Cheakamus Canyon – Squamish Hikes

Cheakamus Canyon – Squamish Hikes

Cheakamus Canyon is one of those rare, unicorn-like hikes that is pretty easy, not particularly busy and has incredible views. We did this as an out and back hike, but you could arrange a shuttle to halve the distance leaving a friend’s car at one end of the trail.

You will hike uphill past a pretty lake until you reach some rugged views of rocky cliffs, canyons with misty mountains towering above you. I don’t really understand why this hike is not crazily popular like nearby trails like the Chief or Alice Lakes. I thought the views were spectacular, even though it only takes around 3 hours. Plus there is a pretty lake half way along the route which looked like it would be lovely to go for a dip in the summertime.

Cheakamus Canyon Map

Cheakamus Canyon – The basics

Distance: 11km 
Cumulative Elevation Gain:
320m
High Point:
360m
Time: 3-3.5 hours
What to bring:  
Water, snacks and your camera!
We brought the 10 essentials.
Facilities: No facilities.
Dogs: Dog friendly
How hard is it? Pretty easy. There isn’t much elevation gain and there aren’t any technical sections.

Cheakamus Canyon – Getting Started

To drive to the trailhead from Squamish: Turn off the Sea to Sky Highway just before Alice Lakes, and head down Squamish Valley Road, turn right after you’ve crossed the Cheakamus River and drive down Paradise Valley road as far as you can. We parked 1km away from the start as our car wouldn’t make it through some of the giant puddles by the main trailhead.

The puddles at the start of the trail were pretty impressive, even in autumn, so I have a feeling this road must get flooded sometimes in spring. The trail starts alongside the Cheakamus River. You can hear the river rushing past while you look at the calm giant puddles.

There are even a few places where you can pop behind the trees and see the Cheakamus River glisten in the sunshine. We got to see a few people fishing, as mist floated just above the water. It’s such a calm area.

Sea to Sky Trail

This is part of the new-ish Sea to Sky trail, which is part of the massive Trans Canada Trail. We have hiked several sections of this now (at Shadow Lake, the Whistler Train Wreck, and Parkhust Ghost Town.) The trail is pretty well maintained, with lots of signs to show the way.

Cheakamus Canyon Elevation gains

I think of this as an easy-ish hike because the path is so easy to follow. But that doesn’t mean it is completely flat! You do end up climbing just over 300m over 5km. It’s never crazily steep, but the trail does have some uphill sections to give you a bit of a workout. It’s just enough elevation change that there was no snow at the start of the trail, but several inches at the top.

This is Marc’s photo looking backwards at me. We had such a perfect autumn day (we did this hike in mid-November.)

Cross the tracks

You need to cross the trainline about 2km into the hike. There are some large rocks that you need to clamber over. Cross the trainline quickly, and the path continues on the opposite side of the tracks.

Starvation Lake

The next pretty viewpoint along the route is Starvation Lake. There is a path around the edge of the water, so we hiked over to the sunny side of the lake to eat our lunch. Which is slightly inappropriate when you think of the lake’s name!

This is the view back over to the main trail. It’s a pretty sweet place to stop for lunch! If you keep walking around, there is even a dock for swimming.

Tunnel Views

Once you leave Starvation Lake, the trail starts to climb again. I took a break by climbing slightly higher to look down at the trainline. You can see it disappear into a tunnel. Isn’t this scenery fabulous!?

See-through wire trail

The next part is NOT suitable for those of you that are afraid of heights! The Cheakamus Canyon trail follows along the cliff directly above the trainline. There is one section where the cliff is so steep that there is no space for a path…so some clever path builder just created a ledge out of wire, and fastened that to the cliff. You can look right through the wire to the sheer drop below! I loved it!

Cheakamus Canyon Views

This cliff is great for peering into the canyon! You can look down to the river that carved out this incredible landscape.

After that the path became less dodgy again, but as we visited in November, we were just getting high enough for there to be snow along the trail. It is a little strange to be walking on a warm, sunny day through the snow!

Rocky Mountaineer Views

This is where the Rocky Mountaineer train comes through, from Vancouver to Jasper. If you google Cheakamus Canyon, most of the photos are from the train, rather than hiking. Still, it is pretty cool to see the kind of views you’ll be treated to if you take Canada’s pricy train ride.

Even after the first Cheakamus Canyon views, the trail keeps going a bit higher. I loved how the scenery became more and more autumnal as we hiked higher. I loved the contrast

The moss even started to shine, looking all golden in the afternoon sun.

More gorgeous views

About 4.5km into the hike, there are some more gorgeous views down to the Cheakamus River from above.

There is a picnic area along the Sea to Sky Highway that looks like it has access down to the river down there (right after the train crossing in my photo below.) If you have some extra energy you could easily tag that on to the end of this hike.  The Sea to Sky Highway is the bald patch of mountain to the right of this photo – that is the end of this hike.

Sea to Sky Highway

The Northern end of this trail finishes at the Sea to Sky Highway. You can’t quite tell from my photo, but if you hike along the highway for a few hundred meters, there is a picnic area with a place to park. You could do this hike backwards starting from here (but then you’d have the climb on the way back…)

This is the view out towards Cheakamus Canyon from the Sea to Sky Highway. The sun sets early in winter here, so it is a little dark but so, so pretty!

Consider running down

Marc and I often find going downhill is a bit harder on our legs than hiking uphill. But as the Cheakamus Canyon trail was so smooth (apart from a few rocky or snowy sections) it’s a great trail to run down. Running down meant I took fewer photos on the return journey; But it was sooo much easier on my knees. And as it’s downhill most of the way, it was really fun!

I wasn’t expecting much from this hike as I had heard so little about it. But it really punched above it’s weight in terms of the effort to epic-view ratio! If you are staying near Squamish or Whistler and fancy a fun little hike, I cannot recommend this enough! Have you visited this area? What is your favourite hike here? Or if you need more ideas for walks near here, have a peek at the maps on my Canada Hiking page.

Please just click on the pins below to save this adventure for later.

Cheakamus Canyon - Fabulous hike near Squamish, Canada Cheakamus Canyon - Easy hike with epic views near Squamish, Canada Cheakamus Canyon - Family friendly walk near Squamish, Canada

41 thoughts on “Cheakamus Canyon – Squamish Hikes

  1. It looks like a beautiful hike. I’ve done many hikes in the PNW, but none in Canada yet. I’m guessing BC has got to be similar and just as beautiful. I can see people being a little nervous on that ledge!

    1. Yeah I think it is pretty similar (we crossed the border for a couple of hikes near Seattle…and it was similarly gorgeous!) When the borders reopen I would love to explore more of the PNW in the United States.

      The chicken wire holding up the path was pretty mad isn’t it. I think it would be a massive challenge for people that are afraid of heights!!

  2. This looks beautiful! I’ve driven on Sea-to-Sky highway several times to go from Vancouver to Whistler in the winter, but had no idea there were such gorgeous hikes in warmer months to explore.

    1. There are so many! It blows my mind each time we find new hikes along the highway…and when you drive it afterwards it gets more exciting (as you know how amazing it all is behind the forests along the road…)

    1. Thanks Jade. It’s just my phone camera for these ones (a pixel 3) I often carry my proper camera with the larger lens…but I tend to use it less and less now my phone is getting so good.

  3. I love the term unicorn hike, and this sounds like it. Would love to do that hike and go for a swim. Looks beautiful.

    1. Thanks Melinda. I have a feeling we’ll need to go back in the summertime to see this hike without the snow. If we do that, I will HAVE to go for a swim. It looks too pretty not to!

  4. All these places look incredible, and I would love to explore them one day. Thank you for these hiking recommendations.

  5. You are so lucky to have hikes like that so close to you. London has its positives, but is lacking in stunning scenery like this.

    1. You know, I think that is the hardest part when we consider moving home to London. I would miss the easy access to mountains and epic trails (although I reeeeeally miss friends and family…)

      London has fantastic walks, they are just not quite as wild.

  6. Wow you go on so many fantastic hikes! This one in particular I like because it passes by a river and you get some great views from the top as well!

  7. that railroad shot is epic! i bet it’s even cooler in person… and i hope to do this gorgeous “unicorn” hike in person on my next trip to BC (hopefully soon!!!!)

    1. Thanks Shelly! Yeah I hope this pandemic will end soon. We have several hikes in Washington we’d like to try as well…

  8. This looks like a spectacular hike! I like how many scenic spots there are, and I think it’s fun that the hike incorporates train tracks. I’ll have to add Cheakamus Canyon to my list when I visit Canada!

    1. Thanks Brittany! Yeah it’s always exciting to cross the train tracks…at least this line is not used much so it doesn’t feel too unsafe.

  9. You got some great photos on this hike that make it look really good. I’ve done it a couple of times (we even saw the Whistler Mountaineer once!) and I must admit I’m far less enthusiastic about it than you 🙂 But I have been called a hiking snob, so maybe that’s why…! You’re right – it does flood in the spring and the first part can be inaccessible when the river is running high.

    1. I think it’s partly that we were not super impressed by the other sections of the Sea to Sky trail (it’s always below power lines and they can spoil the view.) I was more of a hiking snob on those sections.

      It was a lovely surprise that this was such a pretty hike! Maybe we just got extra lucky with the lighting and the snow!?

      1. Actually looking it at a bit more generously, it does have a few good things going for it, like those views of the Tantalus Range and down into Cheakamus Canyon – that’s definitely a unique view! And the trail is actually an easy, walkable trail unlike so so many trails around here, plus the history behind the trail is quite neat. I think it’s the lack of a clear destination or turnaround point that gives it a blah feeling to me.

  10. I smiled at the reference to mid-November as “autumn” (only in BC!!). Although, here in Nova Scotia, we can occasionally luck in with autumn weather in November. Loved your photos, especially the one of the train tracks on the trestle bridge. You’ve created an excellent description of this hike. Thank you.

    1. Heh that is very true! It doesn’t really feel like winter here normally until late December/early January when the ski season gets going. I am not sure if I could cope with the epic winters in Nova Scotia!

  11. Wow, you really find great hikes! I’m always on the lookout for “unicorn” hikes myself, although I don’t know if I’d be up for the wired section– yikes! I love your photos, they make me look forward to the opening of the border when we hope to come north and enjoy some stunning BC beauty!

    1. It really is great when you find hikes like this that are fun aaaand not too busy! I hope you find unicorn-like hikes near you too. 🙂

  12. Gorgeous pics! I love all the tracks that cut through the mountains. It would be incredible to be on a train riding through with those stunning views. Kinda jealous of the snow in your photos, since it’s 90+ degrees and currently very humid where I live.

  13. What an incredible hike, why is it not more popular? We’ve been looking for some more hikes closer to Squamish as things open up, so this is a great one for the list. Those are some pretty big puddles to get through to start with though, but looks like the view is worth the trip. Nice to know it’s a good fairly easy hike. Maybe good to do on a multi day trip after tackling the Chief

  14. WOW! Such a beautiful hiking – I love going to destinations where I can hike, and an unicorn hike is even better 🙂 Thanks for sharing this and to illustrate with incredible pictures. It is definitely a place I would love to visit.

  15. That ledge looked so neat! & The moss in the sunlight must’ve been so pretty in person. I don’t know much about hikes in Canada so this was great!

  16. I would love to do this one! Something about the pictures really capture me, especially the ones with golden leaves/light and misty clouds. Has a mysterious, timeless quality to it. Sort of reminds me of Colorado, especially because of the train line running through, and also reminds me of when I was in Slovenia in autumn. But still doesn’t really look like either; this hike has it’s own unique flavor but I can’t put my finger on what feels so special about it. You’re a good photographer!

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