Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Shadow Lake Family-friendly Backcountry Ski Lodge

Shadow Lake is one of the most beautiful destinations in backcountry Banff National Park that is easily reached year round on the Redearth Creek Trail.  We set out a couple weeks ago to see just how "easy" it would be to get to this magical spot with a six year old child in winter.

Beautiful Shadow Lake, Backcountry Banff National Park

The photo above shows why we wanted to get here as a family for a weekend.  Scenery like this isn't found on any old  stroll or ski trip.  BUT, we worked our butts off to get these views.

Note: this story has been edited and updated for 2023.

It took us over 5 hours to get to this destination on foot

The Journey to Shadow Lake

I've written a few stories now on the theme of "raising tough kids" and this trip definitely falls under the category of pushing children to new limits, out of their comfort zones, and setting out to see just how far they can go.

In order to get to Shadow Lake, and to the backcountry lodge where we'd spend the weekend, we first had to ski or hike 14 km (9 miles) on a moderate trail abundant in big hills.   And while I'm sure many older kids could do this, my son had never skied more than 7 km.  And he's only 6 years old.

Hiking up the Redearth Creek Trail to Shadow Lake

How we managed to get to Shadow Lake:
  1. We hiked the first part of the Redearth Creek Trail that was the steepest while carrying skis and pulling ski boots in a sled (next time we'd carry all extra boots as the sled was a huge pain in the butt to pull.) We were also carrying snowshoes that we could use on our free day at the lodge for exploring around the lake.

  2. We skied the next 8 km while pulling our son with a tow rope. 

  3. Finally, we hiked the last 3 km from the junction to Shadow Lake Lodge at the end of the Redearth Creek Trail.  This section was not track set or even skier tracked and started off with a very steep icy hill.  We figured we might as well just switch back into hiking mode and allow our son to use different muscles for a bit.

Skiing along the Redearth Creek Trail en route to Shadow Lake

How other families get to Shadow Lake:

There are three basic options:  Ski, hike, or pull the kids in a chariot or pulk sled.  You do what works best for your family.  And in summer you can bike if the children are strong enough to do the hills on the way in.  We used our son's balance bike last September when we went in and he had a super fun ride out.

Nearing Shadow Lake Lodge after a very long ski and hike

On the way out from Shadow Lake, we basically repeated our steps from the way in.  We walked the top part, skied the middle, and walked the bottom part again.  Our son skied more on his own on the way out but he was still towed a lot too.  For the biggest hills, he had to ski between his dad's legs since he hasn't quite figured out how to do a snow plough on cross country skis yet.

Skiing around Shadow Lake on our free day at the lodge
Skiing out from Shadow Lake Lodge

Staying Overnight at Shadow Lake Lodge as a Family

I could easily post a dozen gorgeous photos of Shadow Lake and leave it at that.  However, there's more to Shadow Lake Lodge than scenery.

BIG Reasons for Families to LOVE Shadow Lake Lodge

Individual cabins - Each couple or family gets their own cabin to sleep in.  No other backcountry ski lodge offers this unless you pay extra (a lot extra.)  At Shadow Lake though, everybody gets a cabin rather than sharing a crowded lodge.

Cabins at Shadow Lake Lodge

Decadent food - The food at Shadow Lake Lodge is great (pork tenderloin, chicken, fresh vegetables, hearty soups, and breakfasts so big you'll be full most of the day.) 

Note the food may feel a bit "fancy" for some kids, so I would advise packing some emergency staples (even a small jar of PB and a package of wraps or bagels) if you have a picky eater. 

You can also make dietary requests when you book your stay, so don't feel shy to request basic chicken and beef or pork if you feel your child would reject seafood or other kinds of meat.

The Kitchen and the Fireside Cabins

The staff like kids - This is important.  You want kitchen staff that will help and go out of their way to make your child's stay happy.  At Shadow Lake, our son was able to get cookies any time he wanted instead of the more adult-focused desserts and he was always given a fresh glass of lemonade or juice.

We were also placed at a table with another family for the communal meals which we appreciated.

Little boys need lots of cookies after playing in the snow

Heated bathrooms with showers - I know it's backcountry and all but there's some comfort in knowing there is running water and showers - just in case. Evening bathroom runs are also more pleasant when the bathrooms have heat and lights.

The heated washrooms are right beside the kitchen cabin

The trail is well maintained and easy to follow - You'd be seriously hard pressed to get lost going into Shadow Lake Lodge.  It would be quite the challenge to get off the main snowmobile tracked trail.

I dare you to get lost on this well maintained trail

There's a lot of easy exploring to do from the lodge - We stayed at another backcountry ski lodge years ago as a family that was super easy to get to, but there was nothing to do once we arrived at the lodge.  No trails to explore, nowhere to really go.  

At Shadow Lake Lodge, it's a short hike or ski to the lake, and then you can cross the length of the lake in a very easy family-friendly outing. We brought snowshoes and winter boots with us, but it's an easy ski across the lake.

When we finished snowshoeing on the lake we came back to the lodge, played in the meadow and enjoyed afternoon tea.

Hiking along the creek from Shadow Lake Lodge
Taking a rest on the summer bridge at Shadow Lake

The lodge has snowshoes for guests to borrow - Families will want to bring small snowshoes for the kids but the lodge has a dozen or so pairs of adult snowshoes so that you can hike around on your rest day.  We appreciated this and it saved us bringing in three pairs of snowshoes.  Just remember to bring winter boots with you.

Snowshoeing across Shadow Lake, Banff National Park
Not many kids get to snowshoe in paradise like this
Daddy tracks, Mommy tracks, and Baby tracks

Want to visit Shadow Lake or stay at Shadow Lake Lodge?

All information on Shadow Lake Lodge can be found on their website at Shadow Lake Lodge.  

To be inspired for summer season at Shadow Lake, read the story I wrote here:  Backcountry Glamping at Shadow Lake Lodge

And read about autumn larch hiking here: Autumn Larch Hiking at Shadow Lake Backcountry Lodge.

Special thanks to Shadow Lake Lodge for supporting and arranging our stay at this amazing lodge.

Shadow Lake, the most beautiful lake in backcountry Banff


  1. We skied there last year. It seems we share a philosophy about pushing kids a bit. At 8 my kids did a 14 mile hike - mostly because of a map reading mistake but they survived and so did we.

    1. As long as they have fun "most of the time" it's all good. Thanks.