Tag Archives: kid-friendly Fernie hikes

It’s not too late to tackle summer’s best hikes

The mountains are my happy place. I was fortunate to spend many hours seeking out views and breathing in the scent of pine-baked trails this summer.

In my happy place.

In my happy place.

We haven’t hiked this much since 2012, when Blake and I were training for our Kilimajaro trek. What a difference four years makes! The kids actually enjoy hiking now. What’s more, they can go for ever greater distances, which means we can actually do some interesting hikes with rewarding views.

This week and upcoming weekend are shaping up to be the nicest weather we’ve had in a while. So, if you need some hiking inspiration, here’s the highlight reel from our summer in the mountains.

Best hike for kids: The Old Growth Trail in Fernie, B.C. gently ascends from Mt. Fernie Provincial Park four kilometres to Island Lake Lodge. There are bridges across streams, logs to balance upon, giant Western red cedar trees to hug and a pretty mountain lake at the end.

Avery stands on a Western red cedar along the Old Growth Trail in Fernie, B.C.

Avery stands on a Western red cedar along the Old Growth Trail in Fernie, B.C.

Bag a peak with kids: Our children made it to the top of their first “mountain” this summer — Castle Rocks in Fernie. It’s not so much a peak as a rocky high point of the Flathead Range on the Elk Valley’s east side. Avery and Bennett loved finding and eating five kinds of berries on the hike up (thimble berries, Saskatoons, raspberries, strawberries and huckleberries). They also liked picking out landmarks at the top like Fernie Alpine Resort and the Lizard Range across the valley. I couldn’t believe they hiked almost eight kilometres round trip!

That moment when we reached Castle Rocks outcrop.

That moment when we reached Castle Rocks outcrop.

Most epic/Best variety: After 20 years of talking about it, Blake and I finally tackled the storied Crypt Lake hike in Waterton Lakes National Park. It’s been named Canada’s “best hike” and one of the “world’s 20 most thrilling trails.” That’s a lot of hype, but when a day hike packs in a boat ride to the trailhead, a 600-foot-high waterfall, a ladder climb, a 40-foot tunnel crawl, and a cable-assited cliff traverse, the thrills — and the stunning mountain cathedral views — are for real.

Behind that waterfall wall lies Crypt Lake.

Behind that waterfall wall lies Crypt Lake. I’d forgotten how much I love the mountain amphitheatres that make up this Alberta park.

Most surprising: The Chester Lake hike off of Spray Lakes Road in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Alta. is a busy thoroughfare on a summer day, and it’s easy to see why. At four kilometres one way and only 310 metres of elevation gain, it’s a no-sweat way to get your wildflower and alpine lake fix. But venture beyond the glassy lake and things get interesting. Another hiker staying at nearby Mount Engadine Lodge gave us that tip and we were thrilled to discover a giant limestone rock slide deposit called Elephant Rocks not 10 minutes past Chester Lake. They look like something out of The Lion King and make a great scramble up for a snack break. We will return with the kids!

This rock deposit left over from a rock slide looks more Serengheti than Canadian Rockies. It was out favourite part of the Chester Lake hike.

This rock deposit left over from a rock slide looks more Serengeti than Canadian Rockies. It was our favourite part of the Chester Lake hike.

Most challenging/Best views: Before our stay at Mount Engadine Lodge, I had never heard of Tent Ridge. In fact, it’s not even listed as a trail on either of our 20-year-old Gem Trek maps of the Kananaskis area (it is an option on more recent versions). Not only is this hike mostly a ridge walk — you’re up in the alpine with spectacular views of the Rockies and Spray Lake for about six of the 11 kilometres — it’s also a loop! It’s a bit of a scramble to get up to the ridge, with some light route finding, but those challenges made us appreciate the apres-hike beers on the lodge’s deck all the more.

The mountains seem to go on forever on this hike.

The mountains seem to go on forever on this hike.

We’re planning to hike with the kids this weekend. Any suggestions?

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Ancient Cottonwood Trail in Fernie

We discovered a short interpretive hiking trail just 16 kilometres southeast of Fernie, that boasts the oldest black cottonwood forest on the planet. Eager to see these behemoths up close, we drove from Fernie and turned off on Morrissey Road to hike the Ancient Cottonwood Trail.

Bennett and Avery pose at the trailhead for the Ancient Cottonwood Trail near Fernie, B.C.

Bennett and Avery pose at the trailhead for the Ancient Cottonwood Trail near Fernie, B.C.

The 1.5 km loop trail winds through a riparian habitat dense with ferns, cedars, spruce and the towering cottonwoods, some of which have grown to heights of eight storeys (88 feet/27 metres). The thirsty giants suck up hundreds of litres of water a day and grow up to two metres a year. The most ancient in this grove are about 400 years old! Avery measured it with her arm span and estimated its circumference to be about nine metres.

Blake, Bennett and Avery pose in front of the grove's oldest tree, estimated to be about 400 years old. Bennett is so small compared to the tree -- he fits comfortably in a trunk nook.

The gang poses in front of the grove’s oldest tree, estimated to be about 400. Bennett is so small compared to the tree — he fits comfortably in a trunk nook.

We learned you can tell a cottonwood apart from other trees by its nubby, “groovy” trunk. What’s also interesting is these trees are all trunk — there’s just the smallest canopy at the top.

This cottonwood tree is so old moss is growing on it.

This cottonwood tree is so old moss is growing inside the trunk’s grooves.

Look up, waaaay up! These black cottonwoods grow to heights of 88 feet (27 metres), as tall as an eight-storey building.

Look up, waaaay up! These black cottonwoods grow to heights of 88 feet (27 metres), as tall as an eight-storey building.

In all it was a nice, if short, hike. We liked the trees, the ferns and throwing rocks into the Elk River afterward. Fernie, you continue to surprise us, and that’s a good thing!

Ferns in Fernie, B.C.

 

Cliff jumping in the Canadian Rockies

The first time we hiked up to Silver Spring Lakes near Elko, B.C., I thought I wasn’t going to make it. The sun beat down relentlessly; the children (then ages six and three) complained and the youngest needed to be carried; and to top it off we took a wrong turn and had to backtrack up loose shale to get to the “cliff” side of the lake. We were rewarded with a pristine alpine swimming hole with a rocky escarpment on the east side that’s perfect for launching off into the clear, cold water.

A teen jumps fearlessly off the highest cliff, plungng some tk feet intot he clear water below. Pristine Canadiana.

A teen jumps fearlessly off the highest cliff, plunging some 25 feet into the clear water below. Pristine Canadiana!

Two years later, on Day 3 of our B.C. road trip, we knew the trail and the hike seemed to take no more than 15 minutes (the kids now have longer legs). We staked out a spot on the rocks and then took turns jumping into the ever-so-beautiful lake. I even dove head first (though it should be noted I flung myself from a height of maybe five feet).

Diving into the lake. My reaction upon surfacing? "Brrrr!"

Diving into the lake. My reaction upon surfacing? “Brrrr!”

High: Avery jumped in this year without a life jacket — twice! And Bennett jumped too, holding Blake’s hand.

Low: Why, oh why, didn’t we bring Crocs? The shale in the shallows and lining the shore is sharp, and it’s loose as you climb back up. Without sport sandals your options are slicing a toe going barefoot, or taking your hiking boots off and then making another in your party ferry them down so you can put them back on before scrambling up again. I also worried Bennett would at any moment loose his balance and tumble onto the sharp rocks everywhere.

Outcome: Mamas, forget about your squeamishness over heights and slippery surfaces and simply enjoy this beautiful place. Your kids have better balance than you think, and will never forget jumping from a cliff into a postcard-perfect piece of wilderness.

Avery lets loose with a holler before making a big splash.

Avery lets loose with a holler before making a big splash.

Hiking in Fernie with “Nature Bob”

My husband and I love hiking with our kids and we usually strike out on the trails solo as a family of four. But on Saturday we bumped into Fernie nature guide Bob Livsey — a.k.a. “Nature Bob” — at the top of the Timber Chair at Fernie Alpine Resort. With no hikes booked for the afternoon he asked if he could tag along as a guide while we hiked the Lost Boys loop, a 1.7-kilometre trail that descends to the Mammoth Droppings (giant boulders below Mammoth Peak) before climbing 100 metres to the Lost Boys Pass lookout. We said, “Sure!”

The best way to access alpine hikes at Fernie is to ride the Timber Chair. Sadly, summer operations ended this weekend.

Friends of ours and their two boys had come along for the fun, so our party of eight, plus Nature Bob, began the hike, curious what a hiking guide could add to the experience. A lot, it turns out.

Walking through dense forest before we reached the impressive Mammoth Droppings boulders, Bob pointed out ripe huckleberries that the kids immediately gobbled down. He also showed us the delicious-looking yet poisonous twisted stalk red berries, and explained that purple elderberries are only edible when cooked. Good to know.

Nature Bob points to the top of Mammoth Peak, from which large boulders have fallen to form the “Mammoth Droppings” in the background.

Nature Bob has been leading hikes at Fernie Alpine Resort for 12 years, and he teaches skiing there in the winter, so he knows the mountain extremely well. He explained the rock formations and helped us find crinoid fossils in slabs of limestone. We also spotted a distant critter that looked like either a coyote or a fox; Bob used his binoculars to determine it was a coyote.

One in our party holds up two limestone slabs to show off the crinoid fossils.

Bob loved that our kids and our friend’s boys delighted in finding caterpillars, catching grasshoppers, watching chipmunks and jumping over rocks at the Mammoth Droppings. He also liked that we asked lots of questions and seemed prepared for the unpredictable late-summer weather (it was 20C at the bottom of Timber Chair and probably 10C at the top, some 700 metres higher). “Some people show up for alpine hikes wearing flip-flops,” he lamented. “And some folks just go, go, go, without taking in what they’re seeing. It’s like they’re running a race.” Yep, with four kids aged four to 11 in tow, that was not us. We were all about sloooow hiking.

The children loved jumping over rocks at the Mammoth Droppings, the hike highlight.

We never made it to the Lost Boys Pass lookout (the downside of slow hiking) but that’s OK. It was fun to explore part of the mountain with someone in the know. And that way, contrary to the name of the trail, it ensured we didn’t get lost.

Nature Bob runs guided hikes throughout the summer at Fernie Alpine Resort. The season is now over, but you can e-mail him next summer at naturebob@telus.net, or call the resort’s guest services at 250-423-2435 to enquire about guided hikes.