Surrounded by jagged mountains and waterfalls, Stanley Glacier is a top hiking destination in Kootenay National Park. The strenuous hiking trail takes you from a regrowth pine forest known for its abundant wildflowers to rocky scrambles and rugged glacier views. The hike also traverses Burgess Shale, where hikers can discover ancient fossils.
The Stanley Glacier trail begins with a well-maintained route through a forest regrowing after historic wildfires. As switchbacks take you closer to the glacier, you can admire views of the ice, waterfalls, and mountains. Just over 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) in, the maintained trail comes to an end, but well-equipped hikers can continue through a rock field for up-close views of the glacier.xa0
While the route can be completed on your own, you can also opt for a guided hike. Choosing a guided tour lets you learn more about the area’s dynamic ecosystems. A guide can share details about fire ecology, help you identify wildflowers, and point out wildlife you might miss on your own. Plus, guides know where to find the Burgess Shale fossils and can tell you more about the 500-million-year-old relics.
Things to Know Before You Go
- The hike is steep and a moderate level of fitness is recommended.
- While you can enjoy views of the glacier throughout the hike, the trail does not lead all the way to the glacier so you can’t reach the ice itself (unless you choose to continue past the end of the designated trail).
- Wear sturdy hiking shoes and bring rain gear—weather can change fast in the Rocky Mountains.
- Bring water and a snack—the high altitude of the trail means it can be more tiring than expected.
How to Get There
Take the Trans-Canada Highway west from Banff and when you reach Castle Junction turn left onto Highway 93. Follow Highway 93 for 8.4 miles (13.5 kilometers) and the parking area is on your left. The trailhead is marked by a footbridge over the Vermilion River.
When to Get There
For the best weather and trail conditions, visit Stanley Glacier between June and September and avoid attempting the hike on days with rain or high winds. Rain limits visibility and wind make it hazardous to hike through the burned forest.
Where to Find the Most Accessible Glaciers in the Canadian Rockies
The Canadian Rockies offer a wealth of glacier viewing opportunities, ranging from helicopter flights to treks across ice. Many of the most accessible glaciers are located along the Icefield Parkway, which lines the Columbia Icefield—home to numerous glaciers such as the Athabasca Glacier. Guided hikes and ice-crawling vehicle tours can take you out onto the ice itself.