In the late fall of 2012, we set out to sail the Inside Passage… Sitka Alaska to Anacortes Washington in 21 days. The first stop on our trip was the small community of Baranof. Located in Warm Springs Bay on the east side of Baranof Island, Baranof is a frequented stop for cruisers like us, fishing boats, and locals in Southeast. Its location off of Chatham Strait made for a convenient (and free!) docking place for our boat, the s/v Mystic Knot, while making our way from Sitka to Petersburg along the Chatham route.
You immediately notice the huge waterfall as you enter Warm Springs Bay. This is a serious fall with a typical volume of 450,000 gallons-per-minute plunging into the bay from about 100 feet above. It is a beautiful site to behold. Near Halibut Rock, it became noticeably calmer than Chatham Strait which merges with the Gulf of Alaska 50 miles south.
At the head of the bay sits a 250-foot dock, along with a few cabins, boardwalks, and hot springs. I have been told the dock is a very busy place in June, July, and August. Since we were there in October, we pretty much had the place to ourselves. Most of the local population had closed-up shop and returned to their winter homes elsewhere.
Once we were safely tied to the dock, we headed up the boardwalk at the top of the ramp and walked through “town”. The first thing you notice at the top of the dock are a few cabins falling into the bay.
The next building on the left is a community bathhouse, built with funds from the city of Sitka and volunteer labor from the community of Baranof. There are three private rooms; each with a large tub ready to be filled with the healing waters of the hot spring. While you soak, you can pull back the privacy curtains and take in the lovely view of the bay and waterfall.
Since we visited during the chilly fall season, the water channeled into the soaking tubs from the hot springs was lukewarm at best, having been cooled during its long descent down the hill. No worries! We were there for the natural hot spring experience and hiked on. The boardwalk continues up through the woods and past various private cabins.
After a while, you will see a path to your left… exiting the elevated boardwalk portion of the trail. See the arrow?
This trail leads to the grotto. Two natural hot spring pools located next to the waterfall (outflow river) and the reason for our stop in Baranof! The trail is a bit rough, but the end result was well worth the muddy but easy hike.
There are two good pools for soaking. The larger pool is usually warmer than the pool closer to the river. The hot water trickles into the upper pool from a series of hot springs located just upstream. The original concrete boxes built around the springs to collect the water are probably a 100+ years old and mother nature has recaptured their structures. There is also a small hole in the rock even closer to the glacier-fed river just deep and wide enough to stand up to your waist—locals call this the bathing hole.
The waterfall thunders by the hot springs! Its glacier fed waters are a class 5 rapids, and provides an invigorating contrast to the calm, blissful soaking pools. We had an incredible soak alongside the spectacular waterfall. Near the raging-waters edge there is a small, and very cold, plunge pool. It is an exhilarating place to get a reprieve from the very hot water.
Baranof was my first-ever hot spring experience and I have been chasing that blissed-out feeling ever since. A special thank you to my friend, Captain Mark, who showed me how amazing a soak in a natural hot spring can be.