Fernie is a town we have wanted to visit for many years, but it was never on our flight path. Now we’ve finally made it and curiously, Fernie is a lot as we had imagined – a mountain town without pretension.
We are staying right in the heart of Fernie Alpine Resort, about 4 km. from town. We are a stone’s throw from the summer ski lifts.
While the scenery is gorgeous, it is marred somewhat by the smoky haze that has travelled south from the many forest fires currently blazing in B.C. Apparently “smoke” is frequently part of the summer scene here and the locals take it in stride. We’re trying to imagine how breathtaking this must be in February, with metres of snow and bright blues skies.
Our hotel, Fernie Slopeside Lodge, could use a coat of paint, but you can’t beat the location. The rooms are basic, but clean and well-equipped with coffee maker, fridge and microwave – they even offer surprisingly high-end toiletries. Try finding a hotel room of any description for $65 at the height of the summer in Jasper or Banff.
We’re partial to mountain towns – they tend to have a lovely uncomplicated energy; filled with residents who are fit, active and healthy. We lived in Banff for two years and have visited Lake Louise, Kananaskis, Revelstoke, Whistler, Pemberton and Nelson and the common denominator is the same – outdoor life rules.
In Fernie in the summer, the bicycle is king. There are dozens of mountain biking trails that range from shady paths in town to extreme alpine slopes designed for full gear and steely nerves. ( We didn’t catch the latter, so we’re showing you the former – more my speed.)
In town, car drivers are far more courteous than we’ve seen elsewhere. If you even hesitate near an intersection, cars come to a stop and wave you through. There are a few free bike wash stands throughout the town; a thoughtful gesture that speaks to a municipality that understands the needs of its people.
Another homage to bike life.
And since we are on the subject of street art, after Stephen watched two little girls having their photos taken, posing in the “wings”, he could not resist following suit.
This upscale yoga studio is typical of Fernie – fortunes from its original coal mining days have most definitely shifted.
The main street is filled with trendy stores and restaurants, and more than a few bike and outdoor gear shops. Fernie is not turning into another Whistler by any means, but it is expanding its target market as the word gets out.
And yet, it seems to be a town that hasn’t forgotten its residents. In the summer, every Wednesday night offers free music and we were keen to join in. The band was forgettable, but it was fun to be part of the crowd. There were tourists to be sure, but we watched the locals mingling back and forth – their town still belongs to them. We drank excellent local beer from Fernie Brewing and a number of food trucks were on hand. We chose from this truck – fantastic Vietnamese food.
This little boy was having such a good time, he forgot where his parents were and went over to help himself to another gentleman’s drink.
The days have been quite steamy – in the low 30s, so we were grateful to cool off at the Fernie Aquatic Centre. We’ve driven by the golf course and watched people fly fishing and launching inflatables in the Elk River. It would take time to run out of things to do here.
Fernie has a rich history, which is evident in the architecture – almost all of it built after a disastrous fire in 1904. The town developed in the late 1800’s after the discovery of a coal vein to the east of the town. After a number of tumultuous boom-and-bust periods, mining activity moved from underground to five open-pit mines about 25 km. away, and remains an essential part of the economy. In just three days here, we were stopped twice at railway tracks while 100-car coal trains chugged by to the coast.
We took a self-guided tour of Fernie’s historic downtown, beginning with the current City Hall, formerly the Crow’s Nest Pass Coal Co. offices. The grounds in front of City Hall present Miner’s Walk – a pictorial guide of Fernie’s coal mining history from past to present.
The Court House is considered one of B.C’s finest buildings.
The old Imperial Bank, circa 1909, and now home to a restaurant.
These are just a few of the notable well-restored downtown buildings. The residential side streets house a number of styles, from miner’s cottages to Victorian Gothic.
There are dozens of hiking trails to choose from and while some are multi-day, requiring advanced skills and guides, most are easy day hikes, ranging from 1-hour loop trails to 3-hour hikes with slight grades. Before setting off on our first hike, we read the hand-written sign that warned of ongoing sightings of a grizzly bear and her cubs and a black bear and her cubs. We spoke to a couple of hikers who had seen a cougar under a chair lift.
We knew we were in wildlife country and need to take appropriate precautions, so we clapped, whistled and sang as we traipsed along. We were thrilled when we stopped for a drink of water and turned around to see this, emerging from the woods just behind us:
We were standing on the side of this boardwalk and watched this cow as she stared at us, found us unworthy and began picking her way through the marsh. My heart was pounding. And then, her calf joined her and we felt like the luckiest people – experiencing that contact with wildlife that you can easily miss by the blink of an eye.
There were enough people on the trail that a bear encounter did not seem likely, but we did see relatively fresh scat and as we continued along through abundant berry patches, we kept our eyes peeled.
Over two days, we set out on three hikes. A sampling of the scenery:
We drove to Island Lake Lodge, just off the highway before Fernie and set out on a hike around the lake. The lake looked quite murky but there is a raft there, presumably to encourage people to swim.
Island Lake Lodge – accessible only by a winding 8-km. gravel road from the highway. When you finally arrive, the setting is gorgeous, and the three imposing cedar-timbered structures are pure B.C. rustic/luxurious. The many trails leading from the lodge are open to both guests and the public.
We’ve wanted to come to Fernie for years and are happy to have finally made it. Right now, it hits a perfect balance between being itself and being a tourist destination. Our hope for Fernie is that it will not succumb to tourist pressures and change the face of the town forever.
We’re on our way to Christina Lake – see you again in a few days.
21 thoughts on “Legendary Fernie”
I love Fernie,spent an unforgettable night in the youth hostel there last year.
Climbed down from my bunk in the middle of the night for a pee to leave my bunk room and hear the door click behind me and oops oh know ,forgot my key to get back into the bunk room ……..
Oh dear – did you have forgiving roommates?
Very well written, Ginny!
Impressive! You are brave to walk in Bear country. Saw one here a few weeks ago and have since taken a whistle with me. Lol. Terry comes with me sometimes and tells me he only has to outrun me if Paddington appears.
So true – another reason to take up jogging.
We travel afar and very often we don’t appreciate what is on our doorstep. Thanks for reminding us why this is known as “Beautiful British Columbia”. We’re enjoying your trip and it is making us think that we must travel closer to home sometime!
Hugs Sheila and Jim
Glad to hear you are enjoying the blog. This travel does not feel as exciting as our foreign trips, but every day brings something new to us.
Fernie certainly looks like a definite “stay for 48” community. As for bears, yes, I would rely on a whistle or bear bells (required in several parts of California), having had a terrible experience with Bear Spray, which is also horrible for the environment. (No, I did not see any bears. The canister had a faulty valve.)
That sounds scary. We had a fellow camper let us know how to use bear spray to avoid having it spray back in your face (I’m guessing that was your experience.) My wish would be to never be so close and feel so threatened I would NEED to use bear spray.
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It did not spray in my face. A mean-spirited man rigged the valve, so that when I went to put it on my belt, it went off, inside a hostel, which had to be evacuated. Police detained the man at the airport to which he had tried to flee.
We have never been to Fernie, but it looks like it would be just the right mix for us, as well. Great to see Stephen “soaring” through Fernie … AND … you got to see your moose (and not one, but two!)
Heather it was a THRILL to see the moose – literally right behind us. Mind you, I was looking for a tree to run behind if she decided to charge.
Love the blogs, Ginny! Sure makes me wonder why we ever leave this country with so many beautiful, fascinating places to visit. Thanks for sharing your candid descriptions and fun facts which make us all chuckle a bit. AND I am so happy about your moose sighting, (but terribly jealous) 😉
Kris – you will soon have a good reason to head west – you just need to add a couple of months on to that visit!
We thought of you two when we were swimming at Lesser Slave Lake – the closest thing we’ve come to in lake perfection since Farren Lake.
You need to go in the winter. Fernje has some of the best powder in BC and Alberta!
We’d love to go in the winter – we’ve heard a lot about Fernie’s snow – way better than the coastal mountain resorts.
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Love ❤️ your comments about Fernie, know it well. I took an avalanche awareness course there years ago.
Penny! Great to hear from you. I will always make the connection between you and the Kootenays – when Steve and I dropped by many years ago to visit you in Kimberley – you hadn’t been there that long at that point. Our battery fell right out of our rusted VW, and we had to stay for an extra day to get it fixed. I remember driving back to Vancouver feeling as though the mountain life was a better bet. We didn’t know at that point we would soon be living in Banff.
See you in the fall hopefully. xo
Ginny, Stephen, it was a pleasure meeting and chatting with you in Fernie at the Aquatic Centre. Your adventure is inspiring as well as your blog. We look forward to meeting you again somewhere on the planet! Gab & Clo
I’m slowly trying to catch up with you two, loved this piece about Fernie, your moose encounter took me back to Lake Louise and Emerald Lake when I was doing Shakepeare in the Rockies! I had a lovely encounter with a momma moose and her calf, who was having a nap. Almost missed them, but a lucky glimpse made me stop, and I got a couple of good photos. Many years ago, but still a fond memory for me. Ah nature! Thanks again for sharing your adventures with us. Be well!