Snowshoeing Emerald Lake
Tucked away in the heart of the Canadian Rockies, Emerald Lake is a true hidden gem. Surrounded by the soaring peaks of the Kicking Horse Valley, the lake's magnificent setting sweeps you off your feet into a fairytale you'll have to blink twice to believe. True to its name, the lake's remarkable emerald green shimmer welcomes visitors June through November before freezing over into a winter wonderland for the remainder of the year. Summer is a popular time to see the lake as there are several hiking trails in the area and the opportunity to canoe on its glittering jade waters. In winter, snowshoeing and cross country ski trails welcome those looking to enjoy the serenity of the lake. Nestled in a lush forest with far fewer visitors than neighbouring Lake Louise, Emerald Lake is truly a piece of mountain paradise.
The lake was first discovered in 1882 by European explorer Tom Wilson while tracking down his lost horses. He named the lake for the stunning jade colour caused by glacial deposits that accumulate during the annual snowmelt. In fact, this was not the first lake he designated 'Emerald' - the former was later changed to Lake Louise.
In the early 1900's a lodge was built on the lake's edge and hosted travelers of the Kicking Horse Pass. Today the lodge has expanded into a beautiful mountain property with rustic cabins along the lake's edge, each with their very own wood burning fireplace. The original building now houses a formal dining room, a cozy lounge to curl up around the large stone fireplace and a bar salvaged from an 1890's Yukon saloon.
Located 2.5 hours driving distance from Calgary near the town of Field, we discovered Emerald Lake a few years ago on a summer camping trip exploring Yoho National Park (home to a few other gems including Takakkaw Falls, the Burgess Shale and Lake O'Hara). Not realizing the splendour of its surrounding, our first visit to the lake was brief. We walked the hour-long lakeshore trail and wandered about the picturesque cabins while dreaming up the idea that one day we might be some of its lucky guests.
A few years passed and the recent celebration of a special occasion had Emerald Lake Lodge written all over it. In previous years, the lodge had been closed for maintenance in the late fall, but just to our luck they were open for reservations. The entire experience completely exceeded our expectations and we were thinking up another celebratory excuse to return before we had even left.
We arrived at the lake in the mid-afternoon after renting snowshoes at Gear Up in Canmore (we highly recommend them for any needed gear) and started out on the 5km lake loop trail. What would normally take an hour to complete turned into three as we were stopped in our tracks admiring the jaw-dropping scenery gained with each angle circling the lake. The lake's surface had not yet frozen over and provided incredible mirror-like reflections of the snowy forests and mountain peaks overhead. Overcast skies created a moody atmosphere that deepened as the afternoon turned to evening. Shortly before sunset, lively blue shadows formed above the mountain peaks and were softened to a dusted pink before darkness rolled in.
We appeared out of the trail just as darkness had set in and suited up for a hot tub under the stars. A casual dinner and beers in the lodge followed by a toast of champagne next to our wood burning fire marked the perfect way to wind down. By the following morning, a thin layer of ice covered the lake and the reflections had disappeared. There were stunning conditions along the wooded shoreline as bright blue skies lit up the snow, creating a beautiful array of shadows and marking the perfect bookend to an incredible weekend.