Stanley Glacier

July 7, 2021

Stanley Glacier is a popular stop in Kootenay National Park, just off Highway 93 heading south to Radium. While hundreds start out on the long switchback trail, very few get up to the actual glacier. If a tourist wants to see a glacier, I always recommend they instead head north to the Icefields Parkway as the Columbia Icefield is much more accessible.

Back-up plans are always a good idea. Having a back-up to the back-up plan is even better. I was originally eyeing Vermillion Peak, but when I realized I didn’t have my climbing helmet, I decided I didn’t want to tackle that knife edge without minimal protection. I then looked next door to Mt. Haffner. I should have clued in when the only trip reports I could find were in winter. There was no trail, and after bushwhacking through an alder infestation and a deadfall quagmire, all I had to show for it were some pretty good cuts and scrapes, and two wasp stings.

If there is a summer route up Mt. Haffner, we did not find it. I guess I’ll be back with skis.

Off to my third choice – Stanley Glacier! This is when a good alpine start comes in handy. I’d already driven a few hours, lost an hour on Haffner, but we still got going on this hike by 8:45 am. Not too shabby!

Stanley Glacier, like Leve C Cirque in Banff, is three kinds of Pick Your Own Adventure. Option 1 – hike to the end of the Official Trail. Option 2 – hike up the unofficial trail to the Stanley Creek Meadow above the headwall. Option 3 – hike up the moraine to touch the glacier.


Depends on how far you are going. For Options 1 & 2, hiking boots, poles and regular day pack kit.
For Option 3, hiking boots with good grip, poles, and regular day pack kit. I would also recommend a helmet because there is rockfall from the glacier above.


From the parking lot, pick up the trailhead and follow the trail to the end point. The sign will say “end of official trail”. If you want Option 2, then go left and pick you way through the rock piles until you gain the open area above the headwall. For Option 3, once above the headwall, go right to pick up the base of the moraine. There is a ‘Viewing Rock’ that everyone seemed to stop at. Stay and here, and enjoy the view, or continue up to the base of the glacier. This is constantly moving and calving off. Where I go to may not be there next year. Make your own decisions, and beware of rock fall above the Viewing Rock. Return the way you came for all three options.

Parking and Trail Head

The Stanley Glacier parking lot is on the south side of Highway 93. This area can get congested and busy. Drive with care.

The trail head is at the sign. Head down the trail, where you’ll find a couple of interpretive signs on the way to the Vermillion River bridge.

The trail begins here, near the outhouse. Stanley Peak is on the right.
This is the new (2014) bridge over Vermillion River. Recent washouts took their toll on both this and the Paints Pots bridge further down the highway.

Main Trail

Once across the bridge, the elevation gain is slow but steady as we hiked along the National Park engineered trail with an abundance of switchbacks. My husband Mike assured me it’s an over-abundance, as it does seem to take forever to gain that elevation. I have to remind him that this is a hike and not a scramble.

To while away the time on the switchbacks, it’s worthwhile to examine the regrown forest. This forest burned in the early 1970s, and as kids we would call it The Black Forest. In 2003 when my daughters were 18 months old, the forest burned again in a massive fire. Almost 20 years later, and the forest has regrown amazing well.

Nearing the top of the switchbacks, we finally get a view of Stanley Peak. The trees have regrown very nicely since the 2003 fires. Further back, you can see the regrowth from the earlier 1970s fire.

At about 2.4 km, we crossed Stanley Creek on a little bridge.

This creek flows down beside the switchbacks, and we could hear it tumbling down a few waterfalls. It was annoyingly out of view for the most part though.

There is one short set of rock steps built into the trail. I absolutely adore rock work, but it is very rare.

Above this, the trail turns left at the sign. The trail used to go straight here, but I imagine trail slumping or avalanches took it out.

This rerouting was probably part of the trail rehab done in 2014 when the bridge was fixed.

The trail goes through some rubble here. Keep an eye out for flattened rocks to stay on the correct path.

The trail goes up and to the right, gaining some elevation in the process.

When the switchbacks ended, we were at the top of the rise and could now hike more or less straight ahead, with the giant rock wall of Stanley Peak surrounding us on three sides.

The main trail goes straight. The right trail takes you to a lower lookout, and then continues on to the waterfall on the right.

When you reach the “End of Official Trail” sign, this is the end of Option 1. This is a great stopping point if you’re travelling through, or want to stick to a hike. The views from here are fantastic, and don’t change that much if you keep going. There is good fossil hunting here, so keep your eyes peeled while you enjoy your lunch. I know it’s tempting, but please do not take fossils home with you.

Distance to end of Trail Sign is 4.2 km, with an elevation gain of 365 m. Time to this point was one hour 15 minutes.

There are several large boulders here to mark the end of the Official Trail (Option1). This is a great place to stop if you wanted a nice hike with a great view. The views really don’t change that much beyond here.
Option 2 – Stanley Creek Lookout

Option 2 now begins. Look for a trail through the rock pile, generally on the left. If you lose the trail, look further up until you spy it, and then head in that direction. The closer you get to the headwall, the better it is.

The trail to the headwall is on the left, and curves around to the right, staying as high as possible. There are some fainter trails, but try and stick to the main one.

There are trails on the right side too, that lead over to the rock wall. There were several groups over there, having fun with the waterfall and trying out the echo.

We visited the waterfall with our kids years ago. We found a rusted out ice screw at the base of the waterfall, which could have spent many a winter out in the elements.
As we approached the headwall, the trail became more obvious. With the water pouring down the crack, I was convinced we would find a lovely blue tarn at the top of the headwall. I was wrong!

Option 2 ends when you reach the top of the headwall, which is called Stanley Creek Lookout. Instead of finding a cool tarn to sit beside and enjoy our lunch, we came upon a beautiful meadow.

Distance to Stanley Creek Lookout is about 5.6 km, with an elevation gain of about 558 m. Time was one hour and 45 minutes.

Looking back down the valley to Highway 93 from the Stanley Creek Lookout (top of the headwall). Stunning view of Mt. Whymper across the valley.
About five years ago, I started looking for snow year round (I know. How very Canadian of me.). This was my #SnowInJuly photo. From here, we walked along the rock pile on the left, and turned right just above the start of the creek. The start of the moraine is on the right.
Looking back at the beautiful meadow above the rock wall. This is a very fragile alpine environment. Please stay on the rocks, and do not trample the vegetation. There are lots of rocks to sit on. We walked along the rock pile (climbers left, shown here on the right), to pick up the base of the moraine.
Here is a 360 view from the top of the headwall, at Stanley Creek Lookout.
Option 3 – Stanley Glacier & Waterfall

Mike had his heart set on the glacier, and without even pausing to take a few photos, off we went to the base of the moraine on the other side of the meadow.

This moraine is like any other – a jumbled up rubble pile of different sized rocks. While there is a trail through here, some parts were fairly steep and dried out. Basically, small ball bearings on cement.

This is the second place I was fooled into thinking I’d find a lovely little tarn. On the left is a small waterfall. This just begs to have a small pool above it. Nope!

About half way up the moraine is the large flat rock I’m calling the Viewing Rock. On our way up, the group in front stopped there for lunch (and a toke), and on the way down, we saw a different group get to that spot, stop for a bit and then head back down. This is a good place to stop though, as you are seemingly outside the strike zone from the rock fall up above. Still, pay attention.

This is the one and only flat rook on the moraine, and an ideal stopping point. Not for us though! A quick pic and we were off.
This photo shows how the moraine wraps around at the top. It gives access to both the waterfall and the glacier. We had to go right, and then traverse across to the left on top. The direct left route is pretty steep and there was no good reason to take it.

After a delightful spray on a hot day to cool us off, we traversed over to the toe of the Stanley Glacier. After we went back down to the Stanley Creek Lookout, we met a group of 70 somethings. The last time they were up on Stanley, the glacier had a little cave on it (similar to the ice cave above Bow Hut right now). We had to tell them it was gone. Disappointment was felt by us all.

Distance to the waterfall/glacier area is 7.3 km with an elevation difference of 880 m, but a total gain of 1,000 m. Time to waterfall was 2 hours 30 minutes. Add another 15 minutes for gawking, and time to walk over to the glacier. Total time to glacier was 2 hours 45 minutes.

Looking across at the Stanley Glacier. While some of that rock was carried down by the glacier, a lot of it fell from above. We did not linger.
It’s hard to see in the video, but a rock fall came down in the area between the glacier and the waterfall. Look at the snow near the end. The rocks puff up the snow. I wished I’d had my helmet now, and we quickly beetled out of there.

Stanley Glacier Return

As we were in a shooting gallery, we quickly backed away, and hid behind a large boulder as I tightened my boots and put on knee braces for the steep descent. We beetled out of the strike zone as quickly as possible.

For all three Options, this is a There and Back trip. Simply turn around whenever you’ve had enough, and return the way you came.

To save our knees, we took the lingering snow patches back down the moraine when we could. Mike is a great glissader and skied all the way down. Me, not so much. I do the heel dig/toes up approach and run down the snow. Below is the lovely meadow above the rock wall.

One of the best parts of Stanley Glacier is Vermillion River right at the start of the trail. After we got back to the car and changed our shoes, we walked back down to the river to cool our aching feet, and wash off the sweat and salt. This is the BEST way to end any day in the mountains. It’s also a huge refresher for the drive back home.

We are sitting just below the new bridge that crosses Vermillion River, soaking our swollen feet and washing off the salt. You know you have a great hubby when you get back to the car and realize you left your sunglasses at the river….and he goes back to find them without a single grumble.

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Totals – Tracked on Gaia (Displayed on Strava)

Date: July 7, 2021
Group:  Two (Alisen and Mike)
Distance:  14.8  km
Elevation:  1,000 m (3,300β€²)
Time: 5 hours 15 minutes (includes lunch & breaks)

The Stanley Glacier trail goes straight up the valley between the two arms of Stanley Peak. Navigation wise, it’s pretty straight forwards.
I was surprised how much elevation we gained. The steepest part was on the moraine. If you are doing the official trail (Option 1), you stop well before the major inclines start.
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Posted in Adventures, Hiking
27 comments on “Stanley Glacier
  1. beth says:

    what beautiful places to hike

    • alisendopf says:

      It truly is. Our National Parks really did protect the best of our mountain environments. The provincial parks are also lovely, but not as spectacular as the National. My favorite is Yoho, and I really must get back there soon.

  2. Diana says:

    This looks challenging but gorgeous!!

    • alisendopf says:

      Option 1 is a delightful hike and is not challenging at all. Hundreds of tourists make it up there annually. Beyond that – you are 100% correct! It’s a challenge for sure.

  3. What a beautiful and rugged hike! I love the water fall.

  4. Rugged terrain. Who was Stanley?

    • alisendopf says:

      Good question! I rarely look up the naming of mountains in Canada, because quite often they are named after some Professor of Obscure Subject back in the UK who has never set foot in Canada, never mind climbed a mountain. However, this one is slightly different.

      The mountain was named in 1901 by first ascent climber Edward Whymper, who named the peak across the valley after himself. Whymper named this peak after Frederick Stanley, also known as Lord Stanley, who was a Governor General (the Queen’s representative) of Canada. For hockey lovers though, we know him better as the man who donated the silver dish we call the Stanley Cup.

      Thanks for Another Great Question from Another Blogger πŸ™‚

  5. Widdershins says:

    Beautiful. πŸ™‚ … not being very able-bodied, I did a guided tour of the Athabasca glacier some years back. It was a glorious experience, being able to stand on something that old, even for just a few short moments, but also sad. They are dying, one by one. 😦

    • alisendopf says:

      What a great experience for you. I am so happy you got to spend some time on the Athabasca. It is very sad how fast they are retreating. They have sign posts with years on the walk to the base of the glacier. I first visited when I was 19 years old. When I went back with my kids, I stood by the 1988 sign post, and the glacier was WAY far back. Sigh…

  6. It’s a good thing you had such an early start to the day since your Plan A and B didn’t work out. Stanley Glacier looks like a great area to hike with different options depending on whether you want an additional challenge. The waterfall and headwall look beautiful and the views from the Stanley Creek Lookout look incredible. I can totally see why you posted a video as a picture wouldn’t have done these views any justice! Take care. Linda

    • alisendopf says:

      Thank you so much! I love to see the views and terrain from someone else’s eyes. It can become a bit mundane to me, which I never want it to be. Thanks for the perspective.

  7. What great place to hike..

  8. Wow this looks amazing!!

  9. Journalofthegrey says:

    Your posts definitely motivate me to go hiking. I’m just waiting on hiking weather.

  10. Priti says:

    Beautiful place! Excellent photos 😊😊

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