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
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.
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.
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.
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