Vancouver is one hell of a place.
What’s weird is that when you think about it, it’s kind of in the middle of nowhere. Yes, you can ski. You can hike. You can run. You can sight see. There’s a lot to do.
But it’s also a good 2.5+ hour drive from Seattle and another 2 hours from Whistler Blackcomb. Seattle aside, the next nearest major cities to Vancouver are are Portland (5+ hours) or Calgary (10 hours).
The good news is that Vancouver actually winds up being incredibly convenient to use as a “home base”for more than a week’s worth of day trips and excursions.
One of the day trips that should be at the top of your list? The Sea to Summit hiking trail.
Located in Squamish along the aptly-named Sea to Sky Highway (the road to Whistler), this stunningly scenic trail is just under an hour’s drive north from Vancouver. Sea to Summit runs through Stawamus Chief Provincial Park, home to one of the largest granite monoliths in the world (2,300 ft. high) and unforgettable views of Howe Sound.
Sea to Summit is a beautiful but challenging trail that rewards you with vistas of not only Howe Sound but also Sky Pilot, Mount Garibaldi, and other surrounding peaks.
The adventure begins at the Stawamus Chief trail, sharing the lower section before branching off to continue its 900m climb. The intermediate/advanced hike increases in beauty as it increases in steepness until reaching the top, accessible by two different trails.
There are quite steep and challenging sections including a a fixed rope you’ll find yourself clinging to at times, given there are no railings or other safety installations.
Along the way you’ll also cross Upper Shannon Falls. Named after William Shannon, who first settled the property in 1889 and made bricks in the area, the crashing waterfall tumbles from a good 335 meters (1,099 ft) above.
The trail in its entirety will take 3-5 hours, depending on your level of fitness. Once you’ve taken in the view from the top, reward yourself with a $10 Gondola ticket for the ride back to the bottom. (Seriously, you can’t hike down. It’s not safe.) Just make sure you plan your hike so that you reach the summit before the last gondola ride down.
Here’s how to do it.
Follow the marking to The Chief trail, then turn right onto the Upper Shannon Falls trail to continue to the summit. Ignore signs for the Gondola – the Sea to Summit signage is hard to miss with its large, numbered green diamonds showing the way from #1 to #400.
After the stairs and steep increase in terrain (~280m elevation), take a right at the junction for Upper Shannon Falls. Cruise along under the Sea to Sky Gondola and keep climbing to the waterfall. Continuing up the trail through the trees to the bluffs will lead you to the next intersection, for Shannon Basin Loop.
Hang either a left to the Upper Sea to Summit trail or a right to the Shannon Basin Loop trail. Upper Sea to Summit is steeper and more technical; the latter is slightly longer but less challenging.
If you go with the Upper Sea to Summit trail (recommended for scenery), you’ll experience a flat section of trail among the trees before once again passing under the Gondola and finishing with a final, sharp climb to the very top.
Then, enjoy. Enjoy the views, a few cold beers at The Summit lodge and the feeling of a job well done.
WHAT TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO.
- Location: Squamish
- Distance: 7.5km
- Elevation Gain: 918m
- (Approximate) Time: 3-5 hours
- Difficulty: Intermediate/Advanced
- Cost: free to hike; $10/ticket for Sea to Sky Gondola (tickets can be purchased at the base or at the Summit)
- Getting there: from Vancouver, take the Highway 99 (Sea to Sky Highway) North. Turn off at either Shannon Falls or Stawamus Chief Provincial Park and follow the signs to Sea to Sky Gondola.