A walk to the Stanley Glacier is one of the most popular half-day trips for visitors in Kootenay National Park. This moderate trail is easily accessible by all and enables hikers to get up close and personal with the Stanley Glacier and experience a myriad of nature’s work including the regenerating forest, talus slopes, runoffs, waterfalls and glaciated peaks. The shale beds in these mountains were actually once the ocean’s floor, so keep your eyes peeled for the many prehistoric fossils that hide in and around the trail.
Remember the Backcountry Basics
- Carry your Survival Kit & Essentials
- Let someone know where you’re going with a Trip Plan
- Know how to avoid negative wildlife encounters
- Practice Leave No Trace to keep the wilderness pristine
- Carry a Satellite Communicator like SPOT X
Table of Contents
|Distance (Round Trip)
|Time (Round Trip)
|Yes - On Leash
How to Get There
If you are coming from Banff, the drive is about 30 minutes. Head West on Hwy/AB-1 then take a left onto the BC-93 heading south. The Stanley Glacier trailhead is located on the left side of the road about 13.4km from the intersection with Hwy 1.
The first 4km of the trail is relaxed and very well maintained. As you hike past the Vermillion River and up into the valley you will notice the remnants of a forest fire that ravaged the area after a lightning strike in 1968. Plenty of time has passed for the forest to regenerate and you will be able to view an assortment of new lodgepole pine and wildflowers as you stride your way up. When you near the 4km mark, the Stanley glacier will come into sight. This contradiction between the seared forest and the glaciated peaks is why some call this, the “Fire & Ice” trail. Many hikers stop at the 4km mark, enjoy the views and head on down.
If you have the physical capabilities and time I would absolutely recommend you continue on as this is where the hike gets a lot more fun. You are going to see a sign that warns you that the trail is unmaintained from this point forward. Although the trail is unmaintained, it is extremely easy to follow the shale rock trail forged by the thousands of hikers who have come before you.
I would recommend you hike to the Stanley Glacier in a counter clockwise fashion taking the trail furthest to your right. This trail is much steeper than the trail to the left and is easier to ascend than descend. There are some really neat waterfalls in this section and my personal favourite was a little cave that look liked the Grinch’s residence. It’s tucked into the mountains and you need to walk under some misting water to get into.
Continue following the trail until you reach a grassy/vegetation filled patch directly below the glacier moraine. I found this spot particularly fascinating because it is entirely surrounded by talus slopes and shale rock but was able to regenerate vegetation due to moisture from the receding glacier. This is the halfway point. We decided to hike as close to the glacier as we possibly could hoping to further improve our view. Going about halfway to the base of the glacier is totally worth it and improves the view, but any higher (the scrambling portion) didn’t make too much of a difference.
We enjoyed our lunch sitting beneath the glacier and staring into the beautiful rocky valley below. On the way out we took the route to our right. This offered a gentle grade down and was significantly easier on the joints. Make sure to take a peek over your shoulder because halfway down your viewpoint will change slightly and an even larger portion of the glacier will come into view. You will once again reach the “unmaintained trail” sign and can make your way down the maintained trail to the car. The entire trail took us around 4 hours with a long 45-minute lunch break at the top.
My Two Cents
The Stanley Glacier was the perfect half-day moderate hike. It had many different landscape and terrain changes that kept the journey fairly stimulating. We left around 8:15am and shared the trail with only one party who we ran into at the glacier. On the way down at around 10-11am the traffic on the trail really started to pick up. I figure the people on the trail increased so dramatically mid-morning because most people coming from Banff were not willing to wake up much earlier than 8am. The parking lot was completely full by around noon. When we arrived back at the truck, there were a couple parties anxiously waiting to snag our parking spot. When hiking popular trails in Banff, Kootenay or Jasper National parks you have to WAKE UP EARLY or else your overall hiking experience is really going to suffer.
Let me know if you have any questions in the comments?