Stanley Glacier viewpoint is accessible via good trail in Kootenay National Park, British Columbia.
Stanley Glacier is an easy to moderate, popular, 9.6 KM (6 mile return) hike.
Following an early start from Calgary, Alberta, Canada, the 165 KM (103 mile) drive west is through spectacular mountain scenery along the TransCanada Highway, into Banff National Park with a seasonal pass then past the Town of Banff, south on Hwy. 93 at Castle Junction, past Boom Lake at the Continental Divide (which is also the Alberta, British Columbia border, and the transition between Banff National Park and Kootenay National Park), bringing me to the Stanley Glacier trail-head for a 9:30 AM hiking start-time.
This trail begins at 1,585 meters (5,200 ft) and provides stunning views of adjacent mountains including Stanley Peak (3,154 m: 10,348 ft), Storm Mountain (3,161 m: 10,371 ft), Mount Whymper (2,843 m: 9,327 ft) and Boom Mountain (2,760 m: 9,055 ft).
The Stanley Glacier trail initially crosses the Vermilion River on a narrow wooden bridge, then quickly and gently gains 1,148 ft (350 m) of elevation on excellent quality, well-graded and well-traveled switchbacks. There is ample evidence of the 1968 Vermilion Pass forest fire which destroyed 2,500 hectares (6,177 acres) in an 18 day burn.
Near 2.0 KM (1¹⁄₃ miles) the trail levels and continues through new growth forest into the hanging valley.
Near 2.5 KM (1⅝ miles), a log bridge aids crossing Stanley Creek into mature forest where birds sing to the accompaniment of babbling Stanley Creek at trail-side.
A short, 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.
The viewpoint for Stanley Glacier and surrounding terrain is an incredibly beautiful place of rock, alpine shrubbery and waterfalls.
Today's mission requires continuing past the end of the maintained trail viewpoint onto more rustic and aggressive trail. Proceeding to the right on routes of talus and scree leads to the caves. The caves on Stanley Peak are purportedly the home of brown bats and after a short and challenging scree climb, the route ducks beneath falling water into the cave area. With rock helmet, caving gloves and powerful lamps, the scramble begins into the back of each of the relatively shallow caves. In the second cave there is a single, muddy squeeze too tight and risky for solo access, so exploration is short-lived.
From the caves the hike continues over scree and snow for another kilometer towards Stanley Glacier. The route will take lead to the toe of the glacier however access will require significant effort. Large plains of snow require scrambling on wet rock outcrops around and above obstacles on difficult terrain but views of overhead glaciers are awesome.
The view back into the valley just hiked through is breathtaking with Mount Whymper dominating the end where the hike began.
Rather than returning by the same route, there appears to be an opportunity to cross the headwall and return on the other side of the valley. A plain of copious water runs in a maze of tributaries from every direction. Reconnaissance reveals some are easily crossed but invariably the chosen path leads to impassable fast water. This situation has occurred many times before. The solution, in this case, is simple.
The bowl containing the headwall is reasonably small. The problem is solved by hiking above the water flow and punching my way across snow slopes along the headwall to the other side. It is one of my best decisions of the day.
Within this physical exercise, a tight angle is gained on the base of Stanley Glacier where melt from the ice is tumbling into a rock cauldron enclosed by a terminal and lateral moraines. This results in the best photos which still cannot do justice to this visual and audible extravaganza.
The trek along and down the north side of the valley on decent trail beneath the headwall reveals a powerful and beautiful waterfall. The climb up the south side of the valley disclosed no visual evidence of this waterfalls existence.
Carefully picking the way down through steep talus and scree to eventually arrive back at the end-of-trail viewpoint by mid afternoon it is estimated an additional 6 KM through challenging terrain has been hiked for a total of 16 KM (10 miles) with tough elevation gain of 450 meters (1,444 ft).
The hike back to the car is swift and uneventful with beautiful mountain views and close proximity to the tumbling water of Stanley Creek.
The arduous hiking day has been a true and memorable adventure.