There are good day hikes, and then there’s Heiko’s Trail. This classic Rocky Mountain trek, also called the Mountain Lakes Trail, covers 20 kilometres and crosses three passes in the mountainous backcountry near Fernie, B.C., ending at Island Lake Lodge. It’s only hiked by about 100 people every summer— so make sure you’re one of them.
By Lisa Kadane :: Photos by Mike McPhee
I’m an avid hiker and like to try new trails in the Canadian Rockies whenever I can. I’d heard whispers of Heiko’s Trail from Fernie locals for years, so a couple of summers ago, I set off with my husband and Rick Emmerson, an ACMG-certified guide from Island Lake Lodge, to tackle the trail in early August during the peak of wildflower season.
We started hiking from the trailhead off Hartley Lake Road, toward our distant destination, with plenty of food and loads of water—after the first three or so clicks there aren’t a lot of options to refresh the Camelbak—and climbed straight up into what looked like dense rainforest. We crossed streams and giant felled trees, aided by wooden ladders, bridges and a series of notched logs that acted like stairs in the steeper sections. By the time we reached Bisaro Cave, a gaping cavern eroded into the side of a mountain, I knew the trail was something special.
Longtime Fernie resident Heiko Socher pioneered this hiking trail during the summer of 2000. It took four years and innumerable volunteer hours to build, and the engineering alone is remarkable—two steel bridges had to be helicoptered into the backcountry to ensure hikers can safety traverse Bisaro Canyon. Heiko’s Trail is now maintained by the Fernie Trails Alliance.
It’s the trail’s diversity that makes it a must. In just 20 kilometres you crest three passes, and gain a total of 1,200 metres elevation, which is pretty impressive, but the hike is much more than mountain views and alpine meadows. You ascend through a rainforest, see a waterfall explode out of a hole in the side of a cliff, explore a cave, and cross a deep canyon churning with runoff.
Heiko’s Trail is also a magnet for wildlife, though the only animals we saw of note were a few other hikers sporting compression socks. Our guide said he has seen plenty of the four-legged variety during his dozens of trips through the back of beyond, including moose, elk, mountain sheep and even grizzlies from what he calls a “safe distance.”
We saw no bears, even when passing through a vast meadow thigh-high with false hellebore (what Emmerson referred to as “prime bear habitat”), likely because of his dutiful cries of “Ey-O,” which are intended to alert them to our presence.
I’m not gonna lie—the final five-kilometer descent down to Island Lake Lodge from the last pass, through a dense forest of tamarack and spruce—felt like a slog. After all, by then we were nearing hour eight of our full-day excursion! But one sip of cold beer on the Bear Bistro patio at Island Lake Lodge set it all to rights. We collapsed into our chairs, high fived each other over our epic accomplishment, and toasted Fernie’s best day hike.
If you go, you can hire an ACMG-certified hiking guide from Island Lake lodge to lead your group on Heiko’s Trail ($99 per person). The trail can be hiked through Thanksgiving, or until the first snowfall. Be sure to organize a car drop at Island Lake Lodge prior to setting out so you can shuttle back to the trailhead after the hike.
For more info, check out www.islandlakelodge.com
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