Type: Lollypop Loop (Mostly out-n-back with a loop at the end)
Total Distance: 7.25-miles
Trailhead Elevation: 5,162′
Total Elevation Gain: 2,046′
Recommended Time: Half-day
Recommended Season: Mid-July to Late-September
3-Miles of Maintained Trail
The Stanley Glacier Trail is one of the most popular hikes in Kootenay National Park. The trail leads to a viewpoint of the Stanley Glacier that clings to Stanley Moutain. A part of the British Columbia and Alberta border. This well-maintained portion of the trail is moderately-difficult but also leads to a viewpoint that is less than stellar. For many, this will be the end of the trail as the adventure beyond is very difficult and the journey to this point will not have been worth the effort. The view from this location is lackluster compared to many other places in the Canadian Rockies. However, for those who continue beyond the maintained trail, astonishing beauty lies ahead that makes this one of the best hikes in the Canadian Rockies.
The remainder of the journey on the unmaintained trail is a loop up to a spectacular high alpine meadow. Unmaintained doesn’t mean that you will be bushwhacking although the trail can at times be hard to determine. We definitely recommend taking a good map or using an app like maps.me to determine the correct direction. Although even maps.me was missing part of the loop. The only place that we found it hard to locate the trail ahead was in the meadow at the very top and the direction function of maps.me came in handy for locating the trail back down the mountain.
Dangers of the Unmaintained Trail
For the most part, this is a well-traveled trail and easy to decern, but that actually might make it more dangerous. The loop is a strenuous climb often on steep loose scree that could be easily dislodged by those above you. This part of the hike is only recommended for those who are prepared for the journey but this loop is what makes the Stanley Glacier Trail one of the best day hikes in the Canadian Rockies.
Take the Counterclockwise Route
We recommend taking the loop in a counterclockwise direction for two reasons. The first is that this is the more easily obtained route from the terminus of the maintained trail. Hikers can easily discern the trail ahead. The second is that this direction has you climbing up the loosest parts of the scree field rather than sliding down it.
Highlights of the Stanley Glacier Trail
The unmaintained section of the Stanley Glacier Trail is beyond beautiful with gorgeous waterfalls and increasingly beautiful sweeping views of the valley carved out by the receding glacier. It has surprise caves and unique wildlife that calls this area of the high Rockies home. At the top, the meadow is surrounded by the rocky moraine and has the beautiful glacier-fed creek running through it. The rich blue ice clings to the cliff walls of Stanley Mountain above. This is a trail that is worth the effort but only if you are truly prepared for the journey.
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