Stawamus Chief: The Complete Guide

Stawamus Chief rock face in BC

Getty Images/ Kristin Piljay 

“Hiking the chief” is a popular rite of passage for Vancouverites. Looming 700 meters high above Squamish, the Stawamus Chief is one of the largest granite monoliths in the world and covers the protected two hectares of the 530 hectare Stawamus Chief Provincial Park. World-renowned for its rock climbing opportunities, "The Chief" attracts adventurous visitors from all over the globe, as well as sightseers hoping for a stunning view of Howe Sound. Reaching the Chief is an adventure in itself from Vancouver as the beautiful Sea to Sky Highway hugs the coast on the 45-minute journey from downtown.

 

Background

Traditionally a sacred site for the Indigenous Squamish First Nations, many ancient creation stories involve the Stawamus Chief, which was known historically as Siyám Smánit (which means elder or respected member).

Created in 1997, Stawamus Chief Provincial Park is located 2 kilometers from Squamish and around 60 kilometers north of Vancouver.

What to Do There

Hiking trails lead to three summits of various difficulty, but hikers should be aware that the Chief Trail is a steep and difficult climb. You should be in good physical condition and have appropriate footwear, clothing, food, and water for the hike as it features sharp inclines, sheer drops, and can be very hot on summer days. 

Closest to the parking lot, the First Peak is the busiest route as a 4-kilometer hike (two to three hours) takes you to a spectacular spot to enjoy a picnic (just watch out for those sheer drops!). 

Second Peak is a 5-kilometer hike that takes most people four to five hours but the expansive summit has more ledges and viewpoints of Garibaldi Provincial Park, Squamish, and Howe Sound below. Be aware of sheer drops (and look out for climbers popping up here as it’s a popular point).

Third Peak is a 7-kilometer (five to seven hours) hike that is usually accessed from the Second Peak Trail. This one is the most challenging hike and the highest of the three summits, and it offers incredible views of Mount Garibaldi and Squamish. Advanced hikers can attempt this hike, but be aware that the trail includes sheer cliff walls, gullies, and other hazards, so appropriate footwear and knowledge of technical hiking is best. Allow around six to seven hours for this hike.

The most popular option is to scale Second and then Third Peak on a day hike, but the First Peak Chief Trail is also a great option for intermediate hikers looking for a thrilling adventure with rewarding views. All trails feature challenging terrain and include sections where you’ll be climbing wooden or stone steps and holding onto chains on the rock face with potentially hazardous conditions. Trails are well-marked with diamond signs that point to each peak along the way.

Internationally renowned for its incredible rock climbing opportunities, The Chief is covered in climbers during the summer. Knowledgeable climbers can come alone or with an instructor. Look out for notices about closures of climbing routes on the Chief during the critical nesting season of the Peregrine Falcon.

Facilities

Parking lots have washrooms but then you’re hiking on a monolith, so be prepared. Drive-in and walk-in camping is available in the park at the trailhead, and Squamish town has accommodation options, a burgeoning food scene (try The Salted Vine), and places for sunny patio drinks such as Howe Sound Brewing.

What’s Nearby

Stunning Shannon Falls is near the beginning of the trailhead—these 335-meter falls make a picturesque stop before tackling the first peak. You’ll also find the Sea to Sky Gondola, which is an easy way for non-hikers to view ‘The Chief’ from a cable car as you rise up 885m and can see climbers and hikers making their way up the monolith. Check out our guide for more information.

How to Get There

Drive north on the scenic Sea to Sky Highway 99, and turn off at Shannon Falls or Stawamus Chief Provincial Park. Trails begin near the Chief Campground but can also easily be reached via Shannon Falls or the Sea to Sky Gondola parking lots (and this only adds on a few minutes to your trek).

Due to increased visitor number, BC Parks has cracked down on illegal parking—if the parking lot is full then you must park in a designated zone or your car may be towed. Shuttle services run from Vancouver, such as The Squamish Connector.