October 2015: This fall, my husband Thom and I made the long drive from Washington to Alaska… in search of an epic winter skiing the slopes of Mt. Alyeska. We were not into lollygagging along the way, and made it to the 49th state in 49 hours. Our one and only stop of consequence was at Liard Hot Springs. This magical, healing oasis is conveniently located mid-way between Washington and Aaska, and proved to be the perfect place to soak our stiff muscles after 24-hours on the road.
Liard River Hot Springs Provincial Park is the second largest hot spring in Canada and is open year-round. Located at mile 475 on the Alaska Highway, between Fort Nelson and Watson Lake.
Upon entering the park, which is free October 1st – the end of April, you will see 53 campsites… 21 of which are reservable online, a day-use parking lot, a playground, various outhouses, a picnic pavilion, and many picnic tables scattered throughout. Note: the fee May 1 – September 30 is $5 for adults, $3 for children or $10 for families.
Remember, you are in bear country. ALWAYS BE BEAR AWARE. Leave food in your car, and make plenty of noise so you do not startle any wildlife in the area.
Once parked, grab your swimsuit, towel, a water bottle, and head down the 1000-foot long wooden walkway that leads from the parking lot to the hot springs pool. All of which are wheelchair friendly. The 1000’ journey takes you through a warm water swamp and boreal forest, which supports a rich and diverse plant community as well as many mammal and bird species.
The facility built around the hot springs pool is very clean and fits nicely into the landscape. Complete with separate men’s & women’s changing rooms, 3 environmentally friendly composting outhouse toilets, and 24 cubbyholes to store your belongings while you soak.
The wooden deck and stairs into the pool can be slippery, so be careful. I like to soak bare-foot due to the fact that the hot spring has a soft-pebble bottom which my toes find soothing.
The right side is warmest due to its proximity to the source of the spring, so enter via the left-hand set of stairs if your goal is to ease into the heat gradually. There is seating built along the side closest to the stairs and a few underwater benches in the middle of the pool. Float around to experience the varying water temperatures, ranging from 108 – 125 degrees Fahrenheit. After soaking for a while, cool down by floating back to the far left where a cold spring chills the water.
If you find the top pool too hot, head below the waterfall where the water temp is like warm bathwater. Float your way under the fallen tree and to the end of the hot spring where you will see a narrow, windy, grotto-type, lazy river passage. It is a very nice place to explore and get away from other soakers, but beware… you will pay for the experience in blood! While Thom and I were venturing further and further away from the source of the hot spring, the water cools substantially and is home to hungry leeches awaiting their next meal. I turned to kiss on my husband only to find a leech attached to his chin! Shrieks ensued… leech dislodged… and we swam at a pace Michael Phelps would be proud of to get out of there. Take heart, the water is far too hot for the leeches to survive closer to the source of the hot spring.
All in all, Liard is an enchanted sanctuary, and a must-stop when driving the Alcan Highway.
BC Parks Describes Liard Hot Springs Provincial Park as:
On the Liard Plain, a special place exists where the black spruce forest is transformed into a boreal jungle. Groundwater seeps through the porous limestone of the area and circulates through faults deep within the earth’s core. There the water warms and accumulates minerals. As pressure builds, the water is forced upwards and eventually resurfaces through cracks in the earth.
This hot spring ecosystem is considered to be the second most significant in Canada. The warm percolating waters have created a fascinating micro-environment where over 250 species of boreal forest plants thrive. Sundews, butterwarts, and fourteen species of orchids delicately spot the landscape. As well, the two degree Celsius increase in air temperature caused by the springs creates a niche for plant species not usually found at this latitude. The lush vegetation and warm waters in the surrounding marsh provide an excellent habitat for moose, bears, waterfowl, and shorebirds. In winter, especially when snow levels elsewhere make travel difficult, the area is a welcome refuge.
Across the highway from Liard is the 12-room Liard Hotsprings Lodge, open year-round for accommodation and fuel. The lodge also features a restaurant, camping facilities, and 20 pull-through RV sites.
TIPS & WHAT TO BRING:
Swimsuit – Many families frequent this hot spring and nudity is not permitted.
Water – It is important to stay hydrated while soaking. Avoid using glass bottles.
The mosquitoes are dreadful in the summer months, so bring repellent.
The pool is open 24/7, but the boardwalk is not lit, so bring a flashlight for evening soaks.
Our 2,251 mile journey on the Alaska Highway was very scenic. We saw a few buffalo herds, a silver bear, eagles, owls, a coyote, a red fox, sheep, elk, deer, moose, and miniature donkeys! Bonus, the sky came alive with dancing Auroras as we drove through the night.
The condition of the picturesque Alcan Highway is summed-up nicely via this clever poem:
Winding in and winding out,
One begins to have some doubt,
About the lout that built this route,
Was he going to hell or coming out?!
All photos taken on an iPhone 6, and are © Nicole Geils of Hot Springs Hunter and The Gypsy Redhead.