Last updated on July 17th, 2023
If you’ve ever wanted to try your hand (or wheels) in some off-roading terrain, then British Columbia is the place to do it. It’s the province with the most OHV (Off-Highway Vehicle) trails and lots of formidable hikes in BC can only be reached with an OHV or 4×4. One of them being Mount Cheam! This isn’t to say you can’t get creative and mountain bike/hike your way up, but why suffer so much just to get to the trailhead? Unless that’s your thing!
Mount Cheam is one of Chilliwack’s most incredible hikes. If you could easily hike without the need to off-road here, this trail would be crowded with people daily! It might be a blessing that it takes a little more to get there – about an hour of white-knuckling up a treacherous mountain road. But it’s very much worth every minute of the drive, as you’ll see in this post.
This hike is one of our most memorable – not just in Canada, but throughout the globe. The abundant and diverse flora, the intense landscapes of the North Cascade Mountain Range, the views of the valleys and surrounding monstrous peaks are enough reason to do this hike and add it to the list of weekend adventures from Vancouver.
In this post, I’ll give you the inside scoop on driving and hiking Mount Cheam. Here’s what you need to know to best prepare yourself to summit Cheam Peak!
Accommodations in Chilliwack
If you’re thinking of staying out in Chilliwack for the night to get an early start to the hike and enjoy the area for the whole day, be sure to book your accommodation in advance! Our number one choice is APA’s Coast Chilliwack Hotel which has so many modern amenities including a large indoor pool to soak in after your long day outdoors. Check out other options that will suit your needs using this widget!
How to Get to Mount Cheam Trailhead
If you don’t have your own 4×4 vehicle with decent clearance to make it up the road to Mount Cheam’s trailhead, you can always rent one. We couldn’t have gotten up the fire road without our beloved Toyota 4Runner. Definitely not a chance with our Honda Civic! Do yourself a favour and get a 4×4 rental so you don’t get forced to turn back around on the mountain road.
Driving from Vancouver, it’ll take you about 2 hours via the TransCanada Highway to reach the turn that takes you to the first gravel road. Passing Abbotsford, you’ll take exit 104 to No. 3 Road East, leading you onto Vedder Mountain Road and Chilliwack Lake Road. The mountain view on this road is absolutely incredible, especially at sunrise, that it might keep you from getting to the hike as fast you can. It’s a nice breather before things get a little stressful! But be careful getting out of your car here: it’s a quiet area so wildlife is bound to frequent it. On our way there, we managed to see a coyote, a rabbit and a baby black bear right on the side of the road! Real cute, but be on guard, especially if you plan to be driving in the dark!
You’ll be driving along Chilliwack Lake Road when you pass the Ford Mountain Correctional Centre on the left, and then immediately cross the Chilliwack River, before hitting the sign that says “Mount Cheam Trailhead” to your left. You’ll probably have lost signal by then so at this point it’s all about following the signs! Once you take this left, you’re on the gravel road I mentioned before. You might think “huh, this isn’t so bad! Why did we need a 4×4 again?” Well I’m breaking it to you now: you’re not at the old logging road yet! I got fooled too, but you’ll be driving on that flat-ish dusty, gravel road for about 20-30 minutes before the real fun starts.
You’ll see a definitive difference between the roads once you reach the start of your steep ascent. This is where some smaller cars would park so that people can find other ways (walking, ATV-ing, motorbiking, you name it) to get to the trailhead. There’s a separate trail for those going up by foot, but if you’re fortunate enough to have the right vehicle with a lot of clearance, you’ll be taking the path on the right called the Chipmunk Forest Service Road.
Take your time! Better to be safe than sorry. There are many deep divots awaiting you. The best way we found to get past them is by driving at an angle so that one of our front tires would the other side of the cavity instead of our front bumper. Maintain control of the steering wheel and gas/breaks and you’ll do just fine!
Our experience driving up the old logging road to reach the Mount Cheam trailhead was exhilarating and got us breaking in a sweat before we even got out of the car, but it allowed us to focus most of our energy on the actual hike. That hour spent slowly scaling the mountain with our baby 4Runner was better spent than struggling to do so in a small car. So think twice before you decide to take your Civic to tackle Mount Cheam with your car!
Parking at Mount Cheam Trailhead
You made it! Well not to the summit yet, but you made it to the start, and that’s more than many can say! Now, if you managed to arrive here in the morning on a weekday, you are GOLDEN. But despite the strenuous journey to get to the trailhead, this hike is actually quite popular and for good reason. Now, wouldn’t it suck to get to the end of that crazy road only to find that you had nowhere to park? Dang. So aim to arrive before 11 am at the very least! Ideally, around 8-9 am in the summer months would be great for an arrival time. We were there at around 8:30/9 am on a Tuesday (August 11, 2020) and there were already a couple of trucks parked there.
Hiking Mount Cheam
Gosh, where do I start?! This was one of the most memorable and phenomenal hikes we have EVER done. Take a look for yourself below but I doubt the photos really do this place justice. It honestly felt like we stepped into a completely different universe as we progressed through this hike. So many “wow”s were uttered!
The hike is about 9.5 km (5.9 miles) out-and-back with over 700 m (2300 ft) of elevation gain. At a decent pace with a number of breaks for eating, photos, videos, it should take about 4.5 hours to complete.
The start of the hike is nice and easy as you walk on a gravel path with low elevation gain, while taking in a sweeping view of Fraser Valley. You’ll walk on this path for about 15-20 minutes before you reach the meadow filled with so much greenery, wildflowers and gorgeous views of the mountain range (huuuuge Sound of Music vibes – I’m not embarrassed to say I burst into “The Hills Are Alive” more than a few times).
You’ll approach a boardwalk that crosses a small creek and catch Spoon Lake on your right. How out-of-this-world does that lake look though?!
After passing the lake, the uphill will be about to start. We found that the bugs were merciless at this point! Tons of flies and mosquitos followed us where we went! So be sure to carry bug spray with you. Sunscreen too, as it’s a fairly exposed hike!
The trail is defined throughout and you shouldn’t have any issues finding your way to the summit. Most of the hike is a steady and fairly steep uphill so pace yourself and drink lots of water. You’ll probably want to take a ton of breaks, not because you need them but because the sites will catch your attention every few minutes! The valley is so hard to divert your attention from, especially the towering Lady Peak neighbouring Cheam Peak. Just look at how the clouds rolled past that awe-inspiring mountain.
When you reach the ridge, you’ll know it when you see it: the built-in picnic bench and the tiny town on the other side will be your indicators. What you’ll be seeing is the town of Agassiz on the other side of the channels that make up Fraser River. And that big body of water further north is Harrison Lake.
Here you can decide whether you’d like to keep going the extra few hundred meters to the summit or stay at the picnic bench. The ridge looked sketchier than it actually was. Stick to the right and you’ll be good! But steer clear of the edge as there’s loose rock. Just a short distance from the bench as you walk along the ridge is the area that they call the Angel’s Bowl because a couple of deaths happened from falling from that section. So stay safe and keep your distance from the edge with your back never turning to it.
When we got to the summit, we were completely amidst the clouds – it was euphoric! But also windy. And we didn’t get to view much of our surroundings. So hopefully you’ll have better luck than us at this vistapoint!
That’s it folks, you’re now ready to take on one of BC’s best off-roading/hiking adventure!