Are you looking for a winter getaway – one that offers three different lodge experiences – all set against a Rocky Mountain backdrop?
Last weekend I had such a getaway. My only complaint – especially with all the great snow in the mountains – is that I wish it was longer. Two nights in each lodge would be ideal – or a couple of three night stays would be even better so you could really relax. But who’s complaining? Three nights in the mountains at beautiful lodges is definitely a treat.
John and I took off from Calgary by 2 PM on a Friday afternoon and headed straight for Emerald Lake Lodge in Yoho National Park. It takes just under 2.5 hours to get there. Then on Saturday after a morning of skiing we drove 25 minutes to Lake Louise – and stayed at Deer Lodge, a five minute walk from the lake itself. On Sunday we drove 40 minutes to Banff and spent the night at Buffalo Mountain Lodge – fitting in more cross-country skiing, fat tire biking and gawking at Lake Louise before arriving late in the afternoon.
Here’s how the three Rocky Mountain lodges stacked up.
EMERALD LAKE LODGE
You’ve probably seen the classic photos of Emerald Lake Lodge, perhaps without even realizing the name of the lodge. Located at the end of a winding, well-maintained mountain road – across from the cute town of Field in Yoho National Park, the lodge sits on a peninsula jutting into its namesake lake. The main lodge has got a relaxed woodsy feel to it – probably because it’s built with hand hewn timber. A large stone fireplace adds a nice ambiance.
Guests stay in ‘cabin style buildings’ with three to four rooms to a cabin. Our generously sized room featured a king bed, private balcony with a view of snow covered Emerald Lake, and a love seat in front of a wood burning fireplace. There was also a round table, ample room for luggage and a good sized bathroom with all the amenities.
Across from our cabin was the fitness centre and large state of the art outdoor hot tub made of stainless steel. Snow covered paths lead to the main lodge – which is where you’ll find the beautiful dining room and a lounge with an oak bar that was rescued from an 1890’s Yukon saloon. The food here is excellent and inventive.
ACTIVITIES at EMERALD LAKE LODGE
It would be very easy to do nothing at the lodge. But there are plenty of options no matter what the season. John and I had brought our cross-country skis and snowshoes though Emerald Sports (located beside the bridge to Cilantro Restaurant) rents equipment. We elected to do and out and back ski to the Natural Bridge as it’s a longer trail and we’ve been trying to get some miles in for the upcoming Canada Ski Marathon we’re doing in Quebec. Most people head out on the 6 kilometre loop around the alluvial fan. There are loads of snowshoeing options including an easy 5.3 kilometre loop around Emerald Lake.
Of course with a blazing fire and a pretty backdrop you could just enjoy a little romance in your cabin. Or curl up with a book and a glass of wine and get lost in a good story for a solid chunk of the day. Alternatively hangout in the hot tub until your skin looks like a prune.
Emerald Lake Lodge is a winner. The location is spectacular, there’s lots to do and it’s perfect for not just couples but families and friends – even dogs in the right cabin. Pricing in the winter is a very reasonable $169 per night.
Deer Lodge is at most a five minute walk from Lake Louise so its location is second to none. It’s more rustic than the other two lodges but many of the rooms have been updated and offer all the conveniences you could wish for in the mountains – just don’t expect a TV in your room. The original lodge was built in 1923 as a teahouse.
It’s a fantastic place to stay if you want to take advantage of all that the Lake Louise area offers. There are at least a half dozen cross-country ski trails accessed within 10 minutes of the lodge – and this in a place known for its great snow. Throw in snowshoeing, dogsledding and skating on magical Lake Louise and you’ll find huge appeal with a stay in such a location. The downhill ski resort of Lake Louise is also a short – and complimentary shuttle ride away.
The lodge boasts a rooftop hot tub with a stellar view and new this year – a traditional dry wood sauna. The main entrance has a selection of comfortable seats, with the best ones around a roaring fire.
In the dining room almost every table enjoys some sort of mountain view. The food is excellent and portions are generous. Expect to see a lot of Rocky Mountain cuisine – elk, bison and prairie grown grains.
BUFFALO MOUNTAIN LODGE
Located on Tunnel Mountain Road, Buffalo Mountain Lodge is just minutes from downtown Banff and even closer to a warren of hiking and mountain biking trails off of Tunnel Mountain. It’s one of my favourite places to stay in Banff National Park. The room feels very homey with its stone, wood-burning fireplaces and super comfortable beds. Really you don’t want to leave. You’ll also love the bathroom with its heated slate floors and a soaker tub. Some rooms have private balconies.
In winter it’s particularly nice to use their massive stainless steel hot tub. John and I lounged for about 40 minutes before we decided to make the dash back to our room. Then it was time for a glass of wine sitting in comfortable chairs around a fire followed by a delicious dinner (I’m crazy for their butternut squash ravioli).
ACTIVITIES at BUFFALO MOUNTAIN LODGE
There is so much to do in the Banff area the question becomes what do you like to do outdoors in winter.
Nearby there is downhill skiing at Sunshine and Mount Norquay. There are loads of cross-country and snowshoeing trails, and with a pair of Yactrax (for the icy trails) you could do a lot of easy winter hiking. We chose to go fat tire biking in Banff. When we were there, trails were icy and hard packed – perfect for flat terrain but more challenging in the Tunnel Mountain area where we’d originally planned to go. The Marsh Loop up to Sundance Canyon along the Bow River is perfect for first time fat tire bike riders. Even better it’s only got one short climb and it’s very beautiful. You can rent in town from Soul Ski and Bike.
Visiting three lodges in three days is very doable because they’re so close together – yet each offers a unique experience. A huge thank you to CRMR for hosting my stay. It was a real treat and hard to return to real life. And as always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.
Which lodge would you most like to visit?
Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta
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