Stanley Glacier in Kootenay National Park

Although you won’t find Stanley Glacier within the borders of Banff, drive just a bit west to trek this hidden treasure. A busy weekend is a great time to explore this area. While throngs of tourists descent on Banff National Park, the nearby Kootenay National Park remains blissfully uncrowded. I came here on “Civic Holiday,” a busy three-day weekend on advice of a local. I was not disappointed. This stunning, challenging hike took me over 500 meters up, past the treeline. Along the way, I discovered a breathtaking waterfall, inaccessible to just the right degree. While the first part of this hike is moderate, the second part is advanced. A place only a few adventurous souls will climb. For the second part, hiking sticks would have been very helpful, especially for the scramble down.

I visited Kootenay during a trip to Banff National Park. My entire journey was sponsored by my long-time sponsor Vero Social Network. “Vero” means truth in Latin. On Vero, genuine people from around the world can connect without the distractions of algorithms. In addition, Vero never stores or sells your data. Join me on Vero, and discover social the way it was meant to be.

A forest with the mountains in the background in Kootenay National Park, Stanley Glacier hike.

Please note: This blog post may contain some affiliate links. More info.

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Getting to the trailhead

Unlike other places in Banff, you won’t need a long time to plan a hike in the Stanley Glacier. You’ll find the parking lot right off the highway. When I got here, around 9 am, I saw plenty of free parking spots. By the time I left at 2, a few drivers parked their cars on the side of the road. Get to Stanley Glacier when you are ready, early or late – its all good.

Also Read: Banff National Park, The Complete Guide

A partially shaded trail in mid day on the Stanley Glacier hike

Stanley Glacier Hike, Part 1 – The Groomed Trail

This walk starts off easy enough. From the parking lot (bathrooms available) follow markers to the start of the trail. Although you won’t find any markers on the trail itself, the path never splits. You can’t get lost here – if there was a way I’d definitely find it!

The shady forest path is easy and the slope is gentle. Close to the parking lot, you’ll pass by a series of running streams. These originate with the glacier at the top – but most people never reach the actual glacier. This part is doable with children, as the first portion of the Stanley Glacier trail is easy to moderate.

A shall waterstream runs over rocks on the Stanley Glacier hike.
As you walk towards Stanley Glacier, you’ll pass by a series of streams.

The shaded path continues for about 2 hours until you see a clearing. in the distance, your first glimpse of the Stanley glacier comes into view.

A forest path in the foreground and mountains in the background, Stanley Glacier in the far background.
Your first glimpse of Stanley Glacier (leftward of the middle in the upper mountain range)

Soon the forest trail turns bare. and you find yourself walking on gravel and among the rocks.

A gravel path and Stanley Glacier in the mountains.

Continue on the gravel path, and after a little while, you’ll reach this marker.

A sign warns that this is the end of the maintained trail.
Most people stop here – but its a shame because the best adventure lays past the sign.

This is where most people turn around and end their Stanley Glacier journey. It’s too bad though – because this is where things get interesting.

Stanley Glacier Hike, Part 2 – The Wild Trail

Although the landscape before you may initially look barren, look closer. To the right of you, an enormous waterfall beckons among the rocks. It may not be easy to get here – but it’s worth it.

A gravel path in the mountains leads to the Stanley Glacier.
That waterfall may look close – but looks can be deceiving.

To get here, first, you’ll need to climb over big rocks to your right. There are no markers here, so just make your way the best you can. Next, start working your way up the rough gravel path towards the glacier. But instead of veering left towards the glacier, veer to the right towards the waterfall.

The walk is long, but the views (and the cool water) are worth it. If you’ve never had glacier water, this is a fantastic time to try it. Its the cleanest, clearest most delicious thing I’ve ever tasted.

After you’ve had your fill (and maybe even cooled off in the waterfall), its time to keep walking towards the glacier. Following the cliff, keep working your way towards the left. Eventually, you’ll find yourself back on the gravel path. Another quick half an hour mostly flat surface brings you to the secret caves.

A small cave as seen in Kootenay National Park.

The two caves, while shallow are interesting to explore. It took me about fifteen minutes and I moved on. From the caves, continue to walk towards the glacier, now a bit closer. Within 20 minutes you’ll reach a downhill stream.

A downhill waterstream in Kootenay National Park.

At this point, things start getting boring again, as the only thing between you and the glacier are just a lot of gravel. Although the glacier looks close, this is another 45 minutes of walking, mostly uphill.

The Stanley Glacier lays just beyond gravel rocks.
Stanley Glacier looks close – but its another 45 minutes walk from here.

I ran out of time and only made it halfway up this hill. So the rest is for you to discover.

The walk back is much tougher. The rocks are slippery and I could have really used a hiking stick. Although I have a fantastic sense of balance, I did slip (and catch myself) a few times. Bring a walking stick with you – you’ll be glad you did.

On the way back, you’ll notice this small, pretty oasis set in a midst of gravel. Here you’ll find a few trees, grass and a running stream. It’s all downhill gravel from here – about an hour depending on your speed. Eventually, you’ll get back to the sign and the second part of the trail is done.

A small path of grass and trees among gravel, glacier in the background.
An oasis to enjoy before you head back. Stanley Glacier in the background.

1968 Vermillion Pass Burn

It’s hard to imagine today, but Stanley Glacier forest was the center of a fire that destroyed 2500 acres. Although the area has recovered well, you’ll often come across old tree remnants on your hike. Many older trees burned in the fire, and as a result, mostly young trees stand here today.

Stanley Glacier Packing List

One More Thing

Thank you so much for reading! I hope you have found this article helpful and are now planning your own journey to the awesome Stanley Glacier! If you have read this far, I have a favor to ask. Please leave a comment or a question – these help search engines determine that the article is valuable. Thank you again for reading, and I’ll see you on the road!

Viktoria aka Traveltipster

Located next to Banff National Park, Kootenay National Park is an uncrowded, undiscovered treasure. The stunning Stanley Glacier hike goes far beyond the groomed trail to a secret #waterfall and #caves. #canada #nationalpark #hiking #trekking #traveltips

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