Back to index Granite Chief & Shirley Canyon Hike
Trip Date:  09/23/2016

: 12.0 Miles

Vertical Gain: 1730'

Group Size: 2

Hike Rating:  Easy   Moderate    Hard    Strenuous
Granite Chief Shirley Canyon Route
See video of this hike   See video of hike   Download GPXGPX for this trip
Granite Chief Shirley Canyon Elevation Profile
Start Coordinates:   N 39 11.929  W 120 14.093     End Coordinates:   Same as starting coordinates
Car Shuttle Req'd:   No Parking Directions:   Take Highway 89 south from Truckee.   Turn right on Squaw Valley Road.  The parking area is just before the actual Olympic Village area.  Pull into the turnout on the right at the coordinates listed in this section under Start Coordinates.  Trailhead begins here and runs behind a building at the start.  Update:  As of 2016 this pullout is marked as Private Property, so it is better to park across the road in the main parking area.
Hazards of Note:   Finding a parking space at the trailhead if you don't arrive early enough on a weekend.
If you don't head to the right early on the trail, you will find yourself headed to Shirley Lake.
Crowd Factor:   Negligible on the Granite Chief Trail up to the PCT.  You will meet a number of people on the PCT during the early to middle summer months.  The Shirley Canyon Trail is the most popular trail to the upper camp from the valley and will have a number of people on it.
General Notes:
The trail out of Squaw Valley up to the Pacific Crest Trail intersection is a lot of uphill, and you will have to look carefully for the trail in certain sections.   There is a rocky section about 2/3 of the way to the PCT that had some spots where the trail seemed to disappear, but a few moments and rock cairns could be spotted indicating where the trail was headed.
The climb to the top of Granite Chief is a rocky scramble with a use trail to the south and then western side of the peak which leads all the way to the top up a very steep slope.
During much of the summer you can hike from Granite Chief down to the tram station at the upper section of Squaw Valley and ride the tram down for no charge.  During the fall the tram only operates on weekend days, and only if there are not high winds or lightning.
The Shirley Canyon trail is marked with paint for those heading up from the valley, and not as well for those heading down from the top.  Going this direction the trail is reasonably well defined until a rocky section about halfway through, which lasts for over a mile and can be exceptionally difficult to follow.

Once the trailhead is identified, early along the trail is a schedule for hikers indicating when the tram is running for those wishing to cut a few miles off the hike on the way back down.   Parking Area view
The Granite Chief trail passes by a ropes obsticle course which was added since a previous hike in the area in 2013.   Ropes course 
A look up at the Squaw Valley gondola, which is available during summers and fall weekends for hikers who wish to catch a free ride back down to the valley from High Camp.   The Tram 
The Granite Chief trail heads up the north side of the Squaw Valley canyon, and when the trees open up every so often there are fantastic views to the south of the main ski slopes at the resort.   Heading up
The open sections of the Granite Chief trail often head into a forested section as the trail makes it's way 3+ miles up from the valley floor toward an intersection with the Pacific Crest Trail. Forest sections 
My hiking partner, Mark, doing some glasses repair work along the trail. Glasses repair
It is worth the frequent temptation to leave the trail and head over to the overlooks of the valley far below.   Ledge views
As mentioned, the views down to the valley floor are great, and show how far the trail has taken you from the start way below.   The valley
A sign at the trail junction with the PCT indicates the various directions and destinations from this point.  This trip will head up toward Granite Chief Peak. Joining the PCT
Mark headed up some of the ever opening trail along the PCT section heading south.  Open trail on the PCT     
Looking up at our destination peak of Granite Chief from a meadow on the lower eastern side.   Granite Chief Peak
Following a use trail to the south of the peak and then up the western side, you will soon reach the summit after a steep trek to the top.   Use trail to the top
Looking south from the peak toward Desolation Wilderness in the distance.   South toward Desolation
Looking back down toward the meadow below the peak, as well as Shirley Lake and Canyon past it to the east.   At the peak
Spectacular views from the peak extend all the way to Lake Tahoe and the Nevada Mountains on the far side of the lake. Views to Tahoe
Mark enjoying lunch at the peak with Tahoe in the distance. Mark at the peak
Through the telephoto lens the High Camp gondola and buildings are clearly visible, including the olympic rings and ice skating rink.   High Camp closeup
Heading down to High Camp from the peak the trail cuts right along the side of a black diamond ski slope.   Trail to High Camp
Heading back down to the valley on the Shirley Canyon trail takes you right by Shirley Lake. Shirley Lake
The Shirley Canyon "Trail" for a mile or so requires looking for paint marks on the rocks to show you the way.  Unfortunately, they are mostly painted for those heading up the canyon and require a sharp eye on the way down. No trail
A very unusual structure located just off the trail a couple miles from the end of the Shirley Canyon trail. Structure
GPX image of the hike. GPS track of hike