The Three Sisters standing above Mount Fernie and Mount ProctorNot to be confused with the Three Sisters in the Bow Valley near Canmore, Alberta.
The picturesque Three Sisters is located approximately 8 km north of the town of Fernie in southeastern British Columbia. It is part of the Washburn Region of the Canadian Rockies and is situated adjacent to the Elk River Valley. At 2788m (9147 ft), the Three Sisters is the highest mountain visible from Fernie, making it a popular objective in the area for both hikers and photographers alike. The mountain was officially named the Three Sisters in 1959. Mount Trinity is another name used to refer to the mountain, however, it is rare to hear it called by this name.
Several legends exist in the Elk Valley regarding the origins and stories of various mountains. With regards to the Three Sisters, legend has it that an Indian Chief was enamoured by three maidens and could not decide which one he would choose as a bride. When the elder chiefs asked the gods for their help in making this decision, the gods punished their indecisiveness by turning the young chief into a mountain (Mount Proctor). Upon hearing about this, the grief of the maidens was so great that they asked the gods to turn them into a mountain also – and so became the Three Sisters in Fernie.
A side view of the Three Sisters from the summit ridge of Mount Fernie
A less romantic explanation of the Three Sisters describes it as consisting of the sloping beds of the immense Palliser Formation pushed over rock that is 180 million years younger than it. This layering of older rock over younger rock is the norm in the Fernie area. The Palliser Formation was formed over millions of years from the marine deposits of an ancient sea when the Fernie area was located near to the equator. The summit of the Three Sisters is comprised of the marine limestone formed by this ancient sea bed.
Gaining the summit of the Three Sisters is accomplished by a straightforward hike that makes for a fantastic day out. Accessed by Heiko’s trail (usually from the Hartley Lake Road trailhead), the summit provides great views of the Elk Valley, The Steeples, Mount Fisher, Crowsnest Mountain, and a multitude of other peaks in the Canadian Rockies. Many people will choose the desirable option to combine hiking the entire length of Heiko’s trail and summiting the Three Sisters as a multiday outing.
I have yet to find any information on the first ascent of the Three Sisters. Remember that you are in bear country here – for both black and grizzly bears. Be sure to make lots of noise.
There are two trailheads that can be used to access the Three Sisters and these are the two trailheads at either end of Heiko’s Trail.
Note: Heiko’s Trail was completed in 2003. Before this, there was a different road and trailhead used to access the Three Sisters. Both of the commonly used brochures describing the Three Sisters hike (the Chamber of Commerce pamphlet handed out at the Visitor Information Centre and the BC Forest Service sheet) have outdated information and describe the directions to the old trailhead.
Hartley Lake Road Trailhead
This is the more commonly used trailhead to access the Three Sisters. Although any vehicle can get you there, having a high clearance vehicle will allow you to drive the final 3 km (1.9 miles) to the trailhead – saving you 6 km (3.75 miles) of hiking on an already substantial day of hiking.
Starting from the bridge crossing the Elk River (at the north end of Fernie), drive 5 km (3.2 miles) northeast on Highway #3 and turn left onto the north end of Dicken Road. From here, drive 600m (0.35 miles) and turn right onto Hartley Lake Road. Although I don’t have the exact distance to the next turnoff, the directions are pretty straightforward. After approximately
8 km (5 miles), you will see Hartley Lake below you to your left. Shortly after this, turn left at the 7 km marker sign onto the dirt road that meets perpendicularly with Hartley Lake Road. You will not be able to continue much further without a high clearance vehicle from here. With a high clearance vehicle, you may continue on about 3 km (1.8 miles) to the trailhead
Island Lake Trailhead
Although the Three Sisters can be accessed from the Island Lake trailhead, it’s only desirable to start here (due to the length of the approach from this direction) if you plan to hike the entire length of Heiko’s Trail with a diversion up to the summit of the Three Sisters along the way. Many people doing this will make it a multiday hike, camping overnight along the way. You may want to have a vehicle parked at the other trailhead in order to avoid hitching a ride back to your starting point at Island Lake. Of course, you could do a multiday trip starting at the Hartley Lake Road trailhead and having a vehicle waiting at Island Lake as well.
To get to the Island Lake trailhead, drive to the Island Lake Lodge Resort and park your vehicle there. The resort is very accommodating to hikers and the visitor parking area is open to those who are not guests at the resort. To get there, drive a few minutes southwest of Fernie on Highway #3 and turn right onto the Mount Fernie Provincial Park Road. Carry straight on through the park and after about 8km (5 miles) you will reach the end of the road at the resort.
Once at the resort, go to the southeast corner of the Cedar Lodge and follow the signs for the Tamarack Trail, which is the western terminus for Heiko’s Trail.
Island Lake Hiking Map
Google Earth Map of Heiko's Trail
- (Bisaro is mispelled twice on this map as Bizaro)
Topo Map of Heiko's Trail
Hartley Lake Road Trailhead
As the Three Sisters is not within any park boundaries, there is no red tape involved to climb it.
When to Climb
Scenery along the approach on Heiko's Trail
The main season for climbing the Three Sisters is from July to Mid-September.
Camping and Lodging
Camping in the Fernie area is found in Mount Fernie Provincial Park
. The campground is very much in demand in the summer. Advance reservations can be made at http://www.discovercamping.ca/
Both of Fernie’s hostels are also great places to stay:
Raging Elk International Hostel
Information on all other lodging in Fernie:
Always be prepared for quickly changing weather conditions when going out into the mountains. The upper slopes of the Three Sisters are quite steep and would be very slippery in wet or snowy conditions.
Fernie Visitor Information Centre: 1-877-433-7643 or 1-250-423-6868
Fernie, British Columbia
Geology of the Fernie Area
Three Sisters Legend
Story of Heiko Socher