To kick off the summer, I was invited to stay at the magical Island Lake Lodge located in paradise, lol just kidding but close—located in a secluded, forested area of Fernie, in the East Kootenays of southeastern British Columbia.
Island Lake Lodge is situated next to a lake (hence the name), and set against the backdrop of the gorgeous B.C. Rocky Mountains (see photo evidence!!)
Island Lake Lodge opens for the summer season in early June. The season runs until early October.
Part of their summer kick-off for the last 3 years includes their Untamed Kootenays Culinary Event, which was a big part of my weekend getaway!
From Edmonton, the Island Lake Lodge in Fernie B.C. is about a 6.5-hour drive away. It’s much closer if you’re driving from Calgary (3.5 hours) and real close if you’re in Southern Alberta!
I made the trip down to Fernie with my friend Vanessa and below I’m sharing what you can expect during your stay at Island Lake Lodge, plus tips on what to see and where to stop (and eat) along the way!
Note: our accommodations, meals and activities at the Island Lake Lodge were complimentary, but I do not recommend anything unless I truly believe in what I’m recommending. Island Lake Lodge is really quite lovely!
Travel Guide: Mountain Escape to Island Lake Lodge in Fernie, B.C.
WHERE IS ISLAND LAKE LODGE & FERNIE, BRITISH COLUMBIA?
The little town of Fernie in southeast British Columbia is located in a region called the Elk Valley and East Kootenays, completely surrounded by the Rocky Mountains. So you could say it’s picturesque. Literally everywhere you turn in the town, you’ll see a mountain.
The area is incredibly gorgeous.
And the town, founded in 1898, is steeped in interesting history, myths and legends!
There is a neat legend about the snow conditions Fernie gets (it’s considered home to one of the best powder skiing in the west). There is a sad legend about flooding and fires that have re-shaped the town and its brick buildings downtown. And there is an interesting legend about how the valley’s Mount Proctor and the Three Sisters mountains were formed too.
Island Lake Lodge is located on 7,000 acres of pristine wilderness—hiking trails, forests, lake and mountains. It’s actually privately-owned land (can you imagine just owning your own mountain escape? lol). There are cedar barrel outdoor saunas, spa services, an exceptional culinary team and kitchens, popular for hikers and bikers, and during the winter, a very popular ski destination, in particular, for its cat-skiing operation.
That’s a word both Vanessa and I had never heard before this trip: ‘catski’ or ‘catskiing,’ but this is something Island Lake Lodge is renowned around the world for. Catskiing actually originated in B.C., and is basically when skiers hop on a snowcat as their ‘lift’ to get to where they ski down. It’s a way to get skiers to less accessed backcountry terrain. It’s cheaper than heli-skiing and can often get you to steeper areas than you would with heli-skiing. We saw a bunch of snowcats on the property during our stay and think it would be really cool to head out in one during the winter season!
Island Lake Lodge itself is divided into several separate lodges. We stayed in the Cedar Lodge, which sits in the forest. The Tamarack Lodge has the best views of the Rocky Mountains while the Red Eagle Lodge gives you mountain and lake views (and if you’re lucky, you should also be able to spot an eagle hanging out on one of the trees directly outside the lodge).
Island Lake Lodge offers some great getaway packages depending on what you’re looking for! There’s a Mountain Romance Package, a Dine and Stay Package, a Spa Package, Hiking Package, and more.
Both Vanessa and I agreed the rates for these packages are pretty reasonable for what you get, for instance with the Mountain Romance Package, you get 2 nights stay, breakfast each morning, a custom chocolate / fruit plate and chilled bottle of bubbly on arrival, a $300 spa credit, $150 dining credit, and free canoe rentals for $860 plus tax per couple.
For the kick-off weekend and Untamed Kootenays Culinary Event, there was also a package which included two nights stay, foraging in the forest for ingredients used in the culinary dinner, the culinary dinner which was five courses with wine pairings, free breakfast and dining credits for first night dinner and next day lunch. Watch to book this package before next June’s event! It always takes place the opening weekend of the summer season.
WHAT TO DO AT ISLAND LAKE LODGE
We really felt like we took advantage of a lot of what the property had to offer during our stay.
Here’s a few things we did, that you could too:
1. GO FOR A HIKE
Whether you’re beginner or advanced, there’s a hiking trail for you at Island Lake Lodge. You can go on your own or you can book a guided tour where guides will also tell you about the floral and fauna in the area, along with other history and fun facts. We went on a guided hike that was also part of the foraging experience of the Untamed Kootenays Culinary Event and had so much fun identifying and picking edible plants and flowers (like horsetail, stinging nettle, fiddleheads and dandelions). During your hikes you’ll be among some trees that are over 800 years old. (Make sure you give them a big hug). Island Lake Lodge also conveniently recommends Instagrammable spots hikers can use to guide where they go.
2. GET PAMPERED AT THE SPA
What getaway (mountain or otherwise) would be complete without a bit of pampering? At the Spa at Island Lake Lodge, you’re treated to tea plus a foot bath in the relaxation room before you head into one of the treatment rooms. I got a tension-releasing deep tissue massage while Vanessa got a relaxing facial. Afterwards, you get a little chocolate and are invited to use the outdoor sauna if you wish, or lay out in one of the outdoor chairs, gazing out at the spectacular mountain view. This was a perfect way to unwind after our morning hike, and just before our big dinner!
3. HIT UP THE OUTDOOR SAUNA
Speaking of the sauna, we LOVED the outdoor, cedar barrel saunas at Island Lake Lodge!! They smell great (cedar! not sweat lol). They look COOL (highly Instagrammable). And they’re just an awesome way to relax. There’s a switch to turn for heat control, along with a ladle you’re encouraged to pour water onto rocks to get the steam going. There’s also some head or foot rests you can use to get in a real comfortable position!
4. CANOE THE LAKE
Okay, we didn’t actually do this because funnily enough it snowed on our first night (snow in June! When we were there to celebrate summer, lol. How Canadian…) so we definitely could have taken a canoe out but opted not to (we did hike in snow though so we still count as hearty Canadians!) But this lake is really pretty and we just imagined getting out on it in a canoe would’ve been the cherry on top of a pretty magical stay already. Even just walking to the lake and snapping some photos is recommended.
5. EAT REALLY GOOD FOOD
This is my main goal and ‘to-do’ wherever I go, and it’s really easy to do at Island Lake Lodge!
The breakfast and dinner dining room and patio is located in the Tamarack Lodge, and the lunch dining room and patio is located in the Bear Lodge.
Under Executive Chef Keith Farkas, there is a new summer menu each season, featuring local Fernie produce, freshly foraged ingredients, meats and sustainable, Ocean Wise seafood.
Chef Farkas has been Executive Chef at the lodge for over eight years, and you can tell. We found the dining service (well, all service, but dining in particular), here to be extremely attentive, and the dishes—delicious (more on that below).
I like how they describe the Island Lake Lodge’s food so I’ll just share it verbatim below:
Look closely in your salad, dessert or cocktail and you’ll see pesto ground from the fireweed that lines the access road and mountain trails, amber syrup boiled from cedar boughs, purple huckleberries foraged from bushes, and orange nasturtium garnishes plucked from hanging baskets around the property.
Chef also buys ingredients grown or raised locally, in Fernie and the surrounding Elk Valley, including honey from Elk River Apiaries, elk for the house-made elk chorizo and the greens tossed into the popular market salad.
The dining rooms also have an “extensive & eclectic” wine list, and some fun cocktails (like the PampleMoose Espolon blanco tequila with grapefruit juice, soda and rosemary, or the Sunny Side small batch lemonade infused with french lavender and bohemian pink gin), as well as mocktails like a Blueberry Maple Mojito or Cranberry Ginger Mimosa.
WHAT TO EAT AT ISLAND LAKE LODGE
Vanessa and I ate really well at the Island Lake Lodge. We were also so impressed with service, quality and taste of the food especially for it being first weekend of operation for the summer season when we were there!!
If you’re headed to the lodge for this 2019 season, below are some must-orders. If you’re headed there during a new season, these recommendations may not exist exactly but just know you will not be disappointed with your meal!
1. MAPLE FRIED EGG PORK BELLY BREAKFAST SANDWICH
I’m not usually a sweet breakfast person (savoury all the way!) but the maple fried egg aspect of this pork belly breakfast sandwich intrigued me, and was also highly recommended by our server. It was a GREAT choice. The sandwich also came with tomato and avocado, a side of potatoes and some fruit. The sweetness of the maple egg and the savoury of the pork belly made for a harmonizing flavour party in my mouth with each bite, especially with the creaminess of the avocado.
This breakfast dish is just $15 but if you book a package where you get breakfast included with your stay, it would be free! (Extras, like I added bacon, would not be included).
Vanessa ordered the chef’s omelette of the day and also thought it was an excellent meal.
2. DUCK BREAST WITH LAVENDER AND STONE FRUIT GLAZE
Duck for dinner was a great choice for Vanessa on our first night at the lodge. We like that the dinner menu included a section where you could build your own entree and sides! Vanessa chose the Duck Breast with Lavender and Stone Fruit Glaze ($22) with Potato Puree ($8) and Market Vegetables of the Day ($9). You get a very generous portion of tender duck and the market vegetablee that day included the most delicious morel mushrooms. Vanessa didn’t leave a single thing on the plate.
3. “CHORIZ-ERITA” FLATBREAD
For lunch on Saturday, we dined in the Bear Lodge, where we were blessed to eat their ‘Choriz-erita’ Flatbread (which presented more like a pizza though), but was just topped with some great ingredients including Elk Chorizo, organic tomatoes, arugula, tomato sauce, three cheeses: mozza, provolone, blue cheese creme, topped with fennel and almond crumble. ($15). This was extra cheesy and delicious, and the crust held up the toppings fabulously. Pair with a Fernie Brew Co. beer!
4. SCALLOP & CHORIZO
For your dinner appetizer, I’d highly recommend the Scallop and (Elk) Chorizo which comes with corn, braised diakon, pickled goose berry, some bonito flakes and scallion oil and a bacon dashi broth! ($18) The broth was so well-seasoned, I could’ve eaten this dish as a full soup if they offered it that way, lol. It’s a nice ‘land and sea’ option if you’re looking to satisfy both cravings.
5. AAA ALBERTA BEEF TENDERLOIN
I felt compelled to order an Alberta beef dish just because, ‘Berta? lol. It did not disappoint! The AAA Alberta Beef Tenderloin comes with a. soubise (onion sauce) with chives ($27), and I also added a Risotto (made of beets, reggiano and marsacpone cheese – $9) as well as the Market Vegetables ($9 – because I also wanted in on the delicious morel mushrooms!) The tenderloin was—yup, tender. Juicy. Perfectly cooked.
Those were really just a few of the bites we had during our weekend stay and I would’ve been happy to eat my way through the entire menu if given the opportunity lol.
But we also stuffed our faces at the Untamed Kootenays Culinary Event, which is a special 5-course dinner with wine pairings that typically kicks off the opening weekend of Island Lake Lodge’s summer season.
UNTAMED KOOTENAYS CULINARY EVENT
The Untamed Kootenays Culinary Event meal at Island Lake Lodge was phenomenal, featuring dishes from not only Executive Chef Farkas, but guest ‘mountain chef’ Andrea Campi and the lodge’s sous chef and chef de partie as well. It is a nice event that showcases different chefs in the kitchen, brings in a guest chef to inject some different perspective, flavours and experience into the meal, and kick off the summer season!
Like with the regular dining services at the lodge, Vanessa and I were particularly impressed with how good the culinary event was, especially given that it was essentially Day 1 Day 2 of the season / first actual operating days for the staff. Everything at this event felt so seamless, and all the food we tried was so delicious. We also loved that different plants and flowers we had foraged earlier in the day (part of the Untamed Kootenays Culinary Event weekend itinerary) were featured in the dishes that evening.
The lodge’s marketing manager Mike acted as event emcee, and had a mic which he brought into the open kitchen area to get the chefs’ take on what they were making and why, so there felt like a nice interactive element to the meal too.
We honestly enjoyed all dishes which included a savoury morel and yarrow panna cotta, a nettle spaetzle, citrus cured arctic char, beef loin and a cedar green tea mousse, but the table favourite was easily the Bolter Farms Sous Vide Beef Loin with cured and smoked egg yolk, dandelion, chimichurri and housemade potato crisps (CHIPS!). The dessert, which included a really interesting and burst of flavour cedar gel candy also got literal audible gasps of delight and a ‘oh man. Yum!’ from our tablemates.
OTHER TIPS & THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT ISLAND LAKE LODGE
- You don’t have to worry about lack of service, the Wi-Fi signal is great! We’ve stayed at other mountain lodges before and Wi-Fi can be pretty spotty. Of course, most people who head out to this area are likely looking for a phone break, but if at the end of your mountain adventure day, you want to check in online, there are no issues doing so here
- Book one of the packages that includes dining credits first and foremost, then spa credits! A guided tour is nice but you’d likely be fine hiking around on your own. I think you get a lot of value out of the total cost when multiple meals and spa relaxation is included.
- If you don’t book accommodations, you could still drive up from the town and try their restaurants, hike their trails, and use the spa! We met a couple who was doing just that during our stay, having a nice little Island Lake Lodge day-trip getaway.
- The lodge also offers different dining deals throughout the summer, including Monday Date Night ($99 per couple) or Wine Tasting Wednesdays ($99 per person)
- The rooms are quite spacious and cozy. The rooms in the Tamarack Lodge in particular come with private balconies with stunning views which is lovely. There are no TVs in any of the rooms at. the lodge because, nature.
- If you are booking for the next Untamed Kootenays Culinary Event and are really interested in foraging, note that you get to keep anything you forage! You’ll get a big white bucket so go nuts with your foraging and bring home fresh plants and flowers for homecooking once your getaway is over!
WHERE TO STOP AND EAT ALONG THE WAY
If you’re headed to Island Lake Lodge from Edmonton, a food stop in Calgary is highly recommended.
On our way down, Vanessa and I powered through past Red Deer and had lunch in Calgary at Two Penny, a modern Chinese restaurant along 1 St SW (right next to another Calgary favourite: Ten Foot Henry).
At Two Penny, you must order the Crispy Mushroom Dumplings with black truffle soy mayo. They are incredible! Their Steamed BBQ Buns (with char siu pork) and Mouthwatering Chicken (spicy, with sichuan chili oil, peanuts and cilantro) were also beautiful and full of flavour. If you didn’t want to share a few items, they also do a great Lunch Bowl.
After lunch at Two Penny, we made a quick stop for road trip ice cream at Made by Marcus on 17th Ave. I got the Passionfruit Basil Gin & Tonic (featuring Park Distillery G&T from Banff) and Vanessa had the Goat Milk Rhubarb Rosemary (featuring Fairwinds Farm organic goat milk). I love the variety of Made by Marcus’ flavours, and that they have so many seasonal/changing flavours that feature local producers.
On the way home from Fernie, if you time it for a later arrival, you could make a dinner stop at the famed Longview Steakhouse in Longview, Alberta on Cowboy Trail. Reservations are highly recommended for this top-rated spot specializing in local, Alberta beef.
We opted to head home earlier in the day, so our road trip stops included breakfast, lunch, learning about Alberta’s Frank Slide, and doing a photo op at the World’s Biggest Truck in Sparwood, B.C.
As the town of Sparwood even says on their website, they are known as ‘that town with the big green truck’ lol, right on B.C.’s border. Photo op is certainly worth the quick stop!!
VISITING FRANK SLIDE IN SOUTHERN ALBERTA
The Frank Slide is Canada’s deadliest rockslide, which occurred in April 1903. A wedge of limestone over one kilometre wide, 425 meters long and 150 meters deep had broken off Turtle Mountain and smashed into many, huge rock pieces as it slid down, burying part of the town, a mine entrance, a construction camp. and ranch buildings.
Today the boulders are piled on either side of the highway and are just an incredible sight. The story is also so sad and perhaps the most haunting part of the tale for us was reading that the bodies are still buried under the rocks today.
I struggled a bit with whether this was a site to take photos at (is it disrespectful? There’s some great opinion pieces on this type of thing online right now…) but decided in the end that I did want to, and that it is okay! I think it’s important for people to know this happened and this area existed (I didn’t—until this trip!)
And I share this photo with the utmost awe and respect. A stop at Frank Slide is certainly worth it as you make your way to Fernie (or anywhere in Southern Alberta).
MORE ROAD TRIP EATS
On our way home for breakfast, we stopped at Big Bang Bagels right in Fernie. Big Bang Bagels make all their deliciously fresh bagels from scratch. They offer breakfast bagels or bagel sandwiches (affectionately named bagelwiches), and take-home bagels individually or as a 6 or 12 pack. If you get frozen bagels they come discounted at $5 for a giant pack of 12. The Mr. Fernie bagel with fried egg, aged white cheddar, avocado, tomato, grilled onion, spinach or sprouts (I LOVE sprouts!) and ham or bacon is a must-order. We also got the Hamlet + Cheese which came with aged dry cheddar, cream cheese (!!) and ham. Both of these were the perfect fuel to get us on our way!
For lunch in Calgary, we stopped at Empire Provisions, home to what I declare to be the best sandwiches in Calgary. Oh my gosh. If you’ve never been, you absolutely MUST order a sandwich. ANY SANDWICH WILL DO BECAUSE ALL OF THEIR SANDWICHES ARE PHENOMENAL. Vanessa got the I Just Want a Turkey Sandwich (their item names are funny lol), featuring empire smoked turkey, aged cheddar, apple cider jam, grainy mustard mayo, lettuce, tomato, and sprouts on a ciabatta bun. As I had been to Empire Provisions many times before, I decided to try one of their super generously portioned Greens, Egg & Ham Salad on this visit, which featured crumbled blue cheese, soft poached egg, bacon lardons, avocado, toasted pumpkin seeds, artisan greens, and french vinaigrette. I also got one of Empire Provisions’ Meat Cones! which is literally a cone filled with your choice of a variety of meat cuts, including soppressata, cacciatore, sherry walnut, finocchiona, smoekd harvest sausage, or my pick: saucisson sec (a thick, dry cured sausage from France). Man, oh man, were we fully satisfied.
And that’s that! If you’re planning a visit to the Island Lake Lodge in Fernie, B.C., I hope this Travel Guide gives you a great sense of what to expect, what to do, what to eat, and how to make the road trip to and from really enjoyable too!
Vanessa and I had such an awesome road trip across Alberta and mountain escape to Fernie, B.C.
Thank you to the Island Lake Lodge for inviting us and hosting us!
The service at this resort is incredible. The views are stunning. The food—amazing.
And I can certainly see a catskiing winter adventure there in our future!
(Their winter season runs from mid December to early April).
Disclaimer: I was invited to Island Lake Lodge to experience their Untamed Kootenays Culinary Event. As a media guest, my accommodations and meals were complimentary. This does not impact opinions stated in this post. Staying at this mountain lodge was a wonderful escape.