A backcountry trip to beautiful Skoki Lodge should really be on any outdoor enthusiast’s bucket list. Skoki Lodge is a historical log cabin located in Alberta’s Rocky Mountains, 11 kms from world-renowned Lake Louise. Skoki Lodge was built in the early 1930s for adventurous skiers of that era. In the winter, it is accessible by touring ski or snowshoe only; in the summer, you can hike there or even go on horseback with Timberline Tours. I recommend staying for at least 2 nights in order to take full advantage of the area’s beauty.
Getting to Skoki by muscle power alone means you must carry all your belongings there and back (a 22-km round trip). And for those who are wondering... No, you can’t have your pack flown in ahead of you, like at Mount Assiniboine Lodge.
Guests can stay upstairs in one of the rooms in the main lodge or opt for one of three private cabins. All food and beverages are included in your reservation fee, with the exception of alcoholic drinks. Food is decidedly five-star and the dining experience is communal, downstairs in the main lodge. Rooms are decorated simply, with a few cozy touches and lots of extra wool blankets. Heating is provided by two firewood stoves downstairs; everything is lit either by oil lamps or candlelight. This place has dialed up the charm!
The amenities are more rustic. There is no running water or electricity in the rooms, and the only toilets are dug-out outhouses.
There is also no WiFi. It’s a back-to-the-basics experience. And folks, that’s kinda the point. You’re getting back to nature, in true Canadian fashion, with fantastic company and exceptional lodging, food and drink.
THE TREK TO AND FROM SKOKI LODGE
Normally, the trip starts with a shuttle bus from the Fish Creek parking lot to Temple Lodge. However, because of Covid, our journey began at the Lake Louise gondola; then we rode the Ptarmigan chairlift down to Temple Lodge, the opposite way as everyone else. We enjoyed that; it made for some funny looks from other skiers.
From Temple Lodge, we walked 100m up the Marmot run (#143) to join the Skoki trailhead (at left, into the woods).
Over 11 kms, the trail gains 440m of elevation and drops 350m. For the first few kms, the path wanders through fir and pine forests; there are fantastic views of Redoubt Mountain and Ptarmigan Peak. Stakes are planted in the ground all along the trail, so route finding is easy.
After roughly 3.5 kms, you’ll come to a junction leading left to Halfway Hut (also known as Ptarmigan Hut), perched on a little hill. This hut was built in 1931 to provide overnight shelter for skiers heading to Skoki Lodge.
Although used mostly as a welcome respite for travellers during bad weather, it is rumoured that the souls of avalanche victims return at night to play poker. You can hang around til nighttime and try your hand at a round with the ghosts; otherwise, it’s a good place to enjoy an invigorating snack before Boulder Pass and Deception Pass, which will both involve decent elevation gains.
Boulder Pass is a good ascent, but nothing discouraging; you’ll probably snap it in 15-20 minutes. Once over Boulder Pass, you’ll head down toward Ptarmigan Lake and the wind will likely pick up. This is why you packed that warm puffy jacket and windbreaker. Don’t underestimate the distance across Ptarmigan Lake; it’s misleadingly stretchy.
Once you’ve crossed the lake, you’ll see Deception Pass looming ahead on your left. This is the biggest climb of the trek, and it could certainly tucker you out if you rush it. Take advantage of the elevation gain to take breaks and enjoy the scenery all around you. It’ll be a decent 30-minute grunt (180 metres - 590 feet).
From the top of Deception Pass, it’s a straightforward, 3.5km descent to Skoki Lodge. Far to your left, you’ll see the Wall of Jericho and hopefully a few frozen turquoise waterfalls. The trail flattens out about 1km from the lodge.
You’ll most likely smell the wood smoke before you see the Skoki buildings.
Your return trip will be the exact route you took coming in, the biggest push being the ascent back over Deception Pass.
If you had taken a shuttle bus from Fish Creek to Temple Lodge at the beginning of your trip, you'll have to tag on 1.5 hours for your walk back down to Fish Creek parking lot, as the shuttle bus doesn't operate on the way back down. However, because of Covid, we were able to ride the Ptarmigan chair and Gondola back to our car at the main lodge.
Let’s talk FOOD!
Mmmm…. A definite Skoki highlight is indulging in the fantastic food prepared here. Breakfast is served daily at 8am with unlimited coffee or tea. We had homemade jalapeno-and-cheese biscuits-and-egg sandwiches our first morning there, along with potatoes and fresh fruit. On our second morning, we were served Apple Crumble French Toast with bacon, yam hash browns and fresh fruit. My boyfriend laughingly, but very politely, asked me to stop making noises while eating; I enjoyed it that much.
Lunch is prepared in brown paper bags for your day trip. We were pleasantly surprised to find a very hearty beef sandwich, cut-up oranges, trail mix (with dried bananas and Smarties!) and heart-shaped sugar cookies. No shortage of energy there!
Supper, served at 7pm, is the real kicker. The day’s menu is posted every afternoon and makes your mouth water just by reading it. Click on arrow to read menus.
A decent variety of alcoholic drinks and wine is provided, but is not included in your reservation fee. You can run up a tab and settle it before departing.
DAY TRIPS FROM SKOKI LODGE
Upon arrival, you’ll be greeted by staff and handed a warm beverage and snacks (they serve an impressive
charcuterie board between 3 and 5). You’ll be shown to your lovely little room; at last, you can put down your backpack and enjoy the comforts that Skoki Lodge has to offer. This is what you came for.
Kick back on your bed to read a book, warm up with a hot cup of something near the wood stove downstairs, or play a board game (provided you brought one). You can even tickle the ivories of the old piano in the main lounge. Or, head back outside for yet another adventure!
If you want to explore the area surrounding the lodge, the staff can describe options for a day trip. (Some trips may require avalanche training, which we didn’t have). Two treks that don’t usually require avalanche training are Merlin Meadows and Mount Skoki Loop.
This is a short trip you can do, even on the afternoon you arrive at Skoki. After a gentle decline through the trees, 1.5 kms past the lodge, you’ll arrive at Merlin Meadows Campground. To the left is Merlin Meadows. Merlin Castle, as well as the back of the Wall of Jericho (on glacier-encrusted Mount Richardson), make for impressive backgrounds. Turn around and head back uphill to the lodge (through the campground) when you’ve had enough.
Mount Skoki Loop (11 kms, 170m elevation gain)
Half a kilometer before arriving at Skoki Lodge, you had unknowingly passed the trailhead to Mount Skoki Loop. From the lodge, go left toward Deception Pass. After about 500m, turn left onto the trail toward Red Deer Lakes. The path rises slowly up to Jones Pass (between Skoki Mountain on left and Fossil Mountain on right). Note: One small part of this trail is sometimes exposed to avalanches from Fossil Mountain; stay in the trees and move quickly, leaving room between skiers.
You’ll hit Red Deer Lakes Campground about 4kms from the lodge; it’s a good place to stop and refuel. The views as you walk over the lake are expansive and impressive.
At the end of Red Deer Lake, you’ll make your way left onto Little Pipestone Creek trail before starting a climb through the trees. Some people are less impressed with this part of the trek, as you have few views of the mountains. But we loved it; the trees were heavily laden with snow and apparently, some fir and spruce trees in this forest are 250 years old.
There are lots of minor ups and downs through the forest, as well as two (or even three) steep descents (fun on snowshoes, less fun on skis). You eventually come to a stunning view of Merlin Meadows before a final descent to the campground. From there, it’s a slight incline (100 m elevation) for 1.5 kms back to Skoki Lodge.
PLAN YOUR TRIP TO SKOKI LODGE
Reservations for overnight accommodations can be made on the website www.skoki.com. Despite the muscle power required to get to Skoki Lodge, it is very difficult to get accommodations here, so book far ahead.
The closest international airport is Calgary, Alberta (YYC) and it’s about a two-hour drive from Calgary to Lake Louise. The dramatic change of scenery you’ll see from your vehicle is absolutely part of the experience, as Highway 1 slowly winds its way through the valleys and peaks of the Canadian Rockies.
PACK FOR YOUR ADVENTURE
Check the weather for your trip there and back. In any weather, the key is layering. You don’t want to count on your clothes to warm you up once you get cold; the trick is to continually stay warm. Here’s what I wore for snowshoeing in -27 degree weather (!):
Outer shell jacket (for wind)
Light down jacket (for warmth)
Long-sleeve wool shirt (for breathability)
Short-sleeve wool t-shirt (for breathability)
Soft shell, windproof pants
Warm, waterproof boots
Down tuque, neck warmer, down mitts and wool socks
I packed two extra jackets (a thin, windproof one and a light down one; both jackets packed into small bundles). I also brought an extra pair of mitts, small liner gloves, another tuque and another neck warmer. All items are light and bundle small to save space and weight. And yes, I ended up wearing it all.
Dress for the lodge
Don’t forget, you won’t be able to warm up with a shower, so bring cozy, warm clothing for the lodge. Here’s what I brought:
Two lounge pants (one doubles as PJs or extra thermal underwear if needed)
Two tank tops (one doubles as PJ top)
Two light sweaters (I counted on spilling some of my supper on one sweater during our 1st evening there, so I brought two). Both sweaters are made of light, breathable material, so they travel well.
2 pairs of warm socks (to avoid wearing the same socks I snowshoed in)
Down booties A godsend. Invest in a pair of down booties, they’re amazing and I wear them every chance I get.
First Aid kit (painkillers, blister-prevention bandages and duct tape) and emergency blanket You can get an aluminium emergency blanket for a few dollars, big enough for 2 people, which could save your life if you got stuck or injured in the backcountry.
Two headlamps (and extra batteries) You’ll need them in certain rooms which have very small windows. An electric lantern is provided for all rooms, but sometimes it’s just not enough.
The lodge provides each room with a wash basin, a Thermos of hot water every morning and evening, as well as face cloths and hand towels. There's an area in the lodge to dispose of grey water.
Baby wipes and deodorant No showers or running water means that you’ll have to sponge bath your way through your stay here. Since we happened to be there on Valentine’s Day, I even brought one of those tiny samples of perfume.
Ear plugs and eye mask If you’re staying in the main lodge, you’ll hear a hair elastic fall on the floor down the hall. Not to mention snorers in adjoining rooms and creaking floorboards. The walls are extremely thin and between some rooms, the gabled ceiling is open. The lodge does actually provide ear plugs for guests.
SPF cream Summer or winter, you’ll be outside for a few hours each day, so stick some SPF on it!
Toothbrush, travel toothpaste, floss, face wash and moisturizer Nothing new there.
Medications Don’t forget the stuff you really need, or anything that makes life easier. My eyes get super dry at night and tend to stick to my eyelids without my eyedrops - it’s the weirdest feeling ever. LOL
Dry shampoo I love wearing tuques, so I brought a few for my 3-day stay. But for those who don’t share my love of woollen beanies, travel-sized dry shampoo or baby powder will do the trick.
*** Covid revisions
A few elements about visiting Skoki Lodge have changed due to Covid:
1) Instead of taking a shuttle from the Fish Creek parking lot to Temple Lodge (where the trailhead is located), we were given VIP parking at the Lake Louise ski hill (in front of the main lodge). We then took the Gondola and Ptarmigan chair to Temple Lodge. On the return trip, we didn’t have to walk the extra 1.5 hours back to the Fish Creek parking lot; since we were parked at the ski hill, we were permitted to take the Ptarmigan chair and Gondola back to our car.
2) Communal dining didn’t take place at a long dining table with all the other guests. At the time of our reservation, we were told that we would eat in our room, at a table set up next to our beds, and that we would be waited upon one room at a time. However, certain restrictions were lifted just before our trip; we were permitted to sit at individual tables in the dining room downstairs (every room - cabin had its own table), giving our trip some social networking.
Skoki Lodge. Romantic. Rustic. Cozy. Tag, you're it.
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