BY Keili Bartlett
I’m the kind of person who wakes up to an alarm on their phone and checks the weather, Facebook and Instagram before I even get out of bed, only to go to work and sit at a desk for most of the day. So when two of my friends said they wanted to have an off-grid getaway weekend in a cabin for their upcoming birthdays, I was ready to jump into the rental car and leave wifi in our dust.
During our six-hour drive to a secluded cabin in Retallack BC, we passed the time trying to spot some of the area’s albino grizzly bear population. Our plan was to drive in a loop from Banff through Yoho National Park and Kootenay National Park, all in the space of a weekend. While the mountains in Alberta had already seen the season’s first snowfall, BC’s evergreens were practically untouched by the approaching winter. It still felt like fall, and the larches — slowly losing their colour around Banff and Canmore — were still a yellow-gold.
Fifty-one km south of Revelstoke, we boarded the free Upper Arrow Lakes ferry to Galena Bay. With mountain views surrounding the lake, the 35-minute ride was a much-needed break to stretch our legs.
A little over an hour later, we reached our destination: Retallack. At the beginning of the Valley of the Ghosts — a strip of former mining towns in BC — Retallack is now mostly populated by backcountry lodges like the one we rented.
We were greeted by the cabin warden and her dog, a white husky-mix — the closest animal to an albino bear we’d yet to see. The warden recommended a hike through the cedar-spruce forest across the road from our cabin. I’d only seen similar cedars once before, and the light rain in Retallack made the green moss even more lush and vibrant. Walking through the timeless giants felt like we had stumbled into a prehistoric world. It’s no wonder this is the chosen habitat for bears. And although we never saw any, the trail was dotted with hollowed out trees where they would hibernate in a few weeks.
Back at the cabin, we turned on the propane and lit the lamps. Several of us went outside to chop wood, or at least give the axe a few swings (apparently wearing flannel does not make you a lumberjack). With the kindling and firewood we’d managed to chop, we lit the woodstove. Without electricity or indoor plumbing, we cooked dinner and traded camping stories. One of our friends even treated us to a shadow puppet show with the help of a flashlight — the same one that guided our way to and from the outhouse. The warm glow of the woodstove kept us warm all night, despite the rain tapping against the tin roof.
The next day, we packed up and cleaned the cabin before helping the warden move a heavy stove for the under-construction sauna — an addition I’d definitely make a return trip for. On the road back to Banff, we decided to take another scenic route that, while a few hours longer, would take us to the Lussier Hot Springs. Near the Fairmont Hot Springs in Radium, the Lussier Hot Springs pool between the mountains and the river. Soaking in the natural mineral waters was the perfect end to a rainy weekend in the woods.
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