Walking Amongst Big Trees

Very often a hiking outing has a destination to lure you from the comforts of your normal surroundings. Whether it is a river, lake, mountain ridge, or just a tranquil meadow, these attractions make us get out and explore. The hikes suggested in this article have the reward of walking amongst the big trees in the local forests.

An easily accessible trail is the Old Growth Trail located in Cedar Valley, on the Island Lake lands. The drive up Mount Fernie Park Road from Highway #3 in itself has vantage points of the surrounding mountains as the road climbs up through the Lizard Creek drainage. While the trail is rated as moderate, explorers can chose the length of their outing as it is an out and back. Arriving at the Old Growth trailhead, a parking area 4km up the gravel road is the beginning of your natural decompression. Immediately upon entering the forest, you will feel the air cool, the moisture level rise, and your spirit soar. You are now in the Inland Temperate Rainforest of British Columbia. This 4km, roughly one and a half hour hike winds up towards Island Lake Lodge, where 800 year old Western Red Cedar, Interior Douglas Fir, and Englemann Spruce are your companions. Gauge your party’s comfort level, as you can turn around at anytime you’ve attained your hiking goals.

The Sherwoody Forest Trail that originates in Mount Fernie Provincial Park, is another one of my favourite places to roam on a hot summer day. The cool, shady forest, with its diverse plant life is a great place for an easy family hike. This trail can be accessed from either the Lizard Creek pedestrian bridge below the campsite, or from the Gorby Bridge located past the campsite at the next parking area on the left. Either point of access leads into the Sherwoody Trails. The network can get a bit confusing, but is well signed, so just don’t follow the “back to campground” signs until you are ready to return. The open forest is comprised of primarily Big Trees spruce, cedar, fir, and balsam trees, but the reward is finding your way up Happy Gilmar Trail, where some of the largest Western White Pine trees in the area are located. These rare trees have been subject to “blister rust,” so many dead snags are found amongst this stand. When you start to see the big, elongated pine cones on the ground, you have arrived. The trail loops back around onto Woody if you stay left when descending, you will then begin to see the signs directing back to the campground. The trail is an approximate 3.5km loop, but leave lots of time in case you get a bit disorientated within this maze of trails.

Olivia Creek Trail in the Hartley Pass provides access into the area behind the Three Sisters, and shelters some fine Englemann Spruce specimens along the approach. The area is quite remote, so the accessibility and rating could be considered difficult. Hartley Lake Rd. accessed from Dicken Road north of Fernie, is the beginning of the adventure. Users should expect a rough, gravel mountain road to the pass above Hartley Lake. The second left turn after the pass is Olivia Creek Sawmill Rd., where this road leads up towards the alpine bowls of Trinity Mountain. Those concerned for their vehicle’s paint job should park off the road, at the pass. The old puddle filled road travels 2.2 km where upon reaching the sawdust pile, the actual trail begins. The trail is lined by impressive Englemann Spruce and Balsam Fir, representing a mature succession forest with a regenerating understory of replacement trees preparing to become the next forest. This natural cycle is important for the well-being of this ecosystem. When the trail opens into a large meadow with an alpine basin view, this particular trail adventure ends. The trail’s 2.8km distance is measured out and back from this meadow. The trail continues higher into the upper reaches, but parties should only consider extending their trip if properly prepared.

Now, if you are really adventurous I recommend the drive 35km to Elkford on Highway #43, from the Highway #3 intersection east of Fernie to visit the giant Interior Douglas Fir trees. This special grove of trees is located on the east bank of the Elk River, just north of Elkford. Crossing the Elk River onto the Fording River Road, you take the first left, and follow the gravel forestry road upstream until you see the 103km marker. Take the left turn approximately 350m further, where a fairly new logging block access goes down towards the river. There is a place to park, with no real trail yet, but a few steps into the forest towards the river, and the old Elk River Trail becomes obvious. There is a bit of blowdown windfall on this remote trail, but don’t be discouraged. Follow upstream for 650m where the colossus trees grace the slope above the river. A trail just past the “big trees” slopes down to the river, and makes a nice spot for a picnic before returning back the way you came.

Hopefully these summer hiking recommendations allow you to discover some of the special features that the Elk Valley has to offer. Happy Trails.

Terry Nelson is the author of the recently published book, Fernie Area Hiking Trails and Natural Plant Compendium available at Polar Peek Books or at your local book store.