In the winter, the only access to this snow-choked backcountry lodge, on the skirts of Fernie, B.C., is by Sno-Cat. But in the summer, anyone who can negotiate a boney road can easily get to this luxurious outpost—making it an ideal last-minute adventure base camp, tucked high in the Lizard Range, about 20 minutes from this town in southeastern B.C.
Coddled by a series of limestone spires known as The Three Bears, three cedar buildings sit next to a doughnut-shaped lake, perfectly positioned for amblers (stick to the easy lake trail), hikers (the lodge is on 7,000 private acres, zigzagged with scores of trails), mountain bikers (just down the access road is the web of trails at the provincial park), paddlers (canoes are available) and spa-goers (five treatment rooms are on the lower level of the Tamarack building).
Celebrating its 25th anniversary this summer, Island Lake Lodge is the only cat ski operation in the world that owns the land on which it uses to ski. Most operators lease the land—not that summer folk really care.
In the spirit of spontaneity, where you may turn up at a gem like Island Lake, nab a room and cram in as many activities as you can in 48 hours. Here’s a game plan.
For the Hiker:
Rise at dawn and slice through dewy cobwebs up the 530-metre grunt to top out at Spineback Ridge. Or, if you don’t have four hours, opt for the 200-m climb to the summit at Tamarack Viewpoint (just a 4 km loop). Be sure to grab a mate and make lots of racket as this is bear country.
From the top of Tamarack, you’ll likely see patches of snow, spackled with pink watermelon algae as well as views of the lodge, lake, Mt. Baldy, Big White and ridge after ridge of peaks. Old growth forests (some trees date back 800 years) can be found in different pockets of the preserve but just the variety—from Western Red Cedars and Ingleman Spruce, to Douglas Fir—let alone their size, is staggering. If you’d rather not strike out on your own, the lodge has fully certified guides you can hire to tailor a hike just for you, or your group.
For the Biker:
Just down the access road, next to the winter parking lot, lies Fernie Provincial Park which is crisscrossed with singletracks. The Gorby Trail and Project Nine are two local favourites as is Ridgemont, but that’s on the other side of the valley, closer to town. By summer’s end, a new trail on Island Lake’s property should be cut and bikeable.
For the Ambler:
From the lodge, take the flat Lake and Fir Trail that hugs the alpine lake for most of its 2 km distance. Benches and viewpoints and spots to skip stones make this a popular one for families.
For the Fisher:
Serious fly fishers from around the planet come to Fernie to dip a line in the Elk, the Bull and the Wigwam rivers. Teaming with cutthroat and bull trout, these rivers can be negotiated independently or with a professional guide and drift boat. Lots of anglers choose to stay at the lodge and customize their fishing adventure.
For the Foodie:
You could just cut to the chase—or the Bear Lodge Patio—and bypass all suggestions of calorie-burning adventures. Only in the summer, can a guests just turn up for a meal (and not be required to stay) and, like all the lodge’s adventures, there’s nothing ordinary about their menu. For starters, the setting—whether it’s in the Ancient Timbers Dining Room with its spectacularly swirly rock fireplace or the sunny patio—lets all those views of snaggletoothed peaks spill onto your plate. And then there’s the food. And the wine.
Helmed by Keith Farkas, the French-inspired Rocky Mountain cuisine is innovative and uber fresh. Hyper local is not a big deal these days. But food like this? This is a big deal, a very huge deal! So thank Farkas for sourcing locally, from the ridiculously juicy tomatoes from nearby Cincott Farms (they sell 38 types) to curly fiddleheads that he may well have picked from the woods to the veggies and fruits he gets from No’s Orchard in Creston, and so forth.
If you could only order two dishes off this mouth-watering menu, the advice from Farkas is the Caprese salad (it’s those killer tomatoes) and the bison short ribs that have been roasting for six+ hours before they wind up on your plate.
As a side note, when you can get into a backcountry lodge like Island Lake without forking over a king’s ransom for a Cat-ride or in the case of other lodges, a flight in a chopper, do it. And when the room rates and summer packages are a fraction of what they are in the winter, pay them. I’m fairly certain you’ll love this adventure base camp.