March 2016 a group of us girls spent a couple of nights at HI-Beauty Creek Wilderness Hostel in Jasper National Park (JNP).
I was so excited for this.
At 41 years old, kids all grown and new snapping up new adventures whenever possible – I had not yet stayed in a hostel and it was a missed experience.
|HI-Beauty Creek Wilderness Hostel in Jasper National Park|
I am lucky enough to live next door to JNP and on many occasions I had passed by several of the 10 wilderness hostels operated by Hosteling International Canada.
They were always a bit of a mystery to me … hidden from the main highway … I had never even pulled over and check one out. In a way they were intimidating.
But I was becoming frustrated with the fact it was easier for me to hit up a computer, anonymously book a hotel room and spend a night in the city (yes, I’m a small town girl) where I would likely never have a lengthly conversation with anyone, rather than find out what a weekend staying at a hostel was like.
|Just an unassuming sign on the side of the road, I had no idea what was just out of sight.|
We chose Beauty Creek located 87kms south of the Jasper townsite on Hwy 93. As you drive by the highway meanders through the river flats just north of the Athabasca Glacier. A standard Parks sign indicates the hostel is on the west side of the highway, down a slope and in a relatively small cluster of evergreens.
Every time I’d passed it I was always a little befuddled at how a Hostel (still not sure what a ‘hostel’ really was in my head) would actually fit there.
We pulled over in the spare-lane-style roadside parking lot meant for hostel visitors. The snow was piled high and just beyond the barricades were two outhouses, a pay phone and a worn path headed downhill, into the trees.
|Not even an entire parking lot, just a roadside pullout to the side of the highway.|
While booking I had learned (read harassed the poor person on the phone mercilessly for details of the then unknown) that there were two bunk houses, one with six beds and another with twenty-one. We were hoping to commandeer the six-bed bunkhouse since there were five of us so we quickly explored down the pathway.
|The outhouses by the highway along with a pay phone for emergency use are right next to the highway.|
The steps down were fairly icy and we picked our way through the trees for about twenty feet before stepping onto a boarded walkway between the kitchen-house to the right and a larger bunkhouse on the left.
|The main buildings are just behind me, the river lies just at their feet.|
Somehow just a stone’s throw from the road and yet fully hidden from view lies a cozy little collection of wood-sided buildings … two bunkhouses, a kitchen-house, a shed or two, a fire-pit, benches and a large propane tank are all nestled in the trees alongside the river.
|Propane heat and lights are available in all the living spaces. We had to turn the gas on at the main tank.|
Using the combination code we received upon reservation, we had free reign of all the buildings.
|Fires aren’t allowed in the winter when the hostel isn’t staffed, but the layout is great.|
We quickly brought all of our things down from the cars. Successful in our endeavour to take over the smaller sleeping quarters – we divvied up the bunk beds.
|The sleeping areas are well set up with plenty of room and hooks for gear.|
I took a top bunk … something I’d regret later … however, I highly recommend it if you are a cold sleeper … me, I’m a 41 year old female learning that I’m probably never going to be cold again in my life.
During winter operation the wilderness hostels are unstaffed so no bedding is provided as it is in the summer, but each bunk has a decent foam mattress.
You must bring your own sleeping bag, pillow and any other bedding you require.
I brought my cold weather bag, unsure of how warm the buildings would be … another error in judgement.
It was fairly easy to get organized, the dorm room was well laid out with benches and many pegs for hanging packs and gear.
Next up, we grabbed our food and went to check on the kitchen. According to the website the kitchen would be fully stocked with utensils and cookware and I had been reassured of the same by the booking staff I talked to on the phone (again, harassed, more than once). After a summer spent planning backpacking trips, carrying everything needed to cook dinner on my back, it was actually pretty hard to trust in that … again, I had nothing to worry about.
|Everything you need is stocked in the kitchen. The fridge was not operational during the winter, for obviously, it was unnecessary.|
The kitchen had multiple propane cooktop burners, shelves of dishes, cups, mugs, silverware, pots, pans, even coffee percolators.
I brought my food in a 10L dry bag and that worked just fine since I was using the trip to practice some lightweight backpacking meal options. In future, for hostel stays, I will likely bring a small Rubbermaid style container. That way I know I can stash it on a shelf or in the corner and be sure that it’s safe from mice etc. While still having room for some real treats.
An old couch occupied one corner, and the rest of the space was taken up by a couple of picnic tables, bookshelves with left-behind novels and an old fridge.
|The main kitchen-house.|
In short … the place was exactly what I’d hoped for – incredibly rustic with all of the amenities needed to stay comfortably and most importantly … zero internet or cell phone service.
When we arrived it didn’t seem like anyone had been there for a while, everything was cold and the propane was turned off. We followed the instructions provided and soon had the heaters and lights working. In a lot of ways, priming and lighting the heaters was similar to lighting the hot water tank on our old fifth-wheel. I was glad for the lessons my husband had given me, although there were instructions on location.
|You can see the trail up to the cars between the two buildings here.|
Later in the evening we were joined by what would turn out to be the only other occupant that evening. An interesting woman that was spending her winter recovering from some surgery and living at wilderness hostels along the way.
|You have the opportunity to meet people with very different views than you. Here, the lady in the background is explaining why the movie “UP” is a horrible movie … and my friend in foreground is not buying it.|
|I did not fair well in the land of Skip-Bo.|
We spent our first night cooking our dinner and exploring the immediate area. Outdoor fires aren’t allowed in the winter months so we gathered around the table, played cards, journaled and visited. There is a great guest book with pages and pages filled with hand-written stories of visitors adventures in the area.
|The river is your source of water, if you don’t bring your own, and must be boiled before drinking.|
|I think each one of us lost some time sitting on this bench by the river.|
Social media is a funny thing, so much a part of life when it’s available and yet completely unnecessary when it’s not. I contemplated that it would be the perfect place to get away and work on some projects.
Back in the bunkhouse we turned in for the night … again, worried about being chilled, we didn’t open a window … I paid the price by overheating and sweating ugly most of the night.
The second day of this weekend still stands as one of my favourite days of the entire year.
I was up first, so I puttered around a quiet, still-chilled kitchen-house while I made coffee and breakfast … quietly singing along while my speaker softly played a selection of folk tunes from the table. Propane lights slightly hissing from above … that has to be one of my favourite ways to start the day.
|I don’t take a speaker backpacking, but thought the hostel might be the right place for it.|
We had been hearing about an ice cave further south on the Icefields Parkway near the Athabasca Glacier. By all accounts it was fairly easy to get to and that was our goal for the day.
However, we were in no rush to get there.
|Now and then the urge would strike to visit the river and enjoy the stillness.|
When you take away the TV, cell phone and a house full of stuff … there is a weird shift in time. Simple things like washing dishes and going to the outhouse take longer.
So your day is somehow more full and in constant motion but at a lesser speed and with less stimulus.
We sat by the river, enjoyed the silence of the snow, played my Tibetan singing bowl and explored a little before piling into the car and heading south in search of the ice cave.
The glacier is only 16km south of the hostel, so it was a short ride on bare roads with a blue sky overhead. We made the traditional stop at Tangle Falls on the way.
|A group of ice climbers were receiving lessons at Tangle Falls.|
We parked in the main lot, there were several other cars there. The road down to the lower parking area closer to the glacier is closed in the winter.
|The ice cave was slightly above and left of the head of the lady in the light grey jacket here.|
Recently, late in 2016, we received word that the ice cave has collapsed and no longer exists. I can’t express how happy I am we stepped outside our comfort zone and checked it out when we did.
|I have a more photo-heavy post about the ice cave over here.|
After a day in the sun, we headed back to the hostel and made our dinner. As we were just finishing eating a fairly large family group, including a two-year-old, showed up for the night.
After a bit of visiting, we cleared out of the kitchen-house to give them space and we spent the evening hanging out in our bunk-house like some sort of grown-up version of a little girl’s sleepover.
|Nothing beats a hot chocolate after a day in the snow.|
Cards were read, silly games were played (I can’t remember, but I think I’m having 52 children with Bradley Cooper in a shack or something), secrets were shared.
|Nothing to see here, just a bunch of grown-ups doing grown-up things….|
In short, staying at the hostel that weekend changed my life. As a small-town girl who had kids young and slipped right into the family lifestyle I had no idea that this method of adventure was available to me right outside my back door.
|Gratuitous group shot selfie brought to you by my ridiculously long arms.|
Staying at hostels was always some “young-person travelling the world” option that sounded really cool but wasn’t where I was at.
I’ve already, since this visit, used a hostel stay as a cheap lay-over on my way to a bigger back-country hike and I anticipate I’ll make more adventure plans involving another soon.
I cannot recommend this experience enough.