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Canadian Hot Springs for Cheap

In British Columbia, hot springs abound, but commercialized ones can take a toll on your bank balance. Luckily, quite a few remain in a natural or semi-natural state with camping available for minimal fees. Check out a couple over a weekend with this trip from Vancouver.

If you stay at The Cambie Hostel in Gastown (www.thecambie.com/v2/gastown/), see if you can round up a group at the bar to rent a 4x4 and explore some back road BC! After you score a free coffee and muffin from the General Store and Bakery next door, hop on Hastings going east until you hit the Trans-Canada or #1 East. Get on Hwy 11 to cross the Fraser River at Abbotsford for a more scenic and traffic-free along Hwy 7. If you want to detour to the public hot springs pool at Harrison Hot Springs, continue until reaching Hot Springs Rd. Turn left and find the public pool, open 7 days/week at the intersection with Esplanade ($8.50/adult.) Otherwise, turn left onto Morris Valley Road. Stay on it until an intersection with another road, apparently also named Morris Valley Road, where you need to keep left and head north. This becomes a narrow and rugged logging road marked “Mainline” running up the western side of Harrison Lake, which truly tests your 4WD in places. A Backroads Mapbook serves the traveler well in finding the first natural hot spring, Sloquet. The turn-off bears no indication that the site exists and even the local miners you pass don’t necessarily know how to give directions to it.

Find the turn after a tiny village with docks at the top of Harrison Lake, but before you hit what is marked as an abandoned mine on the Backroads Mapbook, but which seems plenty occupied in reality. It’s a fairly major turn west up the Sloquet Creek valley that has a double entrance/exit, just north of the creek. Drive 7km up the creek passing one solitary campsite and ending at a drive-up campground. Camping fees apply, although they amount to only $10, collected by local First Nations. A fire pit, picnic table, pit toilets and garbage bins constitute amenities here. A steep hike leads down to the hot springs. So, come with solid shoes, your own tent, sleeping bag and food for the weekend. You’ll want to spend some time here.

The hot spring flows into three pools that decrease in temperature as they approach the creek, which sometimes overflows into one of the pools. The surrounding mud provides a good contact cool-down if you overheat. Hang out all day by the pools with the tarp set up for a kitchen area. This is the least developed of the hot springs. Proceed down the logging road to St. Agnes’, well, otherwise known as Skookumchuk Hot Springs. Again, find a campground on a cool river for staking out your hot spring time. This one’s at a lower elevation, though and can bring more heat in the summer. In the off-season you might get away without paying for this user-maintained site (as late as March, I’ve done it,) but in the summer a camp office manager collects $10/vehicle and $5/person. The hot springs were upgraded by the landowner who pipes cool water down the hill into the tubs so that visitors can adjust the water temperature to suit themselves. Three pools offer a hot tub-like soak with sun shades, plus a cold water plunge pool. Unfortunately, this being a monitored site, no food, drinks or the like are allowed at the pools.

Fair warning: some hot springs users like to go nude, but people typically follow respectful protocol, going with the clothing precedent of any visitors already in the pools. Skookumchuk offers more private areas than Sloquet allowing for your attire-of-choice. After the hot water, finish off your trip with a tromp down to Lilooet Lake, which you reach by continuing north along logging roads using the water as a handrail on your left. Glacial streams feed into this beautiful, easy-access spot, making for a brisk dip, but it’s worthwhile in the summer’s heat. Eventually, this road meets the Sea to Sky Highway 99 where you turn left toward Pemberton, and stop in to Whistler and Squamish before reaching Vancouver again.


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