Looking for an unforgettable hiking experience? Look no further than Stanley Glacier in Canada’s Kootenay National Park! Located in the heart of the Canadian Rockies, this scenic trail offers breathtaking views of the mountains surrounding Stanley Glacier that all outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy. If you are visiting the area and are interested in a guided hike of Stanley Glacier, this post has you covered! After taking my first ever guided hike, I am sharing 5 simple tips for a Guided Hike on Stanley Glacier Trail!
I hiked Stanley Glacier Trail during a 24-hour visit to Banff. Visiting Canada for a work conference in Calgary, I was determined to visit Banff and take a hike as a part of my Canadian adventure. I mean, how could I be so close to the Canadian Rockies and not go and see them!
Hiking Stanley Glacier Trail was my first experience taking a guided hike. Usually, I hit the trails hiking with family and friends in Arizona, California, South Dakota, and even Scotland. But for the Stanley Glacier Trail, I opted to take a guided hike.
This is not a paid promotion by any hiking or adventure tour company. I am writing about my first guided hiking experience on Stanley Glacier trail because I am a travel blogger and because I had a fun time!
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Why did I choose to take a guided hike?
One answer: Bears!
Although I have never seen a bear on a trial, we did stumble upon a kill site in Madera Canyon, AZ after reading multiple notices about a black bear. Since then, we always hike with bear spray. Knowing that I could not fly with bear spray, and not wanting to go through the process of figuring out how to go about getting bear spray in Canada, especially since I only had 24 hours before the conference, I chose to take a guided hike. I figured the guide would be well equipped to fend off any bears that might be on the trail!
I am glad I did choose the guided hike. The Stanley Glacier hike winds through a forest of bear food – buffalo berries! Our hiking guide mentioned that we could smush one in our hand and tried the juice. I did. It was tart and I thought the aftertaste was like soap!
And there were reported sightings of a bear feasting on berries near the Stanley Glacier parking lot! Our guide warned us about this and told us how to enter and exit the van in case a bear was in the parking lot. But luckily, we did not see any bears. I did the Stanley Glacier hike in August and during the summer months. I assume the bears will be hibernating if you do a winter hiking adventure.
The details: Stanley Glacier Trail Guided Hike
Stanley Glacier trailhead is located at Kootenay Hwy, East Kootenay G, BC V0A 1E0, Canada. It is a short 30-minute drive West of Banff or a short 30-minute drive South of Lake Louise. This hike is a perfect way to spend a half a day in the Canadian Rockies.
Stanley Glacier hike officially ends after about 5 miles of trail. However, the is an unofficial trail that continues in a loop near and around the area. The guided hike that I took ended at the end of the official trail. But if you are visiting on your own, you can continue the hike around the loop, which many hikers did. Below is the information for the hike to the end of the trail and the hike with the unofficial trail.
The official trail
The Stanley Glacier official trail is 5.25 miles (8.4 km) out and back trail rated as moderate by Parks Canada. The trail has an elevation gain of 1,285 ft (395 m). Below is my guided hike of Stanley Glacier.
How long does it take to hike Stanley Glacier Trail with a guide?
Well, that depends on the hike you sign up for. The hike I took was a shorter than the fossil hikes. I opted for a shorter hike because I needed to check in to my hotel in Calgary for a conference later that day.
That said, my guided hike lasted 4 hours and included 1 hour for lunch. In total, the hike was approximately 3 hours long. However, the adventure began with an 7:45am hotel pick up and I was dropped off at my hotel around 3pm. So, all in all, it was a little over a half day adventure.
The unofficial trail
If you include the unofficial trail in the Stanley Glacier hike, the trail is 6.8 mi out and back trail rated as moderate by Parks Canada. The trail has an elevation gain of 1,981 feet. Below is the unofficial trail for Stanley Glacier. The trail ends at waypoint 3.
Q: Why go off the official trail?
There are fossils in the Stanley Glacier basin. If fossils are your thing, this hike is for you! Parks Canada offers fossil hikes, or you can explore on your own.
Although I saw many hikers looking for fossils at the end of the official Stanley Glacier trail, I did not partake in the activity. Instead, I found a large rock on which I sat and ate my lunch while enjoying the sounds of the wind and waterfall. Later, I filmed a Movement Postcard. I think my fellow hikers thought I was a bit silly!
Family hikers! This hike isn’t for littles and there were not any littles on the trail. But bigger kids and teens would do well.
Speaking of teens…
Where is Buddy?
I traveled to Canada at the end of a 3-week work trip for my choreography job that took me from New Mexico to Sedona to Phoenix to Calgary. All this travel took place during the beginning of the school year (can you believe Buddy starts school on August 1st?!) and we decided it was not a good idea for Buddy to miss so much school at the beginning of the year. Plus, this trip was mostly work with only 24 hours of a vacation in Banff plus the hike. So, Buddy would have been really bored watching me work!
So unfortunately, there is no teenage perspective on this post. Rather, it was a solo mom vacation!
But, I can say that he was really disappointed that he and Sal missed out on this trip, and we definitely need to head back up to Canada for a longer family trip soon!
5 Tips for a Guided Hike on Stanley Glacier Trail
1. Book your guided hike in advance
If you plan on taking a guided hike in Kootenay National Park, make sure you book your hike in advance. Whether you choose to take a guided hikes from Banff, or if you book a guided hike direct with Parks Canada, make sure you do so in advance. This is to avoid disappointment in a popular hike sells out.
In general, booking a guided hike with an adventure company means that the company will pick you up from your hotel. This is great for visitors who are flying into Canada Calgary and do not have a car. However, the Parks Canada Stanley Glacier guided hikes meet at the trailhead. So, hikers interested in this hike will need their own transportation to get to the trailhead. This is great for local hikers or hikers who are renting a car in Canada.
I booked my Stanley Glacier hiking adventure about a month in advance. And I chose to book with Banff Adventures as they would pick me up from my hotel and provide transportation to the trailhead. This is because I did not rent a car in Canada. Rather I took a shuttle from the Calgary airport to Banff and then back to my conference hotel. Because I was without a car, a guided hike that picked me up from the hotel was the best option for me.
Why Stanley Glacier hike?
Full disclosure, Stanley Glacier hike was not my first choice near Banff hike. What I really wanted to do was a Tea House Hike on Lake Louise. However, the guided hikes I looked into all rotated different hikes on different days. Since I only had one day before my conference, I was limited to the different options available on that one day, a Saturday. I opted to hike Stanley Glacier because as a lifelong desert dweller, I had never seen a glacier before. I hope to return to Canada with Buddy so we can do a Tea House Hike.
2. About the National Park Pass
Make sure to read the fine print when you book your guided hike to see if the National Park Fee is included in the price of your guided hike. Some hikes include the price and others require that you pay for the Kootenay National Park pass fee separately before your hike. Either way, you will need to purchase a pass for a Stanley Glacier hike. So, make sure you plan accordingly.
3. There are facilities at Stanley Glacier Trailhead
There are facilities at the Stanley Glacier Trailhead parking lot. Given the large number of guided hikes on this trail, sometimes there can be lines at the restrooms. No worries, the guides are patient and wait for everyone in the group to use the restroom.
4. Be prepared to carry your lunch
When you take a guided hike, most adventure companies will provide lunch. Hikers will have the option to select from a few lunch options when you pay for your hike. However, all hikers must carry their own lunch on the trail. So, make sure you plan accordingly and bring a day pack in which you can comfortably carry your lunch or other snacks you may need.
If your guided hike does not include lunch, make sure to bring one. Or some snacks as you will get hungry on the trail. Especially if you hike over lunchtime.
On my guided tour, I brought by Osprey hiking backpack to carry my lunch and water bottle. I also had a few granola bars and snacks. For the fellow hikers on my tour who did not have a hiking backpack, the tour guide provided backpacks for them.
Was the lunch provided sufficient? Yes! I opted for the gluten free lunch. It was so robust that I ate overs for dinner on the shuttle ride to Calgary!
Be certain about choosing what you want to eat on your guided hike. Make sure you pick a lunch that you like, as you will not be able to request a change the day of the hike. Some of my fellow hikers wanted to switch the type of sandwich they requested the day of the hike and were not able to do so.
5. Remember to tip your guide
If you are taking a guided hike, consider tipping your guide at the end of the hike. This is a gratuity gesture that will show your appreciation for their hard work ensuring your safety on the trail.
I was thrilled to tip our guide at the end of the hike. Not only did he drive us safely to and from Banff, but he shared many important facts about the history of the area and the flora and fauna as well.
However, before heading out on the hike, I did not do my research to see what was appropriate to tip hiking tour guides in Canada. I was so busy with work, I forgot! I asked the Canadians on the tour with me about standard tipping for hiking tour guides and they did not know either! That led to us frantically trying to google what was appropriate to tip the tour guide as our tour bus went in and out of the cell phone service area on our return trip to Banff.
When we were finally able to pull it up, this is what we found: Tipping tour guides is not expected in Canada but appreciated. The standard is 10-20% of the total cost of the tour for a group tour.
Hopefully, this helps you plan better than me and my fellow hikers did on our guided tour!
What to bring for a guided hike on Stanley Glacier Trail
If you are taking a guided hike, chances are your adventure company might have some of the basics covered. When booking, I would check with the tour company as they usually have a robust guide about what to bring and what they cover.
Some of the things that my guided tour provided
- Water bottles
- A cute Canadian Rockies bandana
- Backpacks for those that did not have them
- Hiking poles
- A poncho in case it rained
- Band-Aids and padding for possible blisters
An important tip about hiking poles: According to my hiking guide, “most injuries hiking injuries happen with hiking sticks because people swing them around.” I almost got smacked by a hiking stick on a guided sunset hike in Tucson so I can see how that happens. The guide also said that hiking sticks “slows you down by 30%.” So, I did not use them, but some of the fellow hikers did.
What I brought for my Stanley Glacier hike
- Hiking back pack – Bring a backpack to carry your gear, Bring a lightweight day pack that can fit some essential items like lunch, water, camera, sunglasses, sunscreen, and insect repellent.
- My refillable water bottle – Bring ample drinking water to stay hydrated throughout the hike. Consider carrying a water bladder or water bottles that can be easily refilled.
- My hiking hat to protect me from the sun
- Lip balm
- Sunscreen in an airplane friendly stick since I just flew in the day before
- Tinted sunscreen that I wear as “makeup” when I hike
- A small bug repellent that I did not need, but I brought it just in case.
- An apple and some granola bars
- A bag to pack out my trash
- Allergy medication, if you have allergies like me!
A note about tissue: Although there are facilities in the parking lot, the guide encouraged us to take some tissue and practice no trace in the case that you need to use the restroom on the trail. And the guide unabashedly said he had a shovel from #2 in case anyone had to go.
What to wear to hike Stanley Glacier Trail
- Columbia Hiking Shoes. They are waterproof! However, these boots do not have great arch support, so I use insoles.
- Wool socks
- Layers! I wore a cozy North Face jacket, which went on top of a long sleeve yoga top from Stitch Fix, and a tank top and sports bra. On the bottom, I wore yoga pants from Stitch Fix with REI Co-op rain pants layered on top. I was not hot or cold so the layers worked well for me.
- This this lined Columbia rain jacket, which stayed tied around my waist as it was not that cold.
If you watch the Movement Postcard for this post, you will see me dancing in all this gear! Hat and water bottle included!
Always check the weather the day before your hike and remember that it can change rapidly in the mountains. Pack a rain jacket or a windbreaker to keep you dry and warm.
Would I do a Stanley Glacier guided hike again?
Yes! I can say I was pleasantly surprised by my first guided hike. As an introvert, I am always weary about traveling in groups. But everyone was very friendly and kind. There was a variety of fitness levels on the hike, but we took it slow. The hike is listed as moderate. But if you don’t do a lot of physical activity – it is a challenging route with a lot of climbing with an altitude gain. There were a lot of other hikers on this popular hike on Saturday morning. If you prefer a quiet walk, this might not be the spot for you. I was fine with the crowds though. Fellow hikers were friendly and I am sure all our chatter kept the bears away!
But overall, it was a great experience and I look forward to returning with Buddy and doing some more hikes in the Canadian Rockies!
Are you planning on hiking Stanley Glacier trail? Do you prefer guided hikes? Let us know in the comments below!
Do you have questions about family travel or traveling with teens? Feel free to reach out! We are happy to chat and share our experiences! We look forward to connecting with you.
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10 thoughts on “5 Simple Tips for a Guided Hike: Stanley Glacier Trail”
Our last few times we just did short stops in Banff and did not have time for any hikes. Next time we really do need to plan to stay for a few days. We would certainly want to try to book a guided hike to the Stanley Glacier in Kootenay National Park. Great that you managed to fit this in on a business trip. I would want to have someone with me if I hiked in an area known for bears! Good reminder about the need to have a park pass. Your guided tour provided much more than I would have expected.
Wow! Next time I’m closeby I’m going to check this trail! Probably the unofficial route as I live fossils as well. Beautiful hike! Thanks for sharing!
You are welcome! I hope you get to see some fossils!
This has got to be one of the most stunning hikes you’ve posted! I love the look of the old glacier! Thanks for sharing 🙂
Thank you! And of course!
I love hiking, everywhere I travel to I’m always searching for the best hikes in the area. Thank you for this guide, I will definitely save for future reference
This is so helpful! I can’t wait to visit Banff!
Banff is on my summer travel list so this was super helpful! Had no idea you could see fossils!
10-20% of the total amount as a tip is too high. I mean if it is not expected then you’d rather tip a small percentage. Don’t get me wrong, but, they are already getting the compensation for their job.
Oh that is good to know! I wish I knew this before the hike. Thank you so much!!