Squamish Chief Hike – First and Second Peaks

Squamish Chief Hike – First and Second Peaks

Hiking up the Stawamus Chief in Squamish is one of the most popular hikes near Vancouver. “The Chief” is the second largest granite monolith in the world, after the Rock in Gibraltar. It is made up of three peaks. The first two are the most popular with hundreds of hikers climbing up to see the amazing views. The third peak is the quietest, and the most full of chipmunks. The first time we visited, we hiked up the second and third peak. This time we hiked up before breakfast, so we did the first and second peaks instead.

Just because this hike is popular, don’t expect this to be easy. Anyone with reasonable fitness will be able to manage this hike, it’s just your legs may hurt the following day (or week!) I don’t recommend making this your first hike of the year.

Squamish Chief Hike Map

Squamish Chief Hike – the basics

Distance: Peak 1: 4.1km, Peak 2: 5.3km, Peak 3: 5.8km
Elevation Gain: 
Peak 1: 541m, Peak 2: 586m, Peak 3: 633m
High Points:
Peak 1: 610m, Peak 2: 655m, Peak 3: 702m
Time: Peak 1: 2-3 hours, Peak 2: 3.5-4.5 hours, Peak 3: 5-6 hours
What to bring:
Plenty of water, and hiking poles
The 10 Essentials
There is a car park with pit toilets
Not suitable for paws – you’d have to carry them up ladders and the sections with chains.
How hard is it?
Moderately hard. It’s really fun, but it’s a tough workout, especially the first 20 minutes.

How to avoid crowds on the Squamish Chief hike

I mentioned above that this hike is popular. I am not exaggerating at all! If you fancy a quiet hike, you will need to come VERY early in the morning (we were on top of the First peak just after 7:30 am) or late in the afternoon (bring headlamps in case you finish in the dark.) There will probably still be a few other people up there whatever time you visit. However you can expect a crowd if you start the trail after 9am.

Warning – Massive Steps

The worst part of hiking up the Chief in Squamish is the first 20 minutes of steps! Quite a lot of the steps seem to be built for giants so it is really tough! Even if you are pretty healthy and have long legs, this first section of the hike may make you regret your decision to get outside and go for a wander. Just take it slowly and keep going. I promise the Chief does get more fun!

Giant Boulder of Joy

Once you have made it to this boulder, you should be starting to feel better. You’ll be able to feel the sun on your face, have a breather, and get ready for the rest of the hike. To be totally honest, it doesn’t get much easier beyond this point, but it starts to feel easier. It might just be that your legs get used to the constant steps!?

The Stawamus Chief – First Peak

Quite soon after the giant boulder, you will need to decide if you’d like to hike up to the first peak, or if you’d prefer to keep going on to the second peak. Take the left turning if you’d like to visit the first peak. The steps are a little smaller from here. (Phew!)

Steep sections

There are a couple of very steep sections when you need to climb up a ladder, or use a chain to help pull yourself up. It makes this hike seem slightly more epic, but it’s not too technical. Once you reach the top rocky section, just walk straight up to the top, picking the way that looks safest to you.

We were pretty early in the morning, so for once I was speedier than the lads (I’m always annoyingly full of energy in the morning, even before my first cuppa.) Woot!

First Peak – steep drops

Be very careful on the top of the Chief’s first peak. The edges have some vertical drops that go a looong way down. The Chief is also very popular with climbers, so NEVER throw or drop anything down the sides of the mountain. It might hit a climber below.

Second Peak next!?

Most people head back home after the gorgeous views from the first peak, as the scenery IS fantastic. But you can look over to the second peak and hear it calling to you to keep going just a little higher…

As you can probably tell from the photo above, you have to climb quite a long way down, before you reach the path that heads up to the second peak. It can be disheartening to go down so far, as you know you’ll have to climb back up each step again soon. There is a climbing path that links the two peaks near the top, but it looks very sketchy, so we went the safe way.

Heading to the Second Peak

If you feel like you have some energy left, I honestly think the second peak is even more fun than the first. You need to hike up between the cliffs of the two peaks.

There are more ladders and chains to help you with the difficult sections. Try to give way to people that are heading down the mountain if it is busy.

After the mini cliff, you’ll find yourself back on the granite outcrop, with fantastic views of the first peak that you just descended.

It’s pretty easy to walk up the granite. Every few steps you can look back to see the first peak looking smaller and smaller!

Stawamus Chief – Second Peak

How good is this brotherly photo!? We made it to the top before 9am on a Tuesday, so we had the peak to ourselves. However even if you arrive later, the second peak has plenty of space, so you don’t notice the crowds of hikers quite so much. It is a fantastic place to relax, take in the views and meet the locals (chipmunks.)

View down to Squamish

You will have a fantastic views down to Squamish and Howe Sound.

Leave no trace – don’t feed the cuties!

While you relax on the Squamish Chief, you will be very tempted to feel the ridiculously cute chipmunks, squirrels and whiskey jacks. They will all come over, greet you with their best begging routine and hope for snacks.  Please don’t feed them. You can read more about the Leave no trace principles if you don’t trust me, but you should not feed any wild animals in Canada.

I have to admit, I did not know this the first time we visit the Chief, so I am keen to teach others what so many hiking friends have taught me.

Heading down

Whichever peak you decide to visit, it is the descent that will be the hardest part of your hike on the Squamish Chief. The first time we did this hike, both Marc and I finished with total jelly legs! This time, we were both okay, so we may have become stronger since we moved to Vancouver.

Anyway I love the views on the return journey as you often see things that you totally missed on the way up.

We did it! We finished our Squamish Chief hike by 10am. All three of us were soooo hungry and ready for breakfast!

If you fancy continuing on to the third peak, the views are amazing up there too! I have another post about hiking up to the third peak here.

The Squamish Chief Hike - A great workout near Squamish The Squamish Chief Hike - Hike to the first and second peaks

47 thoughts on “Squamish Chief Hike – First and Second Peaks

  1. Very informative article. I find the level of details just right. And all I want to do now is go on a hike!!

  2. Woosh – I don’t think I’ll be doing this hike! I admire your honesty about the difficulty of this – a lot of people who hike a lot seem to lose touch and they think that pretty much anything is a piece of cake but I really love how real you were! These views are stunning though, really wish I had the stamina to do this!

    1. You know, you probably could manage it. It was one of the first hikes we did when we arrived in Vancouver (we were NOT used to big hikes yet) It’s just like when you do a big leg day at the gym…your legs can manage it, they’ll just be aching the following day!

    1. It is a good workout, but I promise it’s not crazily difficult. It’s just I don’t want to pretend it’s super easy and have people mad at me when there legs are sore! 😉

  3. This looks amazing Josy – the photos are just stunning. I know that I will never be able to attempt anything like this these days s it is wonderful to be able to live the experience through your post…..I’m not surprised your legs felt like jelly!! Claire x

    1. You know, you could make it up even higher than the Chief- there is a gondola next door that allows you to climb a mountain with no effort (just a pile of cash!) Then you look down on this view.

      But (just in case you never come to Canada,) I am really glad you like my posts Claire!

  4. I can’t believe I didn’t make it out to hike Squamish Chief when I was in Vancouver! I’m still kicking myself! It’s on my must-do list next time I’m on the west coast – if you ever wanna do it again 😉

  5. Seems like a pretty epic hike! The views look stunning but I don’t know if I’d be confident enough to finish it.

    1. If doing all of these sounds scary, you could start with just the first peak. It’s only a couple of kilometers each way, so although it’ll get your heart going, I bet you could do it!

  6. Wow! You are early birds! I agree though that this is the only way to avoid the crowds. You’ve reminded me of what a great hike this is (except for those massive steps that kill me every time). I especially like the 2nd peak. I’m wondering whether it will be even more busy now that the Sea to Sky Gondola is not operating.

    1. Those steps are huge aren’t they!? It’s the same when you do the Sea to Summit route (which I guess none of us will do for a while now 🙁 ) – we were like “argh is it this bad the whole way?”

      I have a feeling it might be more busy without the gondola working. It is such a shame about that.

  7. This hike looks fantastic. Thanks for the tip to get there early and avoid the crowds. British Columbia is so beautiful.

    1. To be honest, all the easy and intermediate (and even some of the hard) trails are like that near Vancouver. Apart from when it is raining. Far fewer people come out in the rain!

  8. What stunning photos…this looks like a brilliant hike! I’ve also never met a chipmunk, so I’m definitely adding this to my list for when I finally make it to Canada.

    1. OMG you will love them! Chimpunks, ground squirrels, marmots and pikas! They are all ridiculously cute and make my day better when we meet them.

  9. Eek! This looks like quite a hike! The views look gorgeous though. I think I would not survive the first 20 minutes of stairs! That chipmunk is adorable!!

    1. Nah, you can totally manage it, you just have to expect to hate the first 20 minutes, then you know you’ll get through it! It’s all worth it for meeting cheeky chipmunks.

  10. This sounds like a great hike! I do love a good workout and challenge, and it’s even better when there is a great view as a reward. Love all your hiking guides and tips for hikes!

    1. Yay! I am really glad you like them!

      I guess I do like workout challenges too – just not for the start of them. It’s typical type 2 fun. I love looking down on the views and looking back on the achievements!

  11. Wow! That is an ambitious hike, but the views are absolutely incredible! I’ll need to work on my stamina before going here. Love your pictures and the breakdown of the hike.

    1. They’re pretty good views eh!?

      We did this one when we first moved here before I had built up any stamina. You can manage it, you’ll just be knackered (with possible jelly=legs) later. If you just do the first peak, you’d be totally fine.

  12. I haven’t done much research on Canada, but I’d love to go. With that said, I didn’t now about this place and it look gorgeous! It’s amazing how places you never heard of become a must. Now I can’t wait to do this hike!

    1. It’s funny isn’t it? The more research you do, the more you realize you want to do!

      This hike is pretty famous, but I’d never heard of it either before we moved here…

  13. Josy, your hikes and stunning pictures always left me wanting to try one day…Well I will be hiking in Jeju in less than 3 weeks. I am not even prepared, so need some tips from you!
    PS: I can’t guarantee I will be smiling like you at the end of my hike!

    1. Squeeee! I can’t waaaait to see your Jeju posts! Whenever I see photos, that coastline and hills look stunning. Plus you’ll be able to finish with such gorgeous food!

      Am I following you on insta? I should make sure i am so I can follow your adventures!

  14. This looks amazing – those views! Not sure if I could make it all the way, though, sounds like a tough hike!

    1. If you can make it through the first tough 20 minutes, you could totally do it! It’s tough, but fun after that!

  15. This looks like a great hike! I actually just hiked up the Rock of Gibraltar last month and loved it. Will definitely put this hike on my list!

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