Nature Sites to See Before the Summer Dies

Summer is Fernie’s shortest season. With ‘Monsoon June’ over, locals have roughly eight to ten busy weekends to pack in nature’s summer highlights. Here are some must see features before the first flakes fall around the Elk Valley.

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1. Cathedral Cave – Within the first hour of hiking up Heiko’s Trail you will encounter an easily accessible, safe cavern eroded in limestone. During the building of the Rockies, huge sheets of limestone were thrust along faults, telescoping hundreds of kilometres eastward. Once exposed, slightly acidic ground and surface water dissolved the limestone creating underground channels and networks of caves. Look in the limestone for fossilized bits of crystalline calcite, donut-like crinoids and half-shelled brachiopod molluscs, visible reminders of millions of years of a warm shallow sea that once dominated our landscape.

Getting There: Trailhead of this spectacular 20 km trail is up Hartley Lake Road. You can also just hike up to the cave and back. Most people hike the full trail one way, shuttling a vehicle to the end at Island Lake Lodge.

2. Wildflowers on Lizard Ridge – Wildflowers in the alpine offer a kaleidoscope of colours. Not only beautiful, they also demonstrate amazing adaptations to cope with the conditions that can freeze or fry them, all in one day. Delight in a spectacular array of colours, shapes and sizes from avens to saxifrage. Take the dainty white globeflower of the Western anemone or Chalice flower. Its head rotates as it follows the sun across the sky maximizing solar exposure. Fuzzy hairs insulate its stem and leaves. When mature its ‘hippy head’ of hairy seeds will be distributed by ferocious winds.

Getting There: To get up to the alpine fast, take the Timber Chair at Fernie Alpine Resort. Hike to Lost Boys Pass, up Elephant Head, across Curry Ridge to Polar Peak, and back to the top of the Timber Chair.

3. Ancient forests at Morrissey and the Cedar Valley – Few old growth forests remain. Most have been cut down or developed on. Protected in perpetuity by the Nature Conservancy of Canada and Island Lake Lodge, two magnificent treasures were spared due to inaccessibility, the first isolated by the CPR and Elk River, the second being too steep for early 20th century logging equipment. In a culture obsessed with youth, here is an opportunity to reflect on the values of old – diversity, strength, wisdom, and peacefulness. These places are a sanctuary for genes, ecosystem variety and habitat for creatures ranging from salamanders to sarsaparilla.

Getting There: The Ancient Morrissey Cottonwoods are located less than 1 km east of Highway 3 at the Morrissey turnoff approximately 10 kms south of Fernie. The second is along the hiking trail from the sign for the Cedar Valley Old Growth Reserve several kms west of Highway 3 on Island Lake Lodge’s (ILL) property.

4. Wigwam Flats –From June 15 to July 15, the Wigwam Flats can be accessed using motorized vehicles. To honour this privilege and to protect wildlife, please stay on the designated roads. One of the most spectacular features is walking or riding the faint rim trail towering above the wild Wigwam River. From here, admire the ‘purple’ canyon, an outcropping of oxidized argillite, exposing some of the oldest rocks in the Canadian Rockies. Oxidized iron in the slightly metamorphosed shale is responsible for this royal display that formed over a billion years ago.

Getting There: There are two ways to access the Wigwam Flats. From Morrissey along the Ram Creek Road, down Lodgepole Creek to its confluence with the Wigwam River. Otherwise you can access it via Elko just after crossing the bridge over the Elk River.

5. Swim at Silver Spring’s third lake – Skinny-dipping in remote lakes in the Rockies creates lasting summer memories. Tucked up against a spectacular lichen covered vertical wall, the third Silver Spring Lake offers a peaceful, pristine experience. Avoid the temptation to jump off the usually busy cliffs above the first lake. Instead hike 20 minutes along the trail to the east of the lakes. The feeling of abandon and loss, out there in the fringes may inspire you to dawn your birthday suit for a refreshing dip of freedom – a great feeling to wind up a summer of must sees!

Getting There: Travel several kilometres east of Elko on River Road.

While on these adventures, please take only memories; leave only light steps. Your presence should bless these sanctuaries, so pack out what you pack in and take an extra bag to clean up after careless visitors. Be refreshed, renew your spirit and connect with nature this summer.