Hike The Chief in Squamish, BC Canada

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 hours 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, is the second largest granite rock in the world, behind the Rock of Gibraltar, and has three peaks that you can summit in this hike. This rock wall is world renowned for rock climbing. 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 incredible views of the area surrounding Squamish, including Howe Sound and north to Garibaldi Provincial Park when reaching the peaks. The hike to the top is challenging, 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. Alternatively, you could just go to the 1st or 2nd peaks which take roughly 2 to 3 hours to the top and back.

The three peaks of the Stawamus Chief can clearly be seen. Looking at this gigantic monolith from below it is unreal to think you are going to climb these peaks over the next couple of hours!
The three peaks of the Stawamus Chief can clearly be seen. Looking at this gigantic monolith from below it is unreal to think you are going to climb these peaks over the next couple of hours!

The Stawamus Chief Hike Statistics

  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Distance: 
    • Total Roundtrip – 8.11km
    • Peak 1 (from trail head one way): 2.11 km
    • Peak 2 (from trail head one way) : 3.75 km
    • Peak 3 (from trail head one way) : 4.6 km
  • 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 Map of climbing The Chief.
Elevation Map of climbing The Chief – Measured with my Garmin Fenix 5 GPS Watch

When to Hike The Chief

The Stawamus Chief hiking season stretches from late March until end of October. The Chief 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 rainy season from November to January, is difficult and can be dangerous. The Chief also gets some snow at this time of winter.

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 great conditions for hiking here. I had a great day hiking here with good conditions in mid September.

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

Peak 1 Stawamus Chier
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. To get to the Chief, turn off Highway 99 at either Shannon Falls or Stawamus Chief Provincial Park.

Walk from the 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.

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.

Map from Squamish to The Stawamus Chief

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 each peak 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 depending on your fitness or you can choose to only hike to one of the peaks. 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.

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

The first part of the trail is shared with the Sea To Summit Trail that goes to the top of the Gondola and can be very busy.

Starting at the first trail head 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 decends into a canyon from where it climbs to the third peak.

Climbing Peak 1

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

To reach the top op Peak 1 at 630 m above sea level took me 50 minutes to hike the 2.11 km. To hike only to Peak 1 from the trail head takes about 2 to 3 hours return with a 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, look around the views are great. 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 is sheer cliffs on three sides, 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 trail head – 3.75 km (via peak 1)
  • Time to reach from trail head – 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 trail head 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 trail head is about 5 km taking 3.5 to 5 hours.

The South Peak taken from the Center Peak.

When leaving Peak 1 track back, 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.

Climbing Peak 3

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

To get to the Third 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 town site below.

You can also hike to Peak 3 without going over Peak 1 and 2, the distance is about 7 km hiking strait to Peak 3 from the trail head.

Turning around at Peak 3 you have two choices to return, track back 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.

The North Gully between Peak two and three.
The North Gully between Peak two and three.

Transport to Squamish

It is a quick drive from Vancouver to Squamish 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 Rentalcar to find the best deal.

There is daily public transport with the Squamish connector for about $CAD 30 return or several other bus services. I stayed over in Squamish for two nights hiking The Chief and the Black Tusk from here. Getting to Rubble Creek parking area in Garibaldi Park is easy from here with the Shred Shuttle for $CAD 22 return.

Accommodation in Squamish and Vancouver

Packing for Hiking around Squamish

To enjoy hiking a good pair of shoes is the basic equipment you will need.

When buying hiking boots/shoes check for the following:

  • waterproof
  • breathing
  • have good grip – sometimes you walk on muddy or rocky terrain
  • fit good – you have some space to wiggle your toes
  • good quality

Should you hike in boots or shoes? In winter for muddy conditions or snow boots are preferable. In dry conditions without snow the need for ankle support is a personal preference. In winter with snow I will strongly recommend that you wear boots and close them up with some gaiters.   Wearing merino wool socks in waterproof hiking shoes is the way to go and I will definitely add gaiters if it is rainy.

Alya hiked more than 3000 km in her Merrell Moab 2 Waterproof hiking shoes before retiring them! Salomon X Ultra Prime is another good option for low cut shoes; durable, waterproof, comfortable, have good grip. For boot cut – KEEN Targhee II Waterproof or more budget option – Columbia Granite Ridge.are good shoes.

If you’re looking for something cheaper Columbia Dakota Drifter is a good option. For ladies that prefer a boot cut Columbia Women’s Newton Ridge Plus Hiking Boot, is an excellent choice.

I always have a rain jacket with me on a hike. A waterproof jacket ladies or (men’s model) with hood in case of strong wind or rain is a must on this trail.

Great pants for all conditions hiking pants, Alya walks in trekking pants or yoga pants.

Fleece vest- very light to pack,  a fleece vest is nice for extra heat layering, ladies.

Hiking shirt – I never wear cotton, if you sweat under your jacket you will be wet and cold underneath. Alya prefers hiking in breathable, moisture wicking, quik dry long sleeve shirt. I love hiking in Columbia shirts, they do not absorb water so dry quickly and protects me from the sun if I take my jacket off. Quick dry if I get importunity to hand wash on the way. 

Sport bras – they are great for hiking and outdoors, Alya says that she prefers sport bras over normal bras. 

Merino wool socks – a must have especially for long hikes. In the past we didn’t pay much attention to socks – bought any random cheap socks and used to have blisters. We’ve heard a lot from other hikers about merino wool socks and finally decided to give it a go. They do work great, now we always wear them for hiking. Some advantages of merino wool socks; don’t absorb odors, protect your feet, dry quick and very durable. For even more comfortable walk check Darn Tough hiking socks they’re famous for great foot support and blister protection. Alya likes their ladies’ models; colorful and funky.

Cap/hat – a must have in the mountains for sun protection. Alya prefers wearing a cap, I usually takes a hat on hikes. 

Sunglasses – bring sunglasses for hiking in the mountains with high UV protection and polarized lenses.  

Pack a BUFF Multifunctional Headwear – protects your neck and face from sun burn, wind and weather. Get a funky one, mine is a South African flag, awesome for photos!

Trekking Poles – very helpful in the mud, if you don’t have a pair get a stick early on, helped us a lot. TrailBuddy Hiking Sticks, TrailBuddy Hiking Sticks very well rated, good value for money, aluminium trekking poles. Aluminium is strong and a bit heavier than carbon, my advice is save some money, go for these guys! Top of the line Black Diamond Trail Pro Shock Trekking Pole, 68-140cm.

Planning to do a multi day backpacking hike? I love our MSR Hubba Hubba NX 2-Person Lightweight Backpacking Tent, bought mine in Canada, camped in many different conditions, a fantastic, easy light, super quality tent.

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