The ‘Chief’ & Sea to Summit Trail are two of the best hikes in Squamish. Both of them offer a gorgeous view of Howe Sound. But the two trails are quite different. The Chief is a shorter but more gruelling hike, straight up through stairs and boulders. The Sea to Summit trail undulates up and down the mountain, all the way to the summit lodge, where you can enjoy the hanging bridge.
I prefer the view of Howe Sounds from ‘The Chief’, which is less crowded. The Sea to Summit trail also has a good view of Howe Sound and extends out to the surrounding mountains. But it has a bigger crowd because there is an option to take the gondola up and down instead of hiking the trail.
I wasn’t too sure if another day of hiking was a good idea. Our shoes were still wet from yesterday’s hike on the snowy Panorama Ridge trail. But I couldn’t help myself. It was a beautiful day and the mountains were outside the window taunting us. They twisted our rubber arms and we decided to head out.
A short 10 minute drive later, we were in Stawamus Chief Provincial Park. Just from the parking lot the view was already breathtaking. We could see the mountains rising from the sea and on the other side was the giant, granite rock called ‘The Chief’. This mountain is sacred to the Squamish First Nation. I read an article that described ‘The Chief’ as a mountain in the physical realm but a longhouse in the spiritual realm. It definitely has a powerful presence.
We headed towards the trail, past the self-registration camp site, and onwards to the stairs. I downloaded the trail details using the All Trails App. It described ‘The Chief’ as a hard trail, with a distance of 6.1 km and elevation gain of 772 m.
This was a no-nonsense trail. We quickly started to climb up one beautifully maintained staircase after another. Surrounding us were giant boulders and tall trees. There were plenty of signs, including one that showed the start of the Sea to Summit Trail. We planned to complete that hike later in the day.
There were plenty of hikers on the trail, some were even running. We took our time and soon reached the junction for Peak 1. There are 3 Peaks to choose from, each one higher than the other. They weren’t connected, so if we wanted to complete each peak, we would have to keep backtracking to the main trail. We made our goal Peak 2, and maybe Peak 3 depending on our legs.
The crowd thinned out as we reached the junction for Peak 2. I kept an eye out for the red diamond trail makers. As we got closer to the peak, the markers started to lead us into some questionable areas. I wondered if I was putting too much faith in the parks department. There were some tight spots and steep areas that required chain assistance. I would be scared to hike here on a rainy day.
After our last set of chains, the view finally opened up to a beautiful panoramic view of Howe Sound. We had the place all to ourselves. It was the perfect place to lay back, relax and eat some granola. We soaked in the gorgeous view of the mountains and the sea. It looked like we were sitting in a painting.
At some point, we heard other hikers and we decided it was a good time to head out. Satisfied with our accomplishment on ‘The Chief’, we decided to skip out on Peak 3. We headed back down to the junction for the Sea to Summit Trail, ready to start another adventure.
Sea to Summit Trail
It was 11:30 p.m. when we started the Sea to Summit trail. According to my All Trails app, it’s a hard trail, with a distance of 7.5 km, and an elevation gain of 800 metres. Lucky for us, the trail starts off as an easy walk through the forest, unlike ‘The Chief’ which shoots you up endless number of stairs.
About half a kilometer later, the trail slowly became steeper and then descended again. It continued on, up and down. It was annoying to know that every time we headed downhill, we would have to cover twice the distance uphill.
We walked on slowly. I guess all the hiking was catching up with me. It was a very sunny day and I was sweating buckets. The sunburn from the previous day made me paranoid, so I kept applying sunscreen. It was working, until I got sunscreen in my eyes. First it was in my left eye, then it was in my right eye. It hurt so much! I sat on a rock for 15 min. feeling miserable and wishing there was a back door out of the hike.
After I composed myself, we hiked on. There was some great views of Shannon Falls. We followed the water closely, until we hit the half way mark of the trail. After that, things got steeper. There were areas that required scrambling on rocks and tree roots. Then the path would flatten out, allowing us to catch our breath.
The trail was marked with green diamonds placed on the trees. It led us to a clearing where we caught a view of Howe Sound. It wasn’t as spectacular as the view from The Chief. I reminded myself that we weren’t near the summit yet. There was still more to come.
Once we passed the small viewing area, the path led us back into the forest. We were getting higher and there were areas that required rope assistance on large boulders. Overhead, we could see the Gondola passing by.
The path eventually merged with a road and then split into two. Turning right would be easier but longer, and turning left would be shorter but harder. We went with the harder route, which in hind sight wasn’t that bad. It was steeper and required more rope assistance. But by this time, we were used to the drill. We weaved in and out of the forest. Every time I thought we were close to the summit, the path would take us higher.
Finally, I saw the rooftop of the summit lodge. I practically ran to the bathroom. I couldn’t wait to splash some water on my sweat soaked face. It felt amazing after hiking for 4 hours in the forest.
The view from the summit lodge was gorgeous, but it was a bit hard to appreciate with so many people snapping pictures. We turned our attention to the hanging bridge. I knew there would be a number of these bridges in our Nepal trip, so I was excited to try it out. It swayed way more than I thought it would.
After snapping our obligatory pictures, we put our feet up in the patio. There was a small cafeteria where we treated ourselves to some fries. We also bought souvenir shirts before heading back down on the Gondola. Tickets were $15 each and it took only 10-15 min. to reach the bottom. After 4 hrs of hiking, we were more than happy to pay for a ride down.We were back at the parking lot by 4 p.m. Leaving us enough time to check out the village in Whistler. We also had a quick stop at Brandywine Falls and Mt. Tantalus look out, but nothing compared to our time on the trails.
Completing ‘The Chief’ and ‘Sea to Summit’ hike made us feel like champions. They are both challenging trails that shows off the gorgeous sea and mountain views in Squamish. I think they are two of the best hikes in Squamish. If you are lucky enough to find yourself in this town, make sure to take the time to explore at least one of these trails.