Last year, Sean, his dad, Gord, and I started a little tradition that we like to call “Snowshoe Christmas”. The idea is that instead of giving each other presents on Christmas, we all find a day that we can spend out in the mountains together to do some Snowshoeing. Last Christmas, we spent the day out at Black Prince Cirque, and had such an amazing time that we carried the tradition forward into the summer – for something called “Backcountry Birthdays” – during which we celebrate all 3 of our July and August Birthdays while camping in the Backcountry. We spent 3 days in Waterton National Park and had an absolutely amazing time. All three of us came to agree that these memories and time spent together were much more desirable than anything that could come from a store. So, to carry the tradition forward, we spent this year’s Snowshoe Christmas at beautiful Emerald Lake Lodge in British Columbia.
I had been to Emerald Lake Lodge before, after backpacking through Yoho National Park for a week, but it was during the tail end of summer, and I had never seen this place with her winter coat on. And what a glorious sight it was – an absolute Winter Wonderland. We arrived on December 21st and checked out on the 23rd right before the real Christmas rush arrived, so our stay was relatively quiet. (Just the way we like it!)
I wanted to share with you a little look into the experience, broken down into three parts…The Lodge itself, The Food, and, of course, The Snowshoeing!
Nestled amongst the Rocky Mountains that straddle the border between BC and Alberta, The Emerald Lake Lodge is located in Yoho National Park. Upon arrival, you’ll come to a parking lot where you will leave your car, and a shuttle bus will take you up to the resort itself. The Lodge was originally built in 1890 (read more about the history here) and has since become a multi-building operation, featuring several restaurants, recreational equipment rental, a hot tub, fitness room and sauna, and a variety of cabin-style buildings that can accommodate up to 200 guests. The accommodations vary from lodge-style rooms with two queen beds (which is what we stayed in) to suites and even separate cabins. The ambiance is like no other – you get a true, rustic, cabin-in-the-woods feel. Lodge rooms do not have TVs and there is no cell phone service on the property, which really encourages you to unwind by curling up in front of the wood-burning fireplace with a good book, heading out for a hike, or connecting with your loved ones. If you wish to connect to the outside world, complementary wifi is available in the main reception building.
During the less busy winter months, not all of the dining options are open at Emerald Lake Lodge, but what was available was phenomenal. Our first night, we ate at the Kicking Horse Lounge, which offers more casual dining options in a rustic, cozy, fireside atmosphere. The menu options range from casual share plates and burgers to pasta dishes and grilled fish, and prices are standard / moderate. Both mornings, we had breakfast at the Mount Burgess Dining Room, which offered a variety of standard breakfast items (eggs benedict, yogurt and granola, smoothies, etc.) as long as some interesting sides, such as Cranberry Elk Sausage. Prices here were also standard / moderate, and the food was hearty and delicious.
The real highlight of our culinary experience, however, happened on the second night we were at the lodge, when we treated ourselves to an exquisite meal at the Mount Burgess Dining Room. Reservations are required for dinner, but you will not be disappointed by this world-class gem. We started with the Charcuterie Platter, which gave us all an opportunity to try many of the unique cured meats (duck, elk, bison, etc.) and other unique treats. For the mains, Sean decided on the Scallop appetizer and a bowl of the daily soup, which was potato and bacon with cheddar (to die for), I had the Sable Fish, which was absolutely incredible, but the best thing on the table were Gord’s Braised Bison Ribs. You truly can’t go wrong at the Mount Burgess Dining Room. The menu changes seasonally and you can taste that the ingredients used are fresh and of the highest quality. Prices are moderate to high and worth every penny.
THE SNOWSHOEING / HIKING
The main reason we went to Emerald Lake was for the amazing snowshoeing that surrounds the lodge. You can do as much or as little as you like without being too far from the comforts of a roaring fireplace. We brought our own snowshoe gear, but if you’d rather rent, you can do so at the lodge itself.
Day One – Emerald Lake Loop & Hamilton Falls
The loop around Emerald Lake is a nice and easy 4.6km. It is mostly flat, incredibly scenic, and during the winter months, you can venture out onto the frozen lake as well as snowshoe on the trails. We took our time taking in the views, stopping for snacks and hot chocolate, and taking tons of pictures. Just be sure to mind the cross country skiing trails – never step on them! (And watch for skiers too!)
After our loop around the lake, we headed to the parking lot which serves as the trailhead for Hamilton Falls, about a 2km round trip. This trail was mostly uphill although it wasn’t terribly steep, and we made it up in under an hour despite the deep snow. Hamilton Falls freeze almost completely in the winter months, so you can really get up close and personal. It was well worth the hike up! And the hike down was super easy. All in all, Day One killed about 4 1/2 hours.
Day Two – Johnston Canyon & The Ink Pots
We packed up and left Emerald Lake Lodge after our two night stay and decided to hit Johnston Canyon & The Ink Pots on our way back to Calgary. We came prepared to snowshoe, but ended up carrying them on our backs for the entire hike. The first part of the hike goes right through Johnston Canyon and is extremely busy and well-groomed. If anything, you may want some cramp-ons for your boots, but we didn’t have them and we were fine. The total round trip to the Ink Pots was about 12km. Once we got up past the upper falls, we found our hiking poles helpful, but we still didn’t require snowshoes at all. The crowds thinned out substantially once we were off the Johnston Canyon trail. This may have been because it was December and the trail was covered in snow.
The Ink Pots are definitely beautiful, although I must be honest – I did find them slightly underwhelming for being such a popular hike in the Canadian Rockies. There are several pools of water that range from blue to green in colour, and lots of space to walk around and check everything out. It was quite cold and windy by the time we got up there, so we found a sheltered tree to sit under and had a snack. Regardless, I am glad that I did this hike, as it has been on my wish list for years. But would I do it again? Probably not.
Have you ever been to Emerald Lake Lodge? The Ink Pots? Did you find them to live up to their reputation?