I didn’t really need my headlamp. The moonlit trail was almost enough to see with. Hiking up the Chief for the first time this season I’ve done the hike before but not at 6am before sunrise with just the sound of my breath and the flowing creek.
When: End of March
45 minute drive from Vancouver
About 3 – 4 hours return trip for hiking up second peak
Three peaks – Distance and elevation from parking lot:
First peak, 1.5km, Elevation gain 540m
Second peak, 1.7km, Elevation gain 590m
Third peak, 1.8km, Elevation gain 630m
Since camping at the Chief isn’t really a picturesque experience in terms of views and also the camping season doesn’t start until May when fees are in effect, I had a great quiet weekend getaway camping for free away from the large crowds of people cramming every sunny nook and cranny available. Camping overnight meant an easier time getting an early start on the trail and hopefully catching sunrise.
Stars shine brighter away from the city
We decided to hike up second peak because to me that’s the most fun trail to hike up with chains and a ladder to help you along the way. What made it even better was that there was nobody in sight, meaning no waiting to make your way up / down and ample opportunity to take my time with my camera.
The mountains ahead get their first taste of sun for the day. The view from second peak.
It took us about 3 hours from the campsite (close to the parking lot) to second peak and back. In the summer the trail gets pretty crowded and there can be bottlenecks of people waiting to go up or down in the areas of the trail that can only accommodate single file. If you want to miss the crowds, go early. It was about 8am on the way down when I met the first people heading up. By 10am, the trail was busy with lots of people and their excited dogs. How some dogs make it up to second peak; during another trip I saw someone push their pooch up the ladder – and I’m not sure if the dog or owner was having fun at that point.
After squishing your way through large slabs of granite, the ladder will take you up the final part of the trail
It’s always incredible to see the trees among the large rocks and boulders
The trail overall is mostly an uphill hike with very little flat going up, so be prepared to work it. I’ve done all three peaks before in a day along with a trip to Shannon falls (a relatively flat hike 1.5km from the parking lot) and it took me about 8 hours including lunchtime and a nap on first peak. The trail to third peak is not very well-marked, I would only attempt it in daylight, but the trails to first and second peak are well-marked.
You can camp close to the trailhead, or there are also campsites close to the parking lot. Each campsite is well spaced apart so you don’t feel all cramped side by side. There are water taps available during the camping season from May – October and it’s $8 per person per night. If you’re camping out of season you can collect water from the creek or since it’s only a quick walk from the parking lot or you can bring a large container of water.
I always prefer to avoid the crowds, as mentioned in the summer months this is a really popular hiking trail so if you really want to have a good hike and connect with the outdoors then start early or face the lineups that can occur at some parts of the trail to first or second peak. Third peak because it’s not as well-marked can be less travelled as another option. All three peaks offer similar views. Yay to the start of this hiking season!