Fernie, British Columbia

Fernie is a city in the East Kootenay region of the Canadian Rockies along the Crowsnest Highway, which reaches as far east as my hometown of Medicine Hat, Alberta and as far west as Hope, BC near Vancouver.

Founded on the back of the coal industry in the late 19th century, Fernie’s relative fame these days comes from the Fernie Alpine Resort which boasts 2,500 acres of skiable terrain and nearly 29 feet of annual snowfall. In the summer, mountain bikes take over the mountain.

Living a mere 500km away (a day trip for us Western Canadians), I decided to visit during the quiet shoulder season in early May. With no snow, the ski resort was closed as it got ready for the summer rush of mountain bikes. Although it was sleepy, it wasn’t boring.

I met some friendly people working downtown at the Lunch Box who turned me onto a great spot where I could cliff jump called Silver Springs. The trailhead is unmarked but if you stop at the Elko gas station about 30km west of Fernie, they’ll direct you the rest of the way.

Early May is a pretty ambitious time to cannonball off a 25ft cliff into mountain water but hey, when in Rome, do as! The water took my breath away but as soon as I climbed out, I climbed back up to the top and did it again. On my way back to Fernie, I saw there was a $4 pancake breakfast the next morning at the Elko Community Hall. If you’re looking to really get off the tourist grid, I imagine that’d be a great place to do it.

Back in Fernie, I spent more time downtown. It’s a couple blocks south of the main drag through town but don’t miss it. The city and business owners have done a great job reviving and restoring the buildings left over from the early coal days. The Lunch Box is definitely a favourite and was busy when I was there, while Big Bang Bagels spruced me up the next morning before heading out on my next little walk to Fairy Creek Falls.

Fairy Creek Falls is an easy walk near Fernie’s Visitor Centre. If you’re passing through and need a stretch of the legs, this is a great hike you could round-trip in an hour (including photo opps).

Next time I’m in Fernie I must include more time at Silver Springs. I got an Instagram tip that there are two more lakes beyond the one I jumped into. I discovered so much, I didn’t even get to visit my favourite brewery, the Fernie Brewing Co. These guys do it right, from the beer all the way to the branding.

Fernie is a fantastic town. It’s coal industry is still operating and you can see plenty of that industry’s reminders in the city’s revived architecture. The tourism industry, for its part, has celebrated that heritage, creating a great down-to-earth vibe.

I will be back.