fitness and pace 5-7 hours. Some people hike the pikes in 3-5 hours, but that's utterly strenuous,
- Hiking the second and third is a 7 km / 4.3 miles trail, and it takes around 6 hours with picture stops and lunch in-between.
What to Bring
- Plenty of water especially during summer
- Consider you are in the mountains and weather can change quickly; wind- and waterproof jacket is always advisable
- Picnic for the summit
- Sun protection and sun glasses
- Sea to Summit hike; elevation gain 918 m / 3.012 feet, distance 7.5 km / 4.7 miles and takes 3.5 up to 5 hours climbing up - getting back via the sea to sky gondola for 10 $ only!
Top Tip: Usually, the gondola is operating from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. (last ride down), but on Fridays and Saturdays the last gondola is returning at 9 p.m. from mid-May to mid-September. Check out the last sea to sky gondola
Enjoy the sunset on the top! We did this with a pint of Cider and live music. Such a great atmosphere and many residents from Squamish came up that evening.
- Take the Sea to Sky Gondola 885 m / 2900 feet above sea level for hiking
There are several short trails and day hikes with all levels of difficulties. The view to Howe Sound, Sky Pilot-, Co-Pilot- and Ledge Mountain and the Stadium Glacier is spectacular. Snowshoeing is possible in the winter time.
- The Four Lakes Trail at Alice Lake Provincial Park: elevation gain 200 m / 656 feet, distance 6.5 km / 4 miles which last round about 2 hours
- The Shannon Falls and Upper Shannon Falls hike; It's a short stroll to the bottom of the Shannon Falls. The Upper Shannon Falls are a half day return hike of 7 km / 4.3 miles which takes 4-5 hours and an elevation gain of 450 m / 1.476 feet
- The Garibaldi Lake Trail; elevation gain more than 900 m, distance 18 km / 11.2 miles which take about 4-6 hours.
- Backcountry Hiking from Diamond Head inside the Garibaldi Provincial Park.
Popular Attractions in Squamish
- The Estuary and Spit
It’s a unique ecosystem where the young salmon adapts to salt water before leaving into the ocean. It’s a great destination for birding with more than 200 species like the osprey and hawk.
It is also famous for wind- and kite surfers from all over the world and the top destination in North America from May to September.
- Eagle Run in the Brackendale Eagles Provincial Park
Every winter from around mid-November a high number of eagles arrives and stay until March to feed on spawning salmon. The highest concentration is usually between December and March. It’s a long way to Squamish and Cheakamus River for the salmon the reason that they arrive that late.
- Shannon Falls Provincial Park
It's another highlight close to Squamish just off HW 99. The falls are 335 meters / 1.100 feet high and due to the short walk and the easy access utterly crowded. The flow is much better in spring than at our visit in September. In the afternoon, the waterfall shimmers in the sunlight.
Squamish is a lovely town with a population around 20.000. The Canadians are very kind and attentive, but in Squamish, everybody walks an extra mile for you. If you need any assistant get in contact with the Information Center. They made our stay memorable due to all the information we got provided with. Information Center Squamish