My new favourite getaway is an escape to a not-so-back country lodge in the Rocky mountains – one you don’t have to access by ski or snowshoe with your stuff strapped to your back, but can in fact drive right up to, park your car, and be sitting in front of a crackling wood fire in five minutes. Although it’s spring break and my feeds are full of friends dipping toes into pools and sitting on beaches, to me this is the stuff dreams are made of. And it’s pure Canadiana.
These not-so-back country lodges are a little off the beaten path (literally), and so tend to not be as front-of-mind as the usual Banff/Canmore/Lake Louise hotel destinations. I’ve been to a few, but once I started seeking them out I realized how much I love them, how they embody coziness and encourage unplugging, how (unless you ski – I haven’t for years) they offer a true hideout from modern day life. And while all have access to wireless, it’s usually a challenge to get a good signal, so you’re almost forced to disconnect.
Last summer I was doing some filming at Storm Mountain Lodge. I had never been, and completely fell in love with the place. Constructed in 1922 as one of eight Bungalow Camps built by Canadian Pacific Railway to promote tourism in the Rockies, the original log lodge and dozen bungalows are still in use. It was built with the perfect vantage point, with a panorama of mountain peaks as a backdrop; in the early 1920’s, Canadian Pacific named this driving route the most spectacular motor trip on the continent.
I mean come on – how could you not completely adore this place? It’s like the ultimate family cabin.
The little shop along one windowed side of the lodge has locally made things (hand knit mitts! hand made cutting boards!) and a section of Canadian literature. I love buying a book while I’m on holiday, especially when there are sink-in couches, a giant fireplace and tiny bar right there inviting me to stick around. And after awhile you can plod back to your room and draw a bath. Does it get any better? I think not.
The individual bungalows, the website warns, don’t have wifi, telephones, televisions, coffee pots and other modern amenities. But I get quite enough of those at home – and they do have little verandas, wood-burning stone fireplaces and (I believe) claw-footed tubs. In winter, it’s the perfect kind of place to disconnect, read, play games, sleep. And in the lodge, the tiny restaurant has an all Canadian menu, wine list and playlist. I’d take this over Sandals any day.
And if you look around the Rockies there are a bunch of these old historic lodges, it turns out. Last weekend, we picked up W from school on Thursday and headed straight for the mountains. We had never been to Baker Creek before, on the Bow Valley Parkway running between Banff and Lake Louise. It’s a cluster of cabins (including the one up top), lodges and a cozy bistro, with about as many wood-burning fireplaces on the property as there were people.
All these lodges had antlers long before they were a thing.
Again, a little Canadian gift shop with canoe-shaped cribbage boards and blankets and BC wine. It made me not even mind that it was snowing on the last week of March, on spring break. (LOTS of snow.)
The cabins themselves are equally adorable, in a range of sizes with fireplaces and little fully equipped kitchens, ours with a downstairs bedroom and a loft with two beds above the living room.
And the Bistro! Another small cabin with another stone fireplace, a lounge on one side and restaurant in the other – one of the coziest I’ve been in. The chef focuses on Canadiana – braised bison short ribs, local pork, homemade soups and interesting salads, BC wines. And of course no traffic between the bistro and your home cabin – you can grab some extra firewood on the way back.
Also in the area – Deer Lodge, which was built in 1923 as a teahouse, transforming into a hotel in 1925 and was renovated, restored and winterized in 1985. It’s owned by Canadian Rocky Mountain Resorts, and is right on the road leading up to Lake Louise.
Which is still at the height of skating and hockey season.
Deer Lodge has 71 rooms, a rooftop hot tub and more amazing eating – sustainable seafood, locally sourced grains and veggies on the menu along with elk and bison from their own CRMR Ranch. And again you’ll find an elk rack hanging behind the bar.
And back closer to home in Spray Valley Provincial Park between Calgary and Canmore, there’s the lovely Mount Engadine Lodge. It’s just one lodge and a couple cabins (and a yurt!), and it feels like being at camp – when you stay, breakfast is included, and everyone gathers in the main lodge for meals made by the resident chef, and after breakfast there’s the option to pick up a brown bagged lunch to take with you into the great outdoors.
In the late afternoons they do high tea, Rockies-style with charcuterie from Canmore, beer and tea and cookies and things. And there are fires going, and a bookshelf, and board games tucked away in a corner. And a piano, if anyone is so inclined. It’s lovely and convivial, and at the end of the weekend you feel like you’ve adopted a few new relatives you kind of want to keep in touch with.
Apparently there are often moose sightings out in the swampy valley out the dining room windows (or from the wraparound patio), but I’ve never managed to see one. I’ll have to keep trying.
Thanks again to Travel Alberta for sponsoring this post, and helping me share stories of my home province. I love it here.