Published in the Vancouver Observer | March 19, 2012 | Circulation 150,000 unique monthly visitors
British Columbia’s hot springs are some of the most beautiful in Canada, ranging from Harrison Hot Springs luxurious mineral baths to more humble and less known waters.
BC’s hot springs are beloved by Vancouver residents and travellers as an escape from the big city. Only a one and a half hour drive from downtown, you can start your hot springs adventure on Harrison Lake, where the famed West Coast mountains drop down to the water. Once you arrive there, you won’t want to leave, so consider a couple of days in Harrison. Then you can move on to other destinations where travellers will be rewarded with the benefits of natural waters that are almost medicinal, as aches and pains, and problems, slip away.
1. Harrison Hot Springs, British Columbia
Harrison Village, BC, boasts a magnificent setting and lovely hot springs. Less than two hours from Vancouver, the thermal waters of these hot springs attract vacationers all year round. Exceptionally high in mineral solids, they are believed to heal rheumatism and arthritis. In fact, the Coast Salish indigenous peoples have long considered these hot springs a healing place. For good reason, Harrison’s springs have drawn stars like Clark Gable, John Wayne and Liam Neeson (not all at once, obviously).
The two thermal sources feeding the Harrison hot springs are at 40 and 65 degrees C – plenty hot for any spa-seeker. Unfortunately, closeness to Vancouver comes at a cost – the popular BC tourism destination’s best array of hot, warm, and cold baths are only available to guests of the Harrison Hot Springs Resort – either hotel or spa guests. The resort is a pleasure for families and one of its best features outside of the baths is the Sunday morning buffet which is truly a feast. Travellers can also enjoy the full range of spa services and four large pools, including a lap pool with a view of the nearby mountains peeking over the hotel. In the summer, paddle boats are a fun adventure for children and the beach by the lake offers a nice walk with viewpoints to enjoy dramatic sunsets.
There’s a more affordable public hot spring-fed pool just down the road, but it simply doesn’t compare to the resort’s five naturally hot pools, calming ambiance, and waterfall rock sculpture setting. The cheapest way for travelers to access to all the hot springs is a half-hour relaxation massage ($70), or book 20 minutes in the private mineral pool ($55), then explore the rest. They’re open 5 a.m. to 1 a.m. so there’s plenty of soak time.
2. St. Agnes Well (Skookumchuck) Hot Springs, British Columbia
The next closest hot springs in British Columbia is also the most undeveloped on the Vancouver Observer’s list, and is only accessible by rough gravel logging road. But for travellers looking for adventure on their vacation in British Columbia, plunging into these incredible wilderness baths – just over four hours from Vancouver – will be worth your while. Located on the edge of the stunning Lillooet River, BC, roughly an hour south of Pemberton and Mount Currie, these popular hot springs on Port Douglas, Skatin and Samaquam First Nations territory feature a campground if you decide to stay the night.
3. Crazy Creek Hot Pools, British Columbia
Offering 2,000 square feet of hot pools, Revelstoke, BC’s Crazy Creek resort isn’t technically a hot spring – the water bubbling up from this spring is heated with natural geothermal energy by the resort. The bonus: these soothing pools have none of the usual sulphur egg smell. Only six hours from Vancouver, this is worth checking out.
4. Hot Springs Cove, British Columbia
Hot Springs Cove is a 1.5 hour water taxi ride north of the island’s surf town,Tofino, BC. This hot springs spot is remotely situated on the incomparable Clayoquot Sound of west coast Vancouver Island. This pristine rainforest experience – about seven hours from Vancouver including the ferry ride – is renowned because the springs have been left in their natural state. The boiling water cascading down the rocks is described as “intense,” but the pool temperature is also a searing 47 degrees C. One of the most unique features of these springs is that when the tide rises, sea water mingles with the thermal source. The water taxi departs daily at 9 a.m. and noon ($105, reservations required); another boat offers a tour.
5. Canyon Hot Springs, British Columbia
The hot springs of Albert Canyon, BC, is just over seven hours from Vancouver and offers thermal pools from May through September. Legend has it that early 20th century railway workers (labouring under notorious conditions) discovered the hot springs while digging, lined the hole with railway ties, and relieved their pain at the end of the day in the soothing waters.
6. Halcyon Hot Springs, British Columbia
This incredible BC interior resort is a gem near Revelstoke. Eight hours might seem like a long drive, but these hot springs’ rare blend of calcium, magnesium, lithium, sodium and strontium – known as “lithia waters” – are celebrated for soothing aches, arthritis, osteoporosis and gout. Perched in the midst of stunning mountains and the picturesque Arrow Lakes, whether you come for just a healing soak, or a full resort spa treatment, it’ll be worth the trip. Apparently, these hot springs are so awesome that First Nations fought wars over them – and ended up creating a peace treaty that gave the Arrow Lakes their name.
7. Nakusp Hot Springs, British Columbia
At the bottom of the BC interior’s Kuskanax River canyon, 200,000 litres of fresh water replenish this naturally heated pool each day. Piped into two large, semi-circular pools, at 37 and 41 degrees respectively, the water at its source (1.5 km away) is a scalding 54 degrees C! Nakusp’s outdoor springs are fully developed, with a shop selling local handicrafts, soaps, mineral bath balls and souvenirs.
8. Radium Hot Springs, British Columbia
Don’t worry about the radioactive-sounding name – this spa is pure healthy. Nestled within the boundaries of the mountainous Kootenay National Park, Radium features Canada’s biggest thermal pool flanked by stunning rock walls. The water is under 40 degrees C, and lacks the unpleasant sulphuric odour common in thermal baths. These springs also host a day spa, and promote themselves as BC’s most accessible commercial hot springs for people with disabilities.
9. Ainsworth Hot Springs, British Columbia
This writer’s personal favourite hot springs are, sadly, the farthest from Vancouver. And while Ainsworth Hot Springs may not be accessible in a single “day trip” from Vancouver, they are well-worth checking out for a weekend. The most beautiful and unique feature of these thermal pools is the horseshoe-shaped, dimly lit cavern carved long ago by miners – a sign at the entrance warns swimmers not to moan, howl or sing in the echoey, stalactite encrusted tunnel! In the hottest of three pools, the temperature is roughly 40 degrees. Ainsworth – partway between the communities of Nelson and Kaslo, BC – also features a natural sauna, a four degree C “cold plunge” pool for masochists, and view over Kootenay Lake.