Heading southeast from Cranbrook along Highway 3/93 the visitor will travel along the Kootenay River ending up in the Elk Valley. Along this route is Bull Valley where both the Bull and Elk rivers drain into Kootenay River via the reservoir of Lake Koocanusa which is 144 km (89 mi) long and created by the Libby Dam on the Kootenay River in Montana.
Kikomun Creek Provincial Park is located on Lake Koocanusa, 75 km (46 mi) east of Cranbrook. This park offers great Kokanee salmon fishing, a wide variety of family hiking, mountain biking and water recreation opportunities. Kikomun Creek Park has extensive fire-maintained ecosystems of Ponderosa pines and Douglas fir forests, and a grassland habitat which supports a notable population of Western Painted Turtles.
The community of Elko is located at the junction of Highway 93 and Crowsnest Highway (Highway 3), north of the Roosville Canadian-USA border crossing. Elko is a small and friendly sawmill town on the Elk River with a big ice cream cone announcing the town's claim to ice cream fame.
Heading east up the Elk Valley from Elko on Highway 3 the first major community is Fernie and the centre of the picturesque Elk Valley. The town of Fernie is named after William Fernie, who was instrumental in developing the coal mining industry in the area. A community long steeped in a history, rich in Indian legends and coal mining, Fernie has found new growth and vitality through tourism.
In town, Fernie's architecture is a feast of 19th century brick and stonework. Wood was banned as a building material in the early 1900s after a fire leveled all but 23 of the town's buildings. Fernie's 18-hole renowned golf course, Fernie Golf and Country Club, is located in view of some spectacular mountain peaks. The Three Sisters Peak and Ghostrider Mountain loom majestically over this great course. In the winter months, Fernie turns into a winter wonderland of snow with the Fernie Alpine Resort offering some of the finest powder skiing in the world. Snow-cat skiing is also available at Island Lake Lodge.
The area is also rich in wildlife with major concentrations of bighorn sheep, mountain goats, grizzly bear and elk. A good place to view the wildlife is in Mount Fernie Provincial Park which is situated in the southern portion of the Kootenay Range. This 259 hectare park is shadowed by the 2,133 m (6,932 ft) high Mount Fernie and protects the drainage area of Lizard Creek which flows through the park before forming a beautiful waterfall and emptying into the Elk River.
Heading east 29 km (20 mi) from Fernie along the Crowsnest Highway, (Highway 3) is the town of Sparwood and the heart of coal country. Sparwood's claim to fame is highly visible as the world's largest tandem axle dump truck is parked next to the Visitor Centre. Bigger than a house it has tires that are twelve feet in diameter. Sparwood has also turned over its walls in downtown to artists and a walking tour of town will take the visitor past more than a dozen murals depicting the Elk Valley's history.
From Sparwood the traveler can head east along Highway 3 to Alberta or north to Elkford on Highway 43 located at the end of the paved road. Elkford is home to the employees of Fording Coal, which operate two highly productive coal mines in the area. 87 km (52 mi) north of Elkford is one of the largest sub-alpine wilderness recreation areas in British Columbia, Elk Lakes Provincial Park. The park offers excellent wildlife viewing for elk, mountain sheep, goat, moose and deer. An abundance of bird life also proliferates and includes species such as the Pileated woodpecker, Steller's Jay, mountain bluebirds, dippers and humming birds.
The Elk Valley comes alive with wild flowers in the Spring. None is lovelier than the rare and protected calypso orchid (fairyslipper). Other flowers include the avalanche lily, arnica, paintbrush and colourful fireweed. Hiking or mountain biking on the of 40 km (24 mi) trail are very popular and hikers can find hidden ‘hot springs' high in the hills. In winter, Elkford is a major destination for snowmobile enthusiasts where there are over 60 km (37 mi) of mapped trails and powder bowls to explore.
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Explore the Communities of the Elk Valley
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