MOUNTAIN LODGE SPOTLIGHT:
WINTER AT EMERALD LAKE LODGE
Words and photos by Tera Swanson
Luxury in wilderness comes a bit off the beaten track for many getaway lodges in the Canadian Rockies. But, Emerald Lake Lodge maintains a semblance of isolation and the elegance of simplicity, despite being just a short drive away from the nearest village. The historic Swiss-inspired lodge is just as inviting as the peaks seen from its windows, beckoning visitors to explore and enjoy the splendour of Yoho National Park. Tera Swanson tells you the best ways to experience this mountain gem in winter.
Emerald Lake Lodge. Photo by Tera Swanson.
Few locations in the Canadian Rockies exude the peacefulness and unique beauty of Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park. And perched on that lakeshore is Emerald Lake Lodge, a century old Swiss-inspired lodge that continues to bring a touch of elegance to the authentic rustic experiences of those it hosts. Just like the national park it calls home, Emerald Lake Lodge remains a timeless gem in the Rockies, from its first visitors by guests of the Canadian Pacific Railway’s Mount Stephen House to the international travellers it continues to draw in today.
In winter, the lake’s brilliant emerald and jade hues are subdued by layers of ice and snow, but the landscape and Emerald Lake Lodge remain just as inviting. With shorter months come an added luxury of a slower pace to truly immerse in the experience, whether it is taking in landscapes frozen in time, or unwinding next to a crackling fire in any of the lodge’s spacious lounging rooms.
Tucked away from the Trans-Canada Highway and neighbouring communities, Emerald Lake Lodge can be found on the first right-hand turn-off, after the exit for Field on Hwy 1 (heading west).
If you’re staying overnight, keep an eye out for Guest Parking on the left-hand side of the road. If you’ve reached the lake itself, you’ve gone too far. A phone in the building next to the parking lot will allow you to request a shuttle to the lodge. The service runs 24 hours, but bring what you need at this time to avoid any extra trips.
Room interior at Emerald Lake Lodge. Photo by Tera Swanson.
EMERALD LAKE LODGE
AT YOUR OWN PACE
1. Explore Corners of Yoho (and beyond!)
With less fanfare than its neighbouring national park, Yoho varies from your typical tourist experience in the best ways. Dwindled crowds from the heydey of summer leave plenty of time and leisure to discover its most beautiful attractions. Emerald Lake Lodge offers the perfect home base to get out there, whether it is exploring the lakeshore or other areas of Yoho National Park.
- Grab a pair of snowshoes to explore the lake circuit, but be sure to avoid the avalanche path!
- If you haven’t got your fix by then, a short walk from the day visitor parking lot will take you to Hamilton Falls (make sure to grab a quick lunch at the Kicking Horse Lounge first).
- The Natural Bridge is a must-see no matter the season. Upon first glance in winter months, the feature nearly disappears into snow. But visit it at the right time, when the ice is thick enough, and you can check out the bridge from the riverbed beneath, and see it inside out.
- The frozen Wapta Falls is worth allowing a few extra hours at the beginning or end of your stay at Emerald Lake Lodge. This 5.2 km snowshoe begins 26 km West of Field, off Hwy 1.
- Unwind after your winter hike in the village of Field, and grab a bite from the Truffle Pigs restaurant or The Siding General Store or take a stroll throughout the (very few) streets.
- Depending on the length of your trip, Emerald Lake Lodge could be a great home base after hitting the slopes at the Lake Louise Ski Resort, just a half hour drive from the lodge.
2. Elevate Your Heart Rate
The peaks and paths of the Emerald Lake area host several opportunities to explore on your own two feet. Nearby Emerald Sports & Gifts shop, run by the Kicking Horse Ski Club, will set you up with everything you need, from the first ski clips to post-activity sips.
- The 7-km Alluvial Fan circuit is a stunning cross-country skiing route to get a clear panoramic view of the surrounding peaks. Cut across the lake to safely avoid the avalanche path on Emerald Peak, which crosses into a section of the Emerald Lake circuit.
- If you are prepped with the right gear and knowledge, check for safe snow conditions and skin up the Emerald Peak slide path for some easy turns back down. Other popular tours in the area include Mount Field and the summit of Emerald Peak.
- Though there is no skating area set up on Emerald Lake itself, a short drive back down the valley will take you to a community rink in Field – the perfect place to watch a train or two go by.
- For the ice climbers out there, nearby Field has fantastic waterfalls climbs available, if they are in condition. Check out gravsports-ice.com for a rundown on routes in the area.
3. Ease Into Your Surroundings
With so much to do around the area, you might forget why you came in the first place! Yet capping off your day with the finer details that Emerald Lake Lodge offers won’t soon leave your memory, and will take you back to years gone by in ways you would not expect.
- The walls of the upper level act as a mini time capsule, and are adorned with photos of the lodge’s history over the past 12 decades. Take your time to peruse through the past, unwind on the well-broken-in cushions next to a fire, or try your hand at a game of Snooker on the 100-year-old pool table.
- Treat your body after a hard-earned day to a sauna and hot tub, just as the sun’s last rays light the peaks in alpenglow – the prime time to unwind before getting ready for dinner.
- A meal at the Mount Burgess Dining Room is worth a visit to Emerald Lake Lodge in itself. The seasonal menu features dishes with regional ingredients, best paired with a selection from their award-winning wine list.
- When the day comes to a final close, there is no better contentment than drifting to sleep next to a crackling fire as it slowly fades to its last embers.
Click any image to start the slideshow.
Relics of a bygone era are found throughout this historic mountain lodge. Photo by Tera Swanson
Natural Bridge, Yoho National Park. Photo by Tera Swanson
Gearing up for cross-country skiing. Photo by Tera Swanson
Emerald Lake Lodge. Photo by Tera Swanson
Lodge interior. Photo by Tera Swanson
Entrance to one of the Emerald Lake Lodge cabins. Photo by Tera Swanson
- While many accessible lodges come with WIFI, your room at Emerald Lake Lodge does not. Take the opportunity to disconnect for awhile with a good book, or good old-fashioned company.
- Our dinner reservation of 6 p.m. originally seemed a bit early, but with three courses and a fantastic wine list to sink into, we were happy to take our time savouring the experience.
- No matter where you turn, you’re faced with an immediate postcard setting. The peaks around Emerald Lake Lodge are simply stunning.
- The list of ways to make new experiences in the mountains here is seemingly endless, no matter your ability. Snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, touring – Emerald Lake has it all.
Click any image to start the slideshow.
Pool table. Photo by Tera Swanson
Upstairs interior at Emerald Lake Lodge. Photo by Tera Swanson
Course #2 of the three-course meal. Photo by Tera Swanson
- WIFI is available in the main lodge, but it is weak and spotty at best. This is a place to disconnect from anything work-related, aside from the occasional e-mail check in.
- Emerald Lake Lodge blends the fine details with a rustic experience. With the remote location and older building structures, this can mean an occasional (but brief) power outage, or drafty temperatures in colder weather.
- Something to remember on any trip – bring earplugs to avoid being woken up by creaky floorboards.
- The lakeside Emerald Sports shop will set you up for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, but gear for all other sports will need to be sorted out in Banff (Snowtips – BacTrax) or Lake Louise (Wilson Mountain Sports).
Main foyer at Emerald Lake Lodge. Photo by Tera Swanson
HISTORY OF EMERALD LAKE LODGE
Purchased by Canadian Rocky Mountain Resorts in 1979, Emerald Lake Lodge and the surrounding area have a long history and significance in Yoho National Park. The lake was first ‘discovered’ by Tom Wilson in 1882, though he was the first to admit it was his horses, one of which he had bought from the Stoneys, that knew the way and led him there. Emerald Lake and the nearby valleys were found along a route used by the Shuswaps and Ktunaxa to complete fur trades in prior years. This path kept them hidden from the enemy Blackfoot tribe, and avoided their crossing into dangerous land.
Within a few years of Wilson’s finding, visitors to Yoho National Park staying in the nearby town of Field wished to visit Emerald Lake and the Natural Bridge, another natural feature nearby. Outfitting companies took visitors up the dirt path to see the sights, and the appeal for guest amenities along the lake was quickly recognized.
But it wasn’t until a visit from Edward Whymper in 1901 that the deal was sealed. Acclaimed as one of the greatest mountaineers of his time, Whymper made the first ascent of the Matterhorn in 1865, giving him significant clout for the remainder of his life. His visit, paid for by the Canadian Pacific Railway, aimed to promote the Canadian Rockies back home in Europe. He suggested they build a chalet at Emerald Lake – advice that was put into action by the CPR in 1902.
The square-framed, Swiss-inspired lodge, though expanded, modified, and renovated over the years, remains intact today. And as was true with its very first guests, Emerald Lake Lodges continues to be a rustic, yet elegant mountain getaway for visitors across the world.
Thanks to Canadian Rocky Mountain Resorts for making this post possible! A note to our readers that CRMR and Emerald Lake Lodge did not review the post prior to publication.
Tera Swanson is a freelance writer and graduate from Mount Royal University’s Journalism undergraduate program. Whether laced into hiking boots or clipped into skis, her favourite way to explore the mountains is on her own two feet. She’s always up for anything that will end in the telling of a good story; be it through photography, from pen to paper, or over a locally brewed amber ale.