It may be a longer hike and a bit of a drive, but the Chief is 100 percent worth it: The trail offers unparalleled views of Howe Sound and the contiguous mountains of Garibaldi Provincial Park. The hike is well-marked and a suitable challenge for beginner hikers. The trailhead is located by the parking lot for Shannon Falls, just off Highway 99 in Squamish. The drive down from Whistler (63km) takes about 45 minutes. Keep in mind that the trail can be busy at times, especially on weekends in the warmer months, so try to arrive early.
The Chief has three peaks with different viewpoints, all of which you can conquer in about a five-hour round-trip. Most hikers opt for a shorter route and complete only the first or second peak in about three hours. I’m partial to the third and farthest peak because I think it offers the best views, but all three are stunning. The southernmost peak is the best choice for less-experienced hikers.
For even more views (with less effort), take a ride on the recently opened Sea to Sky Gondola, which departs from Squamish and arrives at a summit overlooking Stawamus Chief Provincial Park. Panoramas of Howe Sound, Shannon Falls, and the coastal forest unfold during the 10-minute ride. At the top—2,900 feet above sea level—you can take off on one of the walking or hiking trails, venture across the Sky Pilot Suspension Bridge, or have a bite at the Summit Lodge. seatoskygondola.com
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Hiking the Stawamus Chief
Whenever I mention my trip to Squamish, British Columbia, to anyone familiar with the area, the first thing they ask is invariably: "Did you hike the Chief?" That would be the Stawamus Chief, the area's most famous landmark, a towering granite monolith that looms over Squamish, an outdoorsy town halfway between Vancouver and Whistler.
I did indeed hike the Chief and can report that although the steep trail left me exceedingly sore the following day, the views from the top were well worth it. From the parking lot, the trail ascends steadily, sometimes with the help of wooden staircases, to the final section, which involves scrambling over exposed rock with the assistance of fixed chains and ropes. Beyond this is the South Summit, which boasts a magnificent 360-degree view of Howe Sound, the Squamish Valley, and the surrounding Coast Mountain Ranges. It's a great spot for a picnic before you head back down or, if you've got more time than we did, continue on to the Middle and North Summits further along the trail. For those seeking even longer hikes, these routes connect up to a variety of other trails through Stawamus Chief and Shannon Falls Provincial Parks.
For those who want the views without the effort, the brand-new Sea to Sky Gondola (opened May 16, 2014) whisks visitors from Squamish to a ridge next to the Chief. Still, there's something about making the ascent under human power that makes the glorious views all the more rewarding.