The mountain community of Fernie lies tucked away in a narrow valley in the rugged Canadian Rocky Mountains, in the heart of southeast British Columbia.
From its boom town status at the turn of the twentieth century to its reputation as the Whiskey Gap during the prohibition era of the 1920s, Fernie has inherited a unique and colourful history.
A town with a strong history of coal mining, Fernie was named after mining magnate William Fernie who helped develop the town into the industry’s largest centre in the Elk Valley region, after he had reported a major coal discovery in 1897 that led to the formation of the Crowsnest Pass Coal Company.
The founder of the city met a tribe of Indians during one of his many prospecting trips. Enquiring about the source of the shiny black stones that adorned a necklace worn by the Indian Chieftain’s daughter, the Chief agreed to reveal the origin in return for the prospector agreeing to marry the princess. William Fernie never kept his promise, and refused to marry the princess, whereupon the angered chief put a curse of fire, flood and famine on the valley. On August 15, 1964, Chief Ambrose Gravelle of the Kootenai tribe, known as Chief Red Eagle, smoked the pipe of peace with the then mayor of Fernie to finally lift the Fernie Curse.
Abandoned mines, museums and heritage sites invite visitors to step back in time to explore the area’s bustling boom years. The beauty of the Elk Valley entices campers and hikers, and a challenging world-class 18-hole golf course sits at the foot of towering peaks.
Location: Fernie is located on Highway 3 in the extreme southeastern corner of British Columbia, 15 miles (31 km) south of Sparwood and 26 miles (42 km) from the Alberta/British Columbia border. To the south on Highway 3 is the small sawmill town of Elko (20 miles/32 km).
Skiing: Fernie boasts a world-class ski mountain. The Fernie Alpine Resort gets heaped with snow and is renowned for its fabulous powder conditions. Fernie is well patronized by skiers from British Columbia – these savvy skiers have known about Fernie’s bounty for years – photographers regularly descend after a major snowfall to take those great magazine cover shots.
The ski area rises about 5 km above the town of Fernie; you can see the massive bowls from Main St. Trails on the lower mountain cut through dense forest. Fifty named runs and countless other secret chutes and gullies drop a total of 2,400 vertical feet (730 m). Experts, intermediate, and novices can all get the chance to ski powder, since all levels of skier can utilize each lift.
Winter Activities: Experience the thrill of snowcat-skiing and snowmobiling; the terrain is ideal, leading to panoramic alpine vistas and powder-filled bowls just waiting for you. Grab a pair of snowshoes or cross-country skis and explore powder filled forests, or hop aboard a dogsled for an ultimate adventure as you glide past scenic vistas.
Mountain Biking in Fernie caters to newcomers experiencing their first-time high, as well as hard-core muddy madmen pushing the envelope of extreme competition. Fernie offers hundreds of miles of beautiful riding terrain, through the pastoral beauty of the valley’s farms and ranches, through the old townsite on the Coal Creek Heritage Trail to lift-accessed exploration of the Fernie Alpine Resort’s extensive trail system.
The Fernie Historical Museum is housed in the old Roman Catholic Church rectory. The museum has displays of local mining history, furniture, and household items.
Fishing: Flowing right through Fernie, the Elk River, and its more than 30 tributaries, is home to wild populations of West Slope cutthroat trout, whitefish and some of the largest bull trout found anywhere. A classic dry-fly river, the Elk is accessible along most of its length. The lakes in the surrounding area are an angler’s paradise too, so you won’t be disappointed. If you’re looking for fishing with a difference, try a 3-day floating trip down the Elk River, or heli-fishing in the neighbouring alpine lakes.
Ice Fishing: If the family wants a skiing vacation, but you want to fish, that’s not a problem in Fernie! Area lakes can be accessed by four wheel drive or snowmobiles to ice fish for cutthroat, rainbow and eastern brook trout. Your guide will chop the holes through the ice while you sip a hot beverage and anticipate your catch! The season runs from December 1st to March 30th.
Mount Fernie Provincial Park, on the edge of town, is a small park with a big personality – a camper and nature lover’s delight with forested hiking trails. Black bear, deer and elk are commonly seen in these parts, and if they drop by for a visit, you had better be on your best behaviour.
Hiking: Welcome to hiking heaven, and an incredible array of scenic hiking trails through ancient old-growth cedar forests, alpine meadows and high mountain peaks. The Cedar Valley, Fairy Creek Falls and Mt. Proctor are three trails with access only minutes from town. Mt. Fernie, Mt. Bizzaro, Mt. Hosmer, Mt. Trinity and the Three Sisters also provide access to outstanding scenery and wildlife viewing. Those who devote themselves to adventurous exploration of Canada’s western coast eventually make their way here to hike trophy trails, ski trophy peaks, and paddle trophy waters. Fortunately, most travellers don’t have to resort to extremes in order to get an inside look at these fantastic features.
Walking Tour: Take the Fernie Heritage Walking Tour, a 2.1 km tour past heritage buildings and a variety of architectural designs. Following devastating fires in 1904 and 1908, Fernie was largely rebuilt in brick and stone, with wide streets to prevent a repeat of these disasters. View the Chateau style Provincial Court House (1911), The Olde Post Office (1908), The Royal Hotel (1909)…and many more beautiful old buildings.
Golf: The Fernie Golf & Country Club (opened in 1918) is noted for its majestic mountain setting and playability, with luscious greens, silica sand bunkers, varied terrain, a stunning view of the Rocky Mountains, and high mountains visible in all directions. The 18-hole, par-70, 6,556-yard Fernie course is a players’ dream, with something to offer both the low handicap player and beginner alike. Golf Vacations in British Columbia.
Crowsnest Provincial Park, east of Fernie on Hwy 3, is close to Crowsnest Pass (elevation 1367 m), where the climate is somewhat dramatic because of a narrow flow of air through the pass from Alberta; the imposing Erickson and Loop Ridges of the Rockies stand nearby. You’ll be so busy looking at them that you’ll forget to eat.
Even if you’re not planning an excursion to one of the parks but just want one last, great look at the Rockies before heading into Alberta, stop at the Olsen Red Stop along Hwy 3 just 16 km east of Fernie. Here, you can gaze to your heart’s content.
Rafting: Ride The River Wild and gain a unique perspective of the nature’s peace in the Elk Valley. There is great rafting on the exciting white water rapids and through the deep, quiet canyons of the Elk River.
Griz Days Winter Festival takes place each April paying homage to The Griz, Fernie’s snow God.
TransRockies Challenge, a legendary week-long backcountry race featuring 250 teams racing over 600 kms and 12,000 metres of climbing. This mountain bike race takes place in August.
Circle Tours: See the best of the area on the Okanagan and Kootenay Rockies Circle Tour or the Kootenay Rockies Hot Springs Circle Tour. Travel the sunny interior of British Columbia, north through the Okanagan to Sicamous, following Highway 1 into the mountains of the BC Rockies. From Golden, head south through the Columbia Valley to Creston, and west through Boundary Country and the Southern Okanagan to complete the loop. Circle Tours in British Columbia.