If you’ve been to my blog before then you won’t be surprised to hear me raving about another hut trip. Stanley Mitchell hut is one of Alpine Club of Canada’s most popular summer huts for obvious reasons. It is very accessible from Calgary (2.5hr drive + 3 hour hike), has multiple day hiking options and is on a looped trail so you can hike out a different way than you hiked in. Any chance to hike the Iceline is well worth it, staying in the hut is just the cherry on top. Due to the hut’s popularity, I recommend inquiring about spots early.
Trail Name: Little Yoho Valley Trail to the hut and the Iceline Trail on return.
Trailhead: Located in the parking lot for Takakkaw Falls. 21km west of Lake Louise on the TransCanada Highway, turn off at signage for Takakkaw Falls, follow the Yoho Valley Road to the falls for 13km. Park at the most northerly point. Please note that in the winter the Yoho Valley Road is closed. Therefore if you are planning to do this trip in early spring, please check the condition of this road before heading out.
Fact: Takakkaw Falls, with a free fall of 254 m, is the third highest in Canada
Elevation Gain: ~520m. The Little Yoho Valley Trail starts of fairly flat, as you make your way up the valley, with some forgiving switchbacks in the last third of the trail. The advantage to approaching the hut via the Little Yoho Valley Trail vs the Iceline is the elevation is spread out more on the valley trail as opposed to the immediate grueling switchbacks on the Iceline (over 600m gain in the first couple kilometers).
Distance: ~10km on the Little Yoho Valley Trail, just over 11km on the Iceline Trail.
Time Required: ~3-4 hours approach via Little Yoho Valley Trail and 3-4 hours return via the Iceline Trail.
Recommended Equipment: Since you are staying in a hut (you must reserve a spot ahead of time via the Alpine Club of Canada), you don’t need to bring everything you normally would on a backpacking trip. The hut has dorm style sleeping quarters (complete with mattresses) and a fully equipped kitchen. Therefore, you’ll just need to bring your sleeping bag, clothes, food and wine. Some items you won’t want to forget are slippers, toilet paper, earplugs and a headlamp! If you have bad knees or balance issues I would really recommend hiking poles. The stoves, oven and lights are all propane powered and of course there is no cell reception.
Starting off at one of the iconic natural monuments of Canada, Takakkaw Falls, this loop will not fail to disappoint. The first couple kilometers fall off quickly as you make your way up the valley, passing Laughing Falls. Once you enter the trees, you soon start making your way up some forgiving switchbacks. Take your time to enjoy the lush humid forest and catch your breath. Soon enough the elevation gain will start to ease and you’ll find yourself amongst wildflower filled meadows. Before you know it, you’ll pop out into a bigger meadow cradled by mountains with Stanley Mitchell hut right before you.
*Side Note: This Little Valley Yoho Trail loop is excellent for a beginner backpacking trip, either a single night or multi-day. A short hike (~4km) into Laughing Falls campground for one night or continue on the following day to Little Yoho campground (~6km) next to Stanley Mitchell hut for another night, returning via the Iceline trail.
There are several day hike options available from the hut, enough to easily fill a weekend to a week depending on your skill level and desire. From easy scrambles, ridge walks to more advanced mountaineering, there is something for everyone. With the picturesque creek right in front of the hut, sometimes it’s nice to just sit back and relax! On previous trips I’ve done varieties of the Whaleback but this trip we ventured up to Mount Kerr, an easy scramble for those comfortable with heights.
Whatever you choose to fill your days with, there is nothing like the satisfied buzz that fills the hut in the evenings of people sharing their stories from the day. With a well equipped kitchen, the meals that are produced are astounding! Bring a notebook, you might want to take some recipes down. The wood burning stove keeps the hut at a comfortable temperature while some brave and talented individuals take up the resident guitar for some evening entertainment.
One of my favorite things about this hut is that it is perfectly situated in a loop of trails; meaning you can hike in and out different ways. After a relaxed breakfast and a team effort of hut cleaning we set off on the Iceline Trail back towards Takakkaw Falls. The Iceline trail quickly situates you above the tree line. You meander over the alpine terrain, next to the glaciers, as you make your way back towards Takakkaw Falls. It’s a pretty surreal landscape up there, with mountain peaks stretching out into the distance ahead of you and glaciers in every direction, no wonder they call it the Iceline trail.
The last couple of kilometers are what seems like never ending switchbacks, downhill at least. I tended to sympathize with every person we encountered coming up. I really recommend a set of hiking poles for this section; they will help with the impact on your knees. Eventually you pop out about 1km down the road from the parking lot you started in.
Even if you didn’t bother to read this whole trail description, I hope the pictures are enough to convince you to check out this amazing part of Canada! Every time I visit, I am taken away by its beauty and feel so incredibly fortunate to only live a couple hours away.