Stanley Glacier Trail

July 16, 2020. A scenic hike in Kootenay National Park, featuring glaciers, cliffs, boulders and waterfalls.

  • Region: Kootenay National Park. Traditional territory of the Ktunaxa, Tsuu T’ina, and Blackfoot First Nations.
  • Distance: 11 km round-trip
  • Total Ascent: 395 m
  • Total Time: 3h 55m

After an absence of several years, my family returned to Kootenay National Park this summer to check out a recommended hike for kids in Nugara’s Family Walks and Hikes in the Canadian Rockies Volume 1: Stanley Glacier.

Anticipating a crowded parking lot, as well as some precipitation in the afternoon, we got to the trailhead early and enjoyed great conditions for a hike, though this trail might be an option in light rain if everyone in the party is sure-footed.

Access is via Hwy 93. A turn-off about 3.4 km southbound from the Alberta/BC border leads to a parking lot with an information kiosk and pit toilet facilities. Click here for the Google Map. The trail starts off by crossing a sturdy bridge over a broad creek before gently switch-backing up towards the deeply carved hanging valley below the Stanley Glacier. The region has experienced some major fires over the years, which has resulted in a refreshingly open feeling while hiking up the first part of the trail. Rather than being hemmed in by an old, tall forest, the trail is surrounded by short young trees. The air moves freely and the views are largely uninterrupted.

At the top of the switchbacks, the trail crosses a small bridge and proceeds along a more level grade, but on slightly more rocky terrain. After some more time in the trees, the trail emerges into more open terrain. Views into the hanging valley slowly get better and better. The sheer walls of Stanley Peak are to the right as you climb. Slowly, you can make out a few towering waterfalls coming down from the glacier. Eventually the official trail ends in the midst of boulders, cliffs, and great views into the heart of the hanging valley.

Some of our crew ran out of steam before the final portion of the trail and I carried on with one of my kids to finish the trail and check out a particularly big boulder. It is possible to continue to a very obvious plateau deeper in the valley beyond the end of the official trail, but on this occasion we didn’t want to split the party for too long, so we saved that trip for another day.

This was definitely a worthwhile trip. Our youngest hiker was 8 and she managed this trail without much difficulty. We took plenty of breaks and enjoyed looking at some up-close scenery. The wildflowers were abundant, and we also encountered a boreal toad!

Click on the pictures below to access full-sized images.

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Route overview. The trip can be extended deeper in the valley if your group has the time and energy.
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Very soon after setting out, there are nice views of the cliffs of Stanley Peak.
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The forest surrounding the trail is young. Sometimes it’s like walking through a Christmas tree farm.
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As you climb, there are nice views across the valley. The signs of the prior forest fires persist, including some towering trunks that give an idea of how tall the forest around this trail used to be.
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Once at the top of the switchbacks, you get some views deeper into the valley. Several small waterfalls were present along the cliffs to the right.
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A boreal toad.
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Hopping away.
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The trail gets a little rockier after you’re above the switchbacks.
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Wildflowers were abundant.
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As the trail gains elevation, the trees thin out and the views keep getting better.
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We eventually split the party at this point, just before a final climb to the end of the official trail. The more energetic party members carried on, but even getting to this point was rewarded with amazing views.
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A close-up look at one of the waterfalls cascading over the cliff-side.
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Carrying on, we were treated to some views of the deeper portions of the valley. The trail does split up at one point. One limb heads sharply left and climbs, the other continues straight for a time and then climbs. Either way you end up finding some cairns on the rubble field. We decided to go to the cairns and then visit that boulder in the distance to the right to see how big it was.
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After the trail climbed, we had this perspective on the boulder and the waterfall.
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Nearing the point where we stopped. The official trail ends around here. Many people carry on to the treed rocky plateau in the distance. Most people seemed to approach from the left (that trail isn’t clear from this shot) and return along the trail to the right.
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A close-up of the pleateau.
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We had gone a little past the boulder by that point, so we headed back.
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Closer to the boulder now. A good shot of the variety of terrain up in the valley.
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The boulder. 12 year-old added for scale.
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Clouds gathering as we headed back down.

 

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