Mount Engadine Lodge: A hidden gem in Kananaskis

Canada’s mountain national parks are as famed for their collection of enchanting wilderness lodges as they are for their breathtaking scenery. Many of the country’s historic lodges date back to the early part of the 20th century when they were built by the Canadian Pacific Railway. While many have been refurbished over the last hundred years, much of the historic charm remains. The lodges offer varying levels of accommodations for guests – from luxury mountain hideaways (Moraine Lake) to rustic retreats with no running water and electricity (Skoki & Assiniboine Lodges). Others, like Mount Engadine, Emerald Lake and Storm Mountain, fall somewhere in the middle – offering electricity and proper bathrooms, but excluding modern amenities such as televisions, WiFi, and cell service. For those irreversibly tied to their devices, it may sound like torture. However, the environment begs visitors to truly disconnect from technology for a spell and just get out and enjoy nature.

As with amenities, accessibility also varies wildly between lodges. A number are accessible by passenger car, including Emerald Lake Lodge, Moraine Lake Lodge, Mount Engadine, and Storm Mountain. Conversely, Assiniboine Lodge can only be accessed by foot or by air – either by a 17-mile one-way hike or 12-minute helicopter flight. Getting to Lake O’Hara in winter requires a 6.5-mile journey on skis or snowshoes, whereas a park shuttle offers an easier option during summer months. Skoki, a true backcountry shelter, can only be accessed by hiking, skiing or snowshoeing in – a 7-mile trip each way.

Despite the lack of accessibility and amenities, reservations at some of Canada’s Rocky Mountain lodges can be incredibly difficult to come by, especially ones such as Lake O’Hara, Skoki & Assiniboine. Surprisingly, however, we had no trouble booking at Mount Engadine.

Located in Spray Valley Provincial Park in Alberta’s Kananaskis Country, Mount Engadine is accessible by car yet still somewhat off the beaten path. The lodge sits just off the Smith Dorrien Trail, a 70-km (44-mile) stretch of dirt road that runs from Canmore to Upper & Lower Kananaskis Lakes. The scenic drive is known for its views and wildlife, and we thought it was an absolutely gorgeous backcountry route. I have to wonder if it’s the location that makes this lodge seemingly less popular than some of the others. It’s not within one of Canada’s more coveted national parks, and it requires visitors to take their vehicles off a perfectly paved road to get there. Regardless, it truly is a hidden gem.

About Mount Engadine Lodge

A Kananaskis treasure, the Mount Engadine Lodge is quite new compared to most of Canada’s other mountain retreats. The main lodge was originally built as a hostel by an Austrian/Swiss couple in 1987.A trio of meadow-view chalets was added in late 90s, followed by five glamping tents in 2018. By comparison, many of the other lodges in the Canadian Rockies were originally built between 1902 and 1931.

This backcountry shelter was named after a neighboring peak of the same name. Mt. Engadine – a 9,751’ (2,970 m) summit – was bestowed its moniker in 1917 to honor the HMS Engadine, a WWI cruiser that fought in the Battle of Jutland. Interestingly, a number of other mountains around Kananaskis also pay homage to battleships and crewmembers that fought in the Battle of Jutland, including Mts. Sparrowhawk, Shark, Galatea, Indefatigable, and Warspite. Historians suggest the names were a show of solidarity with the British Empire and Royal Navy. While there was no significant presence of Canadian troops at Jutland, more than 600,000 Canadians enlisted in the Great War, and many had direct or close ties with Britain.

One of the smaller lodges in Canada’s mountain national parks, Mount Engadine can accommodate just nineteen guests per night, making it a tranquil little getaway. The lodge offers a variety of accommodations, including individual cabin suites, glamping tents, and lodge rooms, and many of the rooms are pet-friendly. The rooms here are rustic and cozy, and the only electronics you’ll find inside are bedside lamps, fans, and space heaters. No televisions, no alarm clocks, no cell service, and no WiFi (although it is available in the main lodge only). It really is the perfect place to disconnect from everything.

For the environmentally minded, Mount Engadine is also EcoStay certified. The proprietors are committed to reducing their environmental footprint and continue to promote sustainable tourism. All of the toiletry products offered within the rooms and glamping tents are from Rocky Mountain Soap Company and certified cruelty-free, all-natural and eco-friendly. With fresh scents like coconut and lemongrass, it gives a little spa-like quality to the wilderness retreat.

Most importantly, though, this quiet little lodge offers easy access to some of the most beautiful hiking and cross-country ski trails in Kananaskis Country. The resort itself is perched at the edge of a sprawling meadow alongside Commonwealth Creek, with sweeping views of Mt. Birdwood & Mt. Smuts. It’s an absolutely stunning swath of K Country wilderness.

When you’re not outside exploring the trails, Mount Engadine’s incredible staff are busy tending to your every need. The lodge provides three delicious meals a day while carefully accommodating just about any dietary restriction or food allergy. Your stay even includes a daily afternoon tea. Not your typical high tea, this one comes with an enormous charcuterie board and small desserts. It’s kind of a sight to behold.

Afternoon tea

If you find yourself exploring Kananaskis Country, we’d highly recommend making a reservation for Mount Engadine’s famous afternoon tea. Each day from 2 to 5 pm, the lodge offers their spin on the English tradition – including an assortment of beautiful teas from Banff Tea Company, coffee, and hot cider. Your beverage of choice is paired with a generous charcuterie board overflowing with artisanal meats and cheeses as well as house-made chutneys, hummus, and beer mustard. If that doesn’t fill you up, it’s all finished off with a small dessert (Sundays are reserved for their famous strudel).

While the standard charcuterie boards are piled high with an assortment fine cheeses and meats, the lodge even offers a special vegan board. Mine was a delicious and dizzying collection of crackers, vegan cheese, fresh veggies, dried fruits, chutneys, spreads, nuts and seeds. It was incredible, and made even better when paired with a hot cider or peppermint tea. Enjoying our not-so-ordinary high tea on the large, sun-drenched deck every afternoon while exchanging trail recommendations with other guests was one of the highlights of our stay, and one we won’t soon forget.

Sanchez, of course, agreed with this sentiment. Every day, she’d spend six or eight hours exploring the mountains, then return to the lodge where she was warmly welcomed with a mountain of meats and cheeses… I can’t imagine a happier pup.

If you’re not a guest at the lodge, you can still pop in for an afternoon tea and enjoy the beautiful fare on the outdoor patio overlooking the meadow. In 2022, the price was $35 CAD/person. Pro tip: if you find yourself in the area on a Sunday, it’s strudel day!

For more info, check out:

Our experience

I came across Mount Engadine Lodge completely by chance one afternoon while researching hikes around Banff and Kananaskis Country. After reading a couple of reviews of their afternoon tea and seeing a few pics of the charming cabins, my interest was instantly piqued.

Over the next couple weeks in July, I found myself habitually coming back to read more about the lodge and scope out their reservation calendar. Finally, I proposed to Stephan that we splurge on a long weekend getaway in October – once our side of the Trans-Canada Highway closed for construction and made travel to Alberta significantly more of a hassle. That way, we’d have a few days of hiking without having to worry about the onerous detour. As soon as I showed him a picture of their massive charcuterie boards and suggested Sanchez would be in doggy heaven, he had a cabin suite booked.

When we reserved our stay for the first weekend in October, we thought we’d maybe catch the tail end of the larches’ fleeting fall show. However, with an unseasonably warm and extended summer delaying the conifers’ turn to gold, we unexpectedly found ourselves in Kananaskis at the height of color. To say we lucked out on timing would be a massive understatement.

We spent three nights in Mount Engadine’s Burstall room – one of three private cabin suites housed in a single building. While the rooms were very basic in terms of modern amenities, it was such a cozy space. The décor was appropriately ‘rustic ski cabin,’ the beds had quality linens, and a small space heater took the chill off on a brisk fall evening. A shared deck outfitted with Adirondack chairs and a gorgeous mountain view offered the perfect place to relax for a bit before dinner each night.

While our primary goal was to spend as much time as possible exploring the nearby trails, we similarly enjoyed every minute we spent back at the lodge. While the accommodations also provide guests a comfy retreat, Mount Engadine’s real claim to fame is its first-class service. The staff here are unbelievably friendly and attentive, and go out of their way to ensure your stay is perfect. Additionally, because the lodge accommodates so few guests, it creates a really warm and homey atmosphere. We’ve stayed at a number of five-star resorts around the globe and, without question, the service we had at Mount Engadine was unparalleled.

Similar to the staff, the food at Mount Engadine is also top-notch. Overnight guest meals include a two-course breakfast, packed lunch, and three-course dinner – in addition to the afternoon tea. The kitchen team works diligently to accommodate any food allergies and dietary restrictions (e.g. vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free). For me, as a vegan, eating out feels stressful under the best of circumstances, let alone when I have just one source of food available. However, the waitstaff always made sure I knew I was given the vegan option, and they even had a vegan selection for the bagged lunches they provided each day. Not only was the food delicious and the chef mindful, but it was always thoughtfully crafted and presented. It never felt like an afterthought compared to what Stephan was served. I feel like a lot of places will slap a salad or a few veggies around and act like it’s a huge bother, or try to pass it off as if it’s some sort of culinary masterpiece. At Mount Engadine, every meal felt filling, nutritious and fresh, and I couldn’t have been more impressed.

A huge bonus for us was that many of the rooms at Mount Engadine are dog-friendly – including the cabin suites, glamping tents and Elk (lodge) suite. Furry friends were also allowed (leashed, of course) in the common sitting areas in the main lodge as well as on the large outdoor patio. The lodge’s foyer even boasts a gallery of ‘Mount Engadine dogs’ – a collection of Polaroids of happy-faced pups that serves as a digital doggy guest book.

If you love the outdoors and are looking for a memorable experience where you can truly disconnect from the distractions and din of everyday life, we can’t recommend this place enough. Clearly, we’re not alone. Mount Engadine was recently named to Fodor’s list of the 101 Most Incredible Hotels in the World for 2022, and we think they more than earned their spot. There’s no glitz, no glamour, and none of the other over-the-top extravagances that you’d associate with many of the swanky stays on that list. Rather Mount Engadine stands out for the one thing they do best – simplicity. This place is truly a hidden gem, and we are already looking forward to a return visit.

Nearby hikes

With nine provincial parks and hundreds of trails to explore around Kananaskis Country, there’s enough to keep you busy for years. And with Mount Engadine located centrally to a number of these trails, it’s the perfect hub for getting outside. There’s a whole host of trails right near the lodge to accommodate varying abilities of hiking or scrambling, so you should be able to find something that fits your skill level. If you don’t know where to begin, ask one of Mount Engadine’s awesome staff members. Many are outdoor enthusiasts with extensive knowledge of the local trails. If you’re interested in more details from some of our outings, check out the links below:

6.5 miles (10.5 km); 3,300’ (1,000 m) elevation

Burstall Pass
10 miles (16 km); 2,000’ (600 m) elevation

Headwall Lakes/The Fortress/Chester Lake (scramble)
12 miles (19 km); 3,900’ (1,200 m) elevation

Rawson Lake/Sarrail Ridge
7.5 miles (12 km); 2,500’ (750 m) elevation

With such a short stay – and a few trails that we’d hoped to hike closed to bear activity – we obviously didn’t even begin to scratch the surface of what the area had to offer. With any luck, we’ll be making a return trip next summer/fall to explore more. If you’d like some additional routes to research, here are a few more suggestions that are right near Mount Engadine:

  • Tent Ridge – 6.5 miles (11 km); 2,500’ (750 m) elevation
  • Rummel Lake – 6 miles (10 km); 1,400’ (420 m) elevation
  • Tryst Lake – 4.5 miles (7 km); 1,300’ (400 m) elevation
  • Smuts Pass/Birdwood Lakes – 9 miles (15 km); 2,000’ (600 m) elevation

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