This moderate hike to Stanley Glacier, with not too much elevation gain (395m), is described by Parks Canada as being “fire and ice in equal measures”. The effect of the fires of 1968 and 2003 is evident on the lower trail while on the upper trail there is a clear view of the glacier.
The trail is in British Columbia, just over the border from Alberta, and less than one-hour drive from Banff or Lake Louise. Kootenay National Park, established in 1929, is on the western slopes of the Rockies and adjacent to Banff National Park. The Stanley Glacier parking area is 13km west of Castle Junction on Highway 93 South.
The trail is 4.2 km one way and estimated to take 3 hours round trip. We took our time though, stopping for lunch, and the outing probably took about 5 hours. You can see the destination–Stanley Glacier–ahead of you.
You first cross the Vermilion River on a footbridge.
Then take gentle and well-graded switchbacks through the burnt area that is going through a rebirth with new-growth pines and willows. The wildflowers are glorious, at times just a carpet of pink or orange.
The trail continues along a creek, which is melt water from the glacier.
Soon you are through the forest and enter a narrow “hanging” valley that was created by the now receding glacier.
There was this huge waterfall and up ahead the glacier. Some people hike up to the glacier and to an alpine valley. Even if you don’t go that far you get really good views of the basin from where the main trail ends.
In winter this area is one of the best ice climbing destinations in the world. In summer, though, it is a hiking place and not too crowded when we were there last July.
This interview with Andrew Sunter has been edited and condensed
Photo credits Andrew and Erin Sunter
© Riding the buses 2014