Remote bike-in mountain lodge Shadow Lake Lodge of Canada - Ahulan

Remote bike-in mountain lodge Shadow Lake Lodge of Canada


These ancient cottages are exclusively accessible to hikers, skiers, snowshoers, and bikers in Banff National Park’s most beautiful areas

As I climbed another hill, I inhaled bitter mountain air and struggled to breathe. After traversing the first of three avalanche zones in Banff National Park to get to my hotel, I leaned over my fat bike handlebars and started pushing instead of pedaling. The cold caused my husband’s beard to freeze when he arrived.

Banff’s old Shadow Lake Lodge has no roadways. The only way to reach these remote backcountry cottages between the pine woods and Mount Ball’s towering face is to walk, snowshoe, ski, or ride 14km or 26km. The travel is often half the joy.


Autumn was our first trek to Shadow Lake Lodge with my hubby. We wanted to return this winter after walking through honey-hued larches reflected in Shadow Lake’s blue waters, resting in our gingerbread-like cottage, and eating a delicious supper in the lodge’s restaurant. However, I feared that my inadequate skiing abilities might leave me stuck in a snowdrift halfway up the route. Thus, when I learned that Banff National Park was testing fat riding on approved pathways, I was anxious to return to one of its most scenic backcountry sites on two wheels.

Fat bikes can handle snow, ice, sand, and muck better than ordinary bikes due to their huge frame and wheels. The park’s experimental program includes pedal assist e-bikes, which use cycling to activate the electric motor. Kim Logan of Banff and Lake Louise Tourism says it’s to encourage more visitors to the national park. “E-biking and fat biking allow less fit people to enjoy the terrain. Visitors and residents may enjoy our backyard again “added.


Fat biking in Banff

Fat bikes are available from many Banff and Lake Louise outfitters. Bikescape and Radventures provide electric fat bike trips in the park for non-alone riders.

Banff Cycle & Sport had our rental bikes when we arrived that morning. We were amazed by the motorcycles’ lightness despite their massive tires. The firm may arrange drop-off and pickup with early notice, but we fit both bikes in our Subaru and drove 15 minutes to the trailhead from downtown Banff.

We put on our packs, rode through the wildlife gate, and enjoyed the crunch of the snow under our wheels as we remembered the Shadow Lake Lodge’s free afternoon tea.

The lodge’s basic charms and friendliness impressed us when we first arrived. The lodge’s original log cabin, which is still the property’s heart, was built in 1930 in this remote southern corner of Banff National Park as a rest house. It is now a tired monument to the late 19th and early 20th century Canadian Pacific Rail (CPR) tourist boom.

After the eastern Canada-British Columbia line opened in 1885, the CPR built luxury hotels throughout the nation to promote train tourism. After discovering that more adventurous Banff guests desired to hike or ride horses into the mountains, meadows, and lakes, the CPR built a network of backcountry huts, including Shadow Lake Lodge’s original log house.

After the Great Depression in 1929, the CPR sold its assets to the Brewster family, who acquired the historic log home in 1938, 1km from glittering, glacial-fed Shadow Lake. The Brewsters lobbied Parks Canada to allow overnight accommodations, and in the 1990s, they built the series of cabins visitors see today, converting the original CPR cabin into a cozy lounge where guests can play games, read, or drink by the wood-burning stove.

It was the highlight of Calgary artist Leah Petrucci’s visit. “I loved the lounge and how [the shared space] encouraged you to mingle,” commented. “I was able to create a community with like-minded people, even if just for a short time.”

The Alpine Club of Canada took over the lodge in 2019 and has made thoughtful and sustainable changes, including sourcing all products locally and reducing its reliance on generators (the log cabins are now powered almost exclusively by solar panels installed in autumn 2023) Winter skiing, snowshoeing, and fat biking enthusiasts enjoy cozy mattresses with duvets, champagne by the fire, and hot showers with heated outhouses.

Fat bikes’ thick, pneumatic tyres skim the snow, so I attempted to remember the rental description of “floating above the snow” as if I could glide to my objective. But my spouse and I immediately realized that this snow-bound trek was no park ride. Fat bikes need more effort to accelerate on flat and hilly ground. The trailhead to lodge elevation rise is 400m, so we had our job cut out for us.

Pilot program

Parks Canada’s fat bike and pedal assist e-bike pilot program enables Banff National Park bikers to use approved trails. In addition to groomed routes, the park has three fat bike-friendly wilderness tracks: Red Earth Creek to Shadow Lake Lodge (14km one way) and the Healey Creek Trailhead (11.6km) or Cave and Basin Trailhead (16km) to Sundance Lodge.

We reached a steep, narrow trail where bikes are banned in summer after three hours. We sweated as we painstakingly rode our bikes up the climb until where the trail flattened and got a taste of the thrilling drop on the way down. We raced through a pine-scented rollercoaster of trees before emerging onto a winter-lit meadow. As we sped down an incline beside the glittering, ice-covered Red Earth Creek, we shouted like children.

Mount Ball appeared suddenly in the final km, dwarfing the other neighboring hills that surrounded the meadow and driving our exhausted legs to the snowy lodge. We were the first visitors to cycle into Shadow Lake Lodge this year, according to manager Alex Greenwood. “There’s not a ton of people doing it right now [in the park], but it’s definitely getting busier,” said.

After checking into our cabin and replacing our sweaty clothing for dry ones, we ate mushroom soup, truffle cheese, and chocolate chip cookies in the lodge’s dining area. In addition to afternoon tea, the resort provides all meals. After resting our legs in the original CPR cabin-turned-lounge and admiring the historical artifacts (a vintage radio, yellowing photos of the area and building, and certificates documenting the cabin’s build), we returned to the restaurant for a three-course dinner of spicy corn chowder, tenderloin steak in a fiery béarnaise, and chocolate cake before bed. We slept better than in a while under down and wool.

We left the following morning after a meal of poached eggs and bacon jam in puff pastry with creamy hollandaise. Mitch McNeil, the lodge’s winter maintenance manager, informed us we could cycle off-track as we wheeled our bikes out into the fresh snow-covered route. He intended to create a new track for skiers later that morning.

Ride anywhere you want, he said. “Just let ‘er rip!”

We did—and it was great.

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