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A Winter Visit To Shadow Lake Lodge In Banff National Park

A Winter Visit to Shadow Lake Lodge in Banff National Park

Surviving and actually enjoying a long winter in Calgary is possible but it takes some thought. Winter starts early here with the snow usually flying by the end of October and it doesn’t typically end until late March.

I make the effort well in advance to plan trips throughout the winter so I always have something to look forward to. In May I decided I wanted to spend Alberta’s Family Day weekend (a three day weekend) up at a backcountry ski lodge. I’d heard about Shadow Lake Lodge and decided that it would be worth checking out.

Shadow Lake Lodge is in Banff National Park. It’s only accessible on skis or on foot via a 14 .4 km trail. The trailhead is located 19 kilometers west of Banff just off the Trans-Canada Highway at the well signed Redearth turnoff. It’s a straightforward and relatively easy trail for the first 11 km.

Then it’s a steep climb once you reach the trail to Shadow Lake. Some people walk this section. When you’ve grunted your way to the top, the rest is easy and in 30 minutes or less you’ll be at the lodge. It took us less than three hours with a break for lunch to ski to the lodge.

"Skiing up the Redearth Creek trail"

Skiing up the Redearth Creek trail

"There are a variety of cabins - offering king or queen beds"

There are a variety of cabins – offering king or queen beds

"Snowshoeing is also an option at Shadow Lake Lodge"

Snowshoeing is also an option at Shadow Lake Lodge

The Cabins at Shadow Lake Lodge

The cabins at Shadow Lake Lodge offer rustic simplicity. Outfitted with a bed and night tables, they also boast solar powered lighting, a propane heater and a drying rack. There is a jug and bowl for washing up in the cabin – otherwise you need to walk out to the central shower. There are toilet facilities there too.

Apart from the dining room, there is a common room with a wood fired stove and plenty of games, puzzles and books to keep you occupied.

"We had the Mount Ball cabin"

We had the Mount Ball cabin

"The view out our window"

The view out our window

The Food at Shadow Lake Lodge

You will never go hungry at Shadow Lake Lodge. In fact despite skiing for hours every day there is the very real possibility that you will gain weight.

When you first arrive – around mid to late afternoon for most people – there is a tea. Think more in terms of the Brits version of tea; not only is there tea and hot chocolate but assorted cheeses and crackers, veges and dip and a wide assortment of cookies, bars and cakes. That has to last you for about another three hours when dinner is served.

Dinner is served family style – with eight people to a table. Dinner offers a good way to break the ice and meet people.

Every dinner starts with freshly baked bread and homemade soup. Then there is a buffet style main course with salmon, beef, chicken etc offered as well as vegetables and salad. Vegetarians are accommodated and the meals I saw looked mouth-watering. To end there is dessert and a hot beverage. I don’t have photos of the food because it’s on the dark side in the dining room but rest assured that the quality and caliber of the food is excellent. You can also purchase beer and wine.

"Lunch fixings for a make your own sandwich"

Lunch fixings for a make your own sandwich

Breakfast is served at 8:30 in the winter. It starts with a serve yourself buffet featuring a different type of porridge every morning, yogurts, granola, a giant and well composed fruit salad and homemade muffins. If that isn’t enough to satisfy you then there is always the egg dish, pancakes, sausages or bacon and a never ending cup of coffee.

Lunch is a make it yourself affair. Right after breakfast all the fixings for sandwiches are set out along with GORP, bars, cookies and fresh fruit. Load up, fill a thermos and water bottle and off you go.

Skiing &/or snowshoeing out of the lodge

There are several ski or snowshoe tours you can do from Shadow Lake Lodge. Snowshoes are available so you don’t have to carry them up.

The easiest tour is a 1.9 km ski to Shadow Lake where you get a beautiful view of Mt. Ball if the sun is shining.

"On the trail toward Shadow Lake"

On the trail toward Shadow Lake

"Mount Ball is the beautiful mountain in the background"

Mount Ball is the beautiful mountain in the background

"Skiing alongside Shadow Lake"

Skiing alongside Shadow Lake

From there you can continue to Haiduk Lake, 6.3 km further away. That was our plan for the day though we didn’t make it quite as far as the lake. The snow was very deep and part of our group didn’t have climbing skins for the steep part. So after 20 minutes of sweating, groaning and cursing we turned around. Next time.

"Pointing towards Haiduk Lake - located at the base of the mountain on the left"

Pointing towards Haiduk Lake – located at the base of the mountain on the left

"The wind made it tough going in the open meadows en route to Haiduk Lake"

The wind made it tough going in the open meadows

Another option is to snowshoe or ski 3.1 km one way to Gibbon Pass. If it had been a clear day we would have done it before skiing out but it wasn’t and I didn’t want to go without getting a view. I understand it’s a steep climb up so snowshoes are probably the better option.

Ball Pass, 2.7 km away, can also be visited as a day trip. It’s located on the Great Divide between Alberta and BC.

Shadow Lake Lodge is only open from late January until March 22nd – this year. It reopens again in late June for the summer. There is normally a two night minimum stay but you can check out their website to see if they have availability for one night at the last minute. Rates are $236.25 per person per night based on double occupancy in the winter. Summer rates are slightly less expensive. The rate includes accommodation and all meals.

For more information on Shadow Lake Lodge visit their website.

Other posts you might enjoy:

Leigh McAdam


Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 57,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada.

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta

This Post Has 23 Comments
  1. Canada is gorgeous. These snow scenes, the lodge, the day trips – it is all so spectacular. Makes me feel like getting fit enough to do it. But then we are not used to snow so it would be very hard for us. How lucky you are to do this so regularly.

    1. @Jan I am very lucky to have Banff NP so close by. I do make more of an effort than most people because it feels so good to get out there in the wilderness. And even when it’s very cold, it’s possible to comfortably cross country ski. You definitely do not have to be in great shape to so some of the trails I ski.

  2. Wow! Mt. Ball is absolutely stunning and love the setting for the lodge. That nice spread of food made my mouth-water as well. I think I’d do the hike-in option if I were to ever get the opportunity to visit there.

  3. Wow, gorgeous snow scenery! Leigh, I have always wanted to ski, how difficult/exhausting is it for one who’s never tried it? Is cross country skiing comparable to running or taking a walk in terms of effort?

    1. @Rachel I think for first time skiers it can be exhausting – but if you stick with the flats and take a few lessons you’d be skiing in no time. Cross country skiing can be one of the most aerobic sports you do – but it all depends on how much effort you want to put out.

  4. I absolutely love the outdoors and though you could have found me in the snow constantly playing years ago I’ve pulled back from that. So, I was reading about the 3 hour trek and thinking to myself, “I dunno…” then you “opened” the cabin door and yowsah!! MY kinda cabin with that food waiting! Your pictures are absolutely spectacular again! I’m in, Leigh 🙂

    1. @Mike We ate like kings and queens over the weekend – and it was a lucky thing we skied for several hours every day. This isn’t as hard as it sounds – and the scenery you get is so beautiful.

  5. I always like to hear about cross country skiing opportunities in other countries. This place looks beautiful, especially with the tall towering mountains.

  6. You had me booking a ticket at the first photo of the Redearth Creek Trail though by the time I reached the one of you battling the wind, I wasn’t so sure! Such a beautiful place…the quiet at night must be stunning.

  7. Great photos. I spent about 10 days traveling between Calgary and Jasper in September of 2012. Shadow Lake cabins remind me a lot of similar “no frills” accommodations at Manzanita Lake in Lassen Volcanic National Park, although they are closed in winter.

  8. How does the lodge get its supplies, I wonder? Those backcountry views are beautiful, and the food is certainly a draw. I know that I could handle the exertion of snowshoeing, but I’m beginning to think that cold would be the bigger challenge. I am getting to be such a wimp about it now that I’m used to living in the tropics without much air-conditioning.

    1. @Michele They actually skidoo up supplies.

      I think people who live in warmer climates underestimate how warm you get with activity – and the fact that if you dress for the weather, unless it’s extreme that you can be very comfortable outside.

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