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Hiking the Chief in Squamish

Stawamus Chief is an impressive piece of rock. It rises 541 metres (1,774 feet) above the Howe Sound waters and stands like a sentinel above the town of Squamish. It is the second largest hunk of granite in the world. The largest is the Rock of Gibralter off the coast of Spain. Hiking the Chief is one of the best way to experience this massive rock – and it’s far easier than it looks from the ground.

Hiking the Chief in Squamish

The views from near the top of the Chief

Access to the Chief in Squamish

To reach the trailhead take Highway 99 north from Vancouver. Signs point you to the turnoff which is 1.3 kms north of Shannon Falls and 1.5 kms south of Squamish. Turn right onto a smaller road and park in one of the parking lots – for free. Parking in the larger climbers parking lot is also possible if you make a left turn just as you come off the highway.

What hiking the Chief looks like

When you look up at the Chief it’s hard to imagine that it’s accessible to hikers…but it most definitely is via a trail that climbs the back side of the rock. There is a choice of three peaks to hike; the most popular and easiest is First Peak. It’s 1.5 kms one way with an elevation gain of 513 metres (1,685 feet). The trail is VERY busy on weekends, especially in the summer. Avoid climbing the upper exposed granite rock under wet conditions. It can become slippery and treacherous. Dogs are allowed on a leash.

Hiking the Chief in Squamish

The trail can get backed up in spots on a weekend – going up and coming down

Hiking the Chief in Squamish

The rock offers great traction – if its not wet!

The trail begins steeply by way of a series of wooden stairs. A lovely stream beckons alongside this section. After the stairs climb on an obvious trail over roots and rocks through what is called South Gully. Keep close to the steep granite wall as you make your way up. Stay left at all intersections to reach First Peak. The other trails lead to Second and Third Peak which are longer and harder hikes. At about the halfway point there is an obvious rock bluff which affords excellent views. Continue hiking. Climb one small ladder (it can get backed up here) and five minutes later reach the open section of granite rock.

From the open area there is scrambling to do – aided with chains and a small ladder. Some people have a tough time through this section but the rock has excellent traction under dry conditions. Follow red paint marks (hard to see at times) all the way to the top. It’s a rush up there looking down over the edge. Do be careful on top of the peak. It would be an awful fall. Don’t throw anything over the edge as climbers may be below.

Hiking the Chief in Squamish

The chain section is actually fun

Hiking the Chief in Squamish

The rock has so many moods depending on whether its a wet or sunny day when you hike

The view from the top of Stawmus Chief

Hiking the Chief in Squamish

Looking over the town of Squamish from what looks like a precarious perch

Enjoy views of the Tantalus Range and the Sea to Sky Highway. The views are truly breathtaking. Going down is tough. Exercise caution especially around tree roots and boulders. You need two to three hours to hike up and down Stawamus Chief.

Have you considered hiking the Chief?

Hiking the Chief in Squamish

Leigh McAdam

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta
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Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Sha says:

    I’ve climbed the Chief, or should I say hiked..and loved every bit of it! The view was incredible. We did it as an excursion when I was in high school! Thank you for sharing your experience and for this great post! Good luck on your adventures and the upcoming book.

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