This out-and-back valley hike takes you through stands of young pine trees before opening up onto a massive moraine leading toward Stanley Glacier.
Distance 10.8 km
Highest point2,142 m
Lowest point1,762 m
This first part of the walk is an ascent of switchbacks through bright green pine trees. You'll view the cascading falls of Stanley Creek which feeds glacial melt into the Vermillion River. The path flattens briefly before the ascent through the scree field to the high point of the hike. Use care during this section as the many different paths have been created by previous travelers. The basin makes it difficult to get lost, but you may find yourself on a secondary trail or find numerous trails that interweave. However, all of the trails will lead you to the small grove of trees at the top of the basin. This will be the closest point and some of the best views of the impressive Stanley Glacier.
If you have trekking poles, this is a trail to use them on. You might appreciate the extra balance when walking through the upper scree fields.
Best time of year
Bears are present and active around all hiking routes. Be sure to review The Parks Canada information regarding travel in bear country to familiarize yourself with best practices. Always carry bear spray and know how to use it.
The weather in this area can change quickly. Even if you start a hike with blue skies, it could easily be storming (or even snowing) by the afternoon. Check the weather report daily to adjust your hiking schedule as needed.
Trail Conditions can vary based on the season and weather. Check with a local visitor's center or visit the Parks Canada Website for the most up to date trail conditions. Always be prepared to turn back you feel that snow or rain makes a trail unsafe.
The bit of rock hopping in the scree fields can be challenging as the rocks can be unstable and slippery if wet. Use caution in this area and make sure to bring plenty of warm clothes. It can snow or hail here, even in the summer!
Tips and hints
Restrooms: There is an outhouse at the trailhead.
Cell Service: Don't expect it on this hike.
Points of Interest
During the first few kilometers of this trail, you'll notice the young Lodgepole Pines around you. This is a new growth forest following the lightning strike fire that hit the area in 1968.
Food & Drink
There are no services between Banff & Stanley Lake Trailhead so be sure to pack a lunch and snacks for this hike. For our recommendations of places to eat and grocery shop in Banff, review your driving route notes.
Stanley Glacier Trailhead (1,570 m)
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Stanley Glacier Trailhead
0.0km - With the parking lot behind you and the outhouse on your right, you'll see one path ahead of you. Walk STRAIGHT ON this path which will quickly lead you up and onto a bridge that crosses Vermillion River.
860m - Take in views of the cascading waterfall moving downhill from the glaciers above.
1.9km - You've finished the first part of your ascent and now can enjoy a nice flat section that wanders further up the valley.
4.4km - You'll come out of your forested walk to an expanse of rock fields with stunning views of the surrounding mountains and glaciers above. Stop here to snap a few photos or for a snack. At this point, you may see a few trails leading further up the valley and after walking about one hundred meters, you'll see a sign stating "Stanley Glacier Trail Ends - Trail Not Maintained Beyond this Point". The multiple trails account for the fact that a scree field is hard to navigate. Use your best judgment to stay on the trail as it moves forward and to the left. Keep an eye out for cairns made by other walkers that will help you stay on the best path upward. However, there's no need to stress if you find yourself on a side trail as it's difficult to get lost here above treeline.
5.6km - The trail peters out when you reach the crest of your climb up the scree. You'll reach a patch of trees and a babbling brook. Take a load off and soak up your closest view of Stanley Glacier. Return back the way you came.
all notes on protected areas
There is a sign for the trailhead 2km before the lefthand turn off of Route 93. However there is no sign at the actual turn, so be diligent in looking for this slightly hidden by trees left turn that will have you cross the other side of the interstate into the trailhead parking lot.
The parking lot at this trailhead can fit about 20 cars, however as the trail can be popular, so try to get there in the morning to snag a spot easily.
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Arrival by train, car, foot or bike
We recommend packing at least bear spray, hiking boots, warm layers, water, snacks, sunscreen, sunglasses, sun hat, warm hat, rain gear.