We planned to hike the Iceline Trail to Stanley Mitchell Hut when the sun was shining in July. But as we were reminded MANY TIMES on our Canadian Parks trip, you can’t predict the weather.
It had been raining and snowing all morning. We sat half geared-up in the car hoping it would pass. Braver poncho’d hikers started on the trail before us. We knew there was a wood stove and a perfectly good roof waiting for us if we could make it 11km. But it’s one thing to get rained on during a hike and entirely another to start a hike knowing full well what you’re walking into.
But hell. Who knew the next time we’d be back to Yoho National Park? We waited until the rain slowed a bit, and started out on the Iceline Trail anyway. And it turned out to be worth the wet.
Want to spend the night at Stanley Mitchell Hut in Yoho? Here’s everything you need to know to make it happen.
AT A GLANCE
Stanley Mitchell Hut is a two-story log backcountry hut in Yoho National Park. It was built in 1940 and was named for Stanley Mitchell, one of the Alpine Club of Canada (ACC) founding members. It’s less of an engineering feat than Bow Hut since it’s set in a flat meadow, but the area is similarly excellent for climbing and ski touring.
The hut is open year-round, but your approach will differ depending on when you go. The two approaches during the summer are the Little Yoho Valley Trail and the Iceline Trail. In the winter, your options are the more challenging ski tour of the Little Yoho Valley Trail or the Yoho Traverse.
THE ICELINE TRAIL
Difficulty: Moderate // Distance: 11km one-way // Duration: 3-5 Hours
We visited Stanley Mitchell before it was snowed in, so we followed instructions for the summer approach. Both the Little Yoho Valley Trail and the Iceline trail start from the Little Yoho Valley Trailhead. You can park in the Takakkaw Falls Lot or save yourself a bit of time by parking in the small lot next to Whiskey Jack Hostel.
The most common route is the Iceline Trail Loop where you hike in on the forested Little Yoho Valley Trail and out on the more scenic Iceline Trail, but we opted to hike the Iceline Trail both ways. It’s a bit harder on the ascent, but worth it.
From the parking lot, you’ll immediately start up steep switchbacks through a forested area (you’ll gain around 600m in 3km). 2km into the climb, you’ll come to a split in the trail that directs you to go straight to Hidden Lake or right to Iceline. Continue to your right and wait until the trees start to thin out 1km later. This is where it gets good!
With elevation gain out of the way, the rest of the hike is all about the scenery. Look to your right and you can see Takakkaw Falls churning. Peaks with names like “The President” loom ahead. There are glacier fed lakes and streams alongside the trail, and you’ll have unobstructed views of all of it since you’re above tree line.
You’ll hit the high-point of the hike – the Iceline Summit – at around 7km. You’ll have another 2km or so above the trees until you dip back into the forest. From there, it’s 2km to Stanley Mitchell Hut set in a meadow.
After you overnight, you can either hike out along the Little Yoho Valley Trail or come back the way you came.
Visiting in Winter? The Winter Approach requires skis. If you’re taking the Little Yoho Valley Trail, the road is unplowed, so you’ll have to add about 5km onto your trip just to reach the trailhead. The other option is the multi-day Yoho Traverse. It’s a hut-to-hut trip where hikers ski in from Bow Hut or Peyto Hut on the Wapta Icefield.
LAKES IN BANFF & YOHO (THAT AREN’T LAKE LOUISE)
INSIDE STANLEY MITCHELL HUT
Stanley Mitchell Hut is a dormitory-style hut designed for up to 22 people. There are two sleeping rooms – one off the main room on the ground floor and one in the loft above – that have thick foam mattresses in rows on the floor. You’ll bring your own bedding and sleep alongside other guests in the hut.
The living room is super cozy with a wood stove for heat and propane lights. There are benches and large tables where you can eat, drink, or play board games. And just off the living room is a fully-stocked kitchen with a propane stove, cookware, dishes, and utensils. There are pit-style toilets in an outhouse just a quick walk from the hut.
HOW TO MAKE A RESERVATION
Because it’s easy to access, Stanley Mitchell is almost always booked out. ACC members have the advantage of being able to book a year in advance while non-members only get access 30 days out. The hut books out way ahead of time during summer, so it’s worth grabbing the membership and booking early.
Before planning your trip, you should read more about the approach and check the availability of huts here. When you’re ready to make your reservation, you can call ACC at (403) 678 3200 ext 0 or email email@example.com.
As soon as your booking is confirmed, you’ll get a reservation confirmation via email. Then, a few days before your trip, you’ll also get an email from ACC with the lock combination.
If you want to book your hut nights in advance, it’s worth getting an ACC Membership. The ACC Family Membership costs $65 CAD, but it includes a discount on hut prices and first right for booking huts. With membership, most of the huts cost $30CAD per person per night plus the $9.75 CAD backcountry wilderness permit that has to be paid by anyone using the Yoho backcountry overnight.
WHAT TO BRING
The benefit of overnighting in a hut is that you won’t have to travel with a tent, but here are a few things you won’t want to leave the car without.
Reservation Confirmation. This includes the reservation form from the ACC and the overnight wilderness permit.
Clothing. Adequate clothing for volatile weather conditions. Be prepared for snow, wind, and rain.
Food. The hut has the equipment you need to cook a feast (even basics like salt and pepper), but you’ll need to pack in all the food yourself.
Sleeping bag and pillow. While there’s a foam mattress, bedding isn’t provided.
First Aid Kit. There’s no staff at the hut so be prepared to take care of any incident on your own.
Materials for hut (newspaper, matches, 9V battery). The hut was equipped with a wood stove and firewood, but visitors have to restock smaller supplies. The matches are to light the propane lights. And the 9V battery is to have on hand if the smoke detector runs out of batteries during your stay.
Toilet paper and hand sanitizer. There’s often some left behind by other visitors, but you might as well bring your own.
GOOD TO KNOW
As a membership organization, ACC huts operate a bit different than other types of accommodation. They’re self-service meaning there’s no one present to enforce the rules or maintain the hut. There are volunteers who drop in periodically, but things like closing toilet tanks to bringing in drinking water to shutting the place down are the responsibility of everyone staying there.
Water. Stanley Mitchell doesn’t have running water, but there are streams nearby. Take one of the yellow buckets from the kitchen outside to collect water from the stream. You’ll need this to do dishes and cook. It’s fresh, but if you plan to drink this water, be sure to first filter or boil it.
Grey Water Disposal. There are sinks in the kitchen, but since there is no running water. You’ll need to follow instructions posted on the wall about how to do dishes. Basically, it’s a three basin system with one for washing, one for rinsing, and one for sanitizing. Pack out all big food scraps with your waste, but wastewater will get collected in a bucket below the sink. To dispose of the water, bring the waste bucket to the ground sump next to the hut.
Fire & Lights. There’s a wood stove in the living area. There’s a big pile of cut firewood outside of the hut that you can use, but be sure to replace the pieces you take by cutting larger peices. Once it starts getting dark, there are propane lights. To turn them on, you’ll twist on the gas and need to hold a match to the mesh pouch to light them.
Garbage. Be prepared to pack out everything you bring with you! Toilet paper can go in the tank, but everything from food wrappers to coffee grounds will need to leave with you.