The first snowfall of the year is delightful, but by February, many of us could use a break from the unending ice.
Instead of hopping the first plane headed south, point yourself towards the Rocky Mountains, or further west, to Vancouver Island, to discover British Columbia’s best natural hot springs and enjoy a mid-winter warm up in the great outdoors.
Ainsworth Hot Springs
Although this is commercialized, it’s still interesting, since one of the pools is in a cave. Inside the dim, horseshoe-shaped cave, steamy water drips from overhead creating a natural steam bath. The ever-changing water stays at an invigorating 42C, necessitating an occasional quick plunge in the cooler (well, at four degrees it’s really much colder!) pool just outside the cave. The caves are actually old mine tunnels that were dug to access the warm water. They are complete with ledges, stalactites and even a natural hot shower.
Ram Creek Hot Springs
Ram Creek, Sheep Creek Area
With an average temperature of 32C, these are more like “warm springs,” but a pleasant setting nonetheless. Ram Creek can be reached by road from Lussier Hot Springs in less than an hour, but may not be accessible by vehicle in mid-winter. If you’ve brought the right equipment, you can ski or snowshoe in to the springs. Chances are that you will be the only one there — you can go as au natural as the surrounding trees.
Canadian Tourism Commission
Lussier Hot Springs
Near Whiteswan Lake Provincial Park
Check the road conditions before setting out for this one — and bring good boots. To get to these hot springs, you’ll take the forest road up to the top of the Lussier Gorge and then hike down the trail to get to the pools. The temperature of the first mineral water pools can be as hot as 43 degrees Celsius, but the water cools as it flows through the other pools, allowing visitors to find the perfect temperature for their relaxing soak. An icy creek runs nearby for the especially adventurous. (Park staff patrols the area — bathing suits must be worn at all times). No pets allowed and please leave the area cleaner than you found it. (Pictured above.)
Dewar Creek Hot Springs
Purcell Wilderness Conservancy Provincial Park & Protected Area
These can be tricky to get to; be sure you have a good map of the roads and a better one of the trail. The nine-kilometre hike to the springs may be difficult to follow if there is still snow on the ground. Once there, you’ll see that the water at this spring leaves mineral deposits that are critical for visiting elk, deer, goats and moose. Don’t move the rocks around to change the formation of the pools and avoid trampling on emerging plant life if the spring thaw has already begun. If you are very quiet while visiting Dewar Creek, you may be lucky enough to have a four-footed visitor come by to taste some salt from the rocks.
Liard River Hot Springs
Liard River Hot Springs Provincial Park
The second largest hot springs in Canada, northern BC's Liard River Hot Springs consists of two pools with temperatures ranging from 42C to 52C. A boardwalk passing through a boreal forest and warm-water swamp takes you to the first of the pools, where most visitors stop. If there are too many bathers for your taste, continue another kilometre to Beta Pool and you might have the entire springs to yourself. The hot springs feed a series of warm swamps that never freeze and attract a variety of wildlife. Settle in for a long, quiet soak and you may see moose or other animals wandering through the swamps.
Hot Springs Cove
Located in Maquinna Marine Provincial Park, on Vancouver Island’s west coast, the water here starts out very hot (47C) and becomes cooler as it flows into tidal pools created by waves from the Pacific Ocean. At high tide, even the upper pools get a splash of saltwater and visitors get the unique experience of swirls of icy cold and steamy hot water mixing around them as they bathe. If you like hot showers, try standing under the waterfall for a minute or two — it’s an unbelievable experience to feel the power and heat of the Earth cascading over your head and around your body. The springs are reached via a water taxi from Tofino, followed by a short hike on a well-maintained boardwalk. There are plenty of places to tie up a kayak if you prefer to arrive under your own power. Swimwear is optional, but footwear is not; the rocks are sharp and rubber-soled shoes are strongly recommended.
Ahousat Hot Springs, Flores Island
A warm spring that bubbles into a concrete tank, this somewhat remote area in Gibson Marine Provincial Park is accessible by boat or air only. The nearby beaches and rustic campsites are perhaps more of a draw than the springs, but it is a pleasant spot to have a rest if you are hiking in the area and need a break from the chilly winter wind.