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Hike-In Lodges:
Great Choices
For A Hiking Vacation

By Diane Spicer

Take your hiking vacation up a notch with a stay at a hike in lodge in the backcountry. #hikingvacation #hikeinlodge #hikingforher

Hike-in lodges take the idea of base camping up several notches.

Imagine a pristine wilderness setting like the one above as the sun drops behind a spectacular peak.

You're sore and tired from a long day of hiking, but no worries! The lodge is just around the next bend in the trail.

And dinner is waiting for you.

You can book a week in heaven and choose just how heavenly you want it to be.

  • Just a roof over your head, a bed to call your own, and perhaps access to a kitchen? Sure!
  • Or would you prefer indoor plumbing, electricity, and a home cooked meal? White wine or red? Extra helping on dessert? No problem!

First, create a list of "must haves"

Use these questions to begin your list. Don't skip this step, as it sets the tone for your entire hiking vacation.

Which setting makes your heart sing?

Hiker, know thyself!

  • Craving seriously steep mountains?
  • Or do you prefer lakes? Maybe you can have both!
  • Do you want a small, cozy lodge with just a few other folks?
  • Or do you thrive in large group settings and love to make new (perhaps international) friends?

How much pampering do you require or prefer
on a hiking vacation?

Some lodges will rent you a bed (bring your own sleeping bag and pillow), give you access to a community kitchen, and pretty much leave you on your own to hike each day.

Some lodges give you the royal treatment, with bed and bath linens provided.

  • Lots to be said for having a roof over your head in bad weather!

Other hike in lodges will cook meals, provide trail advice, and offer guided daily hikes, scrambling and other outdoor adventure.

Regardless, indoor plumbing is a rarity. Be sure to ask about access to an indoor sink for washing up, a "liquid only" toilet for night time visits, or the need to use an outhouse.

Tips on choosing the best lodge
for your hiking style

Hike-in lodges have personalities, just like their owners.

There are 3 approaches to choosing the best hike-in lodge for you:

  • Go through the lodge's website and/or printed materials with a keen eye to what matters most to you. Also closely observe the photos of the hiking destinations and the interior of the lodge.
  • Call up the lodge owner and chat about what is, and isn't, provided.
  • Or talk to hikers who have stayed in this particular lodge. Be sure to ask more than yes/no questions, to get a feel for the full experience.

Avoid misunderstandings and disappointment by doing one, or all three, of these suggested ways to explore what your lodge experience will be.

Hike in lodges food tips

Watch for buzz words like "gourmet meals", which indicate that a sturdy day hiker who racks up a lot of mileage each day might be a bit hungry with small portions.

  • Quality over quantity is emphasized in this lodge.

"Family style" is a more relaxed and abundant approach to meals. That's the ticket!

If you have a food preference, intolerance or allergy, you need to talk directly with the lodge owner.

It's unrealistic to expect a backcountry kitchen to cater to severe allergies, and it's not fair to disclose your food needs once you show up. There's no grocery store around the corner!

  • Scan their written materials for these phrases: "gluten free", "vegan and vegetarian friendly", "dietary preferences can be accommodated".

Heads up, introverts!

The larger the lodge, the busier meal times will be.

Introverts will have a few buttons pushed by having to wait for the meal to be served, and having no control over your dining companions or topic of conversation.

Expect people to ask where you're from, what you do, and which backpack you use. Curious cats!

  • Introvert tip: If you like a quiet evening curled up on bed with a good book,  and the lodge vibe is party time after dinner, bring ear plugs.

Hike-in lodges in North America

The European model of hosting hikers in the back country seems to be the preferred choice in western Canada:

  • breakfast and dinner served at a common dining area, with the option of coffee, tea, and wine
  • make your own lunch from a spread set out after breakfast (some lodges are more generous than others)
  • afternoon tea and baked goods when you return from your hike
  • duvets and linens provided

In the United States, there are fewer options which cater to hard core hikers.

  • Here's a short list of United States hike in lodges.
  • And a few more here.

In Canada?

Shadow Lake Lodge comes to mind.

These folks have a spectacular setting near Banff National Park, BC.

  • You can hike, ski or snowshoe from a major road to your cabin.
Wooden trail sign with a selection of trails, written in large white block lettersLots of hiking options at Cathedral Lakes Lodge, B.C.

More tips on making your decision

If you've never stayed at a hike-in lodge before, you might not think to ask about the following factors.

But they can determine how much fun you do (or don't) have at these back country oases.

Pricing tips

There are many different price points for hike-in lodges, and sometimes you can score a great deal if you wait until the last minute because the lodges are happy to fill up the space.

This is a dodgy practice if you only have one specific week to book a lodge, though, especially in high summer.

Most lodges will require a deposit to hold your space, often up to 50% of the trip.

The balance will be due shortly before you arrive.

Know which method of money transfer they prefer.

  • Using a credit card for an international transaction will add fees on your end.
  • A wire transfer requires a certain type of bank account for both of you.
  • And mailing a check across a border isn't going to work, but might be fine with the lodge owner if you're from the same country.

Be sure that you understand the refund and cancellation policies. There are windows of time where you can receive most of your money back, but the window shrinks closer to your arrival date.

  • It disappears altogether within a few weeks of the day you will arrive.

For this reason, trip insurance is recommended to protect you from unforeseen events that make your trip impossible.

  • Personal experience: a pulled muscle just a few weeks before our trip to the lodge prevented me from hiking.
  • The insurance company refunded a large portion of the payment, which was non-refundable from the lodge owner at that point in time.

Also factor in a tip for the hiking guides.

  • Sometimes they pool tips and share with all employees, sometimes it all goes to your guide.
  • If you don't see the recommended rate (10% of total price, for example) on the website, be sure to ask before you go. And know whether cash is preferred.

Exchange rate tips

Considering a lodge in a different country?

Check the currency exchange rates so you're fully aware of what the trip will cost.

Rates fluctuate daily, so it's possible that the price will swing up or down at bit if you wait to book your trip.

I don't recommend waiting, though, because summer hiking time is so precious. You don't want to be disappointed, right?

And if the rate is in your favor, lock it in by booking your trip.

Trail conditions to, and around, the lodge

Be sure you know what you have to do to get to the trail head:

  • Take a scheduled shuttle from a meeting point in town?
  • Drive yourself to the trail head on a precarious logging road?
  • Enjoy easy access from a main road?

If you have to leave your vehicle, you want to know if there's a parking lot for the lodge, or if you'll be just one of many day hiker vehicles at an unsecured trail head.

You might also have to bring or borrow chicken wire mesh to put around your tires, to discourage porcupines from gnawing on them!

  • Like I said, always read the fine print!!

You also want to know how long the trail is in terms of time and distance, and whether there are any streams to ford, steep elevation gains/losses to deal with, and how well marked your route in will be.

Once you're at the lodge and ready for a day hike, what's in store for you?

  • Are there established well marked trails?
  • Is there at trail system you can navigate easily (bridges over streams, fixed cables to get you up and over steep sections of rock, etc.)?
  • If there are no trails, are there routes that are mapped, marked and easy to follow?
  • Is a daily hiking guide included in the price?
  • Or are you on your own (or allowed) to navigate the terrain each day?

Are there add-ons available?

If you want to acquire a new skill, look for a lodge which can teach you those skills.

I've stayed at lodges that feature staff (resident experts) who can teach you:

  • glacier travel & other mountaineering fun
  • rock scrambling
  • outdoor photography
  • wild flower identification
  • mammal tracking
  • night time sky gazing

Don't overlook the fact that you will be dining and hiking with hikers who may have a deep skill set they're willing to share with you, too.

  • Watch for the folks with the guide books, heavy duty hiking gear, and that indescribable combination of strength and quietness.

Forested mountain ridge with view of alpine lake belowGorgeous country to explore from a hike in lodge!

Any questions about hike-in lodges?

You can contact me here.

Here's a great way to look at backcountry hike-in lodges:

  • They are like having a fantastic no-maintenance tax-free summer home which can change every summer, depending upon your whims.

I highly recommend that you try hike-in lodges for your next hiking vacation!

Another type of vacation to consider:

  • a group hiking trip, where someone else does all of the planning and preparation, and you show up to hike with your new best trail buddies.

And if you want to bump it up another whole notch, there's heli-hiking.

Enjoy your hiking vacation. You earned it!

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Hike-in Lodges