Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Our Favourite 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 Red Earth 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.

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

The Journey to Shadow Lake - and more adventures in "Raising Tough Kids"

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 Red Earth Creek Trail to Shadow Lake

How we managed to get to Shadow Lake:
  1. We hiked the first part of the Red Earth 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.)
  2. We skied the next 8 km while pulling Noah with a tow rope. 
  3. Finally, we hiked the last 3 km from the junction to Shadow Lake Lodge at the end of the Red Earth 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 Noah to use different muscles for a bit.

Skiing along the Red Earth 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.  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 Noah's balance bike last September when we went in and he had a super fun ride out.

Nearing Shadow Lake Lodge after a very loooong 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.  Noah 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 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

Brewster's Shadow Lake Lodge - Our Favourite Family Backcountry Ski Lodge

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 Brewster's 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

Family-friendly 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.)  However, it's not so over-the-top fancy that kids will turn their noses up at it either.

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, Noah was able to get cookies any time he wanted instead of the more adult-focused desserts and was even sent on his way home with a bag of candy.  Our "family table" with us and another family also got to go first at each meal so that we could get the kids eating more quickly.

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 you can hike or ski across Shadow Lake in a very easy family-friendly outing.  We spent half a day playing on the lake and felt safe at all times.  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 just 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?

Playing around on Shadow Lake

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

Information on the location and route can be found here with a map.

To be inspired for summer season at Shadow Lake, read the story I wrote here:  Family Backpacking in Banff National Park - no tent required

You can also see the amazing photos from our magical hiking trip at Shadow Lake last fall here:  Magical Autumn Hiking on the Bow Valley Highline Trail

And finally, check out my recent story for Snowshoe Magazine:  My Quest to find the most Beautiful Destination in Backcountry Banff

Special thanks to the great folks at Brewster's 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.