By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 7 February 2016)
Where: Squamish, BC, Canada
Distance: It’s listed as an 8 km round trip, but when you add the backcountry access road you take to reach the trailhead, it’s closer to 10 km (6 miles).
Description: This out-and-back hike, which can be done as a regular hike or a snowshoe hike in the winter, runs along the valley below Mt. Habrich and ends near the base of Sky Pilot mountain. There are several forks in the trail, so pay attention to the signs (for detailed directions, see this post on ClubTread.com). Beyond the Sky Pilot Valley Trail, the trail carries on, but this is actually a steep, technical climber’s route to the Sky Pilot summit. Look for “End of Marked Trail” signs to identify the turnaround point.
Cost: The gondola ride is $37.95 for adults, $35.95 for seniors, $23.95 for teens, $13.95 for kids 6 and up, and free for kids under 5. You can save a couple of dollars by purchasing tickets online 24 hours in advance, and even more if you go for the family discount or buy a season pass. If you hike up the Sea to Summit Trail (7.5 km, 3-5 hours) to get to the Sky Pilot Valley Trail rather than taking the gondola up, you can ride down for just $10.
Time: 3-4 hours is the recommended timeframe, given that the trail runs uphill and there is plenty of beautiful scenery to enjoy along the way.
Difficulty: The hike is described as intermediate. The terrain isn’t difficult, steep, or technical, but it’s uphill all the way to the turnaround point. The elevation gain is 380 meters (1,247 feet).
Required Equipment: Trail shoes, hiking boots, or snowshoes, depending on the season; comfortable hiking clothing (ideally, fabrics that wick away sweat, as you’ll probably get sweaty on the uphill and chilled coming down); extra clothing and/or rain gear (weather can change quickly on the mountain); food and water; sunscreen and a hat in the summer; a device for keeping track of time so that you don’t miss the last gondola down
- There are lots of great mountain views along the way, including Sky Pilot and Goat Ridge.
- Because it’s a backcountry trail and a little further out of the way than the local Vancouver mountains, it doesn’t get very crowded. We went on beautiful weekend days in the summer and winter, and saw only a few people on the trail each time.
- This hike is relatively gentle and non-technical, so anyone who is reasonably fit can do it.
- You get to enjoy all the fantastic views around the gondola before you even set out.
- There are facilities near the gondola, including a restaurant and bathrooms.
- There are other trails in the area if you’d like more exercise and views.
- Squamish is close to Vancouver, so it’s easy to do this as a day trip, even if you add additional trails.
- You have to either pay for a gondola ride or hike up the Sea to Summit Trail to get to the Sky Pilot Valley Trail (this isn’t a problem if you’re looking for a really good full-day workout – it’s a 15 km round trip, estimated 6-10 hours to go up and down the Sea to Summit Trail, not including the Sky Pilot Valley Trail – see my review of the Sea to Summit Trail for more information). On the plus side, the gondola provides stunning views.
- There is no cell phone reception on the trail (some will consider this a pro rather than a con).
- You’re not allowed to camp or light fires.
- Dogs aren’t allowed to come up in the gondola or accompany their owners on the upper trails. You can hike the Sea to Summit Trail with your dog (leashed at all times), and you can purchase a gondola download pass for a dog for $10, but you can’t take your dog on the Sky Pilot Valley Trail.
- Take note of the time for the last gondola down – otherwise, you’re going to have a long walk to get down the mountain.
- It’s possible that you’ll see a bear along the way. Don’t approach it (I’m sure most people don’t need to be told, but there are hikers who actually try to feed the bears up there).
- If you want to do a backcountry trail like Sky Pilot but have no backcountry experience, ask the Sea to Sky Guest Services about hiring a guide.
- For more information about this hike, see the Sea to Sky Gondola’s Sky Pilot Valley Trail page and FAQ page.
For more great hikes in BC and Washington, see the main Activities page. For more photos from the Sky Pilot Valley Trail, see the gallery below.
*Prices and conditions may have changed since the time of this writing.