Cougar Coins & Lumberjacks: Reasons Why HI-Canada Hostels Rock

I’ve stayed in a lot of hostels, but I think the HI Hostel experience might be my favourite so far. Probably because I can still feel like a backpacker in these accommodations without having to risk catching gonorrhoea from dirty mattresses.

I had the pleasure of staying in four different HI Hostels during my Cross-Canada trip (sometimes complimentary, sometimes not). Here are my expert findings…from someone who dragged a giant, stuffed suitcase, a duffle bag, an oversized purse and a backpack across 10 provinces. What can I say, I’m a pro?

Banff Alpine Centre

The Banff Alpine Centre doesn’t even feel like a hostel, but more like a budget hotel. I was given the luxury of my own private room…an unbelievably, incredibly appreciated surprise after not having slept more than four hours per night during the previous week. I nearly cried. I might have cried. I totally cried.

But it’s not just the private room that made it feel different from other hostels: it was quiet. And I don’t mean boring quiet, more like a we’ll-usher-all-the-problem-kids-into-a-bar-in-the-basement quiet. There was also a separate building with more rooms, probably for the more mature crowd. Like myself. Stop laughing.

Their currency is in Cougar Coins. It’s like they knew.

I missed out on trivia shenanigans, but the Storm Cellar Pub & Gamehouse was a chill place to hang out with my new Moose Network friends. There’s also a freaking sweet ice wall outside the hostel, obviously not usable in the summer.

Corbin impresses the ladies.

There are several other HI Hostels in the Banff area as well, many of them with “job seekers” packages to help those who want employment while visiting. Tell them Candice sent ya.

HI-Athabasca Falls, Jasper

Okay, HI-Athabasca might trump all. We pulled up at this “no running water” hostel in the middle of nowhere and met Michel, a French woodsman, and his adorable toddler son who tottered around camp with a smile plastered on his face. Michel showed Corbin and I our private honeymoon cabin (bow-chicka-wow!) while his son followed behind us, distracted by the forest, until Michel said, “too slow!” and scooped him up.

After all, he had just seen some black bears in the area.

Our night at HI-Athabasca Falls was probably one of the most memorable from the entire trip. We played Apples to Apples around a log table and laughed until we cried. Whether it was Chris the Swede’s interpretation of the Canadian loonie being a member of the Looney Toons or Lareina’s clever responses to every card, we suddenly all became BFFs that night. No beer required.

(Ironically, as I now spot the open cans of Kokanee.)

I also had the best sleep of my entire trip…although I admit using the outhouse with only my iPhone flashlight was a little scary.

Points of interest: Michel has been here for years, and has some great stories. Talk to him. Also, don’t wear your shoes inside the main lodge because he will choke you out, seriously. Okay, not serious, but just don’t do it.

HI-Vancouver Downtown

Another welcome reprieve from my week-long trip through the Rockies, HI-Vancouver Downtown is also a place more suitable for those looking for peace and quiet and not a party atmosphere (BUT they do have pubcrawls). Its location on Granville Street is epic, the staff is overwhelmingly helpful (thanks for answering all my stupid questions about Tofino, guys!), and the beds = sleeptastic heaven.

And as I’m looking at the hostel’s webpage, I’m JUST noticing they have a rooftop deck. Mother#@K#R.

I took my two nights at the HI-Vancouver Downtown to unwind, stretch my limbs, and sleep off a week of chaos and adventure. I cannot express to you my happiness about doing so. To just soak up a slow pace in a quiet hostel after a whirlwind trip was the kind of luxury not even a 5-star hotel could afford, and it really made my trip.

HI Hostel Thunder Bay, Ontario

I’ve already written about this hostel briefly, but as I now look for the website, it seems to not exist. It’s not even listed on the HI-Hostel site. I’m freaked out. Does it exist? Did it ever exist?! DID THIS EVEN HAPPEN?!!

Twilight. Zone.

Thanks, HI-Hostel! I will gladly grace you with my presence again in the future. If you’ll have me.

  • July 22 2011

    I stayed at the Hi Downtown in Vancouver for TBEX and I really liked it. I wanted something pretty quiet, because I like my sleep. The night of game 5, when all the Canuck fans were going crazy (with joy) I knew I had the right hostel when I came inside and didn’t here a thing. Yet two blocks away there was partying. I’ll definitely have to look at the Banff hostel, because I definitely cannot budget for the Fairmont there.

    • July 27 2011

      Aww, then I just missed you by a week! Haha. Glad you had a good experience too!

  • July 22 2011

    Definitely all sound like places I would enjoy staying at :)
    Great reviews! Loves all the logginess!

    • July 27 2011

      I’m positive you’d love it!

  • July 22 2011


    Thanks Candice!

    But seriously, a trip to Toronto is in order so I shall definitely be perusing the HI-Canada site!

    • July 27 2011

      Hehe, do it! I think their Toronto location is in a lovely spot too.

  • July 24 2011

    I stayed at the athabasca one years ago, and I frrrreaked out when I saw something (cat, dog) in the distance, because it was black (on my way to the outhouse). Not a bear, most definitely not a bear. Also loved this hostel, though I did not play apples to apples, sadly.

    Glad you found so many great sleeps on the road!

    • July 27 2011

      Hahaha, awesome! Wasn’t it a great spot?! Best sleep I’ve ever had.

  • July 24 2011

    Thunder Bay exists, remember thunder and lightening the whole time, wait that might be the opening credits to a Twilight Zone episode.

    • July 27 2011

      Seriously. Thunder and lighting. Wtf.

  • July 25 2011

    oh frigg!!!!!!!!! how creepy is it that that hostels website is gone now!?!? WTF?????????

    We need to go back and investigate!

  • July 25 2011

    A link for you…just because I love ya!

  • July 28 2011

    Hi Candice,

    It’s great that you liked our hostels, and must agree the ones you chose to stay at in Canada look truly great and such open picturesque scenery to wake up to!

    I look after our hostelling blog ( and wondered if you wanted to guest post for us with your experience in our hostels?

    Let me know … it would be great to hear from you :)

    • August 03 2011

      Thanks, Steve! Sending you an email now.

  • August 01 2011

    Private cabin you say?
    Sounds pretty swanky!
    Somewhat ironically I believe I’ve been ‘asked’ to leave a cabin under penalty of swift kick to the privates.

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