Chute Lake Lodge shouldn't be the mystery it is. It is, after all, situated seemingly idyllically on the shore of a stunning mountain lake, at the intersection of Chute Lake Road and the KVR Trail midway between Penticton and Kelowna. Sounds great, right?
But that doesn't tell the whole story. The historic old facility has lost its shine over the course of the last couple decades, aided by elderly owners who'd stockpiled "antiques" and struggled to keep up with general maintenance.
And it's not exactly on the beaten path. The road from both directions is straight-up dirt and somewhat rough - a situation that's kept a lot of big-city types at a distance, especially when they weren't sure what they'd encounter once they'd made the trek.
Ultimately, the grand old Lodge has seen its fair share of online negativity recently, some bemoaning its unkempt appearance, others its overflowing junk piles. Indeed, even the name is inconsistent. In one spot, you'll find "Chute Lake Lodge." In another, "Chute Lake Resort."
But Chute Lake Lodge, as it will officially be known going forward, is about to stage a comeback. And it should be amazing.
On October 9th of this year, the entire spread (and it's a big spread - far more comprehensive than the term "lodge" implies) was sold. And the buyers, prominent Okanagan tour operator Hoodoo Adventures, backed by an investor group, have plans that should thrill anyone who remembers its glory days.
Lyndie Hill, who along with husband Mike runs Hoodoo Adventures and now the Lodge, is psyched. "Chute Lake Lodge is an adventurers’ dream nestled right on the Kettle Valley Rail, and bordering the Okanagan Provincial Park, it has amazing potential. We look forward to working with our partners to create a unique destination to stay, play and take advantage of all that the Okanagan has to offer."
I wanted to see the Lodge in person, so I set out on Chute Lake Road from Indian Rock a couple of weeks ago, concerned that it might be impassible in my front-wheel drive Honda.
Yet it was totally doable. Granted, it does get bumpy and it's best to keep the speed way down (and it would be considerably more difficult in snow) but a half hour and some incredible vistas later, I was there.
It is, truly, a beautiful spot. As you drive in from Penticton, you'll see the lake first to your right, partially obscured by trees and just a few meters off the road. It's not particularly big (about the size of Tuc-El-Nuit near Oliver) but it's deep and the mountain behind it rises swiftly and enhances its visual appeal.
You'll then see an old railway crossing sign - still there from the days the KVR really ran trains - and you'll suddenly realize you're now driving on the Trail itself. A few more seconds and you've arrived.
Greeting me this day was Darcie Johnson, who makes up half of the new caretaking team with husband Kevin. The Johnsons are nature-lovers and off-grid adventurers from way back, having spent much of their lives touring remote regions and far-flung northern locales like Alaska. They are, therefore, right at home in their new rural digs.
"We've been here for a month now. This was one of our favourite places to come to. I grew up in Naramata, Kevin grew up in Penticton. And Lyndie went to school with us...we've known her for years and years."
Johnson and I walked the grounds. The property, with its various cabins and outbuildings, stretches on for acres, disappearing into the forest to the west. In front, a clearing and an old campground replete with picnic tables. An ancient windmill stands nearby.
It's just a minute's walk to the sprawling lakefront, crossing the KVR and passing the rowboat rental facility along on the way. The one downside? It began raining within a half hour of my arrival.
We took shelter inside the lodge itself, a rambling two-story building that seems to go on forever. You know that "log cabin look" that's all the rage? Well, at Chute Lake Lodge, the logs are all real, baby.
The restaurant inside is spacious - a dozen tables and maybe 50 chairs, a pool table, a wood stove. It looks like something from a old-time movie set, an oversized trapper's cabin where the light bounces off the log walls to form a warm glow. The adjacent kitchen is large too, with a mix of old and newer industrial strength ovens and cooktops.
Johnson was a gracious host, quickly serving up a thick slice of her fresh-baked bread. It was good and it was filling - just as you'd expect.
A local executive chef will help the new management team create a menu for breakfast, lunch and dinner. There will be an operating bar with local beer, wine, and spirits, and meals for the winter will be home-cooked with a focus on hearty comfort food. The menu will change seasonally.
Johnson said the place is semi-open right now and accepting limited reservations, and she mentioned the burgers and pulled pork she'd served just a couple hours ago to a group of bike-trippers passing through.
"We hope to have things like soups and fresh baked items for them when they come, and a nice place for them to stay and recoup. Rest here, before you hit the wine-tasting segment of the trail."
The official soft-opening happens in December, says co-owner Lyndie Hill, and a formal grand opening is planned for the spring. At that time, she says, the major renovations will be complete.
Right now, though, Chute Lake Lodge is very much in project mode. I toured the lodge guest rooms (there are eight in all) and concluded that they're still quite...rustic. Cleaner yes, but still for the most part needing the beds, the carpets, the furniture, and the accessories that Johnson says are coming.
Of note, the main building will soon double its number of guest washrooms, from two to four. And the old lounge area will be renewed, with a take a "take a book, leave a book" program.
We headed to the cabins next. There are eight of them too, scattered across the property, and they're currently in various stages of repair/restoration. All are comfortably heated by wood stoves, backed by propane.
The first was bright and pretty and featured a loft, two new beds, new weather sealing, and more. But it was otherwise empty. The second was completely bare and in the process of being fully refinished from floor to ceiling. A third was filled with the necessities, but they were aged necessities.
Some need wholesale work, including new doors and windows. Baby steps.
Next, we passed one of several enormous bins. It's here where some of the cabin debris will end up. Other bins are reserved for depositing the years of accumulated antiques/junk that lays about the property - much of it in a congested barn in the back. Johnson said five bins have been filled and removed already.
But she also said the Lodge wants to keep true to its roots and save and display some of the more interesting stuff. "You gotta keep that feel," she laughed.
The revamped facility will feature more than just renovations. Johnson, who's also a certified yoga instructor, talks about future yoga classes, writer retreats, weekend retreats, and corporate events. And there'll be kayak tours, cycling tours, and kids' programs too.
In winter, the high elevation (1200 meters) means gobs of snow and an abundance of wintery activities like cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. They'll even stage hockey games on the frozen lake and carve holes in the ice for ice-fishing.
In summer, guests can rent canoes and bikes, try their skills on the archery range, hike nearby trails, have picnics, and of course much more.
At the moment, the property has a landline but lacks basic niceties such as Internet and Wi-Fi. And cell service is limited, it seems, to a single provider - Rogers. Hill says Internet will arrive within a week or two, and Telus phone service not long after.
If all of the above sounds interesting, you can contact Chute Lake Lodge through email or by calling the caretakers direct at 250-496-5262. The current website, which Hill says "hasn't been touched in 15 years," is still being rebuilt and won't go beyond the splash page.
This is a story that's still very much being written. We'll visit again in the spring for more photos and another tour. We can't wait.