If you’re looking for the ultimate Canadian Rockies getaway, then you’ll have to pay a visit to Emerald Lake Lodge in winter!
For all the years we lived in awesome mountain towns in British Columbia, first in Invermere, then Kelowna and finally in Revelstoke, we never explored the beautiful Yoho National Park. And what a shame this is.
We always drove past it, usually on the way to or from Banff, and thought we’d save a visit for ‘another day’.
At the end of 2018 when we were last in Canada we finally took the turn off from the Trans Canada Highway and paid a visit to Emerald Lake, one of the most famous places in the entire Rockies.
We were blown away with the sheer beauty of it all. A glistening turquoise lake surrounded by jagged peaks, dense pine forests and glaciated valleys.
A tiny store rents out kayaks in the summer, and a bridge crosses over to the iconic Emerald Lake Lodge, a luxurious yet authentic accommodation, that beckons visitors to stay longer.
Unfortunately for us on that visit we couldn’t spend the night. But that was all to chance on our next visit to the Great White North.
READ MORE: Check out our ultimate guide to travelling in Canada!
Living in a Dream – Emerald Lake Lodge in Winter
In February we returned to Canada, spending a week dog sledding in the Yukon and checking out the fascinating city of Quebec in the wintertime.
Afterwards we flew to Alberta and had a few days hanging out and snowboarding around Banff, a place that appears as though it was plucked straight out of a fairytale.
We wanted to finish our Canadian trip with a bang, so we headed back to Yoho National Park and had the privilege of crossing over the bridge and checking in to the Emerald Lake Lodge.
Things were different this time though. The lake was now frozen with a thick blanket of snow cast across it. The mountains were even more formidable covered in a white shield, and the trees were spectacularly still.
It was even more picturesque than the last time we were there.
For two nights we’d be staying in one of Emerald Lake Lodge’s fantastic self-contained cabins, situated perfectly to make the most of the national park’s many winter trails.
The lodge is run by Canadian Rocky Mountains Resorts, who maintain a number of hotels around the area and are known not just for their unique, boutique accommodation, but also their award-winning food.
We couldn’t think of a better place to enjoy a perfect Canadian winter getaway.
The First Night
Yoho National Park is less than two hours from Banff, just across the provincial border in British Columbia and next to the small town of Field.
We drove straight there after snowboarding all morning at Sunshine Village Ski Resort, and arrived into the park in the early afternoon.
Before arriving at Emerald Lake Lodge we stopped by the stunning Natural Bridge, carved out by the turbulent Kicking Horse River. The previous autumn, the water was gushing through in a violent rage. In the winter though it is completely frozen.
We climbed down onto the river and walked inside the cavern. The ice flowed down in rolling waves, captured in time by the cold snap. It was phenomenal to be standing beneath the Natural Bridge, knowing that in a few months time it would be a tumultuous rapid.
Once we took our pictures we drove towards the lake, turning off at the sign for the overnight carpark. We unloaded the car and called the lodge using the direct phone line on the outside of the maintenance shed, and moments later a bus collected us to drive the two minutes to the accommodation.
The reception is located in the main lodge, and after a quick and easy check in we walked to our cabin.
We were staying in an upstairs unit with views over the lake, and from the moment we stepped inside we fell in love. The subtly decorated room was spacious and warm, with a fire place at one end, two sitting areas and an enormous king-sized bed at the back.
A small balcony looked over the lake, but with the snow piled on the deck it wasn’t going to get much use. In summer though it would be spectacular.
We dropped our bags off and spent a bit of time relaxing in the room before grabbing the cameras and going for a walk to check out the rest of the property.
Next to our cabin was an outdoor fire place, and across the path was the sauna and outdoor hot tub. A couple of people were chilling in the tub already, and we knew we’d be in there soon enough.
In winter the sun sets fairly early, so we walked across the road bridge and scouted out a place to shoot.
The most iconic images of Emerald Lake feature the Cilantro restaurant, a traditional Canadian log cabin on the Lodge-side of the bridge and right on the edge of the river.
Setting up the tripods, we got chatting to a couple of other photographers who had drove in especially for sunset. We watched in awe as the tops of the mountains turned red with the alpine glow and the sky turned from blue to black.
As soon as the light was gone the temperature dropped quickly, so we packed up and headed back to our cabin to drop our camera gear off.
Once the bodies had warmed up we walked back to the main lodge and grabbed a table for dinner. The restaurant is designed in a traditional log cabin design, with beautiful decorations hanging on the wall and atmospheric lighting.
The waiter was with us almost immediately, taking our drink orders (a delicious bottle of Okanagan wine) and making suggestions from the menu. It was hard to choose with so many incredible options, but we settled on two meat dishes that came highly recommended.
The food did not disappoint. There’s a reason the CRMR chefs have won international awards, and with the menu featuring only the best organic ingredients sourced from local farmers, every mouthful was truly delectable.
After our meals we headed back to our cabin, got the fire roaring, and settled in for the evening.
Day 2 – Cross-Country Skiing and Après Delights
We woke before sunrise and walked down to the lake with cameras in hand, hoping for a spectacular display of pastel light.
Unfortunately we weren’t treated to the epic sunrise we were hoping for, but with no clouds in the sky and a tremendously calm morning, it was a perfect way to start the day anyway.
A few people were out snowshoeing and cross-country skiing already, and as the sun started to peak over the mountains, the Yoho National Park begun to come alive.
We dropped our gear back at the cabin, then walked to the lodge for breakfast. With our early start we managed to be one of the first people in the dining room.
The options were to order off of the menu or take the buffet. After taking a quick look at all the options available, we chose the buffet so we could sample everything.
We filled our stomachs with French toast and eggs Benedict, baked beans and muesli, and of course bottomless coffee. Once we’d finished we decided to head to the loft of the lodge and catch up on a bit of work.
It was our first time checking out the upstairs section of the Emerald Lake Lodge, but we could see that it’d be a wonderful place to relax with friends.
There was a snooker table at one end and a piano at another. A conference room tucked away to the left, and a few couches spread around the room.
We set ourselves up on a large desk right by the window and spent an hour or so catching up on emails, waiting for the weather to warm up.
With the business admin side of things taken care of, we packed our bags back in our room and got ready to try our hands at cross-country skiing.
Just over the bridge is a little rental and souvenir store, where you can grab ice skates and cross-country skis. We picked up some boots and skis, and appreciatively took a quick lesson from the staff in how to use them.
By now the sun was well and truly up, and the mountains around us were simply awe-inspiring. Couples and families were hitting the trails, and we couldn’t wait to join them.
There’s a great network of cross-country ski and snowshoe trails that twist their way around the Yoho National Park, venturing deep into the valleys.
With our distinct lack of experience, we opted for a simple and flat 5km loop around Emerald Lake.
It took a few minutes to get the swing of things, but soon enough we were charging across the lake, trying our best to look as graceful as possible without falling over.
We quickly realised why cross-country skiing is such a popular winter activity in Canada. With the only sound being your breathing and that of the skis gliding across the snow, it’s easy to focus your attention on the mountain peaks and forests.
It’s also surprisingly demanding on the body if you push yourself, meaning you can get a work out while enjoying the views.
As we reached the far end of the lake, Alesha decided to head back on her own while I pushed on, trying my hand at a slightly longer and more challenging route.
The trail cut through some narrow trees, and I was constantly stopping to take photos as I made my way off the lake and towards another valley deeper in the park.
I circled around the valley then back through the forest to join up with the Emerald Lake trail. All up it had taken a little over two hours to ski the trails, made longer due to how many pictures I snapped.
After dropping the gear back off at the rental store, I headed back to the lodge and found Alesha relaxing in the loft again, sipping on a cocktail and admiring the views.
With the muscles feeling slightly sore we decided to test out the outdoor hot tub. We got into our bathers and jumped in, letting the steaming water soothe the legs and arms.
It was so splendid to be soaking in the pool with snow surrounding us on all sides and the jagged tops of snowy peaks rising between the trees.
Eventually we dragged ourselves away from the hot tub, had a quick shower at our room, then decided to head back to the main lodge to enjoy an après drink,
The large bar in the Emerald Lake Lodge is the place to be in the early evening, and it was buzzing with content guests sipping on craft cocktails.
We grabbed a couch by the fireplace, ordered our drinks and struck up a conversation with another couple.
They were from Calgary, only a few hours drive away, but staying at Emerald Lake Lodge in winter had always been on their bucket list. Finally, after years of dreaming, they were here and loving every moment. It had surpassed their expectations, just like it was surpassing ours.
We looked around the bar and could see the warm smiles on everybody’s faces. The atmosphere was relaxed yet lively, and with the picturesque views of the snowy Yoho National Park just outside the window, it was easy to see why so many people love this place.
Once our drinks were finished we walked over to the restaurant and were led to our table.
We had the same waiter, and remembering what we had the night before he made some other recommendations so we could try something new from the menu.
Again the food did not disappoint, and we washed it all down with a couple of boutique beers from a nearby microbrewery.
Even though our day had been far from fast paced, we were both exhausted, and headed to bed as soon as we finished our desserts.
Day 3 – Farewell Emerald Lake Lodge
We didn’t want to leave in the morning, but we had an early start to make it back to Banff for a day of ice climbing. We woke up before sunrise, packed our bags and walked to the lodge.
The staff had kindly made us a breakfast box to take with us, filled with a sandwich, fresh fruit, yoghurt and juice. They fired up the coffee machine, and we settled our bill.
The bus took us back across the bridge one final time, and we grabbed our car and hit the road.
We absolutely loved our time at Emerald Lake Lodge in winter, and could easily have spent another 2 or 3 days exploring the stunning mountains of Yoho National Park and sipping cocktails in the bar.
For now we’ll just have to dream about returning again, perhaps to see the park covered in its legendary autumn colours…
Tips for Staying at Emerald Lake Lodge
The Emerald Lake Lodge is one of the best accommodation options in the entire Canadian Rockies, and your stay here is guaranteed to create amazing lifelong memories.
Here’s our tips to help you make the most of your stay:
- You Need a National Park Pass: Because the Emerald Lake Lodge is inside the national park, you’ll need to buy a pass to bring your car inside.
- Bring Snacks: If you’re going to be out exploring during the day, it’s good to have some snacks with you such as muesli bars or fruit. Buy before entering the park.
- Eat at the Restaurant: The food is simply legendary, and surprisingly not too expensive for what you get. Make sure you eat here a few times.
- Book Ahead: If you’re planning to stay at the Emerald Lake Lodge it is absolutely essential to book ahead of time, as it’s an immensely popular spot.
- It’s Cheaper in the Winter: Summer is the busiest time of year at Emerald Lake Lodge, and also the most expensive. If you want a real authentic experience that won’t break the bank, try and visit in the wintertime or in the shoulder season.
- Bring Layers: It gets cold in Yoho National Park, so make sure you bring plenty of layers to keep warm. If you’re here in the winter it’s not unheard of to get temperatures as low as -30. Dress appropriately!
- Have a Sense of Adventure: As easy as it is to simply lounge around the lodge all day, the real beauty of staying at Emerald Lake is having so many great activities right on your doorstep. In the summer go hiking, kayaking or climbing, and in the winter go snowshoeing, cross-country skiing or ice skating.