The Chief Hike
Location: Squamish, BC. The Chief is the flat-faced, towering mountain that overlooks the town of Squamish. To access the trailhead follow Highway 99 towards Squamish and the signs to the Stawamus Chief Provincial Park. Where do you park for the Chief hike? Park in the parking lot at the day-use area and follow the wide gravel path to the trailhead.
Distance: 11 km for all three peaks, but much shorter (5km) if you only do the Chief First Peak.
Time: 3 – 6 hours depending on how many peaks you do (shorter route to First Peak recommended for families) and how many breaks you take.
Elevation: 600 meters
Additional Hike: If you’d like to do a longer hike there are two additional peaks you can explore taking you the full 11 km route.
Dog Friendly: Yes
Stroller Friendly: No
Washrooms: In the parking lot
Bikes Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: No
If there is a list of classic iconic Canadian hikes, the Chief hike would be near the top of the list. At 700 meters above the town of Squamish, with claims of being the “second largest granite monolith in the world”, and bellowing over Howe Sound, hikers work hard to earn this amazing panoramic view, where glacier peaked mountains and clear blue oceans collide. Oh, and bring your binoculars—the Stawamus Chief is home to the world’s fastest bird, the Peregrine Falcon, who nests in the safety of the massive vertical cliffs.
Is the Chief a Family-Friendly Hike?
“Your kids did the Chief?” so many people ask. I’m going, to be honest, this is a challenging hike meant for intermediate fitness levels and those willing to get sweaty. However, my children are hikers and do very well on the Chief as it is a shorter hike (around 3 hours) and the best part is that there are people cheering them along the way. It’s really uplifting to them when complete strangers say “good job, buddy!” or “you go, girl!” on the trail. Hiking the Chief First Peak with kids adds a layer of challenge, but if your kids are ready, the Chief is simply spectacular. That said, the Chief is not the place to take your kids for their first-ever hike: start small and work up to the big ones. Hiking with kids pays off in quality family time and a boost to your child’s self-confidence. For more tips and tricks for hiking with kids, check out our Hiking with Kids Guide.
How Hard Is The Chief Hike?
There is a 600-meter elevation gain and it’s mostly all straight up, making this hike a challenging one. Wear layers and be ready to peel them off as you warm up and the sweat starts to pour. While not on our official list of Vancouver area grinds, the Chief certainly qualifies. In fact, one of the questions we hear regularly is, “Is the Chief hike harder than the Grouse Grind?” The answer: Yes. In the Chief hike vs the Grouse Grind debate, I’d say the Chief hike is tougher. While similar in vertical ascent, the Chief involves more chains and ladders over uneven terrain. While there are fewer stairs than the Grouse Grind, you can still expect to spend an hour and a half climbing big stairs before breaking out of the forest and into already spectacular views. Kids love the second half as it’s more of a scramble, while adults love the glute workout (Okay, love/hate the glute workout!). Again, we recommend the Chief First Peak for those bringing along their kids or trying it for the first time. Save the Second Peak and Third Peak trails for another day!
About halfway through the novelty starts to wear off and the kids need a little push, so we pull out candy and offer it at intervals. Remember, it’s not bribery… it’s a well-earned treat! Closer to the top, the stairs transition into ladders, chains, and crevice climbs that kids find fun, which helps motivate them to the top.
Points of Interest
There are a few lookouts directly off the side of the trail that are a great place to stop and check out, hydrate, and fuel up. Don’t stop for too long though, the real fun is just around the corner!
Near the top of the trail, you’ll find ladders, chains, and some crevices and cracks that you’ll need to navigate: it’s Mother Nature’s jungle gym. Kids have a ton of fun here and are often challenged. Somehow, tired legs seem to find new life when the fun ramps up! Speaking of rock climbing, did you know that the Stawamus Chief is considered one of the best rock climbing locations in North America? The Chief trail goes around the back of the near-vertical cliffs, but for those with the proper skill and equipment (and ONLY those with the proper skill and equipment!), the best way to the top is straight up the sheer rock face. You may catch a glimpse of some climbers on your drive into the parking lot. But, honestly, I’m good with the longer way around!
Look. At. That. View! With the Sea to Sky Highway winding along the turquoise ocean, over to the snow-capped mountains, over to the town of Squamish, and all the way up to Whistler… We typically have the Chief First Peak as our destination as the longer loops take more time than is suitable for our young family. But if you are on your own or have older kids, the trails to Second Peak and Third Peak offer additional challenges and rewarding views.
Be Nice to Your Knees!
Take your time and tread lightly down the trail. Your knees will thank you! Hiking downhill can be even tougher than hiking up, and let’s face it, you are already tired from getting to the top. Take your time heading down and take as many rest breaks as needed.
The Chief hike is for intermediate hiking levels and not all families will find it suitable for them. It is an extremely fun, yet challenging hike. If you think that this hike is too advanced for your family, we encourage you to explore shorter hikes until you can build everyone up to tackle this one!
The Chief Hike FAQs
When is the Chief hike open?
The Stawamus Chief hike is open year-round, but we recommend May to October as the best months, especially if you are taking kids along. November through April is typically cold, wet, and even snowy near the top, making for slippery and dangerous conditions. Try to avoid rainy days. The Chief is a popular hike and can get very busy on a sunny summer weekend! Choose weekends in May, June, September or October or weekdays during the summer months to avoid the crowds.
Do you need hiking shoes for the Chief hike?
-We always recommend sturdy, broken-in hikers for any hike that isn’t a flat urban trail. While sturdy running, day-hiker, or trail shoes may work, hikers are designed for grip on rock and mud and provide much-needed ankle support on the steep scrambles of the Chief hike.
Can dogs hike the Chief?
I don’t recommend it. While technically dogs are allowed on the trail, the trail is steep, rough and definitely not for growing puppy’s joints. The trail is very busy with people, so your dog needs to be on a leash or very well-behaved. The chain and ladder sections can be difficult for dogs to navigate and they may need significant help through these sections. Lastly, there are many chipmunks and squirrels for dogs to chase, and in an area full of cliffs, this is a recipe for disaster. Leave pooch at home, at least until you are familiar with the trail and can judge for yourself.