Kootenay National Park is located next to the more famous Banff National Park, and protects some of the most diverse terrain in Canada. Cactus grows in the arid southern region while stunning glaciers majestically straddle the towering Rocky Mountain peaks. The following entry is a personal account from the expert hiker Barry Taylor on a journey to the Stanley Glacier near the Continental Divide.
About the Trail:
Rating - Easy to moderate
Distance - Approximately 4.7 kilometers one-way
Elevation Gain - 365 meters
Duration - 4 hours round trip
When to Go - Mid-July to Mid-September
Location - 2.5 hours from Calgary or about 50 minutes west of Banff.
"It will be a three season day. Stanley Glacier is an easy, tourist-popular 9.6 KM return hike. Following a 7:30 start from Calgary, the 165 KM drive west through spectacular mountain scenery on the TransCanada past Banff, south on Hwy. 93 at Castle Junction past the Continental Divide (which is also the Alberta, British Columbia border and the transition between Banff and Kootenay National Parks) brings me to the Stanley Glacier trail-head for a 9:30 hiking start-time. This low elevation trail beginning at 1,585 m provides stunning views of adjacent mountains including Stanley Peak (3,154 m), Storm Mountain (3,161 m), Mount Whymper (2,843 m) and Boom Mountain (2,760 m).
The trail initially crosses the Vermilion River on a single-lane wooden bridge then gains 350 m of elevation quickly and gently on excellent quality, well-graded and well-travelled switchbacks. There is ample evidence of the 1968 Vermilion Pass forest fire which destroyed 2,500 hectares in an 18 day burn.
At 2 KM the trail levels and leads through new growth forest into the hanging valley. At 2.5 KM, sawn logs aid crossing Stanley Creek into mature forest where birds sing to the accompaniment of babbling Stanley Creek at trail-side. A quick rise on natural stone steps tops an ancient, forested lateral moraine which leads to the end of the maintained trail at an overlook of the spectacular bowl with caves in the sheer cliffs of Stanley Peak and the hanging Stanley Glacier in the distance to the right. It is an incredibly beautiful place of surrounding rock and waterfall.
My mission is more aggressive and I continue on routes of talus and scree to the caves on my right. The caves I have chosen are purportedly the home of brown bats and after a tough scree climb, I duck through the falling water, put on my rock helmet and caving gloves, carry powerful lamps and scramble up into the back of each of the relatively shallow caves. In the second one I find a single, muddy squeeze too tight for my solo access so exploration is short-lived."
About Barry Taylor:
Barry Taylor is an avid hiker who has explored some of the more gruelling and scenic hikes in North America. Based in Calgary, Alberta, he's explored the heights of the Canadian Rockies and even the depths of the Grand Canyon. Follow Barry's adventure to the Stanley Glacier in Kootenay National Park and others in the Lake Louise area at his personal blog at Hiking with Barry.
The Stanley Glacier Trail is not recommended on windy days. The dry timber from in the burn section can easily break and fall. Remember that you're hiking in bear country; it's a good idea to know what to do if you encounter a bear.