Guests at Brewster’s Shadow Lake Lodge enjoy solar-powered cabins and homemade baked goods. // © 2015 Greg Olsen
Feature image (above): Mount Ball towers above Shadow Lake, the body of water for which the lodge is named. // © 2015 Greg Olsen
As my husband and I stood on the edge of a high-altitude moraine beside Ball Mountain in Banff National Park in Banff, Alberta, we heard the roaring sound of a glacier calving somewhere deep in the mountains behind us. The spot was completely surrounded by craggy peaks, and though it took considerable effort to get there, that single moment made the hike worth it.
Though I live reasonably close, I seldom make it into Banff’s backcountry. To take a seat in nature’s wildly beautiful amphitheater, backcountry hikers must sacrifice creature comforts — hot showers, warm beds and home-cooked meals among them. I usually don’t want to pay that price.
Fortunately, there is another way to experience Banff’s wild side. A visit to a backcountry lodge makes it possible to experience the national park’s amazing wilderness areas without having to give up expected comforts. When Prince William and Kate Middleton visited Alberta in 2011, they enjoyed a romantic stay in a lodge near Lake Louise with transportation by helicopter. Since helicopters are banned inside the park, those of us who are not members of the royal family must arrive to our chosen lodge on our own steam, usually by hiking, cycling or cross-country skiing to it.
To get to Brewster’s Shadow Lake Lodge, which dates back to 1928, we hiked 9 miles and were greeted with afternoon tea, which included a buffet of hors d’oeuvres and freshly baked goods. We relaxed and unpacked our things in our cozy cabin that afternoon, had a hot shower, visited the lake and enjoyed a gourmet dinner that night.
Most guests use the lodge as a home base for day hikes into other parts of the backcountry, so when the next day rolled around, we set out on our Ball Mountain hike, which came highly recommended by other lodge guests. We passed two waterfalls and walked through a field of glacier lilies, but the best part was standing on the moraine, listening to the moaning glacier without another soul in sight.
That night at a family-style dinner, lodge guests recounted the hiking adventures of the day and discovered that other hikers had also heard the glacier calving. As the main course was served, lodge owner Alison Brewster popped out of the kitchen to welcome us and introduce the meal. With spinach salad, steamed asparagus, rosemary potatoes and stuffed leg of lamb with balsamic fig sauce in front of us, I couldn’t help feeling sorry for backcountry hikers who live off dehydrated meals.
Guests at the lodge share a kind of camaraderie, and over the course of our two-night stay we swapped many hiking stories. Perhaps best of all, Shadow Lake Lodge opens up the backcountry to people who otherwise would have difficulty accessing it. We met a couple traveling with their two teenage sons; a pair of 70-year-old grandparents having an adventure with their 12-year-old grandson; a young couple traveling with a 4-month-old baby; and another couple with an 18-month-old child.
“It’s truly a pleasure to share this destination with our visitors and to work in such a beautiful part of the Canadian Rockies,” Brewster said. “The Brewster name is an incredible legacy to live up to, and Shadow Lake Lodge will always have a place in my heart.”
As we hoisted our packs on and made our way back to the Redearth Creek trailhead, I was certain that Shadow Lake Lodge would always have a special place in my heart, too. There is something about the Canadian Rockies that can heal a weary soul — especially when you are in the solitude of Alberta’s magnificent backcountry.
- Brewster’s Shadow Lake Lodge is open from late June to late September and from late January through March.
- The lodge is reached via a 9-mile hike (or ski excursion) along a moderate trail with a 1,400-foot elevation gain.
- Rates start at $245 per person per day and are commissionable. Discounted rates apply for children staying in the same room as their parents.
- Three daily meals and afternoon tea are included. Beer and wine are not included.