MOUNTAIN LODGE SPOTLIGHT:
SHADOW LAKE LODGE
Words by Meghan J. Ward
Photos by Tyler Parker Photography
At the heart of mountain culture in the Canadian Rockies is the tradition of mountain lodging that beckons travellers to disconnect, unwind and enjoy a warm drink by the fire. Our Mountain Lodge Spotlight series features just this – a long-standing history that continues to this day. Whether in the backcountry or at the roadside, these mountain lodges feature stunning locations and good old mountain hospitality.
Lacing up my hiking boots, I paused to look out on the large meadow that lay just beyond the front porch of the cabin. The early morning air was cool, with dew drops sizzling gently as the sun rose, a light fog hovering just above the tall grasses. The stillness was surreal – totally quiet and motionless – a moment broken only by my imagining a large moose sauntering slowly through the meadow. With the breakfast bell ringing, my attention was drawn to the hot food that awaited me, and the adventures that lay just beyond my doorstep.
This is the benefit of the backcountry lodge experience. It is a chance to disconnect and unwind, to venture out on the trail without getting in a vehicle, to be fed and nurtured without lifting a finger, and to relax and read without the distraction of electronics, television or the web. And if one lodge delivers this, and more, it is Shadow Lake Lodge – family-run for nearly 70 years, and now owned and operated by Alison Brewster, Brian Niehaus and their two daughters, Morgan and Jolene.
The family’s pride in the place runs strong and deep, with both daughters pursuing education and professional training to take the helm of the business and see it thrive in the future. That family feeling in combination with the unique location of the lodge – just one kilometre from the lodge’s namesake lake – make it a rare treat for anyone wanting to make the trek into this unique corner of Banff National Park.
Originally built by the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR), with construction completed in 1930, the original purpose of Shadow Lake Lodge was as a cabin that would link together with other cabins in the Storm Mountain, Sunshine, and Assiniboine areas to provide tourists with rest stops as they explored the mountains. In 1938, with the intention of linking it together with their summer operations at Sunshine, Jim Brewster of Brewster Transport purchased the cabin from the CPR. Twelve years later, Jim’s great-nephew, Bud (Alison’s father), purchased the cabin from Brewster Transport, and together with Alison and Brian, built Shadow Lake Lodge into what it is today – a gorgeous property complete with individual guest cabins, the original CP cabin, and a dining lodge. For a more extensive history of the lodge, see this historic overview.
Most people access Shadow Lake Lodge via the Redearth Creek Fireroad, a 14-kilometre hike from the TransCanada. The first 10 kilometres can be covered on a bicycle, with a rack provided at the Pharoah Creek junction to safely lock up your wheels before continuing. Alternative access is from Arnica/Twin Lakes off Hwy 93S – a more strenuous 14-kilometres than the Redearth Creek approach. Hikers can also access the area via a more lengthy trek from the Sunshine Village/Egypt Lake areas. Consults Shadow Lake’s Trip Preparation page to acquaint yourself.
Your primary activity from Shadow Lake Lodge is hiking, so be sure to bring along a sturdy pair of boots. Shadow Lake Lodge provides an overview of hikes in the area, but here’s our two cents:
Shadow Lakeshore Trail (3km one-way): This is a great hike to do on the day of your arrival to get a sense of place. It is an easy walk, and can be enjoyed after dinner, once you’ve had a chance to recuperate a bit from your approach.
Amphitheatre (5.5km one-way): Our team’s visit to the lodge coincided with one of Banff’s smokiest seasons to date. And while this may have impacted views from higher up, the hike to the amphitheatre was unimpeded by poor visibility. On your way to the vast amphitheatre walled by the East Face of Mt. Ball, you are treated to three gorgeous waterfalls, each one unique in character and offering worthy snack or lunch stops. Plan on spending more time on the trail as you explore these amazing features.
Gibbon Pass/Little Copper (3.1km one-way; 1.5km extra to Little Copper): Gibbon Pass is a must, especially during wildflower season, where carpets of wildflowers add phenomenal colour as you venture up towards the pass, and larch season, when the golden hues will take your breath away. For an added challenge, and great views, head up on Little Copper, a small peak that can be reached from the pass.
If you’re planning a longer stay, or you’re looking for more hiking options (many of them more rigorous and lengthy, refer to the hiking overview courtesy of Shadow Lake Lodge.
Anglers will be delighted at the serene waters and epic scenery of Shadow Lake, which is filled with Rainbow, Cutthroat and Brook trout. A variety of tributaries extend down valley, and can be explored as a short day trip from the lodge. Be sure to check in with Parks Canada on all permits and restrictions by downloading the latest fishing brochure.
For winter ideas, refer to the Shadow Lake Lodge website.
WHAT WE LOVE
- The food! Morgan’s menu was beyond delicious, with plenty of seconds to go around. After a hearty breakfast, packed lunch and afternoon tea, we were surprised we could still be eating, but a full day of hiking will keep your appetite healthy. The lodge was extremely accommodating to any dietary needs and requests.
- Low impact. Considering their location in a national park, the Brewster-Niehaus clan makes every effort to minimize their environmental footprint.
- The CP Cabin. The old CP cabin has been restored and renovated over the years and retains its historic charm. This is a great place to hang out in the early morning or evening, when the temperatures dip and a crackling fire makes the ambiance that much better. You can also look at historic photographs and photo albums filled with images from the construction of Shadow Lake Lodge over the years.
- Hot showers. Not all backcountry lodges have hot showers, but this one does! It’s a rare treat after a big day of hiking.
- The staff. The staff is friendly and knowledgeable, having spent considerable amounts of time in the area. If you’re looking for hiking tips or more about the history of the lodge, be sure to ask them!
- The cabins. By far one of the most comfortable stays I’ve ever experienced in the backcountry. Where can I buy that mattress! Crack the window open and enjoy cozy duvets, as well as plenty of space for your belongings.
THINGS TO CONSIDER
- The hike in. The Redearth Creek Fireroad isn’t the most exciting hike, but it sticks to a nice gradient and is absent of rocks and roots that you would otherwise need to watch out for. The best views await you when you arrive at the lodge itself. Get a good conversation going and you’ll cover the first 10 kilometres in no time. Biking in would make for a quick descent on your way out.
- Site shoes. Bring a pair of shoes, sandals or hut booties as an alternative to your hiking boots for wandering around the property. No one wants to be putting on hiking boots in the middle of the night to venture to the bathrooms!
- No connection. Not only is this a WIFI free zone, but there is no cell phone service at Shadow Lake Lodge. Enjoy your time away and be ready to fully disconnect.
Editor’s Note: This trip was made possible by Shadow Lake Lodge. Shadow Lake Lodge in no way influenced the content or reviewed the post before it was published.
Writer, adventurer, outdoorsy mama and summit cartwheeler, Meghan J. Ward is the editor and co-founder at Crowfoot Media and lives for backcountry getaways.
Tyler Parker is the Staff Photographer for Crowfoot Media. He spends his days in a never-ending pursuit to capture the Rocky Mountains in all their glory.