Travel

Lodge at Bow Lake: A cozy retreat among the peaks

Recently renovated and renamed, the Lodge at Bow Lake (formerly Num-Ti-Jah Lodge) immerses guests in the history of Rocky Mountain exploration

  • Jan 10, 2024
  • 828 words
  • 4 minutes

At a point a short distance from Bow Summit (elevation 2,840 metres), eight kilometres in fact, on the Banff-Jasper Highway, lies Bow Lake (elevation 1,920 metres). Hidden from view, Bow Glacier Falls feeds a lake of alluring, exquisite turquoise colour and clarity. It is the point at which the Bow River rises on its easterly journey through Banff and Canmore to Calgary and beyond through the Oldman, South Saskatchewan and Nelson rivers to Hudson Bay.

Bow Lake’s easy accessibility, splendid situation, and its myriad of hiking and scrambling trails make it a popular point for taking in the views or embracing a more active connection with one’s mountain surroundings.   

For those who prefer a longer stay than a day, the Lodge at Bow Lake (formerly Num-Ti-Jah Lodge) offers a superior option in historic accommodation in a relaxed, entirely comfortable atmosphere. Recently renovated to a high specification, under new ownership and renamed, it reopened in early August 2023.

The Lodge sits with some authority on the shore of Bow Lake, which takes its name from the river. (The Cree called it ma-na-cha-ban, meaning “bow,” the woods along the river being a source of wood for bows; however, within the Cree and Stoney, the lake was called oskopwwioosipi sagahegun and minismeeimme meaning  “cold water lake.”).The site was chosen by a man who was well connected to the area, the flora and fauna, and the Indigenous peoples who shared its use: Justin James McCartney, a.k.a. “Jimmy Simpson.” Born in England, he possessed a charming if slightly irascible character — according to the history books anyway. Bold and audacious and a quick study, he arrived in the area in 1897, aged 19. After a series of precursory adventures, he became an acclaimed Rocky Mountain explorer, pioneering outfitter and guide. Jimmy began the construction of Num-Ti-Jah Lodge (from the Stoney word for pine marten) in 1937. Indeed, Jimmy Simpson was known to the Stoneys as Nathan-esen — “wolverine-go-quick” — referring to his speedy snowshoe perambulations in the challenging winter mountain terrain. 

The Lodge at Bow Lake continues a tradition of Rocky Mountain hospitality. Under its new ownership, led by Bruce Millar, a recognizable figure in Western Canada’s backcountry lodge industry, it pays homage to the Simpson family legacy (taxidermy and paintings done over the decades adorn the interior of the pine lodge structure) while adding a modern twist. A well-equipped kitchen led by head chef Chris Parnell produces superb meals taken in the Elkhorn Dining Room, invariably warmed by a roaring log fire. Prior to dinner, guests gather in the lounge (lovingly called Jimmy’s living room in reference to the lodge’s founder) before being seated together at large dining tables to share their adventures of the day. The fieldstone fireplaces are kept stoked by attentive and friendly staff who effortlessly engage with each guest.

For day-trippers and those stopping to take in the picture postcard vistas, the Lodge’s café and gift shop offer snacks, beverages and meals with indoor and outdoor seating in the summer months. Although, some will be tempted to make a reservation to stay for dinner in the Elkhorn Dining Room.

Activities abound across the seasons. There are dozens of hiking options that bear consideration. These vary in length, trail condition, seasonality and fitness level of participants. As with all mountain activities, a fairly careful evaluation of potential risks remains a prudent course of action. A recommended popular hike achievable for most starts steps from the back door of the Lodge at Bow Lake. A round trip of nine kilometres and four hours in duration, the trail skirts the north side of Bow Lake within the shadow of Mount Olive and St. Nicholas Peak and culminates at the base of Bow Glacier Falls (elevation 2,100 metres), where white, wispy tendrils of glacial melt tumble over the rocks. Their spray is invigorating and refreshing, particularly on a warm day.

There are other recreational activities during the summer months. Some bring paddleboards or kayaks. Anglers can fly fish for cutthroat and Dolly Varden trout or Rocky Mountain whitefish. Piscatorial pursuit may not always result in success (it’s all catch and release anyway), but the experience, given the stunning alpine setting, is among the most agreeable of mental emollients. 

While the Lodge closes in October, it reopens from February to early April (and again from June to October), offering a cozy place to rest your head after a day engaging in the world-class backcountry skiing found in the area. If backcountry skiing isn’t to your taste, snowshoeing, cross-country touring, hitting the slopes at nearby Lake Louise, or simply a regenerative seasonal sojourn are all also possibilities. 

  At the Lodge, one is mercifully severed from computer and mobile telephone connectivity. This, paired with the gentle oasis and unmatched hospitality, is perhaps the perfect condition for recharging one’s mental state. Try a few days at the Lodge at Bow Lake, or stop for dinner and see if you agree.

Bow Glacier Falls is one of the highlights during the popular nine kilometre hike accessible right outside of the lodge.
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Fly fishing is another activity guests can experience while staying at the lodge.
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A closeup shot of Bow Glacier Falls, which has an elevation of 2,100 metres.
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Guests are invited to dine in the Elkhorn Dining Room, where warm and comforting meals are served daily.
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Distant mountains reflect off the clear surface of Bow Lake.
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The Bow River has a total length of 587 kilometres, with its source coming from the Bow Glacier in Banff National park.
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