The Stawamus Chief Hiking guide

Everything you need to know before embarking on an adventure to the Stawamus Chief.

The Stawamus Chief Hiking guide

Looking to get outdoors and explore one of British Columbia's most iconic landmarks? The Stawamus Chief is a must-do hike for any nature lover visiting the area. This guide will cover everything you need to know about hiking the Chief, from what to bring to tips for a successful hike. So whether you're a seasoned hiker or just getting started, read on for all the information you need to enjoy this beautiful trail.

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The Stawamus Chief

The Stawamus Chief is a granite monolith located in Squamish, British Columbia. At 2,850 feet (869 meters) tall, it is the second-largest granite monolith in the world, surpassed only by El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, California. The Chief is a popular destination for rock climbers, but it's also a popular hiking trail, with three separate summits that offer stunning views of Howe Sound and the surrounding mountains. If you feel adventurous, you can also jump off the Chief with a parachute.

There is a large parking lot at the base of the Chief, which is free for hikers. However, given the hike's popularity, this lot fills up fast. Make sure to arrive early.

As of July 2021, anyone planning on hiking the Stawamus Chief Trail must reserve a free day-use permit before arriving at the park. This is to help prevent land overuse and degradation while preserving nature for future generations. You can reserve your permit at the Discover Camping website. It is recommended to buy the pass as soon as possible, as they sell out quickly. Before embarking on the hike, watch a safety video from BC Adventure Smart to learn everything you need to know to stay safe on the trail.

Hiking the Chief

Three different trails lead to the top of the Chief: the First Peak, Second Peak, and Third Peak trails. The First and Second Peak trails are the most popular, as they are shorter and have less elevation gain than the Third Peak trail. You can expect a challenging hike with some steep sections, whichever path you choose.

The parking lot itself has fantastic views of the howe sound. You can see people kite surfing, rock climbing, or even paragliding on sunny summer days. The hike starts off flat, passing through the picnic area and campgrounds. After a few hundred meters, the real challenge begins. You will embark on what feels like an endless set of stairs. After about a kilometer of upwards grind, you come to the first viewpoint - the Lookout Rock. It is a giant round boulder balanced perfectly on another rock. It is an excellent place to take a few photos and stop for a quick snack.

Just a few meters after the Lookout rock, you will come to a junction with the choice to go to the first or second peak. The path is very well marked, and it's hard to get lost. If you are doing the First peak, take a left here. The path to the first peak involves more climbs, a small ladder, and a short chain section. The climb on the bare rock surface can get slippery when wet, so make sure to wear proper footwear if you are doing this in the rainy season.

Once you clear the treeline, you can start to see the spectacular view of the Howe Sound. Make sure to turn back every once in a while on your ascent up to take in the gorgeous views. At the top, you can take some photos, rest, and have something to eat.

If you plan to do the second and third peaks, come down for the first peak to the intersection. The path is clearly marked - take the trail up to the second peak. The hike up to the second peak is a bit more technical. There is a much longer chain-assisted section and a much longer ladder. The path up to the second peak is my favorite part of the hike.

After taking in the views from the second peak, you can come down the same path or choose to conquer the third peak. The path from the second to the third peak is relatively straightforward. You mostly get views of the mountains from the third peak, but the summit offers more leisurely lunch spots. The views from up here are not as spectacular as those from the first or second peak.

An alternate route to get down splits between the second and the third peak. If going up the second peak using the chains and ladders was not your favorite thing, you should go down using this alternate route. It is much simpler and does not involve any technical sections.  

No matter what route you take, you will end up at the parking lot. Now it is time to eat - my favorite part about hiking :)

Places to eat after

If you're looking for a bite to eat after your hike, there are plenty of great options in Squamish. My personal favorite is Sunny Chibas Fried Chicken Mexican Cantina.

What to Bring

When hiking the Chief, be sure to bring plenty of water, as there is no water available on the trail. A hat and sunscreen are also recommended, as there is little shade on the trail. And, of course, don't forget your camera to capture the stunning views from the top.

What are people saying?

Most reviewers said that the Stawamus Chief Trail was a great hike with beautiful views. A few reviewers mentioned that the trail was crowded, but people enjoyed the hike overall.

"This is a great trail with some of THE most amazing views of Howe Sound you will find. It is challenging in some sections but well worth it."
"The views from the top are stunning. The trail is very well marked and easy to follow. It was quite crowded when we were there."
"One of the most beautiful hikes I've ever done. The views are incredible."


Whether you're an experienced hiker or just getting started, the Stawamus Chief is a must-do hike when visiting British Columbia. So grab your water and sunscreen, and hit the trail for an unforgettable adventure.