Hail to the Chief!  Hiking in Squamish


700m Massive Granite Cliffs Photo: Rob Weiss

The Stawamus Chief is an iconic landmark.  It dominates the Squamish skyline and attracts tourists, hikers and climbers from around the world.  This magnificent granite wall beckons all to approach and climb her.  Outdoor enthusiasts regularly flock to the area to test their fitness levels and savour the magnificent views from each of the three peaks.  On a clear day, the summit offers panoramic glimpses of Howe Sound, the Squamish town site and adjacent coastal mountains.

During our recent outing, Mother Nature blessed us with a perfect day to hike!  Seriously, is there ever a bad day to hike?  Eagerly, we loaded up our backpacks and set our sights on the summit.  The trail to the Chief begins climbing immediately upon leaving the trail head.  As your heart rate starts to quicken, it doesn’t take long to realize that this will not be a casual stroll in the park.  The sound of Shannon Falls roars beside you and encourages you to keep moving.  Secretly, I hoped that the roar of the falls would cover the sounds of my huffing and puffing.

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Photo: Rob Weiss

BC Parks does a fantastic job maintaining the park and trail.  The route to the peaks is well marked, with stairs and bridges strategically placed to aid hikers on their trek up.  It should be noted that the area is nesting habitat for Peregrine Falcons and often between April and June designated climbing routes are closed to protect the nesting birds.


View of Squamish from the Chief Photo: Rob Weiss


Today, our chosen route led us past the turn for the First Peak and straight to the second peak for lunch.  That is when the excitement began.  It was raining quite heavily by the time we reached the trail to the second peak.  The rock was wet and slippery.  Crawling and clawing our way up the rock, clinging to the fixed chains we began to wonder if we should have waited for a drier day.  By the time we reached the fixed ladder we were debating the wisdom of continuing on.  Truthfully, I was more worried about going back than pushing on.  We rested for a few minutes, caught our breath and continued the climb.  We were definitely not the most graceful looking pair as we clung to the rock.  Thankfully, the top of the second peak loomed near.  The clouds briefly lifted, like a curtain rising during a theatre performance, affording us a peek at the seascape below.

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View of Howe Sound from the Chief Photo: Rob Weiss

Feeling rested and thankful to have finished the ladder section, we began looking for the trail to the third peak.  As we roamed around, three young men approached.  They were also in search of the route to the third peak and were feeling exactly as we were. There must be another way down!  Checking maps, and searching for the trail together, we managed to find markers leading to the third peak and enjoyed a breathtaking view upon arrival.

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Slhanay Trail – a land before time Photo: Rob Weiss

Not wanting to revisit the ladder and chains we made the decision to return via the Slhanay trail.  Although not as popular, the Slhanay trail is wonderful and one we would highly recommend.  Within minutes, hikers are seemingly transported back to prehistoric times.  The trees are magnificent, the smells are fresh and the vegetation lush.  It is reminiscent of a land before time.  After descending for quite a distance, the Slhanay trail eventually joins back to the Chief path and the route home awaits!

Getting There:

Located on the Sea to Sky Highway, Stawamus Chief Provincial Park is at the southern entrance to Squamish.

Hit the trail early!  This is one of the area’s most popular hikes and by afternoon the parking lots and trails are extremely busy.  Park in designated parking lots and observe the posted “no parking” signs or consider travelling the Sea to Sky corridor via the new Parkbus.

There is a campsite at the base of the Chief, complete with slack lines for those inclined to test their balance and “tight-rope” walking skills.  Vehicle and walk-in campsites are available. Be sure to visit Shannon Falls if you are in the area!

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