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!)
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.
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.