Hot Springs - rustic to extravagant

By Jan Westell   Trail Canada

Hot Springs are a natural luxury found in just a few places around the world. In Western Canada many hot springs are completely free to enjoy and remain as they were originally created. Other hot springs have been adapted to heat specially designed pools and are part of a more luxurious resort complex.

One of the most exotic adventure experiences that locals and visitors to Western Canada, can enjoy, is a visit to a truly rustic wilderness hot springs. One of the most natural and inviting is Hot Springs Cove, which is located on the northern edge of Clayoquot Sound in Maquinna Provincial Park, on the west coast of Vancouver Island.

These coastal hot springs have long been a favorite with First Nations, a regular stopover for west coast fishermen, and more recently, nature loving kayaking adventurers, all of whom are seeking cleansing and rejuvenation from a mineral steam bath.

Those without their own marine transportation must seek the services of a water taxi or a sightseeing boat in Tofino. From there, the visitors will travel through one of the west coastís most beautiful inletís, and in some cases via the open sea, before they arrive at Hot Springs Cove. Recent park development has provide a well maintained two kilometer viewing-boardwalk, that allows for a pleasant stroll from the landing dock, to the hot springs. Rugged footwear that offers a steady grip is a must, for those who want to easily scramble over the slippery rocks that surround and are immersed in the hot springs.

Bathers can enjoy upper and lower springs, and even a waterfall, for a variation in heat intensity, which can run as hot as 47 degrees Celsius, or 117 degrees Fahrenheit. As the tide swells, and flushes the hot springs, that natural experience can be truly refreshing, especially when enjoying not only a mineral bath, but also the spectacular view from Hot Springs Cove and all of its beauty. The hot springs are open all year, and spring and fall can be ideal for those who are seeking good weather, but fewer bathers.

Another rustic site popular with visitors to Whistler on the mainland, is Meager Creek Hot Springs, which is located about 150 km from Vancouver, west of Pemberton. The road to the hot springs was washed out in 2003, and is effectively closed for the time being. The site was operated by the B.C. Forest Service, and offered two natural rock baths, at a day-use facility that emulated a Japanese bathing facility.

Not far from Meager Creek Hot Springs, but in the opposite direction and southeast of Pemberton, or 35 km from nearby Mount Currie, is Skookumchuk Hot Springs, otherwise known as St. Agnes Well Hot Springs. This facility is as rustic as it gets, with two soaking tubs. The hot springs is located on private property, but access has always been available, throughout the year.

For a luxury experience, Harrison Hot Springs offers full spa facilities at the hotel, or a more basic experience at the town indoor pool. Further inland, there are many hot springs from luxury to primitive in the interior of B.C. These include Radium Hot Springs, in Kootenay National Park, Fairmont Hot Springs, located near Invermere, and Ainsworth Hot Springs, to name just a few.

The setting for Ainsworth Hot Springs is particularly attractive, as the pool and caves is located on the side of a mountain, and it overlooks Kootenay Lake and the Purcell Mountains. The hot springs features three pools, and a network of lighted caves, a unique and an exhilarating experience day or night. These hot springs are open all year long. As with other popular tourist sites in B.C., the off-season is the most rewarding time to visit, when usage is light.

Alberta also has hot springs, and some of the most prominent are in the Rocky Mountains, including the Miette Hot Springs in Jasper and the Upper Hot Springs in Banff. The latter is where the first National Park was formed, due to the discovery of the hot springs. A tribute to the original Cave and Basin Hot Springs has been developed, but this heritage sight has long been closed for bathing.

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