The Best Backcountry Lodges in British Columbia and Alberta

From Emerald Lake Lodge in British Columbia's Yoho National Park to Mount Engadine Lodge in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, there’s no shortage of idyllic backcountry lodges in the Canadian Rocky Mountains.
 

Mount Engadine Lodge, photo by Chris Amat

When it comes to iconic Canadiana, few things compare to a stay at a cozy cabin, surrounded by pristine drifts of white snow and soaring mountain peaks. These Rocky Mountain lodges—from extreme backcountry to not-really backcountry—are sure to inspire you to embrace winter.

 


Really Backcountry 

 

Assiniboine Lodge, photo by Noel Rogers

Assiniboine Lodge, Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park, British Columbia 

You’ll feel like an action hero arriving at Assiniboine Lodge after a thrilling 15-minute helicopter ride from Canmore, Alta., over snow-capped spires into British Columbia. Or, for a real challenge, you can cross-country ski the 26 kilometres from Kananaskis, Alberta. 

Check into one of the five rooms in the main lodge, or stay in one of the cabins, which have comfy beds, but no running hot water. You’ll be woken by a cheery “Hot water’s here!” greeting at 7:30 a.m. Start your epic day with a satisfying breakfast (all meals are included) in the main lodge—don’t miss the warm cinnamon buns. They will help fuel you up for the main activity: guided alpine ski-touring. This heart-pumping adventure attracts repeat guests keen on exploring hundreds of acres of untouched powder and admiring the magnificent mountain views, including Mount Assiniboine—nicknamed the “Matterhorn of the Rockies.” The terrain is also prime for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. Après-ski activities include pre-dinner relaxing in the lodge’s cedar sauna.

Assiniboine Lodge is open February to the end of March, and from late June to early fall.

CMH Cariboos, Columbia Mountains, British Columbia 

Set amid a surreal world of glaciers and the impossibly high peaks of British Columbia’s Cariboo Mountains, CMH Cariboos’ lodge is accessible only by helicopter. The lodge offers creature comforts in a casual atmosphere, including three meals a day, spa facilities and a wake-up call summoning you to stretch class. Guests are flown to helicopter-only-accessed slopes that are for intermediate and advanced skiers who dream of shredding champagne powder (or heli-hiking in the summer.)

 


Backcountry 

 

Mount Engadine Lodge, photo by Camille Nathania

Mount Engadine Lodge, Kananaskis Country, Alberta 

While your eyes might be fixed on the soaring peaks of the Kananaskis Range, you should keep watch on the sides of the winding road. Chances are good you’ll spot a moose, elk or mountain sheep during your drive on Highway 742 to year-round Mount Engadine Lodge, located about an hour from downtown Canmore. 

A basket of knitted slippers inside the front door establishes Engadine’s at-home atmosphere. Be sure to arrive in time for afternoon tea: a selection of local meats and cheeses, breads and sweets. All meals are included and served family-style in the main lodge. Go old-school and play board games next to a crackling fire in the stone fireplace or curl up in a comfy chair and read a book. The wooden veranda is the place to spot moose or simply gaze at Commonwealth Peak. The lodge makes an excellent basecamp for cross-country or snowshoeing adventures in Alberta’s Spray Valley Provincial Park; favourites include the trails leading to Chester and Rummel lakes. At day’s end, settle into your main lodge room, kitted-out cabin, all-season yurt or luxury tent with heated floors.   

Skoki Lodge, Banff National Park, Alberta 

Snap on your cross-country skis (or snowshoes) and prepare for an exhilarating, 11-km journey that traverses two mountain passes through the backcountry of Lake Louise, Alberta. Cheerful staff will greet you with baked treats as you enter this historic timber lodge. Though rustic, you won’t be roughing it: hearty meals, including dinner by candlelight, are included. Indulge in a few drinks by the fireplace before sinking into your downy bed in either the main lodge or a private cabin.

 


Semi-Backcountry 

 

Emerald Lake Lodge, photo by Erik McRitchie

Emerald Lake Lodge, Yoho National Park, British Columbia 

When legendary Alberta outfitter Tom Wilson came across this lake in the late 1800s, he was moved to name it after the brilliant emerald colour of its water. A lodge was built near its shore in the early 1900s and was reopened by Canadian Rocky Mountain Resorts in 1986. Located near Field, British Columbia, the year-round Emerald Lake Lodge is a 35-minute drive west of Lake Louise, through the Rocky Mountains.

While it might be tempting to remain in your homey cabin, complete with a stone fireplace and private porch, don’t miss out on the gourmet food served in the Mount Burgess dining room. The locally sourced cuisine (think free-range bison and elk) features European flavours and influences. Spend your day peacefully snowshoeing in the forest or around the lake, followed by a soak in the resort’s outdoor hot tub. The Kicking Horse Lounge, with its antique oak bar that was built in the Yukon, is a must-stop for a nightcap.

Island Lake Lodge, Fernie, British Columbia 

A trail-blazer in the cat-skiing world, Island Lake Lodge in Fernie, British Columbia, attracts skiers and snowboarders on the hunt for majestic mountain bowls and chutes in the Lizard Range. Hop on a snowcat and get dropped off on otherwise inaccessible, untracked powder. Back at the lodge, there’s plenty of gourmet food and wine for you to savour, and outdoor hot tubs where you can soak your tired muscles. Packages for non-skiers, including an indulgent lunch and spa option, are available.

 


Not-Really Backcountry 

 

Storm Mountain Lodge, photo courtesy Travel Alberta/Storm Mountain Lodge

Storm Mountain Lodge, Banff National Park, Alberta  

Storm Mountain’s romantic log cabins were originally built in 1922 by the Canadian Pacific Railway. They’ve since been winterized and updated, claw-foot soaker tubs and handmade log beds included, but nostalgia-lovers will still revel in the lack of TVs, Wi-Fi and modern appliances. Breathe in the fragrance from the towering pines as you wander over to the main lodge to order a meal from the Canadian-focused menu. Your prime location in Banff National Park means there are plenty of great options for playing in the snow: borrow snowshoes and admire the mountain ranges from the lodge’s private five acres or embark on a 10-kilometre cross-country ski adventure to Boom Lake, near the Continental Divide, to wonder at its frozen waterfall formations.  

Storm Mountain Lodge is open Thursdays to Sundays from December through May, and daily from June to mid-October. The lodge is closed in November.

Aurum Lodge, Nordegg, Alberta 

The six-room Aurum Lodge, located about two hours north of Banff, Alberta, overlooks Abraham Lake, where trapped methane causes ice bubbles to form during the winter. Photographers come from around the world to “bubble hunt” and capture the surrounding Rocky Mountains scenery. The eco-lodge operates on a philosophy of low-impact activities (think ice-climbing and snowshoeing) and donates a portion of its revenue to environmental causes.

 

This story appears in the December 2018 issues of WestJet Magazine.