Spineback Trail – Fernie

Spineback Trail – Fernie

If you are looking for some amazing hikes near Fernie, (and you are visiting on Friday- Tuesday) the area around Island Lake Lodge is incredible. There are 100km of hiking trails located in 7000 acres of pristine old growth forests and alpine terrain that is all on private property, that allows public access. One of the best workout hikes in the area is the Spineback trail. This is a steep trail up to spiky limestone peaks with amazing views and plenty of fossils. From the top, if you have have enough energy, you can continue onto a fabulous alpine loop called the Goldilocks trail.

Spineback Trail – the basics

Distance: 7.5 km
Elevation gain: 600m 
High Point
: 1918m (at the bench)
Time: 3-4 hours
What to bring: The 10 essentials, and bring bear spray
Facilities: There are loos at the trailhead and on the Lake and Fir Trail. There is a dining room and a bistro if you would like to eat at the lodge after your hike.
Cost: Free, but only go on days when the lodge (and road) is open. Check the calendar here.
Dogs: Dogs are allowed (on leash)
How hard is it? Challenging – Mostly because the trail up is steep and slippery. The trail is very well maintained with good sign posts.

Spineback Trail Map

Alltrails doesn’t show all the peak names, but you can find them on this map.

Island Lake Lodge – Getting started

The Spineback trail starts at the fabulous Island Lake Lodge, a back-country resort that is used for weddings and outdoor adventures in summer, and cat skiing in winter. You can reach the trailhead by car, it’s 12.4km west down Mount Fernie Park Road.

The road to the lodge is never open on Wednesdays and Thursdays, and is also often closed at weekends for private functions (mostly weddings.) So you need to check this calendar to see if you can visit.

Take a peek at Island Lake

This area has been owned privately since the early 1900s. The area was originally owned by a lumber company, but logging was restricted to the distance people could drag the logs to the mill, so up near the main resort there is plenty of unspoiled old growth forest. You can read about the history of the lodge here.

The Three Bears

Even if you are not into hiking, it’s worth visiting Island Lake for the incredible views. Those three pointy peaks are the famous three bears Mama Bear (left) Baby Bare (middle) and Papa Bear (right). The trail I am about to describe ends up there just below Papa Bear.

Get hiking!

Normally hikers turn away from the lake and go straight up the Spineback trail. However the day we arrived, there was an animal carcass on left by a grizzly bear, so that section of the trail was closed. We took the Old Growth trail followed by the Fir & Lake trail. This added a couple of kilometers to our walk, but it was through truly gorgeous old growth forest.

Spineback trail switchbacks

Once we made it over to the Spineback trail, it became steep almost straight away! We saw a few other hikers near the bottom, but they all had to stop for breaks (and to take off some layers) so pretty soon we were zooming up the trail by ourselves.

The great thing about steep routes is every time you turn around, it feels like you have made some progress. Early in the morning the trail was cool, shady and a pleasure to hike. It’s a good workout.

As you climb up, pretty soon you’ll catch glimpses of the surrounding limestone peaks.

Limestone spine

When you make it out of the trees, you’ll see the spikey ridge that looks a bit like the spine of a stegosaurus or a dragon. I guess that is what gives this trail it’s name.

Papa Bear from below

I loved hiking through these rock gardens. You can look up to see Papa Bear looming above everything. The trail alternates through boulder fields and subalpine meadows. Whenever you are in the rocky areas, listen out for pikas. We saw a few.

So many fossils

Fernie is brilliant for geologists and fossil hunters. Last time we hiked in Fernie Alpine Resort, we saw hundreds of fossils. The area above Island Lake is similarly crammed full of really cool fossils from ancient seas.

Limestone Peaks

This is the view northwest. I think that is Big White to the left and Tua Rock, the middle bump in the foreground. That is different to the Big White mountain resort near Kelowna.

This is the view in the opposite direction, northeast. That’s Tamarack summit and Mount Fernie.

The higher you get, the more magnificent the views are. Right before you reach the top of the Spineback, this is the view of Papa Bear.

Top of the Spine!

How good is this!? You can peek back down to Island Lake where you started and look over the stegosaurus-like spikes. There is a bench so you can sit here and relax.

This is the view east towards Fernie.

Teeny trees

Once you reach the alpine, the trees are very small and dwarf like. You can see most of the trees near the top of the trail are smaller than me!

Continue to the Goldilocks Loop

Hopefully, after a break with the views, you’ll have some energy to keep going! From the top of the Spineback trail, there is another trail that is 2.5km with 240m elevation gain.

If you decide to continue, the trail goes around the Baby Bear mountain. So you hike between Mama Bear and Baby Bear to a saddle around behind the peaks, then back between Baby Bear and Papa Bear. This short trail is AMAZING! But I took so, so many photos that I’ll save it for another blog post.

Heading down

This trail is out and back, so return the way you came. Be careful on the way down as the trail can be quite dusty and slippery. It’s less energy to move down the mountain BUT you need to be careful when your legs get tired.

Old Growth trees

On the way up we were excited to get going so I hadn’t really noticed how stunning the trails close to Island Lake Lodge can be. It’s quite rare to find old growth cedar trees like this in the Canadian Rockies, and they are incredibly beautiful.

Back to the Island Lake

Even if you visited Island Lake on the way up, it’s worth taking another look on the way back. It looks quite different as the light changes and you can look back up to the trail where you have just been! (Squee!)

Panoramas from the Spineback trail

As you can see, this is a fabulous trail the entire time. It may be a bit of a challenge to hike up the steep Spineback trail on a hot day, but you’ll love it.

The Spineback trail near Fernie is an absolute treat. It’s not often you can reach such fabulous limestone peaks from such a short trail. We loved every moment of this hike, from the lake views, the special old growth forest and the fabulous limestone rock gardens at the top.

Spineback Trail, Fernie Hikes near Island Lake Lodge Hikes near Fernie, BC - Spineback Trail

17 thoughts on “Spineback Trail – Fernie

  1. Your panorama shots at the end of the post are so amazing. The grey stones reminds me of the landscape we saw all over Yosemite on the Sentinel Dome hike. But this trail looks more challenging.

    1. I think Yosemite is also made of limestone and shales, so that makes sense! The Sentinel Dome hike looks like it has fabulous views too! <3

    1. Right!? As soon as we saw it, we were trying to think of friends we can persuade to get married there! 😉
      It looks like such a relaxing (and gorgeous) place to stay!

    1. Yeah, it was a good workout, but at least it wasn’t too long (we did this on a travel day… as it was short enough to continue with our road trip)

      Not bad for a morning in Fernie eh!?

  2. Oh my gosh this trail looks incredible. Your pano photos are spectacular. It’s a shame it’s not open all the time, but I feel like that somehow adds to its charm. How cool that you can see fossils here too! I had no idea. Thank you for the inspiration 🙂

  3. Awesome post and pictures! I love that although this sounds like a rather challenging hike, it’s doable because it’s not that long 😅 I’ll have to check it out if I’m ever in this area!

  4. wow, how stunning! The lake lodge and all this scenery looks amazing. I really want to go hiking now, definitely saving this guide for future travels

  5. I’m personally not a hiker but these views look amazing! I think the hike would be worth it. Thanks for sharing all your helpful tips for this trail.

  6. I love a good hike, and this looks incredible! It seems like this is what it would look like if Yosemite existed in Washington state with all the green trees. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Wow, what a spectacular hike! The panoramic shots are amazing. I love the names “Goldilocks loop”, “Baby Bear”, but I wouldn’t want to come face-to-face with a real papa bear!

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