Once you’ve visited Emerald Lake Lodge, the memory of this place – combined with the unique wilderness of Yoho National Park – buries itself in your bones. The result, according to writer Kim Gray? You’ll always be angling to return.
How often do you have to visit a place before you can call it a family tradition?
I’d like to say traveling to Emerald Lake Lodge in Yoho National Park is practically a tradition – but we’ve only been three times.
Our first visit to this historic lodge, originally built in 1902, took place years ago with extended family in tow. Our children were small at the time, but they were big enough to bundle up in snow gear and hike around the frozen lake with their grandfather.
A self-declared “mountain boy” since he was old enough to speak, our son soaked up this wilderness oasis – its winter-heavy forests, jagged snow-capped peaks and glittering, star-filled night sky.
I wouldn’t be surprised if our first experience at the lodge is what launched, at least in part, our daughter’s ongoing love of winter. She was wild with excitement when she returned from circling the icy shores with her Grandpa that visit. She’d never seen such ridiculous amounts of snow – not even in storybooks.
And my father-in-law, never one to make a fuss about a meal, still talks about the rustic lodge’s Rocky Mountain cuisine – a style of cooking that features locally-inspired dishes such as buffalo short ribs and sauteed chanterelles and elk striploin with sweet potato terrine.
But who wouldn’t enjoy a feast in the wilderness? Everything tastes better in the mountains.
Our second visit to this corner of Canada took place a few years later, only this time during summer – when it seemed all the world was paying Emerald Lake and her famous jade-au-lait waters a visit.
I recall being struck by the number of languages (Spanish, Italian, Swedish and so on) I overheard whenever we were at close proximity to other guests – whether we were hiking, canoeing or lounging in the outdoor hot-tub.
I also recall noting that the world seemed familiar with this extraordinary place – but how well, I wondered, was it known to Canadians?
Yoho National Park, after all, is home to over 400 kilometres of hiking trails, Takakkaw Falls (Canada’s third highest waterfall) and the Burgess Shale – a World Heritage Site and one of the planet’s most important fossil finds.
This time around, we were traveling with a dear friend and her young family who were visiting from France. For fun, I recently contacted her (she’s a Canadian who calls Paris home) and inquired as to what she recalls most about her time with us. She responded with this:
“I think it has to be the colour of the water – not really emerald, but a blend of the truest turquoise and palest green. It had an almost luminous quality. And even though it was a wet and overcast day, the lake shimmered and glowed. I also remember my three year old in her bright yellow raincoat against the beautiful blues, and a brush stroke of bright red gliding through the water which, of course, was your canoe. Being there felt Canadian, remote, wild and inspired.”
I own a silver locket that I often wear on a chain around my neck, commemorating our family’s visit from that summer. A gift for Mother’s Day from my husband, the locket holds two small photos – one of our son, the other of our daughter. Each child is framed by Emerald Lake’s impossibly colourful waters. I hold it dear.
My contact at Yoho National Park, Michael St. Denis, tells me that “Yoho” is a Cree word that suggests “awe and wonder.” Lucky for us, we were reminded of Emerald Lake’s “awesomeness” once again during a recent winter visit to the lodge.
Our children are older now and thanks to gear rentals from Emerald Sports & Gifts – run by two French Canadian sisters – we were able to snowshoe and cross-country ski throughout the park as a family. We enjoyed returning to this charming lakeside operation after our various outings for their signature cider, a drink that our daughter insists tasted like “warm apple pie.”
Yoho National Park was once again a frosty wonderland. We felt like characters in a life-sized snow globe – giant snowflakes falling steadily from a white winter sky – as we snowshoed around the lake or skied alongside a frozen river.
On the morning before we departed, I remember waking up beneath velvety bed covers to the smell of wood smoke mixed with crisp, fresh air. I remember feeling privileged to have bedded down in one of our country’s most remarkable national parks.
To launch your day in the silence and the simple beauty of Yoho no matter what time of year is something else. It’s the stuff of lifelong memories and has the makings, I would argue, for one heck of a family tradition.
*Note to reader: Our writer’s latest visit to Emerald Lake Lodge was supported by Toque & Canoe’s partners in tourism. This story was not reviewed or approved before publication.