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Sundance Lodge: Banff’s Secret Winter Destination

I wouldn’t call myself a creature of routine. I thrive on change and new experiences. But there are exceptions and a winter ski trip into Sundance Lodge in Banff National Park is one of those exceptions. I first learned about the lodge through a blog a number of years ago but for the most part this place remains a secret in winter. Few people have heard about it or even know that its open in winter – and yet the parent company, Banff Trail Riders, is well-known for its summer horseback rides and overnight excursions into the lodge.

Sundance Lodge: Banff's Secret Winter Destination

Lucky to have fresh snow as we leave from the Cave and Basin parking lot

I love this backcountry lodge for a lot of reasons. Getting there via a 13 kilometre cross-country ski in makes me feel alive and well exercised. I’m not sure a group of four John and I met from France who rode up on fat bikes would be quite so enthusiastic – especially as one of the woman hadn’t been on a bike in over a year. It was a slog for them in fresh snow but a delight on skis. (Still they too loved the lodge!)

Sundance Lodge: Banff's Secret Winter Destination

It’s a 13 km ski into Sundance Lodge from the Cave and Basin parking lot

There’s an ambiance to Sundance Lodge that keeps me coming back. Unlike most backcountry lodges I’ve visited, hot showers and indoor plumbing is available. That sure beats a frigid walk outside to a smelly outhouse in the middle of the night! Well-appointed cowboy themed private rooms, in my experience, have been quiet. I’ve never heard my neighbour one room over snoring. The main living area – adorned again with all things cowboy related like horseshoe candle holders, horseshoe wood holders, brightly coloured blankets, a couple of mounted deer heads and a handful of funny signs, is cozy with a wood burning stove and lots of seating.

Sundance Lodge: Banff's Secret Winter Destination

The main sitting area with a wood-burning fireplace

Sundance Lodge: Banff's Secret Winter Destination

Looking through the driving snow to the warmth of Sundance Lodge

Eating at Sundance Lodge

And then there’s the food. This year Skye Jackson is the cook and she’s the best I’ve encountered at the lodge so far.

Here’s a sampling of what we enjoyed. Freshly baked cookies and a hot drink on arrival; dinner on the first night included cedar planked salmon, rice pilaf, veges, salad and fresh pie. On the second night BBQ beef brisket replaced the salmon and a homemade Black Forest cake the fresh pie. Breakfast both days offered a choice of fruit, yogurt and granola as a starter. Main courses included breakfast sausages or bacon along with an egg frittata or pancakes. Skye also whipped up crispy potato fritters along with fresh baked muffins. Really I could go on but suffice to say there’s lots of choice, she works around allergies and dislikes and you definitely won’t leave the table hungry!

Sundance Lodge: Banff's Secret Winter Destination

Fresh home-baked chocolate chip cookies are offered on arrival

Sundance Lodge: Banff's Secret Winter Destination

Skye Jackson the cook did an awesome job and everything was made from scratch

Sundance Lodge: Banff's Secret Winter Destination

Heed the signs in the kitchen

What to do if you stay two nights at Sundance Lodge

Sundance Lodge is the only backcountry lodge I’m aware of in the Rockies where there isn’t a two night minimum stay. (There are rare exceptions.) On our other trips to the lodge we’ve only stayed a night and have always left right after breakfast. This time we had two nights which made it all that much more relaxing.

We lingered over breakfast and drank copious quantities of coffee. We curled up with a good book by the fire and enjoyed some down time reading. And eventually we got our proverbial butts off the couch, packed up a lunch and headed out for several hours of cross-country skiing beyond the lodge. As it was early in the season, few people had ventured out past the lodge, though we did have  some partially filled cross-country tracks to follow for the first couple of kilometres. It’s possible to ski up the trail as far as Halfway Hut (10 miles or 16 kilometres past the lodge), an overnight facility the company uses on their summer trail rides located below Allenby Pass. Please note that although we only skied a fraction of the distance to Halfway Hut, there is a section that crosses avalanche terrain so you should be well-equipped if you plan to go all the way.

The skiing past the lodge is truly delightful. While overall you are skiing up, the grade is minimal. There are several bluffs offering views that would be fabulous on a bluebird day. We skied a total of about 8 kilometres – enough to feel like we got some exercise and a sense of the landscape beyond the lodge. For much of the trail we followed day old cougar tracks. While that might scare some people I think it would be a thrill to see one in the wild. No such luck!

Sundance Lodge: Banff's Secret Winter Destination

We followed day old cougar tracks for some time

Sundance Lodge: Banff's Secret Winter Destination

Skiing alongside the river beyond Sundance Lodge

Sundance Lodge: Banff's Secret Winter Destination

Beautiful cross-country skiing beyond Sundance Lodge

Sundance Lodge: Banff's Secret Winter Destination

John outside the remains of Turtle Tom cabin, near our turn around point

Photographers, whether you’re visiting for one night or two, bring a tripod as some nights you can catch the northern lights dancing above the lodge. It was snowy and very cold (-25°C) when we were there but still very beautiful to go out and wander around.

Sundance Lodge: Banff's Secret Winter Destination

If you’re lucky you may see the Northern Lights dance above the lodge

Do you have to ski into Sundance Lodge?

Most people elect to cross-country ski into the lodge. The shortest option leaves from Healey Creek off the Sunshine Road. From there it’s 9.3 kilometres in. If you start at the Cave and Basin area you’ll have a 13 kilometre ski in and you can expect it to take you anywhere from three to five hours. Most people do it in about 3.5 hours. From the Banff townsite there’s approximately 1,000 feet of vertical gain.

Snowshoeing is also an option as is fat biking. Fat biking is fine if there isn’t any snow in the forecast and the trail is well packed. Otherwise it will be a “grunt” going both up and down.

Sundance Lodge: Banff's Secret Winter Destination

Fat biking is another way to get to Sundance Lodge

If you’re looking for a tranquil winter getaway whether it be for one night or two, plan a trip into Sundance Lodge. Routefinding is easy!! And a few days of exercise, great food and delightful company will do a lot for your soul.

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Sundance Lodge: Banff's Secret Winter Destination

A huge thank you to Sundance Lodge for making our trip possible. Truly, this is a lodge you want to visit.

Leigh McAdam

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
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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 3 Comments

  • That looks like such a picturesque place. I’ll put it on my to do list for next winter. Those cougar tracks are awesome, something really special to see.

  • Maureen Shenher says:

    Hello Leigh
    Would love to win a pair of urban poles to use walking around town and hiking in the Alberta Rockies, my favourite weekend destination!
    Thanks for all of your great and inspirational twitter posts, I really enjoy them. You get out to so many wonderful places! Definitely my “dream job” (or maybe that is retirement?!).
    Best wishes
    Maureen Shenher

  • farenexus nexus says:

    This looks like such a picturesque place. This is the favourite weekend place?

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