With an advantageous location nestled in the pristine Elk Valley in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains’ Lizard Range, Fernie is the epitome of an outdoor playground. A popular spot for adventure seekers, the mining town in the heart of British Columbia’s Kootenay Rockies is a treasured jumping-off point for those looking to explore the surrounding backcountry on foot, skis or two wheels. However, that easy access to the great outdoors means many visitors inadvertently bypass one of Fernie’s best features: its historic centre.
Painstakingly rebuilt after two devastating fires levelled the town in the early 1900s, Fernie once again sprung to life a century ago—this time made entirely of brick, in hopes of avoiding another catastrophe. The result is a charming core that’s home to boutiques, mom-and-pop eateries and art galleries, alongside a grand courthouse, city hall, and the Fernie Museum which houses exhibits outlining the town’s storied history.
Looking to explore Fernie yourself? Here’s a where-to guide featuring the best the town has to offer—including where to dine, how to unwind, and the best spots to explore.
Where to: Enjoy the great outdoors
Fernie has loads of outdoor adventures in summer including mountain biking, fly fishing, hiking and rafting, yet winter is when the ski town really comes alive. Hitting the slopes at Fernie Alpine Resort is easily the most popular pastime, thanks to its 2,500-plus acres of skiable terrain and location just 10 minutes from downtown. Other fun activities include fat biking and snowmobiling, or cross-country skiing along the trails near the golf course which offer great views and are perfect for beginners.
One of the area’s most memorable excursions is to head up to tranquil Island Lake Lodge, which starts with a 25-minute snow-cat ride to navigate the snow-covered road that winds through a canopy of old-growth cedar forests. Boasting over seven thousand acres of private land, the exclusive lodge is famous for cat-skiing, and is considered one of the best places in the world to do it.
Even those who aren’t heading into the backcountry can enjoy the area, thanks to the lodge’s maintained trails, acclaimed day spa and gourmet restaurants run by Red Seal chefs. Strap on a pair of snowshoes and carve out first tracks through the thick forests of fir trees and fluffy snow drifts, in the shadow of the so-called “Three Bears” spire peaks. The scene is absolutely enchanting, the spell only being broken when a gust of wind blows through the forest and you can actually hear the snowflakes falling from the tree branches to the ground.
Where to: Relax
Any place can call themselves a spa, but few live up to it as well as Spa 901 which could easily be considered one of western Canada’s top spots for relaxation. Housed in a converted 1908 brick schoolhouse, the gorgeous 6,600 square foot facility will have you feeling zen as soon as you walk through the front doors and into the spacious entrance area.
Inside you’ll find relaxation rooms where leather chairs are tucked up against a cozy fireplace, modern change rooms with amenities including fluffy robes to wrap yourself up in, an infrared sauna and even an outdoor hot tub fed by fountains.
Though one could easily while away an afternoon soaking in the pool or sipping tea in the lounge, the specialized treatments are the real highlight of any visit. Spa 901’s services include massages, cupping, paraffin manicures, hot stone pedicures and customized facials. One worth noting is the Deluxe Guinot Facial, which uses a double ionization wand to detox and penetrate serums deeper into your skin, while a high frequency wand kills bacteria to help prevent breakouts.
Spa 901 is also great for couples: not only are there treatments geared specifically towards men such as the Masculine Manicure or Miner’s Tune-Up Facial, but there’s also a private suite complete with a fireplace which is the perfect place to enjoy a couple’s massage.
Where to: Eat
Fernie’s historic main street (2nd Avenue) is essentially devoid of franchises, so there are plenty of locally-owned spots to explore, particularly when it comes to eateries. Here are some of the best:
The Loaf: This happening spot on 2nd Ave. started as a bakery, making it a favourite spot for locals to pick up fresh baked bread. It’s since evolved into a restaurant with both brunch and dinner menus, serving up dishes like pizza, a daily ravioli special and the Ploughmans Platter charcuterie board inspired by British pub food.
Big Bang Bagels: A popular hangout for the brunch crowd, you can usually find a group of locals trading stories while tucking into a breakfast sandwich. There are two dozen varieties to choose from, all available with either white dough or whole wheat. Don’t skip the Mr. Fernie Breakfast Bagel which is topped with fried egg, cheddar, avocado, tomato, grilled onions and ham or bacon.
Cirque Restaurant & Bar: Those who find themselves on the ski hill or are in the mood to celebrate should head to Cirque. Located in Lizard Creek Lodge, the stylish eatery has panoramic mountain views, a roaring fireplace and dangling chandeliers. Tuck into a confit duck leg, beef tenderloin or elk ribeye for dinner, or savour a beautifully-presented eggs benny for breakfast.
Beanpod Chocolate: Those in need of a sweet treat should make a pit stop at Beanpod Chocolate. The shop ethically sources their cocoa beans from South America, and makes all of their artisanal chocolates in-house.
Where to: Drink
Fernie just so happens to be home to one of the only ice bars in the Canadian Rockies, where subzero spirits are housed in frozen lounge fashioned solely out of ice. You’ll find it in Lizard Creek Lodge on the ski hill, making it the perfect spot for some arctic apres-ski. Bundle up in one of the provided parkas, then sample the huge selection of chilled vodkas served up in a glass made entirely of ice.
The Fernie Brewing Co. is another fun place to kick off the evening, as its location just off Highway 3 includes a tap room where you can sample the craft beers made in the adjacent production facility. The features on tap are constantly changing and include their seasonal and limited-release brews.
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Globe Guide explored Fernie in collaboration with Destination BC and Kootenay Rockies. As always, hosts have no editorial influence on articles.