The most epic of hikes in Fernie and definitely one activity to add to your 'to do' list.
Hiking Time: 8-12 hours
Maximum Elevation: 2286m
Minimum Elevation: 1400m
Elevation Gain: 1200 vertical metres over 2 mountain passes
Read trail description below video
NOTE: There are no services or specific camping areas along this trail. 'No Trace' backcountry wilderness tenting is permitted. Be prepared for backcountry hiking, wildlife and weather changes. There could still be snow at higher elevations, even into July.
Waterfalls, caves, cliff walls, big mountain passes, canyons, mountain meadows, wildlife and more. A night of wilderness 'No Trace' camping makes this a fantastic backcountry experience and splits the hike into two easier days, especially if you want to add hiking up to Three Sisters or Mt Fernie Ridge (from windy pass). Interested in having a professional hiking guide take you (day trip hike only)? Island Lake Lodge offers this great experience - Guided Hiking Tour by Island Lake Lodge
About The Trail
This trail is typically hikable starting mid-late June to mid-October, depending on spring snow levels and early snow falls. Best time of year is July & August. If you do hike the trail into September/October be aware of the amount of daylight hours that time of year and weather changes (it's always a few degrees cooler up there than in town, so it could snow if it's colder and wet). There is a defined singletrack trail the entire way, however in rocky/slate rock sections be sure to look for where the trail continues. Carry a topo map and compass to help if and when needed. Trailforks app is a great tool but relies on your cell phones GPS and battery power (not cellular connection).
This is a one-way trail, best when started from Hartley Lake Road and ending at Island Lake Lodge, but can be done in reverse. You will need to arrange for someone to drive you (pick up) to the trailheads or to do a vehicle drop. Check out this blog about hiking Heiko's!
From Hartley Lake Road: An initial short hike through the forest is followed by a steep section up a headwall past waterfalls and the Bisaro Mountain Cave (aka Bisaro But Beautiful Cave, as known to the Alberta Speleological Society, AB/BC Cave Rescue Group and as listed in the book Caves of the Canadian Rockies and the Columbia Mountains).
After gaining the headwall there is a moderate section up the alpine meadows under the south face of Mount Bisaro to the west ridge of Three Sisters Mountain. A steep descent down to Fairy Creek Meadows is followed by another climb to Windy Pass on the northern flank of Mount Fernie. Another long descent and traverse along the west flank of Mount Fernie ends at the top of Tamarack Trail overlooking Cedar Valley. The final 4 kilometres is a steep descent down to Island Lake Lodge.
As with any trip into the backcountry, be well prepared for weather and climate changes. Remember that you are travelling in an area where wildlife is abundant. Be aware of your surrounding, follow the proper safety protocols and respect the environment.
It is recommended to have two shuttle vehicles for this hike, as one can be left at the trail head and the other at the finish. Or have someone drive you to the trailhead and pick you up at the end. Most hikers suggest starting at Hartley Lake Rd and finishing at Island Lake Lodge. The views become more spectacular as you head to Island Lake Lodge and hikers can finish at the lodge restaurant for an apres-hike dinner.
**Due to elevation & seasonal conditions, this trail is recommended from Mid June to late September. Please take great care when hiking in shoulder season and be prepared for snow, ice and extreme temperature changes.
**Please note that the Island Lake Lodge gate is only open during their summer operating season, Mid-June to late-September. If you hike out via Island Lake Lodge outside of these dates, please add an additional 7km (approx) to hike to the gate/parking area located approx 2km north of Mt Fernie Provincial Park.
**Permits are not required for this hike. Wilderness Camping is permitted; please respect the backcountry and pack out anything you pack in, including all waste items.
0.0 km (1400m) Trailhead at the end of Sulphur Creek Road
2.0 km (1560m) Bisaro Mountain Cave
7.0 km (2280m) West Ridge junction with Three Sisters Trail
10.0 km (1905m) Fairy Creek Meadows
12.0 km (2135m) Windy Pass, junction with Mt Fernie Ridge Trail
16.0 km (1940m) Top of Tamarack Trail
20.0 km (1385m) Island Lake Lodge
Finished in 2003, The Mountain Lakes Trail (or Heiko’s Trail as it's known locally) was built by one of Fernie’s renowned residents, Heiko Socher who was the founder of Fernie Alpine Resort in 1964 and is still active in our community today.