What is Sundance Lodge
Sundance Lodge is a backcountry lodge owned and operated by the Warner Stables in Banff (Banff Trail Riders). It’s a private cabin that offers fully catered stays in both the summer and winter. In summer, you can ride in on a pony from Banff, as part of a tour. In the winter, however, you have to get there under your own steam.
This makes the backcountry experience all the more special, because you have to earn it yourself, and because there are far fewer people out there on the trails.
The only way in is either on foot, by cross country skis or by bike (and now e-bike!). Follow the beautiful woodland trails until you finally reach the oasis in the forest!
It’s an experience that’s been around for a number of years, but very few people seem to realise it exists (ourselves included!)! That means, for now at least, there is plenty of space, and there’s a good chance you’ll have very few other people there when you visit.
Where is Sundance Lodge
Sundance Lodge is nestled deep in the Banff backcountry. You would virtually never just stumble upon it, but it is at the end of two quite popular cross country ski trails.
Sundance Lodge is located in the Sundance Mountain Range, in a valley that’s not too far from Sunshine Village Ski Resort. In fact, the trail starts right at the base of the road to Sunshine Village.
Here are the two routes available for access to Sundance Lodge:
Healy Creek – approx 11.6km each way, beginning at the turnoff to Sunshine Village. Quite steep with lots of elevation changes. This route is routinely managed and track set by the Warner Stables during winter. You can bike and e-bike along this route.
Elevation gain: 173 metres (568 feet)
Cave and Basin – approx 16km each way. Follow the Bow river to Sundance Canyon and then continue along the trail to the lodge. This route is more suitable for beginner XC skiers. No e-bikes are allowed on this route. Park at the Cave and Basin or even leave from Banff. This route is maintained by Parks Canada and I’m told sometimes they don’t manage the trail quite as well as the other route.
Elevation gain: 318 metres (1,038 feet)
For this particular stay, we took the Healy Creek route and took some e-bikes!
How do you get to Sundance Lodge in Winter
E-Bike to Sundance Lodge
Rather than go the traditional cross country ski route to Sundance Lodge, this time we opted to take e-bikes, courtesy of Bikescape Banff. As of the end of 2021, ebikes are now permitted along certain trails in Banff, and although you can’t connect with the ebikes on the Cave and Basin trail, you CAN now access Sundance via the Healy creek entrance.
This was a game changer for us. We’re not particularly proficient XC skiers, and some of the elevation changes seemed quite daunting. We were also looking for a relaxing escape, and the thought of grinding through 11km of uphill sounded too much like hard work!
So with some fantastic e-bikes from Bikescape, we set off on the (mostly uphill) trail. And I have to say, it was an absolute breeze. Pedal assist allowed us to cruise up the steepest hills, and thanks to my extreme laziness, I basically kept my bike at level 5/5 pedal assist for most of the way and even held the throttle down for a lot of it (basically cruising on a moped).
Even with my extreme laziness, I only used about 20% of the battery, and it took us around 1 hour 15 to complete the uphill leg of the journey.
We left quite late in the day (around 3pm), and barely saw anyone else on the trail either. Most XC skiers don’t make it all the way to the cabin, and there was plenty of space to pass those that we did meet.
With so much battery left, I had plenty of juice to absolutely blast home on the way out. The entire route is virtually downhill on the way out, meaning we averaged about 30km/hour and made it out in around 35 minutes.
If you’re going to take e-bikes, there are a couple of things to bear in mind:
- Bring ski goggles. If you’re going super fast and it’s snowing, you won’t be able to see. Also bring a face covering to protect you from cold wind.
- Bring extra layers if you’re going to use an e-bike. You don’t get quite as hot as usual fat biking or XC skiing
- This trail is appropriate for fat bikes with studded tires. Regular bikes and ebikes will struggle for grip on the snowy route!
- If there has been significant recent snowfall, this will be very challenging on any kind of bike. You may have to wear snowshoes and walk in instead in this case.
- Bring a decent lock to lock up the bikes and bring your battery indoors overnight
As I mentioned, we used BikeScape‘s amazing e-fat bikes to reach Sundance Lodge. They made the whole process super easy. E-fat bikes are enormously heavy, so it was really helpful that they dropped off/picked up the bikes for us before and after. They’ll be offering e-bikes for $69 per bike per night, which is actually extremely reasonable!
Cross Country Ski to Sundance Lodge
Of course, if you want a bit of a workout to get to Sundance Lodge, you can go by XC ski. This is how people traditionally get here, and there are tracks set for both the Cave and Basin and the Healy Creek route.
Having cross country skied a few times, but being, by no means an expert, I can honestly say that the XC route up the Healy Pass side terrified me. There are quite a few steep, sharp bends, and I was definitely glad I was riding an e-bike!
If you’re an experienced skier, this should be a breeze. Or, failing that, take the Cave and Basin route for a more gentle climb.
Snowshoe to Sundance Lodge
If you want to make a day of it, or if there’s been significant snowfall, you can always snowshoe into Sundance Lodge. You have the choice between the 11.6km and 16km route, and both will take several hours each way. This is a great way to experience the quiet of the forest, and work up an appetite for dinner!
Things to do at Sundance Lodge
To be honest, Sundance Lodge is all about experiencing a backcountry lodge, getting away from the crowds and the journey to get there. Once you’re there, it’s all about relaxing and enjoying the down time.
The lodge doesn’t really have power, aside from the power for the lights, so there’s no point bringing your devices (no cell service anyway). Bring a good book, or grab one of the many board games available.
While we were there, we sat around the fire, played games and chatted with the other guests.
There’s free flowing tea and hot chocolate, as well as alcohol to purchase, and it was the perfect place to just unwind for the evening.
The main event for the evening was the food (which I’ll get to later), and then after dinner, we all went outside to enjoy the stars and a fire. We were all given mini s’mores kits in our rooms, but nobody really bothered around the fire. I imagine it would have been different if there were kids here, but it’s not really the kind of experience I think kids would appreciate. It didn’t surprise me that it was all adults.
Everyone else that stayed the night seemed to want to go to bed extremely early, so it was really just Louise and I hanging out together for the most part. It was really nice to just spend time together and escape the crowds.
The food at Sundance Lodge
As I mentioned, the food at Sundance lodge was the main event. By the sounds of it, the menu is constantly rotating, so I can share what we had for our meals but it may be different if you go.
When we arrived, we were immediately greeted with some snacks. These were bell peppers, bread, juice and home made spinach dip. Absolutely delicious!
Then after a couple of hours, it was on to the main dinner.
For dinner, we had roast turkey with stuffing, corn and mash. I honestly don’t think i’ve had more tender turkey, so it far surpassed my expectations. We then had chocolate cookies for dessert. Most of us had it much later, because dinner was so filling!
For breakfast, we had a whole smorgasbord of options. A delicious potato hash, vegetable omelette and bacon.
We were then also presented with a roast beef wrap and freshly baked cookies for our lunch on the way out.
So much delicious food, so little time!
I’m told at other times, one might expect steak or even fondue. Be sure to mention if you have any allergies in advance of your visit, because there’s not much room for alternatives if you don’t give them advanced warning.
How much does Sundance Lodge Cost
Sundance lodge costs $239 per person per night in the winter, and $99 for kids. That includes your bedroom and all meals during your stay (dinner, breakfast and lunch). You can book your trip here.
Things to do while staying at Sundance Lodge in the winter
As I mentioned earlier, there aren’t too many activities available once you’re in the backcountry. If you’re staying a couple of nights, you can hit the XC ski trails again on your skis, or go snow shoeing along the river. But really, the best part of being here is to chill out and do nothing. Enjoy your group’s company, play board games and sip a hot drink by the fire!
How many nights should I stay at Sundance Lodge?
For us, one night was great. We had the whole evening to relax and enjoy the food, and then we could head out the next day and enjoy the trails. It really depends how badly you need to be off the grid and enjoy some peace and quiet! If you’re really in need of a vacation or you have a book you’ve been dying to finish, a couple of nights could be perfect.
What are the bedrooms like at Sundance Lodge?
Sundance Lodge actually has 10 bedrooms and the entire place sleeps up to 26 people in winter. You can actually book the entire cabin out if you have enough people interested!
The bedrooms are quite rustic, with hardwood beds and embroidered blankets. There are no charging outlets, so bring a book or a kindle!
Is there hot water and working toilets?
Yes, there are hot showers and working toilets. Don’t worry, there are no outhouses!
How to book your trip to Sundance Lodge
Availability at Sundance Lodge
In winter, Sundance Lodge is only open from Friday to Sunday, but if there’s enough demand they may also open up a few Monday spots. They only open for about 6 weeks during the winter, so the earlier you can book your spot, the more likely you are to get the dates you want and not be disappointed!
Overall, we absolutely loved our stay at Sundance Lodge. It’s rare to find something new and exciting in Banff, and honestly, we can’t believe it’s taken us this long to get here! This is the perfect way to escape the crowds and covid, and get away from everything for a couple of days.
Not every mountain adventure needs to be high octane, and this is the perfect example of a winter retreat that’s both fun and relaxing. We’ll definitely be going back again in the future!