MOUNTAIN LODGE SPOTLIGHT:
TWIN FALLS CHALET
Words and Photos by Abby Cooper
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.
Cozied up in my bed, I awake to the roar of a waterfall cascading outside my window – that same, constant lull of the Twin Falls that sung me to sleep the night before. Though it was still dark, the falls called me out of bed. After slipping on hiking boots, I slogged the short and steep trail to the top of the iconic Twin Falls before daybreak.
Perched on top of the falls was a wake-up I’ll never forget. Below my dangling toes, I spied Twin Falls Chalet, where I had slept last night and where I’d return for breakfast. Mesmerized by the light painting the Yoho Valley before my eyes, even if I could have smelled the bacon sizzling at the chalet, I didn’t flinch. Across the valley, Balfour Peak filtered the sunrays spotlighting the Trolltinder glacier. Soon, Whaleback Mountain was in direct sunlight at our backs. Finally, the sun warmed my face. If the air wasn’t so crisp and the mist gently kissing my face I would have questioned reality.
Twin Falls Chalet is seldom mentioned in comparison to the nearby Stanley Mitchell Hut for backcountry accommodations options and there’s a good reason for that. An Alpine Club of Canada (ACC) hut is a much different experience than a fully catered backcountry chalet more comparable to Skoki Lodge. Those who have visited this living piece of history seem to have a deep connection to the area. As newcomers ourselves, we were soaking up the Twin Falls Chalet magic for the first time.
It all started in 1901 when the Yoho Valley Trail was built – the same trail used today to access the chalet. Construction of Twin Falls Chalet started in 1908 by the Canadian Pacific Railway. Over 20 trails were created in the valley by 1912 making it an instant hiking mecca. The addition of the main lodge area was completed in 1923 and in 1924 opened for business as a teahouse. For the next thirty years, it was a picturesque hiking destination operated by the CPR. Though it closed its doors in 1953 due to a recession in railway tourism, the lodge was still perceived as having great value and was quickly snatched up by Brewsters and Ford Mountain Lodges Ltd the following year. The lodge was reopened in 1959.
Twin Falls Chalet and Fran Drummond are one in the same to anyone who visits this place. Fran has been a fixture of the lodge since 1962, with official operating rights obtained in 1968. When the lodge was in question for demolition in the late ’60s, Fran fought for its preservation and earned the chalet the well-deserved title of “Twin Falls Tea House National Historic Site of Canada,” as seen on the plaques outside the lodge.
Her career at the lodge has been a colourful one filled with wildcards presented seasonally by Mother Nature and, of course, by the variety of guests. She is a strong woman. (She once broke her leg in two places while venturing in Yoho Valley, hiked herself out and drove to the hospital!) Living off the grid and slightly against the grain, she’s motivated by what she loves. With passion and drive, Fran has successfully kept the legacy of Twin Falls Chalet alive and adds to it every day.
Heading north into Yoho Valley you’ll drive to the end of the road. Park and display your overnight pass in the designated overnight parking area near Takkakaw Falls. You’re legs are fresh, so don’t miss the opportunity to wander past the falls before embarking on the Yoho Valley Trail. After 8.2km and about four different waterfall lookouts (don’t miss them!) you’ll arrive at Twin Falls Chalet. The minimal elevation gain (under 300 meters) will have you at the chalet in just a few short hours. Check in with Fran, ditch any overnight gear and potentially tack on another hike before dinner.
You can also extend your hike in by visiting the glacial moraine below Yoho Glacier by following the Yoho Glacier Trail before you head up from the Yoho Valley Trail to the chalet. Please note that this trail is not maintained by Parks Canada but is still used and in good condition.
You can also access the chalet via an even longer hike from either Emerald Lake/Yoho Pass or the Iceline Trail.
Right out the front door of the chalet you’ll see signs for the Whaleback Loop. Over the 9.8km long trail with 350 elevation gain, you’ll hike past Marpole Lake and gain Twin Falls waterfall. Descend back to the chalet for a complete loop or linger above the falls and get your scramble on. There are plenty of peaks to bag in this region just out of eyesight of your sleeping quarters. Take a dip in one of the tarns fed by the overhead Mont des Poilus Glacier.
Top of the Falls
If you’re just looking to gain the falls you can forego the Whaleback Loop and head to the trail on looker’s right of the falls. 3km one way and 200m elevation gain will bring you to the bridge that spans the river above the 180-metre free falling water. This trail is switchback heavy but worth the view.
The most direct route to the Iceline Trail is 17km, but there are so many options here that we’ll let you decide how you want to get there and back to the chalet (or use it as your exit back to the Takkakaw Falls parking lot). Regardless of how you do it, you won’t want to miss this. Get up-close and personal with the Emerald Glacier, wind through a moonscaped boulder field and refresh in the flowering alpine meadows. Multiple turquoise glacial lakes will dot your journey as you work your way over moraines and creeks.
For a bird-watching hike or picnic destination, make the shorter trek to Celeste Lake. Sheltered by the trees with plenty of alpine views along the way, this aqua lake makes for a great destination and dip for that matter. Accessible two ways making the journey range from 4 – 10 km one-way.
Yoho Valley Loop
Looking for a big day with the most bang for your sweat equity? This is it and encompasses the Whaleback, Little Yoho Valley and Iceline Trail in a loop. Optional shortcuts exist if the weather or time is not on your side. You’ll see it all, from subalpine lakes to alpine meadows, glaciers, and tarns. Eventually, you’ll loop down and descend to the Yoho Valley Trail, which will bring you back to the chalet. It offers a great opportunity to see any waterfall lookouts in the valley you may have skipped on your initial journey in. This big day is estimated 27.7 km round-trip depending on how you loop it.
Mountaineering: Peak-baggers rejoice, this place is stacked! From the Whaleback Mountain area to the nearby President and Vice President peaks that offer views over to Emerald Lake, you’ll have a big list of options. Proximity will most likely allow for multiple peaks in a day.
Birding: Many resourceful books line the shelves of the chalet and Fran often knows ideal times and locations for those interested in birding. Please note she is not a guide but in her downtime (which isn’t a ton) she is a great resource for questions.
Traverses: Make Twin Falls Chalet a stop on a multi-day in the Yoho area by linking it to the Stanley Mitchell Hut, or up and over to Emerald Lake Lodge to end on your trip with a stay at this paradise, complete with a hot tub and private deck.
WHAT WE LOVE
- Oozing with historical charm, you’ll feel as though you’ve escaped to another time.
- Bathroom views will make you want to linger in an outhouse for the first time ever.
- Each trail offers such a variety of contrasting landscapes and viewpoints, you’ll never tire of the scenery.
- Alpine access is fast and rewarding.
- Tree-covered hikes are plentiful for less favorable weather days.
- The chalet library is filled with books showcasing much of the region’s history.
- Fran’s love for coffee matched mine! Best enjoyed on the upper balcony of the lodge to soak in the view of the falls.
- WIFI free, enjoy a rare visit of being completely present and disconnected.
- Acknowledging that Fran hiked in all of the supplies and meals you’re eating makes them taste even more delicious!
- Bedding and wash towels await you, which means you get to pack nice and light.
THINGS TO CONSIDER
- While the Yoho Valley Trail is very mellow, the hikes around aren’t as cruisy so proper hiking boots are a good call.
- Lodge booties or sandals are nice.
- As per any mountain adventure bring a rain jacket, even if you only wear it to embrace the mist of the falls.
- Extra water, water tablets or a purification system is a good idea. It’s no easy task to boil lots of water to fill bottles constantly, so being able to produce your own hiking water will let you keep any set agendas you may have.
- All bookings must be made before June 15th of the summer season as Fran is often off the grid. Due to the fact that all supplies are hiked in, on-the-spot bookings cannot be accommodated.
- The Twin Falls Chalet is no longer a teahouse, so don’t plan on visiting for a break on your day trip. But, please enjoy the magnificent structure as you pass by and read the informational plaques.
- Fran often has opportunities for students looking for careers in the outdoors so check in with her in the off-season for potential opportunities!
- Don’t forget your Overnight Backcountry Wilderness pass.
- The trails are well-marked but to make the most of your trip and keep tabs on your location, a map is a great idea (a printed one as there is no power at the chalet for device charging).
Connect with Twin Falls Chalet on the Web.
Editor’s Note: This trip was made possible by Twin Falls Chalet. Twin Falls Chalet in no way influenced the content or reviewed the post before it was published.
A lover of all things outdoors, Abby Cooper is a splitboarder, climber, hiker, adventurer, photographer and writer. She’s living life one adventure to the next with her dog by her side.
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