Playtime in the Canadian Rockies

Marching through the seasons at Mount Engadine Lodge

All photos by Kim and David Gray with Mount Engadine Lodge, near Canmore AB

Editor’s note: This post is the result of an arm’s-length collaboration with Mount Engadine Lodge.


By Kim Gray

No matter what the season, there’s a simplicity and rhythm to backcountry lodge experiences in the Canadian Rockies that I crave.

Morning typically launches with a strong cup of coffee, a hearty breakfast on the menu and, if lodge guests are lucky, a stirring mountain sunrise.

After invigorating outdoor adventures in the wild, guests commune over dinner and exchange stories about their exploits.

And at night, they enjoy blissful sleeps that are only possible after days filled with fresh air, exercise and great food.

The next morning? Repeat.

No question, these backcountry immersions offer visitors a chance to step back from the complexities of city life, embrace nature and recharge.

So when an opportunity arose to collaborate with Mount Engadine Lodge — sharing seasonal snapshots of what this jewel of a mountain getaway looks like — you can bet I jumped all over it.

As flurries continue to fly in Western Canada’s mountain parks, I begin with the snowiest of seasons.



It’s a chilly, late afternoon in winter when my husband David and I pull up to Mount Engadine Lodge, located less than two hours by car from Calgary.

We arrive just in time for the lodge’s popular tea service, so we walk directly through the cozy building (originally built in 1987 by a Swiss/Austrian couple), past the welcome warmth of a wood-burning fireplace, and outside.

On a large deck looking out to the Kananaskis Range of Spray Valley Provincial Park, we rally with other puffy-coat-clad guests, mostly Canadians, enjoying mugs of hot drinks and artfully arranged charcuterie platters.

We nestle into roomy Adirondack chairs with warm blankets on our laps and, together, we watch the setting sun slowly cast a spectacular orchid-pink glow on the snow-capped mountains before us.

Our fellow guests are other couples, small friend groups, a few young families and a handful of solo travellers. At this moment, it appears that there’s nowhere else on the planet any of us would rather be.

Eventually, David and I head to our quarters — a heated glamping tent dubbed Peakbagger, set on a wooden platform and one of several kinds of accommodations (including cabins, rooms and even a yurt) offered at the lodge.

In the company of a few curious Whiskey Jacks (otherwise known as Gray Jays) that have come to greet us, we prepare for the following day’s adventures by unloading our snowshoes and cross-country skis onto our private porch.



Peakbagger has everything we need: high-quality linens and a thick duvet, an inviting king-sized bed with a cushiony pillow-top mattress, a small gas fireplace, a couch and a charming wooden table for two.

We love its minimalist mountain aesthetic, enhanced by the Rocky Mountain Soap Co.’s deliciously fragrant “Wild Kindness” shampoo and conditioner found in the tent’s private bathroom and shower. There’s also hot and cold running water and a flushable toilet. (Did I mention this is a glamping tent?)

Eventually, we return to the main lodge for dinner: pea soup with fresh mint to start, tender lamb shanks as the main course and a taste-bud tingling lemon curd in phyllo pastry for dessert.

The lodge’s dining scene is relaxed in the best way possible, with a red canoe suspended from the ceiling setting the tone.

Guests have swapped out heavy winterwear for flannel shirts, fleece jackets and slippers. A handful of them mingle with other visitors, striking up light conversation about the day’s events, while others opt to keep quietly, contentedly, to themselves.

During our frosty visit to Mount Engadine Lodge, we cross-country ski on groomed trails and snowshoe, pink-cheeked, around the wintry meadow below. We even test out the lodge swing, which makes us feel like teenagers again.

But if winter is a time to play, it’s also an opportunity for rest and reflection.

We equally enjoy sipping coffee in the lodge lounge during the blue hours of early morning, spoiled by staff who take pride in making crackling fires for us. We return to our tent several times to unwind and get lost in our novels. And a dark, star-filled sky entices us outside for bracing, late-night walks.

Leaving Mount Engadine Lodge isn’t easy. We’re barely back on the highway and we’re already yearning to return to this unique wilderness sanctuary — unforgettably cozy during winter’s night, hugged by snow-covered trees and sleeping mountains all around.



It’s springtime at Mount Engadine Lodge and David and I are beyond happy to be tucked back into the glamping tent we’ve come to know as Peakbagger.

There’s a sense of renewal and optimism in the air. Winter’s frigid temperatures, along with its mountains of snow, have retreated. The land around us feels wild and alive.

As a couple, we relish all kinds of weather, agreeing wholeheartedly with the late British outdoorsman Alfred Wainwright who famously wrote: “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.”

We experience it all on this trip: sun, wind, cloud and rain. Fortunately, we’ve packed everything from sunscreen to warm layers to waterproof gear.

Winter clings to the peaks above while down below, rivers and creeks have begun to thaw, exposing powerful, glacier-fed waters.

Grizzly bears are waking up and wandering down the mountains in search of food, and we feel privileged to spot one of these furry giants lumbering through the trees not far from the lodge.

Fat-bottomed Richardson’s ground squirrels, visibly pleased with the warmer weather, pop up and surprise us at every turn.

At dinner, after exploring nearby trails, we enjoy a meal featuring sweet potato coconut soup followed by beef risotto. A lover of all things citrus, I’m thrilled to see the lodge’s lemon curd in phyllo pastry once again on offer for dessert.

David has recently become an enthusiastic bird photographer which means that between courses, we flip through his handy Birds of the Canadian Rockies guidebook and wonder aloud which of these feathered friends we might see.

We rise early the next morning, hours before breakfast is served, and drive to nearby Buller Pond where we’re excited to discover a pair of blue-winged teals, fast-flying dabbling ducks with gorgeous markings.



We hear a loon call that is so haunting it sends shivers up our spines. When we’re finally able to spot the iconic bird across the pond, it’s a sight to behold as it gloriously splashes and preens its tail feathers.

Two glossy black ravens also make an appearance, impressing us with their large size, unusual calls and intelligent, charismatic behaviour.

Highlights from our spring immersion at Mount Engadine Lodge?

Imprinted on my mind is the dusty-rose sunrise that lights up the land on our early morning birdwatching expedition.

And the scrumptious apple strudel served with afternoon tea also leaves an impression, as does the rare, two-hour afternoon nap that I enjoy. (When does that ever happen?)

In the end, our spring visit to the lodge leaves us notably energized, grateful to have spent time with the wildlife that thrives on these eastern slopes of the Canadian Rockies and eager for what our upcoming summer visit will bring.



With winter and spring adventures at Mount Engadine Lodge under our belts, we’re back during summer, again just in time (no coincidence!) for the legendary tea service.

We walk through the lodge’s main building — cool in the summer heat and with the soulful sounds of Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic” floating through the air — only this time around, when we arrive on the deck, we join other guests from around the globe.

It’s summer in the Canadian Rockies, after all, and the world has arrived.

Enjoying the mountain vista are Italian, French and Belgian travellers, who we’ll swap stories with later at dinner over a bottle of El Enemigo Chardonnay, salad with grapes, pecans and smoked gorgonzola, wild salmon with white bean cassoulet and chocolate pots de crème.

Peakbagger is booked so my husband and I check into Wolverine, another one of the lodge’s five glamping tents; we’re pleased to find the lay-out is almost exactly the same.

After tea, we take our e-bikes for a pre-dinner spin. They’re a luxury we occasionally afford ourselves; although we typically ride regular road bikes, their skinny tires are less suitable for backcountry riding.

Kananaskis Country in summer has a sweet, soothing vibe.

The air is warm and fragrant. Everywhere you look, there’s an abundance of wildflowers: orange western wood lilies, yellow lady’s slippers and purple shooting stars. The sheer beauty of it all can melt your heart.

This sweetness goes next level the following morning when we walk into the main dining room for breakfast and a handful of grinning, wide-eyed guests ask us, “Did you see the mother moose and her calf?”



We tiptoe out to the deck where others are observing the giant, long-legged animals as they daintily step through the lush meadow below.

Mount Engadine Lodge is famous for its local moose population. We’ve observed them here before on previous visits, but seeing these “swamp donkeys” in the wild never gets old.

After a breakfast of strawberry crepes with whipped cream and croissants stuffed with scrambled eggs and bacon, we pack our bags with plans to hike up to nearby Chester Lake before driving back to Calgary. Lodge staff make us bagged lunches for the road, a welcome perk provided to guests for daily adventures.

Our half-day hike to Chester Lake is wonderful. We enjoy stretching our legs, hoofing it past emerald-green larch trees that flank the trail and carefully stepping around mounds of berry-filled bear scat (making lots of noise so we don’t surprise any animals) along the way.

When we arrive at the lake’s shoreline, we find a place to sit and devour our lunch — wholesome sandwiches with all the fixings, vegetable crudités on the side and yummy baked cookies for dessert.

We take our time, drinking in the view of this impossibly turquoise alpine lake and savouring a few last carefree moments before heading home.



During our autumn drive to Mount Engadine Lodge, I’m reminded that every journey through Alberta’s beloved Kananaskis Country is an invitation to play outdoors.

This time around, we stop along the way to hike a popular trail called Ptarmigan Cirque and search for its namesake, an uncommon bird with feathery feet designed to function like snowshoes in winter.

Ptarmigans, which prefer walking to flying, have plumage that changes with the seasons, making them near-impossible to spot.

We luck out and find a pair feeding near a small creek above the tree line; they’re barely noticeable in their rocky environment and they freeze like statues, convinced they’re invisible, when hikers walk past.

It’s satisfying to see them, a first for me in this area, and their changing plumage of white with brown flecks suits the season, as do the larch trees ringing in this natural amphitheatre.

The trees are no longer green but now a shimmering gold set against the powder-blue sky.

As we trek back towards the trail head — with larch needles carpeting the path beneath our hiking boots and breathtaking landscapes in every direction — I’m reminded of my very small place in the universe.



Autumn, they say, represents transition and change, even the ephemeral.

Knowing my assignment is wrapping up makes me especially appreciative of what we’ve come to love about lodge life, Mount Engadine-style.

Afternoon tea on the deck at the main lodge — this time with a glass of rosé alongside our charcuterie board at sunset — feels luxurious.

We thoroughly enjoy the other travellers we become acquainted with over meals.

A blushing young British couple announces, unforgettably, at dinner that they’ve just discovered they’re expecting their first child. Guests and staff cheer and raise a toast.

By now, our glamping tent (yes, we’re back in Peakbagger!) feels like an old friend.

In the middle of the night, we awaken to wolves howling in the distance. I climb out of our warm bed, open the glamping tent door and step outside onto the porch.

Above, the moon shines brightly in a dizzying sea of stars. The autumn air is crisp, almost icy. I’m pretty sure winter is on its way.


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