Outside magazine, June 1996
If scrambling for insanely hard to come by reservations at Yellowstone's Old Faithful Lodge and watching the geyser erupt with 100 of your closest friends is not your idea of a wilderness getaway, pack your bags for the woodsy lodges of Canada's great northern terrain. The best do more than wrap you in pleasure after you get worn-out and sore in the big outdoors. They're exemplars of regional hospitality, celebrations of the fact that the whole country is a cultural patchwork. And since this is Canada, the wilderness experience--be it watching whales in the Atlantic's fjords, canoeing in Ontario's lakes, or climbing in the Rockies--can be found right outside your lodge door.
The main lodge and 15 guest cabins were built in 1926 by the Canadian Pacific Railway, parent of the big hotels. The lodge is built in mountain-chalet style, with a huge stone fireplace in the lobby and a dining room with spectacular lake views. Comforts in the cabins are in keeping with the alpine architectural simplicity, the better to set off the rococo verticality outside. Most of the cabins are on the lodge's namesake lake. From there everything is up, toward high glaciers and chunky, layer-cake peaks that top out in the 11,000s. Hiking the 50 miles of trails accessible from Lake O'Hara is the lodge's recreational raison d'ˆtre. Owners talk in trail-hours rather than miles or kilometers, to spare flatlanders agony and embarrassment. An eight-mile walk, like the high-country traverse that begins with a 2,000-foot vertical grunt up to Wiwaxy Pass, can take all day. Effort-phobes get their magnificence with a gentle 920-foot climb to Opabin Plateau. If the three major meals (lunch to go, if you're hiking) don't suffice, there's also an afternoon tea with a groaning board of baked goods.
Minimum stay is two nights. Lakeshore cabins cost $294 per couple per night, meals included; lodge rooms cost $215. Call 403-678-4110 before June 1, 604-343-6418 afterward. From Calgary, take the Trans-Canada Highway 130 miles west to the lodge exit at the Lake O'Hara sign, just over the British Columbia border.
Inconnu stays, either five or seven nights, begin with a 180-mile flight in the lodge's charter plane from Whitehorse, over nameless peaks and lakes that would be famous scenery anywhere else. The cheery wooden lodge buildings fronting McEvoy Lake, with lawns and shoreside hot tubs, seem impossible at first, given the surroundings. Guests bed down in four duplexes, each split into two large bedroom-and-bath units, with knotty planks covering every surface but the carpeted floor. The real luxury is what you can do--practically anything--and that you can do it anywhere within a 45-minute flight by floatplane or helicopter. Inconnu's two aircraft take guests on daily flights, which are part of the package. Take off for canoe trips down Little Mac Creek's Class II and III whitewater; another riverine option is a float trip down the immense Pelly River from Pelly Lake to Fortin Lake. Hikers make a short heli-hop across the lake to above treeline on McEvoy Mountain, which is covered in cranberry and blueberry bushes, lichen and moss, and where caribou congregate when the alpine tundra starts showing sunset colors in late summer. Since the lodge sits at 3,300 feet and treeline is at 4,000, practically any rise takes you to ridgetop hiking. Pilgrims also fly out to overnight in tents or in Inconnu's four remote cabins, while fishermen can commute to eight lakes and 12 rivers within the lodge's access area.
Food is manly gourmet, with a vegetarian menu available. One specialty is fresh coho salmon, a reminder that the Pacific is just on the far side of the Coastal Mountains. A five-day package from Whitehorse costs $2,595 per person; a seven-day package, $3,695. Call 800-339-8975.
Count on seeing moose, which wander the lodge grounds at dawn. Those who attend August's weekly "wolf howls," organized by the Algonquin Park Visitor Center (705-633-5572), about six miles from the lodge, have a better than even chance of hearing the music of one of the park's timber wolf packs. Killarney's prices include three meals, which like the lodge itself are upgraded retro-homey, with fish every evening. The lodge serves fresh pan-fried pickerel, the sacramental meal of Ontarians on vacation in the woods. The wider and more private the lake view, the pricier the cabins, which peak out at $143 per person with meals, double occupancy. The least expensive couple units are duplex cabins, at $106 per person. Killarney Lodge is 180 miles north of Toronto via Ontario 400 and 11 north and Ontario 60 east. Call 705-633-5551.
L'AUBERGE DES FALAISES
Take Quebec 362 about 36 miles and look for the trail sign to the top of Mont Lac des Cygnes, a hard-breathing, 2,500-vertical-foot grunt at the edge of Parc des Grands-Jardins, a 119-square-mile island of taiga in the immense Laurentide Nature Preserve. Or head about 24 miles north of the inn via Quebec 138 to the Hautes Gorges de la riviere Malbaie, which cuts a long slash through the mountains, with 2,400-foot rock faces and hanging cirques on its sides. The gorge is the centerpiece of its 90-square-mile namesake park, where hiking can get extremely vertical, as it does in the Parc de conservation du Saguenay, on Saguenay Fjord, about 45 miles northeast of the lodge on Quebec 170. The fjord, walled by 1,000-foot cliffs, is haunted by spectral-white beluga whales, and during summer humpbacks and the occasional blue whale congregate at its mouth. L'Auberge gets behind sportif guests with expert help from Simon Cloutier, son of owner Denys, who points the way to the trailhead or helps make connections with local rentals and outfitters.
An upper-level mini-suite, with balcony, fireplace, sitting room, and whirlpool bath, is $183 per couple, including breakfast and five-course dinner prepared by French-born Chef Regis Herve, who does rapturous things with local ingredients. Try the seaweed crepes with smoked salmon and corregon caviar. A standard room with private bath and river views is $143 per couple. The inn is about 90 miles northeast of Quebec City on Quebec 138, the main shore road. Call 800-386-3731 or 418-665-3731.
TUCKAMORE WILDERNESS LODGE
The lodge honors the Norsemen with a post-excursion Viking Feast of moose, caribou, and Norwegian aquavit. Other evenings feature entertainment by local folk musicians and optional trips to Fred's Lounge, in the tiny nearby town of Main Brook, for a pint or two of Black Horse beer. Tuckamore's home-style cooking is heavy on shrimp, salmon, and scallops, and partridgeberries and blackberries figure highly in desserts. The standard Sunday-to-Sunday package costs $1,103 per person, excursions included. A Tuckamore-based week with four or five nights of tent camping on the Grey Islands costs $735. Call 709-865-6361.
Tsa-Kwa-Luten sits at the southern tip of Quadra Island, about 500 yards from the island's lighthouse, in 1,100 acres of temperate rainforest owned by the Cape Mudge Band. Guests are free to use the lodge's mountain bikes to deepen their acquaintance with Quadra, the largest of the northern Gulf Islands. The front desk connects guests with local outfitters such as Discovery Islands Expeditions (604-285-3062), which leads sea-kayaking day trips in Desolation Sound for $145 per person, including lunch. As befits the location and coastal heritage, the lodge's menu is heavy on seafood, with such authentically Kwakiutl touches as side dishes of ouligan (herring) oil. A large upper-level room costs $92 a night; a small cabin that sleeps four, $169. The lodge also offers a full-board package for $140 per couple including a lodge room. Call 604-285-2042.
Mike Steere, a frequent contributor to Outside, lives 280 miles from the Canadian border.