Forget the Grouse Grind, hike the new Sea to Summit Trail in Squamish
Once upon a time, the Upper Shannon Falls Trail was a overlooked gem in Stawamus Chief Provincial Park. Those days are gone.
That’s because the Sea to Sky Gondola, which opened in May, has incorporated the entire trail into its Sea to Summit Trail, Squamish’s new answer to the Grouse Grind. From now on, hikers can expect this once-sleepy route to be just as busy as the popular backside trail up the Stawamus Chief, which the Sea to Summit Trail joins for a bit near its base.
First things first: this is not the Grouse Grind. It’s a real hike, with lots of ups, a few downs, some flattish bits, and not much in the way of stairs, except at the bottom.
The Sea to Summit Trail climbs 918 metres over 9.8 kilometres. Compare that to the Grouse Grind’s 853 metres of elevation gain over 2.9 kilometres. While the Grouse Grind takes an average ascent time of 1.5 hours, the Sea to Summit Trail, which is marked by numbered diamonds, took me four hours to ascend a couple weeks ago.
And what a great four hours it was. We started at Shannon Falls Provincial Park, because the gondola base limits parking to three hours. (Sea to Sky Gondola has an overflow parking lot with a shuttle for longer visits.)
Starting from the base, the Sea to Summit Trail leaves the gondola parking lot and goes left on the Lower Shannon Fall Trail, which connects Shannon Falls and Stawamus Chief parks. After crossing Olesen Creek, the Sea to Summit Trail merges with the Chief Peaks Trail, ascending its stairs to the Upper Shannon Falls Trail junction.
From there, you go right, following the Upper Shannon Falls Trail across Olesen Creek again, under the gondola line, past two viewpoints, and up some steep sections to the upper falls. It’s worth noting that the gondola corridor is now part of the Stawamus Chief Protected Area, having been controversially removed from Stawamus Chief Provincial Park in 2012 for the project.
The bluff above the falls, once the scenic turn-around point for hikers doing the Upper Shannon Falls Trail, is still worth a rest stop or even a lunch break. A Steller’s jay might drop by as you enjoy the views of Howe Sound and the Stawamus Chief.
Pressing on, you’ll find that the newly developed portion of the Sea to Summit Trail rises through pleasant forest. Eventually, the trail goes left on a shady logging road. (The under-construction Shannon Basin Loop Trail is to the right.)
At the next junction, there’s a choice to be made: go left for the more direct Wrinkle Rock Trail, or stay right on the logging road and take the longer upper portion of the Sea to Summit Trail. We went left, which seemed to the choice of many other parties. Wrinkle Rock, which you’ll see where the trail meets the gondola line, is aptly named.
When you finally reach the top, you’re metres away from the Summit Lodge, with its cafeteria, bar, coffee shop, and excellent patio. The “summit area” also features two walking trails, three viewing platforms, and a suspension bridge.
The vistas from the platforms on either end of the bridge, which is right next to the lodge, were nothing short of spectacular on my visit. Sky Pilot Mountain dominates the scene, which includes Goat Ridge and Howe Sound as well.
The ride down the gondola, in one of its eight-passenger cabins, costs $9.95 and takes 10 minutes. It’s worth scheduling some extra time for the summit area though. After the hike up, we spent a good three hours on the patio.