The Stanley Glacier in Kootenay National Park (Canada) is a stunning area to hike up to. The path has an easy section up into the hanging valley, a moderate section that will take you on a loop with amazing views below the glacier. Then if you are feeling epic (and don’t mind scrambling up beyond the pathway) you can climb right up to the toe of the glacier and touch it. The views are fantastic right from the start of the hike, then they just keep getting better and better as you climb higher.
This hike involves wildflowers, rocky mountain views, waterfalls, a hanging valley as well as the receding Stanley Glacier itself. (Squeeee)
Stanley Glacier trail map
Stanley Glacier trail – the basics
Distance: 11 km
Elevation gain: 600m (or 900m if you hike the whole way to the toe if the glacier.)
Highest point: 2150m (or 2440m at the glacier)
Time: 3-4 hours for the main trail
It took us 6 hours (including 2.5 hours scrambling up to the toe of the glacier and back)
What to bring:
The 10 Essentials
Trekking poles are helpful for this hike.
There is a loo at the trailhead
Dogs: Yes (on a leash)
How hard is it? Intermediate up to the main viewpoint. It’s tough to scramble up to the viewpoint.
Extra notes: There is no cell service in Kootenay National Park. Download maps and details before you drive into the National park!
Avoid this hike on windy days due to the burned trees that are still standing. They are likely to fall in high winds.
Stanley Glacier trail – Getting started
The trailhead for Stanley Glacier is only 3 minutes drive from the Marble Canyon Campground, near the entrance to Kootenay National Park. (It’s 12 mins drive from Castle Junction or 30 mins drive from Banff.) There is a large sign post, so you can’t miss it. There is only one trail leading from the carpark.
First you need to cross Stanley Creek. Then you can follow the switch backs up the mountain among the new growth of lodgepole pine. There are a few areas where there are burned trees from fires in 1968 and more recently in 2003. The blackened trees that are still standing are the reason you should not attempt this hike on windy days. Never stop close to them, as they will all fall down eventually.
At the moment the trees are around my height, so we could still see over/through them to Mount Whymper (behind) and the surrounding peaks. I guess in another 10 years, this will be dense forest again.
After just a few switchbacks you’ll see this beautiful view of Stanley Creek (and Storm Mountain in the background). Stanley Creek bubbles up from the base of the glacier, so it’ll be your constant companion along this hike.
Meadows and the Guard Wall
Once you have made it up the switchbacks, you’ll cross Stanley Creek (where the views of the Guard Wall below Stanley Peak are amaaaazing)
The trail levels out a bit, so it’s more like a pleasant stroll than an epic hike. Still the mountainsides loom above you in all directions, and you can catch your first glimpses of the Stanley Glacier up ahead.
Stanley Glacier basin
The trail gets slightly harder as you reach the sections of rocky slopes. But it is great for spotting pikas, ground squirrels and marmots.
On the cliffs opposite the trail you’ll see “the Nemesis.” This is a waterfall which is meant to be the hardest ice-climb in the world. I can’t even imagine attempting to climb up that! It was quite a small stream this late in the summer, but it must look incredible during the melt in springtime.
Extra Loop to the Stanley Glacier Viewpoint
Just over 4km into the hike the maintained path ends. After that the path splits, so you can choose which direction you head into the talus. The path goes around in a loop, up to that outcrop of rocks/cliffs in my photo below. This part of the walk is more tiring, and the scree might be tough for paws if you are hiking with a dog. We went counter-clockwise, taking the path off to the right, towards the Nemesis Waterfall. The rocks can slide easily and this section is a bit steep. However each time you turn around, the views back to the highway and Mount Whymper are gorgeous!
Burgess Shale Fossils
Keep your eyes peeled for fossils; As this area is part of the Burgess shale. Just if you find any, please take photos and leave the fossils where you find them. It’s all part of leave no trace. Plus it’s illegal to remove natural objects from National Parks here. My friend Andy found the most amazing trilobite fossil when he visited this trail later in the summer.
The Toe of the Stanley Glacier
We enjoyed the path around the loop with views of the Stanley Glacier, but it is steeper and more difficult than the rest of this trail. It goes through a small meadow with a patch of small trees up on the bluff in the center of the basin. Once we’d made it that far, we chatted to a lady who was sitting on a huge rock reading her book. She mentioned that her hiking friends were scrambling right up to the toe of the Glacier.
We could see the other hikers – they were following an indistinct pathway (marked by cairns). Of course, we decided to follow them, as long as it seemed safe.
The scramble up to the toe of the Glacier was the toughest part of this adventure. You climb straight up the scree (around 300m elevation) in less than a kilometer. You basically need to scramble up onto a some huge bluffs. The Glacier is just beyond that.
Glacier views and lunch
We hiked up and touched the glacier. It was a giant, smooth wall of ice that rose up as far as we could see. It also seeps into the rocks below (as the ice melts and drips into the ground.) The Stanley Glacier is receding. So although it looks ancient and permanent, it is not super stable. While we were there, some rocks above us started to roll down the mountain – eep. We had lunch at this viewpoint on the bluffs a bit below the glacier. This gave us some of the best views of the day, but it was further from danger/falling rocks.
After lunch we retraced our steps back down to the small meadow on the bluffs below the glacier. I was pretty tired by this point, but Marc suggested that we keep going to one more viewpoint. We scrambled up just beyond the end of the main path, looking up at the cliffs we had just descended.
Stanley Glacier viewpoints
The Stanley Glacier looks even more amazing from here! You can look up above it to see how it slowly flows down the mountain, clinging to cliffs and thinning out at the toe (where we had just visited.)
Once we had admired these views for a while, we returned to the main trail and continued along the loop back into the hanging valley below. We stopped plenty of times to look backwards – the views continue to be spectacular the whole way back! If you don’t want to scramble up to the toe of the glacier, the bluffs in my photo below will be the highest point along the trail.
Then you can return to the car park via the way you came. The return hike is much faster (as gravity does most of the work for you.) It only took an hour and a half to zoom down.
Panoramas from the Stanley Glacier Trail
I’ll finish with a few panoramas so you can see how the massive cliffs surround the basin of the Stanley Glacier. It’s mad that you can hike up into such spectacular scenery in just a few hours.
This fantastic hike is at the North end of Kootenay National Park, so it is also very close to Banff. It’s pretty perfect as a fun hike that will take you up to some truly stunning views in just a few hours. Now you just need to pin it, so you can come back and explore here later! 😉