What a Stay Looks Like at Assiniboine Lodge

Our hike starts in front of Mt. Assiniboine Lodge
Our hike starts in front of Mt. Assiniboine Lodge

I had high hopes for my stay at Assiniboine Lodge. Years ago I met the Renners (a couple who ran the lodge for decades) while trekking around Manaslu in Nepal. They handed out pamphlets about the lodge – and mine stayed with me for years, moving with me as I moved. Every so often I’d find it, gaze longingly at Mount Assiniboine on the pamphlet and dream about a stay in the mountains.

That dream finally came true in September. The last of 100 adventures for my book was to be a backpacking trip to the Mt. Assiniboine area. But come September, I was running out of time for a good weather window and for finishing the writing of the book. I decided to see if there was any last minute availability at Assiniboine Lodge. I also have to admit that a stay in a lodge had far more appeal than my tent, considering how low the thermometer dipped at night.

One of the cabins at Assiniboine Lodge
One of the cabins at the lodge

Assiniboine Lodge – Scoring a night and flying from the Mount Shark helipad

I checked availability and on the first pass, a few weeks before we actually went, there was none.

I didn’t give up and eventually scored a mid-week cancellation at the lodge. Though not ideal, it would have to do.

On the day we were to meet at the Mount Shark helipad for the eight minute flight to the lodge, an early season snowstorm swept across much of Alberta causing trees to crack and fall, blocking driveways and roads. The highways were a mess and it looked the trip wasn’t going to happen at all.

But happen it did, with a window of weather that cleared enough for the helicopter to fly – and for us to drive the treacherous roads. In the end we flew in three to four hours later than what was initially scheduled.

Unfortunately, the helicopter ride wasn’t as beautiful as it would be with clear skies, but it was still a heady feeling to be whisked into the wilderness in such short order. The alternative is a very long 25 – 27 km hike in, which many people take two days to accomplish.

Every cabin has a magnificent view
Every cabin has a magnificent view

Lecture time

Before heading onto the helicopter, our bear spray and bear bangers (basically noise makers) were taken and put in a separate part of the chopper for safety reasons.

That was fine but what wasn’t fine was the cool, verging on cold reception I got when I inquired as to their whereabouts of said bear repelling devices once we were at the lodge. In fact I was admonished by one of the staff – before even being welcomed – and told that I shouldn’t use bear bangers at all. (They didn’t find them until the next morning.)

In my books, everyone is entitled to their opinion. I have never actually had to use bear spray or bangers but as we were planning to hike the 25 km out, and this was bear country, I did want to have them with me. What I didn’t expect was a lecture. That set the tone for our stay. I know in speaking to others, that they weren’t too happy with the lecture either.

Nonetheless, John and I were in one of the most magnificent landscapes in the world and I didn’t want the experience to be spoiled. We did what most guests do; congregate by the fire and chat with people from all over the world (especially Germany and Switzerland); we read and we hiked; we ate well and we marveled non-stop at the landscape.

Mt. Assiniboine at dawn
Mt. Assiniboine at dawn
Killer views from inside the lodge
Killer views from inside the lodge
The common area at has a gas fireplace
The common area has a gas fireplace

What you get at Assiniboine Lodge

The lodge offers basic rooms – two single beds, a few cubbies for your clothes and a wash basin. Toilets are outside in an outhouse, except for one inside toilet reserved for night-time use.

Many people stay in cabins, and as you can see the setting for all of them is first rate. There is a building with a sauna and a couple of showers – with lots of hot water. That was a treat after a day of hiking.

There are three meals served, including a make your own lunch. You can purchase wine. Meals are good, some very good but their afternoon tea is not of the same caliber of any other backcountry lodge I’ve visited including Skoki, Shadow Lake, Lake O’Hara and Mt. Engadine – though it’s not a true backcountry lodge.

Making a packed lunch
Making a packed lunch

What you can do at Assiniboine Lodge

After breakfast, there are guided hikes offered every day – and they’ll accommodate all levels of hikers. In the winter, the same thing happens with skiing.

We chose not to do the guided hike as it was going to an area we’d see the next day while hiking out. Instead, we went off exploring by ourselves and had a superlative day hiking the Nublet and beyond as well as checking out Lake Magog.

I wish we’d had more time for hiking as there are plenty more of them that I’d like to do. We’ll just add them to our wish list for another summer.

Looking at the Nublet from the ridge to Nub Peak
Looking at the Nublet from the ridge to Nub Peak
Our hike starts in front of Mt. Assiniboine Lodge
Lake Magog framed by Mount Assiniboine

Getting to the lodge

Most people who stay at Assiniboine arrive via a helicopter, either from Canmore or from the Mt. Shark helipad, an hour’s drive up from Canmore along the Smith Dorrien Road.

As a passenger in the helicopter, it’s great fun. As a hiker walking down the valley, listening to the helicopter on the days they fly, it’s a little tiresome though I can hardly complain if I’ve availed myself of the ride. 

Helicopter landing in a fall snowstorm
Helicopter landing in a fall snowstorm

Would I go back to the lodge?

The lodge is not inexpensive. A rustic lodge room is now (in 2022) $395 per person per night plus 6.2% tax. Shared cabins are $395 per person per night plus tax. As a treat, John and I will occasionally pay this sort of money – and this was my treat to myself for completing all 100 adventures. The helicopter flight is extra.

The lodge is booked solidly, and in fact it’s hard to even get a reservation.

Would I go back after my experience? I wouldn’t – as I want to be warmly welcomed and made to feel like a valued guest. Neither John nor I got that feeling.

But, if you’re not a backpacker and you really want to see this world-class landscape, then this is the way to go. Reviews on Trip Advisor are nothing but excellent. Perhaps, we were just unlucky. Let’s hope so.

For more information on the lodge you can visit their website.

Looking out to Elizabeth Lake from the Nublet
Looking out to Elizabeth Lake from the Nublet hike near the lodge

Further reading on backcountry lodges and hiking

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

What a Stay Looks Like at Assiniboine Lodge

  1. Erling Strom was the owner of Mount Assiniboine Lodge from its beginnings in 1928 for many decades and then taken over by his daughter Siri when he was in his 80s. I was the summer cook there for 6 years while I was going to university. All supplies and most guests arrived by horse on the twice weekly pack train trips that travelled over Allenby and Og Passes. A few hiked along the same route. Guests were met upon arrival by all the resident staff as they got off their horses, with a firm handshake, and “Welcome to Assiniboine, my name is . . .” Then they were taken in to the dining room for afternoon tea and introduced to the other guests.
    Siri, Aase, and I pained the ends of the logs the distinctive green they still are today. We stirred yellow ochre powder into standard forest green paint until we got the right colour. We had a lot of fun in those days and met guests from all over the world. Alice

  2. Hi Leigh, Thanks for your really helpful posts. We’re hoping to visit Mt Assiniboine Lodge with our family and kids, as the scenery looks amazing. When you said that you’d rather visit other great back country lodges next time – due to the frosty welcome – would you mind letting me know your top picks? We’ve also looked at Lake O’Hara lodge and thought it looked great (if we could get in), but if you have another favourite, or a comment about your preference between Lake O’Hara & Assiniboine Lodge, then I’d really appreciate it. It all looks so beautiful that it’s really hard working out where to go on our greatly anticipated trip to Canada.

    1. @Naomi Lake O’Hara is fantastic and sometimes you can snag a reservation. I also really enjoyed Shadow Lake Lodge and Skoki Lodge. I hear great things about Purcell Mountain Lodge for summer hiking too. I haven’t tried Talus Lodge – a chopper flight away from Canmore – but it would be worth investigating. Always enjoy a trip to Mt.Engadine Lodge as well – great hiking nearby in summer & skiing/snowshoeing in winter.

  3. Mt Assiniboine was my first backpacking trip when I was 15 years old, I have returned there many times over the past 50 plus years. Its has remained one of my favourite places in spite of all the other amazing places. I have traveled to in the Selkirk’s, Purcell’s and Rocky Mountains. I returned to Mount Assiniboine this summer past and can only report positive comments on the level of customer service and client care that I experienced. All the staff where warm, friendly, helpful, and very enthusiastic. My hiking clients, who have travelled all over the world, where blown away by the wonderful experience they enjoyed during their stay at Mt Assiniboine Lodge.

    Mount Assiniboine is truly the jewel in the crown of the Candain Rockies and I hope that you can overcome your negative experience and give Mount Assiniboine Lodge a second chance. You won’t be disappointed.

    1. @Lyle I hope you’re right about a second stay but I’m not so sure about laying out a considerable sum of money for what I think was a negative experience on the first go round. I totally agree with you about the beauty of the area and the hiking opportunities. World-class on every level.

  4. WOW…I can’t believe this was your experience. I have been going to Assiniboine for year, summer and winter. We have never had anything but warm, wonderful welcomes. The area, views, hiking, skiing are absolutely spectacular and the friendliness and openness of the staff there the same. I think you are right, Trip Advisor tells it all, unlucky you were.

    1. @Bob I’m glad you’ve only had positive experiences. Another group we met also said they were very unimpressed with their experience. The same goes for my next door neighbours. Despite all the raving online on Trip Advisor about how great it is, I don’t think it’s all good; though nothing will take away from the beauty of the location.

  5. Hi Leigh…Strange attitude towards people when you are paying those prices. Of course, on the positive side you got to spend time in one of the most beautiful spots in the world. My hiking in Assiniboine was back in the 70’s, and I remember it fondly. We stayed with rangers for free…LOL, and thankfully never ran into any bears during our hike. Thinking back, we were aware of the bear danger, but (stupidly) never really gave it a lot of thought!

    1. @Nancie That’s my feeling that people should be bending over to make sure all is well. I would still like to see nore of the area but next time it will be a backpacking trip that will cost me a a backcountry pass.

  6. The scenery is certainly gorgeous! I’m not sure I’d be keen on paying $250 a night and then having to use an outhouse. Too bad about the attitude of the staff as well. But the hiking does sound glorious.

    1. @Atastefortravel Any of the backcountry lodges – except for Lake O’Hara Lodge to my knowledge have outhouses. What I didn’t like about the one at Assiniboine is that the man’s and woman’s outhouse were attached so there was zero privacy.

  7. The Assiniboine Lodge looks like a setting for Christmas cards and your photos are absolutely gorgeous. I’d love to take my first ride in a helicopter to visit the lodge and it looks like a lovely place for a special celebration. Congratulations on completing your goal of 100 adventures- I’ve enjoyed reading about many of them!

    1. @Anita Hard to believe that photo was taken in early September isn’t it. It would be absolutely magical at Christmas though I don’t believe they even open for skiing until February.

  8. That is disappointing after all that time of holding onto the pamphlet to have the negative part of the experience you did. I have bear spray in my fanny pack – always. The air horn is also a great idea. On the upside, the views are beyond gorgeous! I would go so far as to say “heavenly”! And a helicopter in and out to a great lodge like that – absolutely sign me up! Good read, Leigh 🙂

    1. @Mike The lodge certainly sits in one of the most spectacular locations on the planet and there was plenty to celebrate. But when you’re paying big bucks and your expectations are high, it’s hard not to be disappointed at the cold reception – among other things.

  9. So loved your pictures and the contrast between the white-blue outdoors with the warm interiors. This is about as close as I’ll get to one of those lodge adventures but a virtual delight. Takes me back to my SE Alaska winters.

    1. @Elaine It was -16C one morning we were there – in September but have to say that the snow made the area even more beautiful. I can’t imagine a SE Alaska winter – dreary and dark is what I would expect.

  10. The landscape around Mt. Assiniboine is certainly stunning. It’s a shame you didn’t feel welcomed at the lodge. I’ve always assumed it made sense to make noise to keep bears away. In the midst of the lecture, were you provided with any compelling reasons otherwise?

    1. @Donna I was told that the bangers would cause even more aggression in the bears. Quite frankly, I want something more than my voice that just might scare a bear off;I know of someone who has worked in Canada’s North all his life, and he uses an airhorn to scare off any would-be bears. The other thing is the way it was handled. In fact I got a note from other guests saying they too were unimpressed with the delivery of the message.

  11. You would think they’d realize that first impressions do count in the hospitality business – sadly, too often they don’t. The setting appears beautiful and I am so excited about your book. Congrats!

  12. What an adventure this must have been save the scolding from the staff. What nerve, obviously they know nothing about guest service. But to be isolated in the mountains and surrounded by such wilderness and spectacular scenery would have compensated for their lack of judgment. Sorry that won’t be going back but nonetheless, I bet it was fabulous!

    1. @Jeff I have no regrets going to Assiniboine but I had always thought that I’d like to ski up there in the winter. I’ll give it a pass as there are plenty of other truly exceptional backcountry lodges in Canada to visit.

  13. I’m sorry your visit didn’t meet expectations, Leigh – it’s so disappointing to look forward to an experience for such a long time and then not have it go as you hoped. The scenery is definitely gorgeous though! I have to admit that I don’t know what a bear banger is but I assume it just makes a noise to scare away bears so I don’t really understand why the owners of the lodge would be opposed to hikers using them. Regardless, it can’t be great for business in the long run if they aren’t making their guests feel welcome.

    1. @Lisa I was very much taken aback with the attitude towards the bear bangers. Interestingly, the day after we arrived they had to close the nearby campground as a bear had gotten into a tent (because of food). So they are in the area in a big way – and I’ll take my chances with bear bangars – and hopefully never have to use them. Also at close to $45 a pop for a can of bear spray, it’s not something I like to lose. It was found, but they didn’t seem happy about my questions regarding where it might be.

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