When Is the Best Time
The Chief hike is one of the most popular trails in British Columbia and famous for climbing with just an hour drive from Vancouver. The hiking season starts in late March and lasts until the end of October.
The best hiking conditions regarding the weather are during summer, which is the peak season as well. August is the busiest month due to the Canadian School Holidays. September is a lovely month and less crazy. Continue reading to figure out all details for this breathtaking hike.
This excellent trail is pretty busy during the weekends and in the summer, July and August. Spring and fall are less crowded. We hiked on a Friday morning to the peaks, and it became busier in the afternoon. Plenty of hikers from Vancouver come to climb to the top of the first peak to begin their weekend.
If you like to hike this track with fewer people, give the first peak a miss; it's the most frequented one. Fewer hikers continue to the second peak of the Chief, and the third in the north is even less busy.
The view from the first peak is already spectacular and gets even better from the second. If possible, hike mid-week in spring or fall. The summer season is super busy, and campgrounds are fully booked. From the first of September onwards camping is more fun and there are plenty of campsites to choose from.
Hiking Season - New Day Pass
Usually, you can hike from spring in March until late fall at the end of October. The Chief gets snow during winter. However, if it’s wet, the granite boulders are quite slippery. There are also slippery parts in dry weather where many hikers climb up and down on the same route.
Since the end of June 2021, you need a reservation for this exceptional hike. There is a checkpoint controlling your confirmation number and starting time. You have to decide if you start on "am" time that means before 1 pm or "pm" time means after 1 pm. Day use visitor capacity 858 hikers.
After-work hikes in the evening don't require a pass. Link to the free day-use pass.
The parking at Darrell Bay is limited in space. There are two parking lots for hikers and climbers, and it fills up soon in the morning. These two parking lots are for free. The parking for the sea to sky gondola nearby is limited to three hours.
Tip: You can also start hiking from the nearby Shannon Falls if the two parking lots at Darrell Bay are full. Since a hiker pass got introduced the parking capacity can be monitored much better. Estimated 200 cars can park here either in the morning or in the afternoon.
Squamish gets a high amount of precipitation throughout the year, with its peak from October/November to February/March. Summer is the driest season of the year, but rain can occur, so be prepared while hiking. From May to September, the temps are pleasant, in summer around 20°C/68°F but can be hot as well with temperatures over 30°C/86°F. Nights are cool even during summer with a maximum of 13-10°C/55-50 °F, due to the location at Howe Sound only freezing temperatures during the winter. There is often rainfall in Squamish while it is snowing on the Sea to Sky summit.
Where to Stay or Camp
Camping in Squamish; There are several opportunities for camping. These are our favourites:
- We enjoyed camping in the Alice Lake Provincial Park walk-in site for $ 23. There are 108 campsites, hot showers; swimming in the lake is cold but awesome; the Four Lakes Trail starts at the campground. It gets a bit windy, though, in the evening. Look where you pitch your tent. It’s quite popular during summer and reservations are advisable. Number 97-108 are walk-in sites. Campground Map of Alice Lake
- The Stawamus Chief campground with 47 sites, 10 $ p.p., pit toilet, and water, located close to HW 99.
- Hotels: We love the budget Squamish Hotel during colder night temps. It's clean, quiet, washing and ice for free, and the most attentive staff.
Best Months to Visit
Location and Tips
Stawamus Chief is one of the most famous landmarks in Canada and the largest granite monoliths in the world, with a height of 702 m more than 2300 feet. Located close to the lovely town of Squamish in the Stawamus Chief Provincial Park. It also represents a significant site for the First Nations; "The Squamish".
The Chief has three peaks to climb up, so it’s quite a magnificent day trip of hiking steep uphill, climbing with chain ropes and ladders gaining an elevation of more than 800 m/ 2625 feet to the three summits. However, safety first, some fatal accidents happened here hikers/climbers were fallen from a great height.
Map for the three peaks hike
The first peak is in the south, the second in the middle, and the third in the north. It’s worth doing all three, but if your time is limited, I suggest hiking the middle one, the second, which was much climbing, fun, and a scenic vista of the Garibaldi Mountains.
The trailhead is at the Stawamus Chief campground, which is nestled in the forest popular for climbers. The ascent is heart beating steep from the beginning over rocks, roots, and steps. It splits several times, once to Shannon Falls to the right, afterward to the Upper Shannon Falls, and then to the Sea to Summit trail but stay left all the time until you get to the sign first and the second peak.
Now you have to decide which one you would like to follow. The most stunning part of the trail is the second peak combined with the third. Between the second and the third is the North Gully, with a fantastic view of high cliff walls with a 60 meters high gap. The view from the three peaks is spectacular down to Howe Sound, Squamish, and the summits of Garibaldi Provincial Park (second and third only) and Garibaldi itself best from the third peak.
Hike Time to the Different Peaks of Stawamus Chief
The First PeakIt takes roughly 1.5 hours to get to the first peak on 610 m elevation. The return hike from the parking to the first peak and back takes roughly 3 hours. This is a popular evening hike of the Squamish residents.
The Second Peak
The second peak return hike takes 4-5 hours, 5 km / 3.1 miles. Add another hour from the first peak to the second on 655 m elevation.
The Third PeakAll peaks together, depending on your fitness and pace, take 5-7 hours. Some people hike the peaks in 3-5 hours, but that's utterly strenuous. Hiking the second and third is a 7 km/ 4.3 miles trail, and it took us around 6 hours with picture stops and lunch in-between. Add another hour from the second to the third peak, which is 702 m high.
Packing List - 7 Tips
- Plenty of water, especially during summer
- Picnic for the summit or at least an energy snack.
- Weather can change quickly; a wind- and waterproof jacket is always advisable. It is frequently windy on the summits, and a windproof jacket is needed.
- Wear proper shoes with a good grip for the slippery granite monolith.
- Sun protection and sunglasses
- Lightweight cushion pad, something we always carry in the backpack for comfortable and warm seating.
- Since late June 2021, an online hiking pass is requested. More information is above.
- Sea to Summit Hike
Elevation gain 918 m / 3.012 feet, distance 7.5 km / 4.7 miles and takes 3.5 up to 5 hours climbing up - getting back via the sea to sky gondola for 10 $ only!
Top Tip: Usually, the gondola is operating from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. (last ride down), but on Fridays and Saturdays, the last gondola is returning at 9 p.m. from mid-May to mid-September. Check out the last sea to sky gondola.
Enjoy the sunset on the top! We did this with a pint of Cider and wonderful live music. Such a great atmosphere and many residents from Squamish came up that evening.
- Sea to Sky Gondola 885 m/2900 feet above sea level
There are several short trails and day hikes with all levels of difficulty. Enjoy the outstanding views to Howe Sound, Sky Pilot-, Co-Pilot-, Ledge Mountain, and the Stadium Glacier. Snowshoeing is possible in the wintertime.
- The Four Lakes Trail
In Alice Lake Provincial Park: elevation gain 200 m/ 656 feet, distance 6.5 km/ 4 miles, which lasts roughly 2 hours.
- The Shannon Falls and Upper Shannon Falls Hike
It's a short stroll to the Shannon Falls' bottom. The Upper Shannon Falls is a half-day return hike of 7 km / 4.3 miles which takes 4-5 hours, and an elevation gain of 450 m / 1.476 feet.
- The Garibaldi Lake Trail; elevation gains more than 900 m, distance 18 km / 11.2 miles, which takes about 4-6 hours.
- Backcountry Hiking from Diamond Head inside the Garibaldi Provincial Park.
Popular Attractions in Squamish
- The Estuary and Spit
It’s a unique ecosystem where the young salmon adapts to saltwater before leaving into the ocean. It’s a great destination for birding with more than 200 species like the osprey and hawk.
It is also famous for wind- and kite surfers worldwide and the top destination in North America from May to September.
- Eagle Run in the Brackendale Eagles Provincial Park
Every winter from around mid-November, many eagles arrive and stay until March to feed on spawning salmon. The highest concentration is usually between December and March. It’s a long way to Squamish and Cheakamus River for the salmon, the reason that they arrive that late.
- Shannon Falls Provincial Park
It's another highlight close to Squamish, just off HW 99. The falls are 335 meters / 1.100 feet high and, due to the short walk and the easy access, utterly crowded. The flow is much better in spring than at the end of the drier summer. In the afternoon, the sunlight is sparkling on the waterfall.
Squamish is a lovely town with a population of around 20.000. We met warm friendly people in Canada, but in Squamish, everybody walks even an extra mile for you. If you need any assistant get in contact with the Visitor Center. They provide you with tons of information. Information Center Squamish