Hikes, Vancouver

How to hike the Stawamus Chief with Dogs

February 18, 2022

One of the best dog-friendly hikes in the area, the “Chief” overlooks the Howe Sound with incredible views of Squamish and peaks around. It’s one of my favorite sunset hikes and an iconic location for locals and tourists alike. There’s loads of blogs and descriptions of this hike so I’m going to keep this very dog-oriented.

As this is a hike up a mountain, it involves lots of elevation gain over a short distance. There are never-ending stairs, lots of big steps, and can be difficult to those not used to this sort of hike. Please go slow if you’re tired and take the breaks you need to. The only bathrooms are the ones at parking, so make sure you go before starting!

The Chief has 3 peaks (creatively called 1st, 2nd, and 3rd) and it’s possible to do one or all of them in one go. The first peak is the lowest at 630m , and 2nd at 680 and finally 3rd at 702m. For dogs, the 2nd peak is the hardest to climb as there’s the longest metal ladder with an awkward section between rock that can be hard to get through without holding your dog. Each peak is possible but I would suggest 1st peak if you’re looking for something quicker and 3rd peak if you want the most dog-friendly, least busy route (but also the longest).

Warnings for dogs

These trails are busy and well trafficked and like most busy trails here, people leave food and there are chipmunks and crows on the peaks. If your dogs might go after chipmunks and run off the cliffs PLEASE keep them far from edges and have a leash system that will not break or slip off your hands. Harnesses are usually more secure than a collar from an unexpected run. There are also climbers coming up from unexpected places so be aware in case your dog might get scared of people popping out of nowhere.

This hike is NOT puppy-friendly. The steepness paired with the hard rock is too long and strenuous for growing joints unless you will carry your older puppy down yourself (I put Bourbon in a 65L backpack).

The trail is so busy that it can be common for dogs to find human feces along the route. Just a warning, it happens frequently and sometimes people don’t go more than 1 foot off the trail. Be careful as I’m always scared it could be laced with THC.

When I hike in the dark, I always have lights on the dogs just in case anyone might get scared and they have lots of warning. Like any off-leash dog hike, clean up after your pup (garbage bins are at the bottom), and keep them off the trail for any leashed dogs, people that might be scared, and children. The bottom section has a fast running dangerous river so make sure water loving dogs are kept away from the current. There is no water source outside from this so I would advise bringing all the water your dogs may need.

Parking and trail start

starts off with so many stairs

The most common trail (the only one I would suggest for dogs) starts at the chief parking lot and goes through the campground. There are pit toilets and garbage here and keep your dog on leash until you reach the trailhead with the stairs. There are no more toilets or garbage bins beyond the trailhead. Once you start up the stairs, you will hike up up up.

The trail is mostly lots of big rock steps

The first split is for the Sea to Sky Gondola (also dog friendly, with a small chain section most dogs can go up without help). Dogs are allowed to ride the Sea to Sky gondola down (but not up) if you’re looking for something different. The second split is for 3rd peak, and the 3rd split is for 1st peak. If you continue straight without turning off you will end up on 2nd peak.

1st Peak 630m

First short ladder up 1st

There are two ladders to 1st peak, both somewhat short and dogs can avoid them. The first ladder is halfway between the peak and the split to 2nd. It’s pretty short and dogs can veer off to the left side and gain the same incline without a ladder. You can also lift them up the ladder easily, or, if they like agility, they can use the branches around the ladder to climb up (this is Whiskey’s preference, I don’t know a single other dog that would do this).

At some point you’ll see permanent chains attached to rock that you don’t really need to hike up, but they do lead to a narrow section with some bigger steps that a dog might need help getting around (Whiskey and Bourbon can work out a route around them without help). There are 3 options for dogs getting up this section.

The first way is to head up on the right hand side around or before the chains. Both human and dog can take this together to avoid the entire section I write about below.

the thin second ladder up 1st

This narrow section leads to a thin ladder on an angle. Before the ladder, dogs can make their way up the left side of the rock without help. The 3rd option is for dogs to climb the ladder (Whiskey loves climbing up and down this to show off to onlookers). Because the ladder is on an angle and placed on the rock, if a dog’s paws slip through, it just touches rock. I suggest climbing right underneath your dog so you can support them up if they need help. Bourbon can also climb up this way but less gracefully.

view of Garibaldi

Coming down, Bourbon prefers to take the route to the left, (the right when you are coming down) and Whiskey prefers the ladder. It’s harder for dogs to walk down a ladder than up and I always suggest being underneath your dog so you can help them if they want to do this.

Steep down, slippery when icy. Keep puppies on leash (like B)

The peak is beautiful and quick to gain. You have the best views of Garibaldi from here and great views of the city. The peak here can be very icy in some conditions so bring spikes if you suspect it might be so!

2nd Peak 680m

There are two ways up 2nd peak. The first is the direct route from the split of 1st peak. It’s the hardest section for dogs. There’s a way around the entire ladder section but it’s quite steep (you must turn off before the narrow part that leads to the ladder. This ladder is vertical and long so you’ll have to fireman carry your dog up the ladder. I never go up this route with the dogs, I normally go the other direction as getting down a ladder with 50lbs on your neck is easier and safer than going up.

The longest ladder on 2nd

The second way up 2nd peak is coming from 3rd peak. There’s a trail between the peaks that doesn’t involve ladders or extremely steep sections. I typically come up the 3rd peak, and down the second, if I’m doing second at all (I don’t tend to hike 2nd). Between the peaks is a huge drop-off so please be aware and keep your dogs on leash if you’re not 100% sure they will not run off after a chipmunk.

between 2nd and 3rd there’s a huge drop

3rd Peak 702m

the most dog friendly

3rd peak is the only one without ladders or ropes and I frequently have the entire peak to myself on weekdays. This is the one I hike the most with my girls, as its the longest option, the best views (in my opinion) and the least busy. It’s also the most rugged trail out of all 3 options and you may be looking for the trail markers on a number of occasions. I absolutely love this one on a less busy day and I’ve spent at least one birthday here eating cake with my friends.

If you’re confident hiking back down in the dark, it’s fantastic for sunsets and you’ll most likely be the only one up there. If you have the time and don’t mind a bit of trail-finding, this is the one I would recommend to do with your dogs if you’re only doing one peak!

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2 Comments

  • Reply Jodi July 6, 2022 at 3:10 pm

    thank you so much !! We are doing the chief this summer and everyone I talk to says you can’t bring a dog. Our Catahoula loves hikes and I couldn’t imagine leaving her at camp.

    • Reply whiskeygirl July 6, 2022 at 8:57 pm

      I’m so glad it’s helpful! Yes it’s dog-friendly and we do it all the time as it’s our local hike. Enjoy!

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