Yukon Highway Lodges – More of the Story

Bear Creek Lodge As well as the article about Yukon bloggers (which I think was poorly executed) in yesterday’s Yukon News, there was an article about Yukon highway lodges being forced to close, supposedly because of the government’s new health regulations and the related costs of new septic systems. Bear Creek Lodge, seen to the right here, was the primary focus of the article. But there is far more to that story, and writer Genesee Keevil did a disservice to the lodge owners by not telling more of the story. Seeing highway lodges close is not a new problem, and the new health regulations are merely bringing a long-standing series of problems to a head.

The difficulty for lodge owners doesn’t arise from a single issue, it’s very complex. Two of the largest contributors, though are:

  • many of the lodges were built about 50 years ago, and are at, near, or even well past their useful life as buildings. In virtually all cases, renovations are not economically feasible due to the condition of the structures.
  • traffic patterns have substantially changed since the vast majority of the lodges were built. Many of the vehicles on the road now are completely self-contained (RVs of various types), and all of the vehicles on the road now can travel much faster, with fewer mechanical and/or tire problems, and few fuel stops.

Those 2 factors alone make lodges very, very difficult businesses to operate successfully. If you drive Northern highways year-round as often as I have over the past 17 years, you get used to seeing lodges boarded up – seasonally or permanently. You also get used to driving past the ones that are open, and some of the lodge owners are to blame for that. Some of the lodges gouge people who do stop (Coal Creek Lodge comes immediately to mind), others are filthy wrecks that should have been closed years ago (Koidern Lodge is number one on that list for me) and at others the service is so bad that you feel like you’ve imposed on the owners’ solitude if you do stop (that’s a much longer list). Having made comments like that, I want to say that Bear Creek Lodge is not on any of those lists for me. I know Gail Jeeves fairly well – she worked hard to run a quality operation, and I’m extremely sorry to see her and Bryant in this dire situation.

Contact Creek Lodge

Most of the few lodges who do manage to make a go of it are relatively new, have no competition within an hour’s drive, and/or have an attraction at their doorstep (Liard Hotsprings Lodge, as a good example, has all 3 benefits). They also have built up a good reputation – in the case of Bear Creek that didn’t help and for Swift River it only “may” help, but for Johnson’s Crossing, Braeburn, Moose Creek, Contact Creek, Iron Creek and many others, that is the key to keeping the doors open.

I have scores of photographs of lodges, both open and closed, that I’ve taken over the years, and my home is the temporary repository for the large slide collection of a BC Liquor Board inspector from the 1950s – it includes hundreds of photos of lodges when they were new.

When the weather gets ugly, particularly in the winter, seeing a red “OPEN” sign in the middle of nowhere is deeply comforting. The new reality of the highways means that those signs are seen less and less often. I find it very sad that that part of the highways’ character is about to become history.


Yukon Highway Lodges – More of the Story — 6 Comments

  1. I would really love to see all those lodges, both open and closed, please. I am really interested in the Alaska Highway and all the lodges along it.

  2. I have stopped at the Liard hot springs to relax several times when passing but never stayed a night at the lodge…….that was until Sept. 1, 2012. What a terrible shame. A wonderful location and just the right distance for stopping. But sad to say the people were rude to put it mildly, the lodge was unkept, run down and dirty inside. I have never seen such filthy carpets in my almost 60 years of travel. I could hardly wait to leave and swore I would never stop there again. And you wonder why lodges can’t make a go of it.

  3. A lot has changed since I posted this article 6 1/2 years ago. The condition of the Liard Lodge is one of those things, Timothy – I don’t stop there anymore, either. It went dramatically downhill after the local Indian band bought the place and never recovered, I hear.

  4. I lived in whitehorse and worked at rancheria,swift (when breedens had it) and prophet river, I travelled up and down the highway for many summers…and do go every year if i can. One thing that Im quite surprised is Lodges that just sit closed, No For Sale sign, nothing. Its a wonder if the owners just walked away and abandoned them or what? I would assume some closed as the owners are older/ill ,or? I myself would be interested in finding out more about some of the closed ones!! Any ideas??

    • Many of them have surprised me, too, Jeff. No “For Sale” sign, just closed forever. In some cases the buildings are beyond repair, but surely the property that many sit on is worth something (Summit Lake, Liard River and Steamboat coming immediately to mind). The only 2 new lodges to be built in the last couple of decades, Liard Hot Springs and Northern Rockies at Munch Lake, are both doing very well, but the ones that get renovated all seem to struggle. Some get leased for short periods, but one couple that I used to know well got royally screwed by all 3 people they leased to (after being unable to get a cash buyer) and eventually walked away from their lodge.

  5. Well I see Steamboat property is now for sale for a cool 250k…wont ever sell at that price. Not quite sure the deal with Summit! Fireside I know has a lot of potential(owners very ill and thats why its closed). The former J&H is owned by a group from Ft Nelson, they use it for personal use! Liard is owned by the Indian band in Watson! Iron Creek in my opinion they spent too much on it and want like 650k and its not gonna sell at that price..Maybe half that and they may find a buyer. Swift and Morley are still owned by the Breedens…the son lives in Spruce! Was up the highway in 2012 and checked out alot of places. The main building at swift is toast(tear down) the motel building is decent. Morley is in pretty decent shape compared to being closed so long(nothin elbow grease cant fix). Prophet River is owned by the Indian Band and has the potential with work! North highway..hmm well Im not sure what happened with Mackintosh..last I heard was gonna cost too much in upgrade to sewer and they couldnt afford it(not for sale though) Koidern River Lodge faces same issues. Not sure the deal with Kluane at 1118, thought it would have been reopened by now! Just curious Murray which place are u talking about that they leased it out 3 times and then walked away! It may be a property I may be interested in? Anyways hope to talk soon…and find out more info if u can help!! ttyl Jeff in Grande Prairie.