Hike the Canadian Rockies and Live the Good Life at Fernie, B.C.’s Island Lake Lodge

The idea of using a lodge as a day hiking basecamp had never really occurred to either of us before we found ourselves enjoying the hell out of a stay at the Island Lake Lodge near Fernie, B.C., with our then 4-month old son last summer. For me, the idea was foreign because I’ve always been the dirtbag camper who happily traded lodge and campground amenities like toilets, tables and showers in favor of strategically-located spreads of flat dirt (often a remote trailhead close to the next day’s adventure) to roll the sleeping bag out on for the night. For Shallan, her surprise came from the fact that she had never imagined that the wonderful world of nature-inspired luxury lodge rooms with clean and comfortable beds and bathrooms combined with first-rate restaurants next to soul-stirring alpine scenery and trails even existed. We were pleasantly stoked with our discovery.

Famous for world-renowned cat skiing, Island Lake Lodge is equally epic but lesser known for its summertime hiking, dining and overnight lodging accommodations. Any trip to Fernie, B.C., should include taking the short drive up from town through Mount Fernie Provincial Park, even if only for lunch or a drink on the Bear Lodge patio. However, once you get there and lay eyes on the gigantic mountains rising up from behind the lodge and finish wiping the drool from your gaping jaw, you’ll wish you had made reservations for the night.

Photo: Shallan Knowles
Photo: Shallan Knowles

It was well after noon when we rolled up to the impressive lodge grounds and even more impressive Canadian Rocky Mountain backdrop. We quickly checked into our room to make the most of the remaining daylight hours, which started with a bite to eat and a craft cocktail on the patio with expansive mountain views. Refueled, we set off to explore the lodge grounds that butt up against the surrounding wild forest and granite peaks. Since we were packing around a little bundle of needy infant, our hiking plans were limited to shorter explorations of the miles of trails and hiking routes that head right out of the lodge. That afternoon we had time to wander right below the lodge, hiking the 2k Lake Trail around picturesque Island Lake under a canopy of giant cedars and firs. We spooked squirrels and a few ducks, looked for huckleberries and kept an eye out for bears as dusk set in along the lakeshore.

Photo: Shallan Knowles
Photo: Shallan Knowles

Back at the lodge we called it an early night in hopes of coaxing our son to sleep through the night, which, unfortunately, didn’t pan out. On the bright side, our room in the Tamarack Lodge was spacious and bedecked with bright, beautiful wood and log beams from floor to ceiling. With no phone or TV in the room and plenty of comfy bed square footage for two exhausted new parents to collapse on, we soaked up the fading light from the two big windows and breathed deeply from the crisp, cool mountain air drifting in from the dark woods. Even with plenty of other guests around, we never heard a peep from anyone other than the occasional babble or squawk from the play pen in our own room.

Breakfast the next morning at the Ancient Timbers Dining Room on the main floor of the Tamarack Lodge was a culinary experience that gave us a preview of what we had to look forward to that night at dinner. The elk sausage breakfast was so good I had it again the next morning. The light on the peaks above Island Lake kept us plenty distracted, which meant we spent much longer at the breakfast table than we ever do at restaurants back home. Thankfully the coffee kept coming, which helped fuel our hike up into the 8,000 foot Lizard Range that afternoon.

Our goal was to make it as far as we could up the 3.5 k Spineback Trail, which gains over 1,500 feet along a steep, rocky trail. Toting our supplies for the day along with our son and his entourage of diapers, food, bottles, clothes and other provisions, we steadily moved up the mountain, stopping often to investigate wildflowers and appreciate the changing view as we gained elevation. The stunning trail parallels Spineback Ridge as it climbs up out of the forest into the rock-strewn, sub-alpine world of gray stone, stunted shrubs, flower-filled meadows and the occasional groves of sub-alpine fir. Over the course of the hike, the trail evolved from steep, root and rock tangled dirt singletrack to switchbacks through scree and boulder fields that kept us concentrating on each step. The higher we climbed, the more we stopped to stare at the stunning granite spires that appeared one after another on the horizon.

Photo: Shallan Knowles
Photo: Shallan Knowles

After several snack breaks and one diaper change, we reached the end of our trail at a lonely wooden bench perched below the tallest peaks with sky and rock-filled views far out into the vast, wild heart of the Canadian Rockies. Somewhere along the way on our hike back down, our conversation drifted from observations of rock, tree and wildlife sign along the trail to what delicious things might wind up on our plates back at the lodge that night.

As the light began to fade from the fierce blue sky, we celebrated one of the most scenic and memorable hikes together as a new family out on the deck with an epic meal: bison shortribs that melted off the bone with flavorful and rich truffled cheddar polenta and roasted vegetables, juicy and well-seasoned free range chicken with a coconut and lime risotto, and a bottle of bubbly. With our son asleep at the table, we took our time, pausing often to stare out at the peaks of the Lizard Range we had skirted that afternoon, which seemed to glow from within in the fading twilight.

Bellies full and legs tired, we all slept through the night – a first in many months. When we checked out the next morning, we swore we would be back soon, as in next year or the year after that. Island Lake Lodge just may be our first family hiking tradition. Islandlakecatskiing.com. Plan your next trip to the Fernie area at Tourismfernie.com.

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