The clouds move swiftly across the sky, revealing the first snowfall of the season on the peaks. The Elk River, usually raging with water in the spring and busy with fly fishers and boaters in the summer, is calm and quiet this cool September morning. The leaves have just started to change from their bright green to their vibrant fall colours, and I take in the scene as I set up my tripod and wait for the soft light of the sun to strike the summits of the Lizard Range. Fernie and the Elk Valley in the fall is truly a photographers dream.
Situated in southeastern British Columbia just 45 minutes from the US border, Fernie is best known as a powder skiing paradise. In the winter the towns population swells from about 6000 people to 8000+, with weekend crowds from Calgary and other nearby cities hitting the town to enjoy the great skiing Fernie Alpine Resort provides. Fernie has also increased in popularity in the summer recently, with some of the finest mountain biking and hiking to be found in the Rockies. However, once the fall arrives, the town slows down and the trails clear, allowing for a much more relaxed visit.
Fernie is not quite the destination for landscape photographers as nearby Banff and Lake Louise are, but the scenery in the Elk Valley is just as stunning as those two popular cities. The view down Fernie's Second Avenue towards Fernie Alpine Resort surely rivals the iconic view of Cascade Mountain along Banff Avenue, but with much less traffic and tourists in the way.
The fall colours in Fernie tend to start changing in the second week of September, with the lower elevation deciduous trees and bushes peaking in their bright yellows and reds during the last week of September and first week of October. The higher elevation larches come into their own over the course of October and generally last until the start of November. Overcast skies are quite common through the fall, allowing for great intimate shots of nearby Lizard, Coal, and Fairy Creeks, but when the sun is out and the hiking is great the grand landscapes really stand out.
On this beautiful September morning I found myself along the shore of the Elk River just outside of Fernie by the Hosmer Bridge. The clouds were moving quickly, so I set my lens up with a 10 stop neutral density filter, which lengthened my exposure to bring out that motion in my image, along with creating a beautiful smoothing effect on the river. As the sunrise touched the peaks behind Mount Hosmer, I captured the image below.
On an overcast day just a week later, I took the short hike to Fairy Creek Falls. This 3km trail meanders through beautiful stands of aspen and cedar trees and open meadows to arrive at a small waterfall flowing through the valley between Mount Fernie and Mount Procter. With low water levels in the fall many nearby rocks are accessible to set up tripods, and with the nice even lighting an overcast day provides it wasn't difficult to capture a wonderful image.
Other great photography spots include Castle Mountain, which provides a beautiful panorama of the Lizard Range, the West Bridge, with its direct views towards the Three Sisters, and Annex Park, where a small pond offers up beautiful reflections of Mount Procter and Hosmer. Further afield, Silver Springs Lake is not to be missed, and Elk Lakes Provincial Park has amazing views of the large peaks along the Continental Divide from Lower Elk Lake.
As November arrives and the snow begins to fly, the excitement in town picks up again with the coming ski season. While my favourite season for landscape photography has come to a close, I look forward to the opportunities the winter provides.