A first-timer explores Fernie, and discovers her inner adventurer.
Adventure is definitely not my middle name. I’ve been for a short hike or two, been out on a snowmobile, and roasted hotdogs over a fire by the river, but all of these wonderful memories of the great outdoors were made while I was a child growing up on the Alberta side of the Rockies. I had long since forgotten just how much fun I had outside.
I know of Fernie as a place where people go to do adventurous things, and wouldn’t have thought to travel there myself until a family member moved to Fernie last autumn. I planned a trip to visit not really knowing what kinds of things I would be able to do. I’ve always wanted to spend more time in nature, but I didn’t really know where to begin. If my only experience in Fernie was sharing a growler of Fernie Brewing Co.’s Project 9 while taking in some scenery, I would’ve been happy. With some suggestions from my cousin, plans were put in place to have an active outdoor weekend and I was beyond excited to find my inner adventurer once more.
Arriving on a Friday afternoon, I had the chance to explore Fernie’s picturesque historic downtown. Surrounded by a bowl of mountain peaks, you can shop artisan boutiques, gear up for outdoor sports, and eat some truly excellent food. I would have to drive all over the city I live in to get locally made chocolate, freshly baked loaves of bread, and local art. In Fernie, you can get it all on the same street!
That evening, we made the drive to Island Lake Lodge for a fantastic gourmet dinner with a gorgeous panorama of peaks. The drive gave us a chance to stop and scout out some trailheads using the local trail map available at VICs and gear shops downtown. Luckily for me, my cousin enjoys exploring Fernie’s trails regularly, so I was able to follow her lead. If you don’t yet know a nature-loving resident of this wonderful mountain town, Island Lake Lodge offers half day and full day guided hikes, which I’m very interested in taking part in the next time I’m in Fernie. In winter, the lodge becomes a cat-skiing paradise, and the road to the lodge is only accessible by snowcat, nordic ski or snowshoe.
We chose Rail Trail for its quick access from Cedar Valley Road. It was a great trail for beginners like me, with a little creek crossing and enough vertical gain to make my legs ache the next day. Even though the trail runs alongside the gravel road, it was far enough in the trees to feel like you’re in the middle of the wilderness. From start to finish, it took us about three hours to finish our loop. Without stopping to take photos of the meandering path and beautiful mountain views, the trip would be considerably shorter. Though I was tired from the trail, nothing beats the feeling that comes with breathing fresh mountain air, a hot shower, and replacing those burned calories with a delicious dinner downtown at Nevados. It was a terrific way to spend a Saturday in Fernie.
Sunday morning, we drove to Fernie Alpine Resort to meet the Canyon Raft Co. bus that would take us to the Elk River Canyon, where we would be whitewater rafting for the day. Upon arriving at the launch site, we geared up in wetsuits, lifejackets, and helmets, before the steep walk down to the riverside. Before climbing into the rafts we had a safety talk and had the chance to meet our guides. All of the guides were really friendly and knowledgeable, but we were lucky to have Blair, Canyon Raft Co.’s chief, paddling with us that day. Having paddled the Elk River for 30 years, Blair’s veteran savvy let us know we were in good hands while Tom, our guide, helmed the raft. Some of that savvy included the history behind the names of the rapids, such as Toothbreaker and Landslide.
We refuelled with a feast of sandwiches, salad, and lemonade, provided for us on the side of the river. The break gave us the chance to spend a little time getting to know our fellow adventurers and to sample some great local food. All the rafters couldn’t wait to get back in and hit the rapids. On this section of the river, we all had the chance to swim the whitewater and do some cliff jumping! I never thought I’d have the nerve to jump off the small cliff, but I’d finally found my adventurous side and I couldn’t pass up the chance. With my heart pounding, I plunged into the freezing river and surfaced with a huge smile.
The sight of the school bus meant our rafting experience had come to an end. On the drive back to Fernie Alpine Resort, our photographer Brad, who kayaked along beside us, played a slideshow of photos he captured of our trip. Since it’s difficult to bring a fancy camera along on a raft, it was nice to know that I could buy a memory stick of photos from the day and relive the journey all over again. Though my cheeks hurt from smiling, I couldn’t help but feel a little bit sad that this truly awesome adventure was over.
My weekend in Fernie is one of the best weekends I’ve had in a very long time. This gem of a town is one of my favourite places in the country, and I plan to return again in the winter for some adventures in the snow. There’s something here for everyone in all seasons, even for beginner adventurers like me!