Cross River Wilderness Centre: An Off-The-Grid Canadian Lodge with Aboriginal Roots

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I didn’t quite know what to expect as I drove the bumpy gravel road off British Columbia’s Highway 95 near the Continental Divide in the Canadian Rockies. A logging truck came barreling down the road from the other direction, showering my car with dust.

I was only a short drive from busy Lake Louise, but it felt like I had ventured deep into the woods, as my now dust-caked car and I headed for a remote off-the-grid lodge.

My destination? Cross River Wilderness Centre.

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Marilyn Patenaude waved to me as I pulled onto Cross River’s forested property, directing me to the sturdy log cabin that would be my home for the next two days.

She and her husband Robert opened Cross River in 1996, constructing the main lodge, which now houses the dining room, kitchen, and guest lounge, themselves.

The Patenaudes acquired the eight guest cabins, former miner’s lodgings built in the early 1900s, from Cathedral Mountain Lodge in Yoho National Park, moving them onto the Cross River land.

Robert significantly modernized the cabins, adding new bathrooms, wood stoves, and solar-powered lights. They’re furnished with solid wood-framed beds topped with thick quilts, wicker chairs, and lots of homey touches — even a teddy bear. They all have porches with views of the trees.

My wilderness escape was starting to look pretty comfortable.

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“You’re just in time for dinner,” Marilyn told me, and a few minutes later, I heard the deep wail of a conch shell — the lodge’s equivalent of a dinner bell — calling guests to the main lodge.

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Guests at Cross River take their meals family style with the Patenaudes, who encourage wide-ranging conversation, particularly about travel and cultures.

During my stay, we had fresh filet of sole with corn and salad one evening, barbecued chicken with potato wedges and a vegetable casserole the next. The homey desserts, which might include a berry cheesecake or addictive butter tart squares,  are an extra treat.

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Cross River has no internet service or wi-fi, so it’s a place to disconnect. In the evenings, you can read or chat with other guests in the lodge, relax in your cabin, or soak in the outdoor hot tub, heated by a wood stove.

At night, it’s quiet. Very quiet.

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In the morning, I joined two other guests, a couple from London who had come to the lodge in search of a true Canadian wilderness adventure, for a hike along the nearby Cross River. Marilyn packed us lunches for the trail, and Robert provided detailed directions and a trail map, helpful since the remote route was not signposted.

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During our three-hour hike along the river, past waterfalls and dramatic rock formations, we didn’t see or hear another person.

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Robert’s family is of Métis heritage, and at Cross River, guests can experience elements of aboriginal culture. You can stay in one of three teepees on the property, and with advance reservations, you can arrange a sweat lodge ceremony or cultural workshop with a native elder.

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Robert built a beautiful 16-sided wood lodge with a loft space to use as an “elders’ building,” outfitted with native blankets as well as feathers, stones, and other ceremonial objects.

Cross River hosts yoga retreats and offers a variety of wilderness workshops, guided hiking excursions, and backpacking trips as well.

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Cross River is just outside Kootenay National Park, which offers lots more opportunities for hiking and exploring.

My favorite spot in the park was Radium Hot Springs, where you can soak or swim in the natural mineral pools.

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On my second evening at the lodge, another British couple arrived, full of questions and, as I had been at first, not quite sure what to expect from this remote retreat.

But the other guests and I, now settled into the routine at this comfortable wilderness lodge, could hardly contain our enthusiasm as we shared details of our day.

We felt lucky to have discovered such a special off-the-grid place.

If You Go

Cross River Wilderness Centre is open from late May through September.

The lodge is 80 miles (125 kilometers) from Lake Louise, so you can easily include a stay here as part of a Canadian Rockies road trip. Lodge staff send detailed driving directions when you make your reservations.

Cabin rates are $225-$250 per night, with an additional $90 per person per day for meals.

Hotel review by Vancouver-based travel, food, and feature writer Carolyn B. Heller, author of the books, Moon Handbooks: Ontario (now available in a brand new 2nd edition) and Living Abroad in Canada. Photos © Carolyn B. Heller. The Aboriginal Tourism Association of British Columbia, in partnership with the Tartan Group, provided support for my stay at the Cross River Wilderness Centre.

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