Stanley Glacier – Kootenay National Park

Stanley Glacier – Kootenay National Park

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: 11Β kmΒ 
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.
Bear spray
There is a loo at the trailhead
Dogs:Β 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.

Stanley Creek

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.Β 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.

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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! πŸ˜‰

70 thoughts on “Stanley Glacier – Kootenay National Park

    1. Yeah, that section was tougher than I was expecting at the start of the hike – it definitely gave us the best views though! (squeee)

    1. Lol yeah, I didn’t fancy that either 🀣
      It’s funny, I had heard of this one…but there are so many hikes up to Glaciers nearby, that I didn’t have super high expectations. It was a fabulous pathway though; Waaay better than I was expecting.

  1. Wow, this is so beautiful and somewhere I never heard of before. I am never thrilled about needing bear spray, but I don’t let it stop me.

    1. Yeah, I guess bear spray is just a security blanket…it is always a bit worrying when you hike in the areas that need it – that is one massive plus for the hike you are doing in NZ!!

      It’s worth being loud and carrying bear spray to see areas like this though. <3

  2. I’m having hiking envy! You have so many gorgeous hikes near you. The terrain and views are outstanding but I really like the view of Guard Wall. It kinda reminds me of Yosemite a bit. I can’t wait to do some hikes like this. Crossing fingers maybe I’ll get to make it to Canada this next year!

    1. Those crazy cliffs are spectacular aren’t they!? I would looove Yosemite if they views are like that!

      I hope you can come North! To be fair, this is all still pretty far from where we live too. I just get extra excited whenever we make it to the Rockies.

  3. Oh my, your photos are always stunning, but this hike looks spectacular! You had me at wildflowers and waterfalls.

  4. You always share the best hikes! I need to get out to the west of Canada (stuck in the 6ix right now) to actually do them! I’ve been up glaciers here as a kid but I’d love to redo it as an adult. Your shots remind me of NZ and make me super nostalgic

    1. Toronto is soooo gorgeous too though Nina! I need to spend more time out East…I just have to wait until the summer time as I find the cold here in the West more than enough!

      p.s. You know, it’s funny you say it reminds you of NZ. One of my Canadian friends said he thought NZ was a bit boring, because it’s so similar to BC. (🀣) I am totally in love with the glaciers both in Canada and NZ, so I thought he was going mad.

  5. wow what a gorgeous national park! that hike looks absolutely incredible and like the perfect place for photos and seeing nature!

    1. Thanks Kate! This one is right on the edge of the National Park – it’s cool to think how much further that wilderness stretches! πŸ˜€

  6. As per usualllll, I wanna go here too!! You’re making my list of places to visit in Canada so, so very long, hahaha. This one looks like a really fun adventure (as long as it’s not rainy/super slippery..)!!

    1. I guess it would look pretty intimidating and gloomy in the rain with those massive cliffs towering above you! BUT…the nemesis waterfall would look much more impressive!

      p.s. Yaaay…I am slowly going to tempt you North!

  7. Absolutely stunning as always, what a wonderful walk. The scenery is awe-inspiring and out of this world. You really do live in a fabulous place.

    1. It is a gorgeous part of the world isn’t it! I know you’ve visited the Rockies before, but maybe we can tempt you back post covid-19 for more house-sitting/exploring. πŸ˜€

  8. The trek to Stanley Glacier sounds breathtaking. Nice to know that there are trails that are moderate and tough as well. Another added bonus on the hike is the possibility of finding fossils.

    1. I was trying sooo hard to find fossils! I don’t think we had any luck this time, but we found some cool cube shaped crystals.

    1. Right!? That last part was the hardest, but we would not have known it was possible without speaking to the other hikers.I am so grateful they showed us the way!

    1. Yees the photos of Glacier National Park make me really want to hike there too! Did you know there is a Glacier National Park in Canada as well? We managed to add a hike there a few days after this one.

        1. Oooh no, I think it’s a different spot, near Waterton Lakes National Park (right by the border) I just looked at photos – that area looks gooorgeous!

          The Glacier National Park we visited is further North (really close to Golden and Revelstoke)

  9. The views are fantastic. I am not sure if I would have gone up the last part – 300m on a 1km walk. That sounds like a gigantic Charley Horse to happen. And I wonder how safe it was to descend.
    The photo of Stanley Creek with Guard Wall below Stanley Peak in the back is fantastic. This is one of my favorite types of landscape.

    1. It was slightly easier on the way down as we could see the path a bit better – but yeah, that last part was tough for me! Still, the views were amazing even if you only make it to the bluffs below the glacier. It’s such a great location!

  10. It’s really cool to hike up what looks like the glacial moraine until you get there. It’s a walk through time. I’d love to see that world’s hardest ice climb in season. And I always wonder who gets to declare it the world’s hardest. I’d like this hike as the scenery is splendid.

    1. That is a good point! I always assume they just mean it is very tough! I tried googling the “worlds hardest ice climb” and there are loooads of options. Helmcken Falls looks very tough as well!

  11. Beautiful destination! I would love to be able to hike to the toe of the glacier. The views along the way are beautiful as well. I would love to see the Guard Well in person. Looking for fossils would be a lot of fun, I would definitely want to bring my daughter when she gets a bit older.

    1. We did see quite a few kids on the trail when we were on the way back – I guess it is a little harder to start early with children! I think they have guided walks where they’ll show you the best spots for finding fossils (as it is part of the Burgess Shale…)

  12. This looks like a serious hike, and it reminds of some hikes that I did many years ago in New Zealand. I love the view of the mountains that are half green half naked gray. I’d be glad to do that one!

    1. Yeah I always love that too – especially when you get closer and realize how many flowers are growing in the ‘grey’ sections!

  13. I was on a glacier in Alaska once, but a helicopter took me to it so you definitely get bragging rights! Also, I’m always in awe of your photos. Just beautiful!

    1. That must have been amaaaaazing! I would love to go and see the huge glaciers in Alaska! This one was teeny in comparison!

  14. The views are absolutely stunning from every angle! That seems like such a long hike and if there’s a glacier, I assume it’s very high up. I’ve done one similar to this and it was so difficult! I thought I was a hiker but I take it back after that hike. Looks like you enjoyed it which is a great plus.

    1. Thanks Venaugh. This one wasn’t actually too bad – we started at almost 1600m, so we only had to hike up 600-900m. I guess that means it was high, but we didn’t have to hike most of it! This part of the Rockies is great for that.

  15. Wow! Some beautiful views on this hike. I have really been getting more into hiking throughout the pandemic and living so close to the Rockies. I’ll have to add this one to the bucketlist!

    1. Thanks Terri! I loved your post about Waterton Lakes, but I didn’t know you lived close to the Rockies, you lucky thing!! This was only our third trip to the Rockies, but we did sooo many walks each time I have loads of ideas if you need some.

  16. Wowwww it is insanely beautiful. I can’t believe it. Y’all Canadians are truly spoiled up there!!! 3-4 hours doesn’t sound too bad though, especially not for a glacier! I’ve been loving all of your hiking posts lately, but this one really takes the cake!

    1. Thanks Kay!

      Yeah it’s funny…as this is so short, I wasn’t expecting it to be such an epic-view filled adventure! I am really glad you liked it!!

  17. How have I never even heard of Stanley Glacier in Kootenay National Park?? This looks amazing and you guys got right up next to Stanley Glacier! I love the whole hike especially around the Meadows and Guard Wall! The views you captured are breathtaking!

  18. Looks like an amazing place to hike. The views are so inviting that I want to go there now! Reminds me of our trek to Valley of flowers. Very helpful guide.

  19. What epic views! The Stanley Glacier looks amazing, I would love to do this hike one day. Although I would probably get stuck at the shale area looking for fossils πŸ™‚

  20. First of all what a great place to have lunch. And such a wonderful trail. Really cool that you can find fossils here, something completely different than other trails. I’ll have to keep a note of this one

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