South of the town of Squamish, located northeast of the beautiful Howe Sound, is a small 5.2 square kilometer patch of untouched nature. With the towering and intimidating 600 meter tall Stawamus Chief right in the middle, Stawamus Chief Provincial Park truly is set apart not only in its setting but also in its significance.
Traditionally, the area was a sacred site for the Squamish First Nations and there are many legends that revolve around the creation of Stawamus Chief. Today, rock climbers and hikers consider it a rite of passage to cross The Chief and the site has countless visitors from around the globe every year.
Stawamus Chief Provincial Park truly has a diverse landscape filed with 700-meter massive granite cliffs (The Apron and The Grand Wall being the most famous). One can camp right at the base and enjoy views of the Park of Howe Sound, Mount Garibaldi to the north, the Squamish townsite setting and other surrounding mountains.
In addition to camping, the natural terrain allows for rock climbing, hiking, and scenic viewing of wildlife which includes the nesting habitat of the Peregrine Falcon. Due to the wildlife conservation, a lot of routes are closed during the months of March to July, so as to allow these majestic birds to nest in tranquility without the disturbance of humans.
Access to the Park is along the scenic Sea to Sky Highway 99 and is located adjacent to Shannon Falls Provincial Park at Squamish. Squamish and Brackendale are the nearest towns, with Squamish being only two kilometers south. If you don’t want to bring your own car, then shuttle services run from Vancouver.
The roads inside are narrow and not suitable for larger vehicles such as Motorhomes, Big Rigs and RVs.
Stawamus Chief Provincial Park has a total of 74 campsites that can accommodate small sized RVs and trailers. The park also offers 58 walk-in sites for those seeking a more primitive camping experience. Food storage lockers are provided on-site as this is very much bear country.
The Drive-In campground has 16 shaded vehicle accessible gravel pad campsites. Pit toilets and tap water facilities are available on the premises along with a picnic shelter and day use area. There is no hookup facility on the campground and the sites are on a first come first serve basis. Campfires are also not allowed on campgrounds.
Considering the massive granite monoliths stamped across the landscape and the uneven terrain that Stawamus Chief Provincial Park has, it’s no surprise that it has become a go-to destination for rock climbers from around the world. So much so that a sub-culture has formed around the activity in the area.
Due to the nesting habits of the Peregrine Falcon, climbing is closed from March until July. However, these time periods are subject to change depending on the Falcons and you should check with Park authorities before you finalize your trip.
Considering the picturesque scenery, it should be expected that the Park is also a popular destination for those wanting to enjoy a hike in the middle of untouched nature. The trails can be accessed from the parking area near the campground along Oleson Creek, after which the path divides into separate trails leading towards each peak.
The hike is not an easy one and anyone wishing to try should be prepared for exertion and changing weather conditions. The trail leading to the first peak (540 meters) is about one and a half km long, to the second peak (590 meters) it is another almost two km and to the third (630 meters), it’s another almost two km trek.
Due to the wildlife in the area and the uneasy terrain, you should follow the posted signs and keep to designated trails. One reason for the restrictions is the wildlife in the area (for e.g. nesting season for the falcons) but these measures are in place to protect your life as well, and so, they should be observed diligently.
If you’re not into the more demanding activities such as hiking, slacklining or rock climbing, then it's fortunate that the Park is also blessed with the Lower Squamish River snaking through its magnificent landscape. Take the family with you and enjoy a gentle adventure along the waters and enjoy views of the beautiful British Columbia wilderness. While there may be some light splashes on the small rapids of the river, the overall journey is pleasant and relaxing and lets you take in the splendor of the entire Park without having to do much.
If you don’t want to enjoy the scenery while putting yourself through an extraneous hike, then you can take the easy route and catch a ride on a cable car. Experience breathtaking views of The Chief from a cable car as you rise up to an elevation of 885 meters without having to move a muscle of your own.
Recently, slacklining has also become a popular pastime along with rock climbing in Stawamus Chief Provincial Park. With over seven different lines for slackliners around the Park, be prepared for a thrilling experience. In fact, the spot has become so popular that a world record was broken in 2015 by Spencer Seabrooke for walking untethered across a 64-meter gap.
While you do get fantastic views of Howe Sound and the Squamish Valley from the Park, the setting is not the only part worth looking at. The Park proudly boasts a diverse selection of wildlife. Peregrine Falcon can be viewed along with other birds such as hummingbirds, kingfishers, woodpeckers, and finches. Among the land animals, you’ll even come across cougars, elk and black and grizzly bears. Considering the nature of some of these animals, it would be advisable to get some information from the Park officials before setting off on a wildlife walk.