A few weeks ago, I enjoyed a great (but rainy and even snowy) stay in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, one of the world’s most pristine wilderness areas on a scale difficult to imagine. You can read my trip reports here:
- Trip report: British Airways A380 Business Class from London to Vancouver
- Review: Post Hotel & Spa
- Review: Fairmont Banff Hot Springs Hotel
- Review: Moraine Lake Lodge
- Review: Mount Engaldine Lodge
- Review: Emerald Lake Lodge (today)
- Review: Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge
- Trip report: British Airways B787-8 (Dreamliner) Business Class from Calgary to London
Today (October 12, 2016): Review of Emerald Lake Lodge, Yoho National Park (Canada).
- Hotel website: Emerald Lake Lodge
- Address: 1 Emerald Lake Drive, Field, BC V0A 1G0, Canada
- Location: Google Maps
When you visit Emerald Lake Lodge, you follow in the footsteps of legendary guide Tom Wilson, who discovered this magical location – famed for its jade-coloured waters – more than 100 years ago during the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Today, the hotel remains one of North America’s most accessible lodges in a wilderness setting. Built of hand-hewn timber and featuring massive stone fireplaces, the lodge includes an elegant dining room, quiet reading and sitting rooms, conference facilities and a games room. Accommodations are not that good though, and in need of a refurbishment.
Emerald Lake Lodge features in my top 10 list of the best hotels & lodges in the Canadian Rockies.
In this review (more info below the slideshow):
- Pros & things I like
- Cons & things to know
- My verdict
- Tips for future guests & save money
- Best time to visit
- How to get there
PROS & THINGS I LIKE
- Emerald Lake Lodge is situated in the heart of Yoho National Park, a UNESCO world heritage site which is wholly located in British Columbia on the western side of the Continental Divide. The park boasts towering rock walls, spectacular waterfalls and 28 peaks over 3000 meters (9800 feet) in height. The word “Yoho” is a Cree expression of awe and wonder. Yoho’s intimate scale makes it the Rocky Mountain’s favored National Park by connoisseurs.
- The lodge enjoys a magnificent setting on a small, 13 acre peninsula along the shores of Emerald Lake. This stunningly beautiful lake was discovered in 1882, when famed mountain guide Tom Wilson was led lakeside while rounding up a group of horses that had gone astray. The vivid turquoise color of the water, caused by powdered limestone, is most spectacular in July as the snow melts from the surrounding mountains.
- The lodge is surrounded by some of the Rocky Mountains’ most famous peaks, such as Wapta Mountain and Mount Burgess. Between 1954 and 1971, Mount Burgess was featured on the back of the Canadian ten-dollar bill. It is still informally called the ‘Ten Dollar Mountain’ as a result.
- The lodge is connected to the mainland by a picturesque bridge, which is only accessible to the hotel’s shuttle bus and pedestrians. As you walk across the bridge to the lodge, you know immediately that you’ve arrived at a place of spectacular beauty, with the lodge beautifully perched above the emerald lake.
- Located on top of the hilly peninsula, the lodge’s main pavilion is built of hand-hewn timber and definitely feels upscale. The lower floor houses the reception area, a quiet sitting and reading area in front of a massive stone fireplace, an oak bar salvaged from an 1890’s Yukon saloon, and the main restaurant (The Mount Burgess Dining Room). The upper floor features conference facilities and a game room (with tv and pool table).
- The exterior design of the lodge blends well with the spectacular mountain environment. Twenty-four cabin-style buildings (accommodating up to 200 guests) dot the property’s forested peninsula, and each cabin is designed to reflect the lodge’s traditional architecture.
- The highlights of the rooms are the private balconies and the wood burning fieldstone fireplaces – stocked daily with complimentary firewood. Other nice room features include cozy feather duvets and pillows, in-room coffee makers, a seating area in front of the fireplace, and lovely toiletries. But that’s about it since the rooms are very tired and in desperate need of an update (cf below).
- The lodge’s club house is a separate pavilion that features a dry sauna, a tiny fitness room, and a lovely stainless steel outdoor hot tub. The latter overlooks the lake in the distance and is an enjoyable place to melt away any muscle tensions after a long day of hiking.
- Although not exceptional, food at the lodge’s two restaurants is quite good and moderately priced. The Mount Burgess Dining Room is the lodge’s main restaurant and features signature Rocky Mountain cuisine in a comfortable, warm atmosphere. Cilantro on the Lake is located by the bridge and offers bistro-style lunches and dinners, featuring selections include pasta, sandwiches, and grilled salmon.
- Featuring a selection of regional micro-brewed beers as well as some of the world’s finest single malt Scotches, Cognacs and Ports, the bartender behind the original 1890’s Yukon Bar take – and make – all drink requests.
- The hike around the lake, clocking in at about an hour, is one of the least strenuous but most rewarding in the Rockies. The first half is accessible to wheelchairs and strollers. An incredible breadth of geological features can be viewed from the lake, including the world-famous Burgess Shale fossil beds, the Michael glacier, and an avalanche slope carpeted by meadows where moose often graze.
CONS & THINGS TO KNOW
Emerald Lake Lodge used to be one of my favorite places to stay in the Canadian Rockies, but I was disappointed during my recent visit. Quality has slipped since the lodge opened more than two decades ago, and without the fabulous location this hotel would fail miserably. Here is what I did not like and what you should know when considering a stay here:
- Although the bedding and towels are very good, the rooms themselves are tired and have not been renovated since more than 20 years. My room featured stained carpet, worn furniture, peeling paint, a water-damaged ceiling, and a dirty shower curtain.
- Maybe it was bad luck, but my bathroom featured an unbearable smell of dirty sewer upon check-in. A member of the staff tried to fix the issue by dropping some chemicals in the drains, but the smell returned and persisted for the duration of my stay.
- There are about four guest rooms per cabin: two on the lower and two on the upper floor. Unfortunately, rooms are not sound proof and you can hear your neighbours every time they move around or talk. This will especially be a problem when you stay in a room on the lower floor.
- There is a high threshold between the room and balcony, making it difficult to go in and out for those that have to deal with mobility problems.
- During my visit, the service was slow and unprofessional (and the worst I experienced in Canada so far). For example, when I ordered a 14$ drink and paid with a 20$ bill, I was asked if I needed any change. Most of the staff are young trainees or interns, who will leave for another destination, and do not care nor feel passionate about Emerald Lodge.
- With room rates starting at $400 Canadian dollar per night in high season, the lodge is overpriced and uses its location and not its rooms to sell. The surroundings are, of course, fabulous and the lodge realizes that people will still want to stay there.
- Breakfast – not included in the room rate – is served at the Mount Burgess Dining Room. You have the choice between a la carte items (which are quite good) or a disappointingly small breakfast buffet.
- Lake Emerald is one of Canada’s major tourist attractions, and somewhat incomprehensibly, the herds of day-trippers are allowed to wander around the resort’s ground and walk around the cabins, making the lodge very busy and even unpleasant during the day. The good news though is that the lodge and its surrounding are very peaceful in the mornings/evenings.
- There are no air conditioners within the rooms. Also, there is no cell phone reception at Emerald Lake Lodge. Very slow WiFi is only available in the main lodge (not in the rooms).
- The locker rooms at the Club House are dirty and the interior has more in common with a public pool or high school locker room than a traditional luxury lodge.
- Renting kayaks is not including in the room rate (although that is the case at most of the other luxury hotels in the Rockies).
- The Emerald Lake basin traps storms, causing frequent rain in summer and heavy snowfalls in winter. The good news is these conditions create amazing rainbows which will make for some terrific photo opportunities.
- When you arrive at the lodge, you will need to leave your car at the guest parking lot, which is located about 1 km (0.6 mi) from the lodge. Somewhat puzzling, day visitors can leave their car at the parking lot next to the bridge and lodge. There’s a heated pavilion adjacent to the overnight parking lot, where you need to phone the lodge’s reception who will then dispatch a bellman to collect you and your luggage. Although transfers between the guest parking lot and the lodge only take about 2 minutes, it is inconvenient to those that like to come and go as they please and when it’s busy, there can be long waiting times.
I mostly refrain from giving advice to hotel owners, but I make an exception in this case since the lodge has so much potential (it could easily be the Rockies’ best hotel). The managment of Emerald Lake Lodge needs to urgently refurbish their rooms, make them sound proof, offer at least WiFi in the cabins, include complimentary activities (such as kayakking), make the resort grounds off limits to day visitors, and switch the parking lots for day visitors and overnight guests.
- Location: 10/10
- Design: 7/10
- Pool: not applicable
- Resort grounds: 7/10
- Rooms: 2/10
- Food: 7/10
- Breakfast: 6/10
- Spa: not applicable
- Service: 4/10
- Value for money: 5/10
- Overall experience: mediocre: 6/10
TIPS FOR FUTURE GUESTS
- Save money: read my tips for getting the best deal at a luxury hotel like Emerald Lake Lodge (and/or receive many free perks).
- If possible, request a 2nd floor room because they have better views and you will not suffer as much from noise made by other guests.
- Read my tips for preparing your trip in time.
BEST TIME TO VISIT
As far as hiking, scenery and warmer weather goes many, the best time to visit is from late June to mid-September. Respectively this time frame offers the best chance for good weather; however, it also has the largest crowds and highest accommodation prices. Consider a trip during a shoulder season such as June and mid-September to mid-October when there’s less crowds. The accommodation prices will be somewhat lower compared to the summer months, and your chances on spotting wildlife are much better.
Starting in early December and through March is the time for skiing, but don’t worry if you are not a skier, there’s plenty of winter activities for non-skiers like snowshoeing, ice skating and sleigh rides. Depending on the snow conditions and temperatures some of these activities continue into the month of April. Ski hills start to open some of their runs in mid-November and remain open until mid-May.
HOW TO GET THERE
Emerald Lake Lodge is located 20 minutes west of Lake Louise in Yoho National Park, approximately 236 kms (147 miles) west of Calgary and 93 kms (58 miles) west of the town of Banff. Calgary International Airport is the most convenient airport to start your holiday in the Rockies. Check the Wikipedia page of Calgary International Airport for an updated list of airlines that offer direct flights to Calgary.