Look out your log cabin window at the snow-covered grounds of the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge in Alberta, Canada, and there’s a reasonably good chance that an elk will be looking back at you. This 1920s Canadian Rockies property has ice skating, cross-country trails, and nearby downhill skiing, but it’s the herd of elk wandering the grounds that tells you that you’re in a winter lodge built to celebrate nature.
Like this classic, the best winter lodges offer an immersive nature experience combined with award-winning cuisine, spas, and activities. They may have one foot in 21st century, but the other is firmly in the 19th, enabling a guest to slow down and appreciate the many moods of winter against a backdrop of woods and mountains. Cozy guest rooms and public spaces are paramount, with features like log fires and comfortable chairs—the perfect place for settling in with a book (or a Kindle). After all, comfortably watching the snow fall is as important as skiing a double black diamond run.
Related: U.S. + Canada Travel Guide
Roughing it used to be the central appeal of winter lodges. You would bundle up and snowshoe or ski before returning to warm up before a roaring fire. These days, that roaring fire may be in a stone hearth in your secluded room. The Jasper Park lodge has suites and log cabins with fireplaces with comfy chairs and beds that look out onto the snowy, pine-covered landscape.
But a great winter lodge doesn’t necessarily mean steeping yourself in history. The Whiteface Lodge in Lake Placid, NY, was built just four years ago. Still, the owners wanted to evoke the feel of a classic, constructing it in a venerable Adirondack-lodge style but adding a huge spa with cutting-edge treatments. And the nearby Lake Placid Lodge, newly reconstructed after a fire in 2005, still evokes the rustic feel of its 19th-century Adirondack Great Camp roots. Yet it’s also infused with luxurious touches like private, lakeside cabins featuring antique and handmade furniture.
Of course, the best lodges wouldn’t overlook fine dining and extensive wine lists to warm up from winter’s chill. At The Resort at Paws Up in Montana, smoked trout potstickers might be followed by grilled elk loin or seared king salmon, enjoyed with a flight of Pinot Noirs. And in keeping with the locavore trend, the food is sourced in Montana and the Pacific Northwest. At the Tank & Trough, the resort’s casual eatery, the burger is a Montana Natural Bison-Angus blend, and wild Montana huckleberries find their way into many breakfast dishes.
Of course, ultimately these lodges are about truly getting away. Traditionally, many winter lodges were large, social properties. But an increasing number of small, luxury properties promote privacy, quietude, and romance. Places like Canoe Bay, a cluster of mid-century modern buildings surrounded by deep woods on 280 very private Wisconsin acres permits no children or pets. And the place happily admits that cell phone reception is “sketchy.”
But differences aside, all of these lodges have one trait in common: they not only embrace winter, they rejoice in the season. —Everett Potter