Squamish Hiking Trails

Squamish sits in the midst of some amazing places to hike.  Garibaldi Provincial Park sprawls from Squamish up and beyond Whistler.  Tantalus Provincial Park lays across the valley to the west and the beautiful and desolate, by comparison, Callaghan Valley to the north.  Add to that the smaller and locally cherished Provincial Parks, Alice Lake, Stawamus Chief, Shannon Falls and Murrin, make Squamish a world class hiking destination.

Alice Lake is a great place for camping swimming, fishing and hiking.  Alice Lake Provincial Park is comprised of four lakes.  Stump, Fawn and Edith Lake as well as the much larger Alice Lake.  There is a nice trail that runs amongst them all.  There is a large beach area, a pier and dock along with an astonishing 107 vehicle accessible campsites and 55 of those have electrical hookups.  The campsites are open March 15 to October 31.  This place is a hive of activity in the summer due to its beautiful setting and convenient location.  Alice Lake Provincial Park is located just 10 minutes north of Squamish on the Sea to Sky Highway.  Driving from Squamish you will see a huge "Alice Lake Provincial Park" sign on the right side of the highway and the park is almost immediately after the turnoff.  Fires are allowed near the beach in the fire rings scattered throughout the park.  You can bring your own firewood or buy it at the park.  Pets must be on a leash in the park at all times.  Bears and cougars frequent the area.  Though bears are relatively skittish, cougars are potentially very dangerous, especially with regards to small children or other pets.  Though encounters are infrequent, they are possible and you will see signs regarding both cougars and bears at Alice Lake.

Black Tusk is a mountain of unbelievable beauty. It possesses the incredible distinction of looking more impossible to climb the closer you get to it. Even when you are close enough to touch its vertical, black and foreboding sides, you wonder in amazement how anyone can ever reach the top. It’s vertical on all sides.  The barely distinguishable trail skirts its edge along the ledge of a perilous scree slope that runs around its trunk. As you clamour carefully along the trail you come to a chute heading almost straight up. Again, even this close you will wonder, as almost everyone else at this spot, “I don’t think this is a safe way to go.” Then you pause and look around. Many take a seat at this moment and marvel at the view. Spectacular. Just spectacular.  Above the clouds, looking over the impossibly blue Garibaldi Lake, nestled in endless snowy mountains. There is even snow just below you, in the valleys of scree that crumbled from Black Tusk. The scree is black, very black. Contrasted with the snow, clouds, lake and sky, the view is breathtaking.  Most people don’t continue up the final chute to the top, it’s that scary. This is justifiable. It is unquestionably unsafe.  Chunky rock holds pull free as you grip them. Above you jet black, jagged rocks tumble and ricochet down on and around you. And the view is so spectacular around you that it’s easy to justify turning around.  But the final ascent is not really that hard. Keep your head down, three points of contact at all times, slow and steady and you reach the top of the world.

Brandywine Falls Provincial Park is a beautiful stop in between Squamish and Whistler.  It's about 25 minutes north of Squamish, 11k south of Whistler.  The hike from the parking lot to the falls is less than a kilometre and on a wide and flat trail.  Most people miss the other viewpoint from above the falls, from the train tracks bridge.  To find it is easy.  As you walk toward the falls from the parking lot you will have to cross train tracks.  Standing at the train tracks look to your right and you will see a bridge that the train tracks cross.  Walk over to that to see the falls from above.  Amazing!  Brandywine Falls drop an amazing 66 metres (216 feet) into the chasm far below that the viewing platform extends over.  Another trail extends past this viewing area leading to another, quieter area overlooking Daisy Lake.  This area is just a short, minute or two walk from the first viewing area.  During the winter months the parking lot gate is locked and buried in snow.  The snowplows make room for cars at the edge of the highway making Brandywine Falls open year round.  With the deep snow however, you may need snowshoes.  Brandywine Falls is popular with cross country skiers and snowshoers in the winter.  The Sea to Sky Trail runs through Brandywine Falls Provincial Park and you will immediately see Sea to Sky Trail signs from the parking lot.  From the parking lot you cross the covered bridge, turn right and after just a couple hundred metres you will see a Sea to Sky Trail branch off to the left.  This trail meanders through the forest and rises up to a plateau with views of Black Tusk and the distant Daisy Lake.  Further along, (3 kilometres from the trailhead), you will come to the amazing Bungee Bridge that crosses the Cheakamus River from a dizzying height.

Brew Lake is beautiful mountain lake in the Callaghan Valley, north of Squamish.  Compared to Garibaldi Provincial Park across the valley, the Callaghan Valley is relatively unknown and seldom hiked.  Brew Lake lays in a massive alpine valley of enormous erratics scattered around and in the lake.  On first seeing it, it looks serene, yet wild and hostile.  The lake is surrounded on one side by idyllic tree covered hills and lakeside cliffs and on the other side a brutal looking wasteland of huge boulders sloping up from the lake to the skyline.  Hiking into this wasteland of erratics reveals an amazing paradise of small, island forests, cute streams and endless worlds within worlds to explore.  You find yourself wandering along like a kid mesmerized at what you will find next.  Brew Lake itself doesn't come close in wow factor to the postcard-perfect alpine lakes such as Wedgemount Lake, Joffre Lakes, Cheakamus Lake or Garibaldi Lake, but I does beat these lakes in other aspects.  Because Brew Lake is outside of Garibaldi Provincial Park, few people have heard of it.  More often than not you will have both the lake and entire valley to yourself.  An increasingly rare occurrence elsewhere that gives the place a quiet calm and that strange and satisfying feeling that there are no other humans for quite some distance.  You have that exhilarating wilderness feeling that sometimes gets lost on other Whistler area hikes when you start the trail from a parking lot packed with cars.  The fact that the Brew Lake trail doesn't have a parking lot or proper trailhead actually makes it more mysterious, adventurous and in some ways more fun...

There is something magical about starting a hike in a canoe. A childlike sense of adventure and novelty. The hike to Cirque Lake begins with this sense of excitement. Sheltered by mountains Callaghan Lake is eerily calm and mesmerizingly clear. You slip away from the shore in tranquil silence as if floating on air. The other end of this once glacial valley is the trailhead. Hidden in the forest and so little used as to remain invisible until you stumble onto it after repeated aborted attempts to find it. The key to finding it is to aim toward the waterfall in the distance. Cascading almost straight down a couple hundred metres from its starting high up the steep mountains.  A perfectly arranged glacier is required to form a cirque lake. A magical combination of size, a certain slope and more unexpectedly, a certain angle away from the sun. In the northern hemisphere, this means the glacier must be on the northeast slope of the mountain, away from the suns rays and the prevailing winds.  Thick snow protected in this way grows thicker into glacial ice, then a process of freeze-thaw called nivation, chews at the lower rocks, hollowing out a deep basin. Over a thousand winters you are left with a magnificently circular lake with steep slopes all around. If you arrive at Cirque Lake on a favourably sunny, summer day, you will almost certainly fall silent, gaze in wonder at this spectacular place, and feel in that moment that this place is as perfect as it is possible for a place to be.

Elfin Lakes is a wonderfully accessible mountain paradise at the southern end of the mighty Garibaldi Park.  An amazing destination on its own, Elfin Lakes is also part of a gateway to so much more.  The Gargoyles, Little Diamond Head, Opal Cone...  There is a wonderful, extremely well equipped hut and campsites as well as a ranger station at the lakes. Staying at the amazing hut costs $15, cash only.  You can pay with cash using an envelope drop-box at the trailhead or you can pre-pay through the BCParks site online.  Which sounds expensive until you see it.  It looks more like a ski lodge than a mountain hut.  Complete with solar powered lights, heat, propane stoves and room for 33 to sleep.  You will find envelopes to pay at the trailhead.  Camping away from the hut costs $10.  Once again that seem expensive, but the area is very beautiful and popular so park rangers are nearly always around to keep things nice and functional.  The Elfin Lakes trail starts out ascending through deep forest, reaching the Red Heather Hut after 5k.  This is a small warming hut equipped with a wood stove complete with a stack of wood free to use.  Though sleeping here is for emergencies only, the Red Heather Hut is warm and welcoming.  The final 6k from this hut to Elfin Lakes takes you along a beautiful ridge with amazing views of snowy mountains all around.  The sheer distance of this snowshoeing trail ranks it as difficult.  Also, there is a considerable amount of elevation gain and loss along the way and you move through several gradual peaks and valleys...

Garibaldi Lake is the centre and base for much of the hiking in Garibaldi Park.  The Garibaldi Lake campsite is located on the amazing, turquoise shores of this massive and mostly undisturbed mountain lake.  There are no trails around the perimeter of the lake with the exception of the small section leading to the campsite, so your view of the lake is a sea of unnaturally coloured water ringed by swaths of forest and a magnificent glacier towering in the distance.  The water is painfully cold, though plenty of brave hikers swim here as well as camp.  The camping area is well laid out and stretches deep into the forest with 50 tent clearings.  You can, except for the busiest of days, put your tent out of earshot and sight of others. The trail to Garibaldi Lake from the Rubble Creek trailhead, just off of the Sea to Sky Highway takes about two hours.  You gain a fair amount of elevation, 900 metres in just 9k, trailhead to lake.  Partway along the trail to Garibaldi Lake the trail forks.  Right to Garibaldi Lake and left goes to another beautiful campground, Taylor Meadows.  Beyond Taylor Meadow and Garibaldi Lake is the amazing Black Tusk.  Black Tusk, Taylor Meadows and Garibaldi Lake can be done in one long 30k dayhike, trailhead to trailhead, but expect to take 8-10 hours.  The Garibaldi Lake trailhead is located just 25 minutes north of Squamish.  Keep your eye out for the hard to miss highway sign.

High Falls Creek is a great hike not only for the beautiful scenery in and around the trail, but the drive to it as well.  The often passed by Squamish Valley Road, just of the Sea to Sky Highway, opposite the Alice Lake Provincial Park access road, is wonderful.  This glacier carved valley stretches on and on, along the majestic Squamish River as you follow forest service roads 26 kilometres to the trailhead.  The High Falls trail is well marked and difficult to moderately challenging.  There are some short chain assisted areas to climb and overall the trail is fairly steep.  You gain a gruelling 622 metres in less than 4 kilometres.  Past the beautiful falls viewpoints the trail leads to a few more cliff viewpoints before ending at the Branch 200 FSR.  You can either turn back and retrace the steep trail you came back to your car (8 kilometres roundtrip).  Most prefer to walk the forest service road back to the trailhead instead.  It is much longer (almost 2 kilometres longer), but it is easy and relaxing and there are some stunning views of the river valley below.  This road takes you back to the S Main FSR where you will turn left onto and walk about 1.4 kilometres to get back to your car.

The Lions or Twin Sisters lie in North Vancouver, south of Squamish.  The two distinct, rocky peaks are visible from downtown Vancouver.  The view from the top is spectacular.  Howe Sound stretches out into the blue distance.  A tough but wonderful hike.  The first half of the hike is very easy as you follow a disused, though beautifully overgrown logging road gently uphill.  After the first 30 minutes of hiking you come to a Y junction, take the path on the right and continue as the path eventually narrows and beautiful views of Howe Sound become visible.  You will pass two waterfalls, then come to a sign "The Lions>" that blocks the old, very overgrown logging road and points to a narrow path to the right.  You will cross Harvey Creek over a nice little bridge with surprisingly impressive views, then the first significant uphill hiking starts.  From this point on the trail is very well marked with flagging tape, tree markers and paint indicators on the rock faces.  There are two plateaus before the final, very difficult ascent to the summit of the West Lion.  Both plateaus have incredible views and most make the second plateau their final destination.  It is at the base of the West Lion.  There are not really any suitable places to put up a tent, but if you had to choose, somewhere in the vicinity of these two plateaus would be the place to do it.  If you continue to the summit be prepared for a four metre rope descent.  The ropes are there, fixed to a tree above, but are alarmingly worn.  If you have ropes, you may want to bring them for this part.

Panorama Ridge is easily one of the most amazing hikes in Garibaldi Provincial Park.  The 15 kilometre hike from the trailhead at Rubble Creek to Panorama Ridge takes you through beautiful and deep forests, across countless idyllic streams, through meadows filled with flowers, and past dozens of jaw dropping viewpoints.  The amazing views start once you reach Taylor Meadows and get even more spectacular as the trail progresses.  Once you arrive at Panorama Ridge and its phenomenal vantage point, high above Garibaldi Park, you will stare in wonder.  Mesmerized first by Garibaldi Lake, far below you and looking unnaturally blue, the lake looks amazing surrounded by green, untouched wilderness and snow capped mountains.  The Table, the massive and unusual looking mountain with its bizarre flat top lays across the lake with the enormous Mount Garibaldi just beyond.  In the distance, where Garibaldi Lake ends, a massive glacier rises out of the blue and jagged crevasses can be seen even from such a great distance.  Behind you, Black Tusk lays across the valley.  Close to the same elevation as Panorama Ridge, you get this wonderful view of it.  Certainly the best and closest viewpoint to this iconic mountain.  Panorama Ridge sits, along with Black Tusk in the midst of some of the most popular and beautiful hiking trails in Garibaldi Park.  There are two main trailheads for Panorama Ridge, Cheakamus Lake and Rubble Creek.

Ring Lake is a fantastically beautiful and wonderfully remote lake similar to Cirque Lake but considerably farther to hike to reach it.  The 10k hike takes you through a beautiful forest of cedars then to a spectacular meadow filled with ponds and ringed with distant, enormous mountains.  5k into the hike you come to Conflict Lake with trails running around it.  Signs at various junctions indicate which trail to take to reach Ring Lake, a further 5k from Conflict.  The trail from Conflict Lake to Ring Lake passes through a huge valley for a couple kilometres, then abruptly ascends on the right side of the valley.  The trail is poorly marked in this section and you have to keep bearing right to avoid descending back into the valley.  3k of, at times very steep, but not technical trail gets you to the magnificent Ring Lake and the imposing Ring Mountain across the emerald green water.  The trailhead to Ring and Conflict Lakes is very close to the Callaghan Lake Provincial Park campsite.  From the campsite, drive a couple hundred metres as if returning to Whistler and you will see a clearing on the right and a very well worn trail.  From this trail you will see plenty of signs to guide you first to Conflict Lake in 5k, then Ring Lake, another 5k past Conflict.  The 5k hike to Conflict Lake is quite relaxed and easy as you don't gain any significant elevation.  The 5k from Conflict to Ring Lake is very steep, and though marked well with flagging tape and cairns, if often difficult to follow.

Shannon Falls towers above Howe Sound at 335 metres as the third tallest falls in BC.  The wonderful, though very short trail winds through a beautiful old growth forest to get to the base of the falls.  From your car to the viewpoint takes only about four minutes, however the trail continues a bit further to a higher viewpoint (five minutes higher).  You can even continue along the trail and join with the Stawamus Chief trail which goes to the three summits of the Chief.  The trail to the Chiefs peaks are very steep and almost constant stairs to be prepared for quite a workout comparable to the Grouse Grind in Vancouver.  The trailhead is just south of the Stawamus Chief trailhead, south of Squamish.  The Chief is the mammoth rock face that towers over Squamish. Though hardly believable from looking at, the summit is only a one hour hike.  In fact there are three peaks, South (First), Centre (Second), and North (Third). Each accessible from the single trailhead.  The trailhead to the Chief is easy to find. From highway 99, in Squamish. As you approach the Chief, visible for several kilometres, watch for the sign for "Stawamus Chief." The large parking lots are arranged next to the trailhead.  There is a nice campground, with plenty of tent sites at the trailhead.  A better route for a day hike is to start at Shannon Falls, it only adds about 1km but includes the spectacular Shannon falls as well as a nicer route as it joins the trail to the Chief part way up. The Upper Shannon Falls Trail extends past Shannon Falls.

Stawamus Chief is the mammoth rock face that towers over Squamish. Though hardly believable from looking at, the summit is an easy two hour hike. In fact there are three peaks, South (First), Centre (Second), and North (Third). Each accessible from the single trailhead.  Growing in popularity as the newest brother to the Grouse Grind in Vancouver because there are quite a few stairs and considerable elevation gain.  540 metres in 1.5k.  (The Grouse Grind is 853 metres in 2.9k)  The trailhead to the Chief is easy to find. From highway 99, in Squamish. As you approach the Chief, visible for several kilometres, watch for the sign for "Stawamus Chief." The large parking lots are arranged next to the trailhead.  There is a nice campground with 47 tent sites.  This part of the world is somewhat expensive so this is an amazingly cheap option at $8 per person, per night.  Officially open May 15 - October 12.  If you go outside these dates you just have to walk in from outside the gates and camping is free however there are no services available which means that the washrooms may be locked and no water available (though there is a river nearby).  There are no shower facilities here any time of the year but a large river near the campsites.

Taylor Meadows is a beautiful campsite and alternative to the much busier Garibaldi Lake campsite. Located in between Garibaldi Lake and Black Tusk itself. It is reached from the same trailhead to Garibaldi Lake.  There are 40 very nice tent platforms, toilets, a good water source and a food cache,  all in the lush forest of Taylor Meadows with the distant view of Black Tusk.  Generally Taylor Meadows is not a destination, but part of a circle route.  For example, trailhead to Taylor Meadows, Taylor Meadows to Black Tusk or Panorama Ridge, then return via Garibaldi Lake.  This makes for a long hike at 30k, which is why tenting at this perfectly beautiful, and perfectly located Taylor Meadows Campsite, is a great idea.  The trail to Taylor Meadows is well marked, well used and well signed.  The Rubble Creek trailhead is located just 25 minutes north of Squamish and a clear sign on the Sea to Sky Highway indicates the turnoff.  Expect to take 2-3 hours to reach Taylor Meadows from the trailhead/parking lot.  Parking is free, however there is a camping fee.

The wonderful Upper Shannon Falls trail goes almost completely unnoticed, branching off from the chaotically popular Stawamus Chief Trail.  About 15 minutes along the Stawamus Chief trail you will see a well marked trail branch off to the right into the forest.  This is the Upper Shannon Falls Trail and is remarkably unused.  This is a wonderful fact though as hundreds hike the Chief on any given weekend day, though only a handful hike this trail.  The Upper Shannon Falls trail, the Stawamus Chief trail and Shannon Falls Provincial Park are all connected by trails.  In order to see all three you should park in the Shannon Falls parking lot and hike up to the Shannon Falls viewpoint just a short 5 minute walk from the parking lot, then proceed from there to connect with the Stawamus Chief trail, about 15 minutes further up the trail.  Once you connect with the Stawamus Chief trail you will see clear signs directing you to either the Upper Shannon Falls trail, or to continue on the main trail to one or all of the Chiefs 1st Peak trail, 2nd Peak trail, 3rd Peak trail.  If you plan on hiking both the Upper Shannon Falls trail and one or all of the Chief peaks, be prepared for an arduous day as the distance is not very much, but the continuous elevation gain will be hard.  But as long as you are in for a good workout.. as many do.. Doing both the Chief and the Upper Shannon Falls trails in the same day is amazing!