March 8, 2016 By Meghan J. Ward
Silence. Solitude. Simplicity. There is no experience I love more than being in the wilderness. It is a rare commodity these days to escape from the busyness of life and disconnect in the backcountry. But, in a place like Banff National Park, it’s more about finding the time rather than the place. With over 1,000 kilometres of trails, backcountry campsites and remote lodges, in Banff you have no shortage of backcountry adventures to choose from. But, for some of you, the idea of packing your home on your back and venturing into the wild may leave something to be desired. Or, if you’re like me, sometimes it’s nice to leave the tent behind and indulge in a bit more luxury. Well, there’s good news: Banff National Park has a rich heritage of backcountry lodging experiences, and that continues to this day. If you’re looking to rough it without really roughing it, here our some of our favourite places to spend the night in the backcountry.
SHADOW LAKE LODGE Located just half a kilometre from its namesake lake, Shadow Lake Lodge includes two lodges (one dining and one lounging), with a variety of standalone cabins. Run by the Brewster/Niehaus clan, it offers a warm, family feel, wonderful meals, hot showers and access to some scenic hiking trails.
Shadow Lake. Photo by Paul Zizka.
Snacking at Shadow Lake Lodge. Photo by Jonny Bierman.
Access: Three hiking trails lead to Shadow Lake Lodge, ranging from 14 km to 26 km. The shortest and most popular route (Redearth Creek) is a moderate trail that can be hiked in the summer and skied or snowshoed in the winter. A portion of the trail can also be done on a mountain bike.
SKOKI LODGE First opened to guests in 1931, this historic cabin offers both a lodge-style stay and individual cabins if you’re looking for even more seclusion. Featuring gourmet meals, crackling fires and the generosity of hosts, Katie and Leo Mitzel, Skoki Lodge offers an excellent base for some of the best hiking and skiing in Banff National Park.
Skoki main lodge. Photo by Paul Zizka.
Post-dinner laughs with Skoki's Katie Mitzel (right). Photo-Paul Zizka.
Access: Tucked behind the Lake Louise Ski Area, this lodge is accessed via an 11-km trail that climbs over two scenic passes. Access the lodge on skis or snowshoes in winter or by hiking when the trails are dry in summer and fall.
SUNDANCE LODGE Set against the beautiful Sundance Range in Banff’s backcountry reaches, Sundance Lodge is a ten-room log cabin ready to welcome you with log cabin charm, hearty meals and heated showers. Run by the Banff Trail Riders, this lodge taps into the exciting horse culture of the Old West.
Sundance Lodge. Photo by Jonny Bierman.
And here is a video look at a summer horseback trek into Sundance Lodge (and the incredible Halfway Lodge).
Access: Located just 16 kilometres from the town of Banff, Sundance Lodge can be accessed in both winter (skis/snowshoes) and summer (hiking/horseback). Guests can extend their trip by using the historic Halfway Lodge.
BOW HUT Operated by the Alpine Club of Canada (ACC), this alpine hut provides backcountry amenities in a rugged, mountain setting. More rustic than the mountain lodges, Bow Hut is a great midway option for those looking to leave the tent behind, but have the comforts of a solid shelter with amenities, cooking facilities, a wood stove, on-site outhouses and a separate sleeping area.
Bow Hut (above). Interior (below). Photos via the Alpine Club of Canada.
Access: Tucked on the edge of the Wapta Icefield, access to this hut starts at Bow Lake on the Icefields Parkway. In summer, an intermediate 9.8-km hike will gain you access to the hut. In winter, access goes through avalanche terrain, so only those skiers with avalanche safety training should make the trip.
ABBOT PASS HUT Also operated by the ACC, Abbot Pass Hut is a backcountry experience that is truly in a class of its own. This rock shelter was built in 1922 to offer shelter for mountaineers, but today it is a regular destination for strong hikers. Like Bow Hut, bring your own food and sleeping bag, but enjoy the amenities of this unique structure, including kitchen facilities and a wood stove.
Access: Bordering Banff and Yoho National Parks, Abbot Pass Hut is a summer-only destination, and is accessed from the Lake O’Hara side. The 13-km hike ventures past the beautiful Lake Oesa before climbing sharply up to Abbot Pass. Due to rockfall hazard, helmets are recommended. Here is a quick aerial flyby of the Abbot Pass Hut, in winter.
Meghan J. Ward is an outdoor, travel and adventure writer based in Banff, and the co-founder and editor at Banff’s mountain culture publishing hub, Crowfoot Media. Catch her adventures on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and on her website at meghanjoyward.com.