Stanley Glacier | Kootenay National Park
9km – 11 km return, 365m Elevation gain, 3.5 hrs return
Ages: 7+ will handle it easily, saw some eager younger kids on the trail
Just tucked inside the BC border and the eastern edge of Kootenay National Park is the Stanley Glacier hike. The trail takes you up a reborn forest poking through the charred wreckage of a 1968 fire and into a gorgeous hanging valley between Storm Mountain and Stanley Peak.
The first 2 km are easy switchbacks up to the hanging valley. There are many bursts of alpine flowers along the trail and you catch a couple glimpses of the melt water of Stanley Creek rushing past.
While you climb a few hundred metres quickly here, this section of trail isn’t all that difficult.
When you cross the bridge over Stanley Creek, you’re on to the second half of the hike traversing the hanging valley floor towards Stanley Glacier.
It’s pretty flat through here and heavily forested, again dotted with many bursts of bright flowers.
This part of the trail can also get a little tedious. You’ll need to encourage younger or less than enthusiastic hikes to push on to the back of the valley. “Are we there yet?” was often asked by my son, and was again asked of us by parents with younger kids as we headed back.
You can spot a large waterfall on the west side of the valley, that’s your goal.
Once you open into the scree slope at the back of the valley, it’s up to you where your hike ends.
There is a formal trail end marker, but many others scramble around any which way.
We stopped just short of the route end to have lunch, enjoy the view of the falls and to look for fossils!
Yes, there are fossils in the valley of Stanley Glacier hike. Around 2008 geologists included Stanley Glacier as part of the large Burgess Shale project. The shale beds in these mountains were once the ocean’s floor and many prehistoric fossils have been found in this area. While you can do the hike on your own and go searching for fossils, you can also reserve a Parks Canada guided Stanley Glacier hike that will open a strongbox in the valley housing dozens of already found fossils.
You’ll see a large erratic below the Stanley Glacier waterfall. Search the shale area around the erratic for fossils. How do you know you’ve found one? Try the fossil lick test!
It is a popular hike with many groups on the trail. The parking lot is small, when we arrived at 10a on a sunny Sunday there were only 4 or 5 spots left.
When we came back down the trail around 1:30, cars were parked onto the highway and others hovered in the parking lot waiting for hikers to come back down and leave.
Our trip up and down the glacier took about 3.5 hrs, including about 45 minutes at the top for a lunch break. The Parks Canada guided Stanley Glacier hike can take up to 7 hours to go up and back with an extended break at the top and many breaks up and down the trail. Here’s one review of that experience.
The Stanley Glacier is a very accessible hike for kids. We timed ours to have lunch at the top and beat the crowds. the 11km distance is a great challenge to kids and the promise of fossil hunting at the end is a great carrot to keep them motivated for the day.
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