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The Stawamus Chief Hiking Trail in Squamish BC, 2023

The Stawamus Chief hike outside the village Squamish in British Columbia, Canada is one of the most popular hikes near the city of Vancouver, only about an hour’s drive away. The Stawamus Chief is named by the first nations people after their village on the Squamish River.  Stawamus Chief Mountain often just called The Chief or Squamish Chief, is the second largest granite rock in the world, behind the Rock of Gibraltar. There are three peaks, so there are actually 3 separate summits in Stawamus Chief Park.

Three peaks of the Chief outside Squamish
The three peaks of The Chief outside Squamish are great to climb on a weekend trip from Vancouver

This rock wall on one of the largest granite monoliths is a bucket list spot for rock climbers all over the world. The three peaks are separated by several deep gullies which means you have to go down after reaching one summit to start climbing the next. The steep trail rewards with great views of the area surrounding Squamish, including Howe Sound, and north to Garibaldi Provincial Park when reaching the peaks. This is a steep hike, with chains and ladders assisting you to climb this big rock in some parts. The Chief hiking route is a return route, meaning you follow the same path up and down. Climbing the Chief takes anything from 3 to 6 hours to complete depending on your level of fitness. As an alternate route, you could just go to the 1st or 2nd peaks which take roughly 2 to 3 hours to the top and back.

No Permit is required in 2023 to hike the Chief. 

Going to Squamish is a fantastic weekend trip from Vancouver with so many hikes and other activities to do from this beautiful little town.

There are several other popular hikes close to Squamish, the Garibaldi Lake hike and Black Tusk are spectacular routes towards Whistler. The Grouse Grind is a challenging hike in downtown Vancouver.

The Stawamus Chief Hike Statistics

  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Distance:
    • Total Roundtrip – 8.11km
    • Peak 1 (from trailhead one way): 2.11 km – South Peak
    • Peak 2 (from trailhead one way): 3.75 km – Center Peak
    • Peak 3 (from trailhead one way): 4.6 km – North Peak
  • Max Elevation: Peak 1: 630 m, Peak 2: 660 m, Peak 3: 702 m
  • Total Elevation Gain: 903 m
  • Time: 3 hours 29 minutes
  • Average Hiking Time: anything from 3 to 6 hours
elevation profile Squamish Chief
Elevation profile hiking the three peaks of the Squamish Chief.

When to Hike The Chief

The Stawamus Chief Trail hiking season stretches from late March until the end of October. The Chief mountain trail does not get as much snow as some of the other nearby mountains and therefore enjoys a fairly long hiking season for the area.   Summer is the best time to hike the Stawamus Chief. This big granite rock gets very slippery when wet and hiking here in the rainy season, during the winter months, from November to January, is difficult and can be dangerous. The Chief also gets some snow at this time of year.

Even though summer has the best weather, due to its location close to Vancouver this hiking route gets very busy in summer, peaking at school holiday time around July and August. Mid-summer I would try to avoid weekends, if possible go in the week it gets very busy with full campgrounds. The best time weather and crowd wise is probably mid-week in spring or fall. September is in great condition for hiking here. I had a great day hiking here in good conditions in mid-September.

Also, the route to Peak 1 from the trailhead is the busiest, with crowds thinning out towards Peak 2 and Peak 3.

peak one stawamus Chief Squamish
Great views from the First Peak of the Stawamus Chief.

Getting to Stawamus Chief Mountain

The Chief is located on Highway 99 about 55km from Vancouver and less than 5 km south of Squamish. The BC Highway 99 is also known as the Sea-to-Sky Highway and is a legendary route with fantastic views going from Vancouver to Whistler.  To get to the Squamish Chief, turn off Highway 99 at either Shannon Falls or Stawamus Chief Provincial Park. 

Walk from the day-use parking area past the Chief Campground to where the hiking route starts at the foot of a set of stairs. The trail is also easy to access from Shannon Falls and the Sea to Sky Gondola, the route is well-marked and only takes a few minutes. GPS pin for Chief Parking Area

If you are staying in Squamish you can walk to the Chief via the Sea to Sky Connector Trail, it is 3 km and took me about 35 minutes.

Hiking The Chief – the route

There is a clear trail, it is well marked with diamond-shaped trail blazes on trees. The turn-off from the trail to different peaks is marked with signposts along the way. The Chief has 3 peaks and it’s possible to hike all three in 3 to 6 hours if you are in good physical condition or you can choose to only hike to one of the peaks. 

Hiking to all 3 peaks was a total distance of 8.11 km with a total elevation gain of 903m that took us 3 hours and 28 minutes to hike.

The trailhead is at the east end of the Stawamus Chief campground. The hike starts with a wide easy path that goes past the campsite and the climbing starts at a series of wooden stairs climbing alongside Oleson Creek.

The first part of the trail is shared with the Sea To Summit Trail goes to the top of the Gondola and can be very busy since the majority of people hike this part. 

Stawamus Chief Map
Stawamus Chief Map, generated with my Garmin Fenix 5 GPS Watch

Starting at the first trailhead and hiking to peaks in order from 1 to 3, you will reach several splits in the path, to reach Peak 1 just follow the signs going left at every junction. To reach Peak 2 you turn around at Peak 1 and go down the trail to the junction with the trail leading up again to Peak 2. To reach Peak 3  continue over Peak 2, the trail descends into a canyon from where it climbs to the third peak. 

Climbing Peak 1

  • Distance from the trailhead – 2.11 km
  • Time to reach from the trailhead – 50 min
  • Height 630 m 

Reaching the top of Peak 1 at 630 m above sea level took me 50 minutes to hike the 2.11 km. Hike only to Peak 1 from the trailhead takes about 2 to 3 hours to return with a round trip distance of 4.2 km. 

Peak 1 is the most southern peak and is located closest to the parking lot. It is the busiest part to hike to. There is a metal ladder and some chains to assist you in climbing the last parts to the top, be rewarded with incredible views of the area. The top of the peak is fairly wide open and has a great view of Howe Sound looking down towards the town of Squamish.  There are sheer cliffs on three sides, next to the mammoth rock face is a great spot to have lunch or a snack. There are no railings and it is a long way down, so be careful at the top!

Climbing Peak 2

  • Distance from the trailhead – 3.75 km (via peak 1)
  • Time to reach from the trailhead –  1 h and 45 minutes 
  • Height 660 m 

Peak 2 is the middle peak, it took me 1 h and 45 minutes to hike the 3.75 km from the trailhead to the top of this peak at 660 m above sea level. From Peak 1 to Peak 2 took about 50 minutes to cover the distance of 1.65 km. To hike straight to Peak 2 from the trailhead is about 5 km taking 3.5 to 5 hours.

When leaving Peak 1 trackback, you may have to wait a bit at the chain, it can be very busy. Follow the trail and then descend down the ladder making your way back to the junction. At the junction turn towards Peak 2.

The Stawamus Chief near Squamish
The Stawamus Chief, peak one taken from peak 2.

The trail is steep this way with a couple of sections along this route with chains to make the scrambling and climbing a bit easier. 

The Second Peak is the largest of the three with some great panoramic views of Howe Sound, Squamish, and the peaks of Mount Garibaldi. You also have some nice views of Peak 1 and Peak 3 and the surrounding mountains from here.

Climbing Peak 3

  • Distance from the trailhead – 4.60 km (via peaks 1 and 2)
  • Time to reach from the trailhead –  2 h and 10 minutes 
  • Height 702 m 

To get to the 3rd Peak, continue over the second peak following the trail markers. The trail descends into a  valley known as the Saddle. Walk through a gully with massive vertical rock walls. Hike to the third peak, the highest peak has nice views of  Mt. Garibaldi and the Squamish townsite below.

You can also hike to Peak 3 without going over Peaks 1 and 2, the distance is about 7 km hiking straight to Peak 3 from the trailhead.

Turning around at Peak 3 you have two choices to return, trackback until you reach a junction, here you can go left and follow a different path, marked on the map as the ‘alternative route’, it does not go via Peak 2 joining the main trail much later, or you can return the way that you came by going back up to the Second Peak. 

When leaving Peak 1 trackback, you may have to wait a bit at the chain, it can be very busy. Follow the trail and then descend down the ladder making your way back to the junction. At the junction turn towards Peak 2.

The trail is steep this way with a couple of sections along this route with chains to make the scrambling and climbing a bit easier. 

The Second Peak is the largest of the three with some great panoramic views of Howe Sound, Squamish, and the peaks of Mount Garibaldi. You also have some nice views of Peak 1 and Peak 3 from here.

North Gully on Chief hiking trail
The North Gully on the Chief hiking trail

Bears on the Squamish Chief

The Stawamus Chief Park is located in prime bear habitat. Black bears are common, while Grizzly bears are a very rare occurrence. It is recommended to carry bear spray while hiking the Chief.

Transport to Squamish

It is a quick drive from Vancouver to Squamish town on the BC-99 S highway, 63 km taking about 55 minutes. Renting a car is definitely the easiest way to get around.  For car rental, I recommend using Discover Cars to find the best deal. There is daily public transport between Squamish and Vancouver with the Squamish connector or several other bus services.

Buy your bus ticket from Vancouver City Center to Squamish/Whistler here.

Sea to Sky Gondola

Get a unique perspective of the mountain town of Squamish, and the surrounding alpine scenery, as you go on this spectacular Sea to Sky Gondola ride. 

Buy your Sea to Sky Gondola Ticket here.

More Great Hikes in Canada

With thousands of kilometers of coastline and spectacular mountains, Canada is home to some of the best hiking trails in the world. There are plenty of amazing weekend getaways from Vancouver that are amazing for hikers. If you want to hike for a couple of days next to the ocean and see a wide range of wildlife from orcas to bears you will love the challenging West Coast Trail or the neighboring Juan de Fuca Trail, both hugging the coast on Vancouver island. With amazing things to do on Vancouver Island from seeing orcas to surfing and unreal hikes, this beautiful island is a must-visit from Vancouver. For spectacular hikes in the Canadian Rockies, the hiking trails around Banff in Alberta is hard to beat!

Accommodation in Squamish and Vancouver

Squamish Hiking and Packing

Squamish has a couple of great campsites. The MSR Hubba Hubba tent is an extremely light, waterproof, and durable tent, I have done some awesome hikes with mine. For a tent that is a little bit larger (if you go with a car) check out this very well-rated tent from TETON Sports Mountain Ultra Tent

Garmin Fenix 5 GPS Watch is a fantastic instrument for tracking all stats, navigation, and generating maps. The maps and elevation profiles in this article were generated with my Fenix 5.

For long-term travel and serious hiking the Osprey Packs Osprey Pack Atmos Ag 65 Backpack or Ariel 65 women’s version is an excellent backpack.

To make any water source drinkable the Lifestraw filter bottle is easy to use and very handy. It makes any stream or puddle drinkable immediately.

For hiking in the snow, rain and mud, my Salomon X Ultra Prime boots do an amazing job, they are waterproof, gortex, light, and stay dry!

If you want a shoe cut the Merrell Moab 2 is Waterproof or are great quality low cut shoes; durable, waterproof, comfortable, with good grip.

Pack a BUFF Multifunctional Headwear – protects your neck and face from sunburn, wind, and weather.

Microfibre towels take up almost no space, are light, and dry easily.  Quick Dry Microfiber Travel Towel

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Thomas Lorenz

Thursday 8th of October 2020

The first map is wrong, The Chief is more South (also wrong in Google)

Stingy Nomads

Wednesday 14th of October 2020

Thanks for your comment, the hiking maps and elevation profiles were drawn by a gps I carried on the trail. The first map was a road map that I constructed with Google Maps, I removed this map.

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