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A Stay at Atnarko Retreat on Charlotte Lake in the Chilcotin

Just a few weeks ago John and I spent four nights with Heidy and Daniel, the owners of Atnarko Retreat on gorgeous Charlotte Lake in the Chilcotin region of BC. Our stay was part of a two week holiday I’d planned to explore a region of British Columbia I knew nothing about.

"The view from our bed"

The view from our bed

Where is Atnarko Lodge?

Atnarko Lodge sits at the end of a quiet bay on Charlotte Lake on the Chilcotin Plateau, 290 kilometres west of Williams Lake. In otherwards you’re in the middle of nowhere. The lodge itself is 20 kilometres in from Highway 20 via dirt roads – with the nearest towns being Nimpo Lake and Anahim Lake, 45 minutes and an hour away respectively.

"A view of Atnarko Retreat from the water"

A view of Atnarko Lodge from the water

Early in the trip planning process I’d spoken with Steve, the fellow who runs the fabulous Juniper Trails B&B in Williams Lake, about where to stay in this area. He gave Heidy and Daniel a big thumbs up and told me to check them out. So I did. And their location on Charlotte Lake was enough to entice me to book for four nights – though I didn’t know what we’d do out in the middle of nowhere – more on that later.

The drive into the retreat takes a solid half hour – the way we drive but maybe only twenty minutes if you can drive like Heidy when she’s behind the wheel of their Swiss made, 50 year old army vehicle.

"Fifty year old Swiss army truck for getting around"

Fifty year old Swiss army truck for getting around

When you arrive at Atnarko Retreat, Heidy and Daniel instantly appear and give you a great big welcome and a tour of your log cabin.

"The cabin on the right contains three units"

The cabin on the right contains three units

You have a choice of three units. We picked one without kitchen facilities and left the cooking to Heidy – a pink job as she calls it.

Our room was simple – no phones or TV – though there was free WiFi. Two twin beds separated by a nightstand are arranged with a view out to Charlotte Lake. There’s a table and four chairs, a big stone fireplace and all the free wood you can use plus a private bathroom with a shower. The room is SPOTLESS too! 

"The bathroom"

Out in front of the cabin is a deck – though it’s one that’s meant to be shared with other guests.

"A deck that's meant to be shared"

A deck that’s meant to be shared

There’s also a wood fired hot tub – a design of Daniels. It’s made of cedar so it smells fantastic. He heats it up in about four hours with wood from felled pine beetle infested trees. The water is changed daily so no chemicals are used. It’s a lovely way to relax, and the view is pretty darned good too.

"A wood fired hot tub with a view"

A wood fired hot tub with a view

Heidy offers three meals a day at extremely reasonable prices. It’s home cooking – nothing too fancy but always delicious. It’s served in the main room of their home with a fabulous view of the lake. Heidy and Daniel may or may not sit down with you for a meal depending on what they’ve got going on. Both John and I found their company to be congenial and fun.

Breakfast is Swiss style so there’s freshly baked bread most mornings from a sourdough type starter that Heidy feeds regularly, jams, assorted cheeses, fruit and cold cereals. Juice, coffee and tea are offered too – all for only $7.50 per person. And you get to listen to Swiss radio – no CBC here!

If you want a lunch Heidy will pack you a generous sized one – again for $7.50 per person. In it you’ll get a sandwich, fruit, GORP, a bar and perhaps a drink.

Dinner varies greatly. Heidy definitely plans meals around your dislikes and allergies. We had chicken and rice one night, a Thai noodle dish with prawns on another, a traditional pork dish served with pasta and good old spaghetti. Salad is served every night as is dessert. One night Heidy presented us with an amazing Swiss dessert that looked like a soufflé but wasn’t, served with a side of crème Anglais. I was very impressed.

But what can you do at the end of the road in the middle of nowhere?

There’s actually a lot to do or nothing at all. It just depends how you feel. Another couple staying at the retreat didn’t leave the place for four days. They watched the birds, photographed the wildlife and read. So those are possibilities.

On a sunny day you can go in for a dip or a swim in the lake depending on how hardy you are.

We availed ourselves of their kayaks after dinner one night and went out for a paddle. You could make a day of it though you need to keep an eye on the wind.

"John kayaking on Charlotte Lake at dusk"

John kayaking on Charlotte Lake at dusk

If you’re into fishing then bring your own boat and launch from the dock or rent their boat. They sell the fishing licenses and you can expect to catch a lot of rainbow trout.

Daniel loves his ATV and is happy to take you on a tour – for a fee of course. They tell me the Europeans really like this as off-roading with an ATV is illegal in Switzerland.

Hiking is also a possibility. In fact for the better part of one day Heidy played tour guide and took us on a beautiful hike to the Kappan Lookout.

"View to the Coast Mountains from the Kappan Lookout"

View to the Coast Mountains from the Kappan Lookout

"Heidy having fun at the summit of the Kappan Lookout"

Heidy having fun at the summit of the Kappan Lookout

On another day we drove to the Rainbow Range trailhead (granted it was a bit of a drive) and did one of the best one day hikes of our lives.

You could have a float-plane show up at the beach and take a scenic tour of the area – something I highly recommend doing. It’s not cheap but it’s definitely worth it.

And if you want a massage look no further than Heidy. She is certified and has a fully decked out massage therapy room in the main lodge. I should have booked a foot massage!

I should also mention the wildlife. Although we didn’t see any bears they do have them around. The same goes for moose. We did see foxes – two different types and deer which was definitely a bonus.

The only item I would have loved in our room is a mini fridge – and more so that we wouldn’t have to bother Heidy or Daniel as they were happy to put our items in their fridge. However they are completely off the grid here and run the whole show via solar power. So I understand that there is only so much energy available for electrical appliances.

Would I stay here again? You bet.

"The sky at about 10 pm"

The sky at about 10 pm – in early August

I can’t say enough good things about the hospitality afforded us over our visit. Both Heidy and Daniel went out of their way to make our stay a memorable one. But Atnarko Retreat is not the Ritz. It’s a place to go and unwind. To explore. To reconnect. And I suspect you’ll leave more relaxed than when you arrived.

Leigh McAdam

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Author Leigh

Avid world traveler. Craves adventure – & the odd wildly epic day. Gardener. Reader. Wine lover. Next big project – a book on 100 Canadian outdoor adventures.

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Join the discussion 19 Comments

  • Shing @ Blog Me Travel says:

    The image captioned ‘view from our bed’ could not possibly be any more idyllic – it’s the perfect poster image for a hotel claiming to have ‘a room with a view!’

    And the view of the Coast Mountains from Kappan Lookout is disgustingly beautiful – combined with foxes and massages – I can’t even hide my jealously!

  • Shing @ Blog Me Travel says:

    The image captioned ‘view from our bed’ could not possibly be any more idyllic – it’s the perfect poster image for a hotel claiming to have ‘a room with a view!’

    And the view of the Coast Mountains from Kappan Lookout is disgustingly beautiful – combined with foxes and massages – I can’t even hide my jealously!

  • Mary @ Fit and Fed says:

    That first photo sucked me right in, made me look up how far away this place is from where I live….. about 14 hours drive from Seattle. But I’ll get there someday, or maybe in my dreams. Meanwhile I’m bookmarking that photo.

  • Mary @ Fit and Fed says:

    That first photo sucked me right in, made me look up how far away this place is from where I live….. about 14 hours drive from Seattle. But I’ll get there someday, or maybe in my dreams. Meanwhile I’m bookmarking that photo.

  • Marlys says:

    Would love to stay in a cabin like that. And the views are gorgeous.

  • Marlys says:

    Would love to stay in a cabin like that. And the views are gorgeous.

  • Jackie Smith says:

    A question for you: did you drive a conventional car to this place or does it require a four-wheel drive vehicle. You’ve made us want to go; I’ll be checking their rates right after I finish this comment!

  • Jackie Smith says:

    A question for you: did you drive a conventional car to this place or does it require a four-wheel drive vehicle. You’ve made us want to go; I’ll be checking their rates right after I finish this comment!

  • John says:

    Jackie:

    We drove our Volvo station wagon right to Atnarko Lodge and it is perfectly fine for most any car. From the highway it is a wide gravel road that can accommodate large trucks and just follow the signs to the lodge. The last few miles the road is narrower and is locally more sandy than gravel so you will need to slow down but it is a fun road and you might see some wildlife.

    Now, if you were going in winter better check with Heidy and Daniel before heading out but you’d probably want 4 wheel drive then.

    Safe travels and have fun.

    John

  • John says:

    Jackie:

    We drove our Volvo station wagon right to Atnarko Lodge and it is perfectly fine for most any car. From the highway it is a wide gravel road that can accommodate large trucks and just follow the signs to the lodge. The last few miles the road is narrower and is locally more sandy than gravel so you will need to slow down but it is a fun road and you might see some wildlife.

    Now, if you were going in winter better check with Heidy and Daniel before heading out but you’d probably want 4 wheel drive then.

    Safe travels and have fun.

    John

  • Muza-chan says:

    Great post, as usual :)

  • Gatofeo says:

    Our family had a cabin built on the same bay in 1972. Sold it in 2012 to friends, after 40 years of going to Charlotte Lake. I miss her, but it had become too much of a task to drive there from Utah, where I now live. I miss Charlotte, like I’d miss an old girlfriend whose obituary I just read, but Life goes on.
    Charlotte Lake is as beautiful as the photos show. Fishing is best from ice breakup to July. August, it tapers off, often drastically, and doesn’t return to mid September. Only gamefish in the lake is native Rainbow Trout, with meat as brilliant red as the wildest salmon. Best trout you will ever eat, anywhere in North America.
    A fish detector will reveal thousands of trout within 20 feet of the surface down the middle of the bay and lake, but avoid them — they don’t feed or strike. Instead, fish waters no deeper than 20 feet. Cruise along the shoreline and cast toward shore into just a few feet from the shoreline.
    Best lures are red Flatfish, red and white spoons, bronze and silver Krokodiles or black Mepps with silver spinner.
    Always have matches, pocket knife, a small container of bug juice and an emergency, disposable rain jacket in your pocket. IN YOUR POCKET — not a survival kit you’ll leave behind. Winds come up quickly from the West, forcing you to beach the boat to avoid waves 6 feet high.
    The long bay (locals call it Smith Cove or Flaten Bay) where the lodge is located can get high waves too. Don’t rely on it for shelter. You can drink water straight from the lake, untreated. We did it up to 2012, without a problem in 40 years.
    Summer days can climb near 100 Fahrenheit, and two days later it can be 45, raining and windy. Bring warm clothing, even in summer. Nights can be chilly. Mosquitoes are ferocious (worse than the jungles of Panama!) in May and June. By early July they begin to die off.
    Dip a hand in Charlotte Lake for me, and tell her that the “ugly cat” misses her.

    • @Gatofeo You win the award for the best comment in a very long time! 40 years is a long time – and I love your analogy to a girlfriend’s obituary. I also really loved the Rainbow Mountains and some of the hiking within about a 30 minute drive. Definitely a special place.

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