Finding gold on the east side of the Rockies

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Hidden away in Bighorn Country is Aurum Lodge, a little gold nugget in the wilderness.

Photo courtesy Aurum Lodge


NORDEGG, AB - Peace and tranquility. That’s the feeling you get when you walk along the shoreline of Abraham Lake and gaze at the milky blue waters framed by rugged mountain peaks. As my husband and I scrambled up a high rocky ridge on the lake’s edge, there was not another human being in site.

While we paused to take in the beauty and absolute silence of our surroundings, a lone hawk flew over the ridge and hovered right above us. It was hard to believe that our accommodations were only a few steps away.

Aurum Lodge is located a mere 30 minutes east of Banff National Park, but it is a world away from the hustle and bustle of the national park. Aurum is the Latin word for “gold” and the eco-friendly inn truly is a rare treasure – one of the few accommodations that allow guests to experience the unspoiled wilderness that is called Bighorn Country.

As with all of Alberta’s most magical places, Bighorn Country was recognized centuries ago by First Nations people.  The Stoney Nakoda Nation prized the area because the unique microclimate surrounding the Kootenay Plains gets less moisture than the national park and tends to be warmer in winter making it an ideal winter grazing area for large mammals like elk, bighorn sheep and even mountain goats.

Even today, you will find prayer flags wrapped around trees and other indicators that indigenous people still value the area and consider it sacred. The Alberta government has also recognized the importance of the Bighorn Wildland by limiting development and by establishing the Kooteney Plains Ecological Preserve.

All photos courtesy of Aurum Lodge

Aurum Lodge is one of the few man-made structures to be found in Bighorn Country and it offers an entirely incomparable way to experience the Canadian Rockies. As we enjoyed dinner together at the lodge, one of the other guests did her best to describe what makes Aurum Lodge special.

“I love the peacefulness, the solitude and the scenery, but the best part is the fact that I don’t feel like a tourist in a hotel,” said Rebekka Drotleff, of Germany. “Other hotels are so anonymous, but I feel at home here.”

After hiking along the lakeshore, I understood what she meant about the peacefulness and solitude of Aurum Lodge and after enjoying dinner with innkeepers Alan and Madeleine Ernst and the other lodge guests, I understood what she meant about feeling at home. 

“Aurum Lodge isn’t just an accommodation, it’s personal,” explained Alan. “Our guests want to experience the wildlife and scenery of the Rockies, but they don’t want the crowds.

"They recognize the value of pristine wilderness and they want to know that they are leaving it as they found it. Aurum Lodge provides a comfortable accommodation with minimal environmental impact by using a holistic approach to reducing environmental impact.”

Aurum Lodge has a minimalistic European feel to it, but it’s also very comfortable. As I snuggled under a warm duvet and watched the sunset over Abraham Lake from the window of my lodge room, I couldn’t help thinking that the Ernsts had named their lodge well. Discovering Aurum Lodge is a little like finding gold in the Rockies.  


The details:

Where:  Aurum Lodge is located on the David Thompson Highway halfway between Nordegg and the Saskatchewan River Crossing. 

Open: Year-round.

Rates: $139 - $239. Rates tend to be lower in fall and winter.

Highlights: Upscale, eco-friendly, scenic, peaceful and quiet. There are no phones, no TVs and no children in the main lodge. Families are welcome to rent one of the self-contained cabins.    

Packages: The inn offers photography study courses led by some of Alberta’s top wildlife and nature photographers. They also have packages that include popular recreational activities and tours. Rooms in the main lodge come with breakfast or guests can arrange full board. There are also several self-contained cabin units with full kitchens.  

Cool Fact 1: Aurum Lodge is one of the nearest accommodations to the Icefields Parkway and the AthabascaGlacier.

Cool Fact 2: Abraham Lake has become world famous, especially among photographers, for its frozen bubbles. The plants in the lake bed release methane gas, which freezes before it can reach the cold surface of the lake. These gas bubbles stack on top of each other giving a very interesting and very beautiful appearance to the ice during the winter months.  

The Aurum Lodge is a member of The Charming Inns of Alberta. The dozen inns are located all over Alberta and offer different experiences. At the core, they are quaint, offering a home away from home experience.

Are you looking to surround yourself with less wilderness and more human interaction? Turn south on Hwy. 93 and check out the Banff Summer Arts Festival - happening throughout the summer.