A two-hour drive east of Vancouver in the Fraser Valley, Harrison Hot Springs has long been a getaway of choice for coastal urbanites.
Considered the Jewel of the Fraser Valley, Harrison Hot Springs is nestled against Southwestern British Columbia’s magnificent coastal mountains on the sandy shores of 60 km long Harrison Lake. It is a vacation destination filled with natural wonders and a rich history.
Situated at the southern end of Harrison Lake, Harrison Hot Springs is a small, quiet row of low buildings facing the sandy beach and lagoon. As the name implies, there are hot springs here. Really good ones, called the “Spa of Canada”, where visitors can soak in the two 58 to 62 degree Celsius mountain springs all year round (136 to 143 Degrees Fahrenheit). An indoor mineral hot pool is available for the public to enjoy.
Historically, the area is known as the start of one of the earliest routes to the gold fields, the Douglas Trail. The Village of Harrison Hot Springs was only incorporated in 1949, but the history stretches back much further.
Settlers are said to have ‘discovered’ the hot springs in 1858 while enroute to the gold fields. Their boat capsized, and expecting to meet their doom in the frigid waters, they instead discovered that the lake at that spot was not freezing but rather warm. Local Indians called the Hot Springs Kwals, meaning boiling water. The hot springs were revered as a “healing place” by natives of the Coast Salish people, who travelled by canoe to benefit from their waters.
It was later called St. Alice’s Well after one of the daughters of British Columbia’s first governor. A map dating back to 1846 bears the name Harrison Hot Springs, named in 1828 by Governor Simpson after Benjamin Harrison, a deputy governor of the Hudson’s Bay Company from 1835 to 1839. Although the philanthropic Harrison was never in North America, he served as treasurer of Guy’s Hospital in London for fifty years. The St. Alice Hotel and Bath House were built soon after the railroad reached Harrison Mills in 1885.
Harrison Hot Springs is a resort town that puts recreation and health at the forefront. Beat those hot summer days by swimming, canoeing, boating, sailing, fishing, hiking, and golfing. Other activities for visitors to enjoy include children’s activities, wildlife viewing, world-class festivals, and if you absolutely need to do something educational, this is one of British Columbia’s richest areas for rockhounding, especially for unearthing some spectacular fossils.
After enjoying the soothing mineral water, be sure to explore all the Village of Harrison Hot Springs has to offer. It’s leisurely days and friendly ways make it the perfect getaway destination.
Location: Harrison Hot Springs is located on the southern shore of Harrision Lake, 5 miles (8 km) north of Agassiz on the Lougheed Highway 7, and 77 miles (123 km) east of Vancouver (1-½ to 2-hour drive). From Vancouver, travel along Highway 1 and take Exit # 135 to head north up Highway 9 through Agassiz. Continue for another 5 miles (8km).
The springs at Harrison Hot Springs form the centrepiece of a luxury hotel resort. The pools at the resort are for hotel guests only, but there is a public pool one block east of the hotel. The large, wonderfully warm public soaking pool has cooled hot spring water pumped into it. The mineral rich hot springs at Harrison were originally used by the Salish Coast Natives who revered them as a “healing place”, arriving by canoe to benefit from their rejuvenating waters. The mineral waters are said to bring relief to sufferers of rheumatism and arthritis through the 8 minerals present in the water, which averages 1,300 parts per million of dissolved mineral solids, one of the highest concentrations of any mineral spring.
The Harrison Festival of the Arts is a colourful celebration held every July that features international music, dance, theatre, story telling and visual art. Held since the late seventies, this unique event brings the cultures of the world to the resort village of Harrison Hot Springs for nine days. The non-profit Harrison Festival Society also produces ten to twelve professional performing arts events between September and May each year.
Those interested in First Nations arts and crafts should visit the Chehalis Community School, where baskets are made from cedar roots, and First Nations carvings are on display.
Mountains, trees and water provide a beautiful setting for the Village Heritage Walk, which begins at the Harrison Hotel, follows the dyke path west along the lakeshore to the hot springs, and returns along the lake front from the west side of Harrison to the east. The walk will take you passed many of Harrison’s oldest and most interesting buildings. Information on the walk can be obtained from the visitor centre.
Hemlock Valley Ski Resort is located 8.5 miles (14 km) north of Hwy 7 from Harrison Bay. This is a family oriented, winter recreation destination that is also beginning to develop its trails for summer use by mountain bikes. It is a natural open bowl that is served by three chair lifts providing a variety of terrain for skiers and snowboarders of all abilities. The season runs from December through March.
Harrison Lake is famous for being the largest lake in southwestern BC, with over 40 miles of beautiful lake settings. The deep blue lake, green mountain slopes, snowcapped peaks and blue sky all combine to paint a picture of nature at its best. Harrison offers sandy beaches for swimming and sunbathing, including an enclosed lagoon, and numerous secluded bays that can be explored by boat.
Fishing: The fishing possibilities around Harrison Hot Springs are endless throughout the year. Five species of Pacific salmon return to the Harrison, Chehalis and Fraser Rivers during the fall, while spring offers cutthroat trout fishing and winter sees a good winter-run of the famed steelhead trout. Sturgeon fishing in the Fraser River is also popular.
Golf: Three golf courses are within a 15-minute drive of Harrison Hot Springs. The 9-hole executive length Harrison Resort Golf Course is accessible for visitors to the area. Located only 1 mile from the beach, it is suitable for golfers of all skill levels. Golfers have two courses to choose from in Bridal Falls; The Falls Golf and Country Club, a dramatic 18-hole, par-71 championship course with panoramic views of the Fraser Valley, Mount Cheam and the Coast Mountain Range, and the attractive 9-hole Bridal Falls Golf Course set in a natural forest at the base of Cheam Mountain. Golf Vacations in British Columbia.
Annual Events: In addition to performing arts, the Harrison Festival Society produces a number of yearly markets, including a Plant and Garden Show in May, an Art Market in July, and a craft market in September.
Historic Kilby Store & Farm in nearby Harrison Mills is well worth a visit. Kilby’s General Store is the focal point of this Fraser Valley farm, and was once a temperance hotel, built on pilings and linked to the railway station by a ramp to its second storey. Converted to a general store in 1906, the Kilbys installed gravity-fed gas pumps in 1926, when automobiles began to appear at Harrison Mills, and continued serving travellers until 1977.
The historic Kilby site also operates a campground on Harrison Bay providing vehicle and tent sites on the shores of the Harrison River. The setting is lovely with a sandy beach suitable for swimming, waterskiing and angling. Trumpeter swans and a thousand or more bald eagles come here to feast on the annual salmon run in late autumn.
The Chehalis River Hatchery on Morris Valley Road provides viewing of chum, coho, and chinook salmon, as well as steelhead and cutthroat trout. The best viewing times are: Adult chum from October to December; juvenile chum from April to May; coho from October to January; and chinook from from March to May and July to November. Coho salmon can be viewed year round. Spawning sockeye salmon can also be viewed in October at Weaver Creek Spawning Channel on Harrison Bay, 3 km north of the Chehalis River Hatchery. When driving to the Hemlock Valley on the Morris Valley Road, watch for bald eagles and other wildlife.
Kilby Provincial Park west of Harrison Lake on Harrison Bay provides camping, with vehicle/tent campsites located just south of Hwy 7 beside the beach. The setting is lovely, but there’s not much privacy between sites here. The beach at Kilby is particularly popular with waterskiers and anglers. Trumpeter swans and a thousand or more bald eagles come here to feast on the annual salmon run in late autumn.
Sasquatch Provincial Park is named after the region’s most famous semi-mythical beast. While keeping your eyes peeled for shaggy hominids, enjoy scenic trails and backwoods hiking in this park, one of the finest (and probably spookiest) in British Columbia. The park touches on four lakes, two of which – Deer and Hicks – are well suited to exploring in small boats. Trout fishing is popular in these two stocked lakes. Paddle to isolated Sandy Beach at Hick’s south end, well worth the journey. Miles of logging and Hydro power roads run through the hills surrounding the two lakes, perfect for a moderately challenging but lengthy mountain bike ride. An easy walking trail loops around Hicks Lake. If you camp at Deer Lake, watch for white-coated mountain goats on the steep-sided slopes of Slollicum Bluffs that rise above the lake’s north side. Early in the morning is the best time to see them as they pick their way along the bluffs.
South of Harrison Hot Springs is the picturesque agricultural community of Agassiz on the Lougheed Highway. The rural setting of farms and wilderness enhances the community of Agassiz, which strives to maintain its small town values and caring attitude. Agassiz is home to the original Circle Farm Tour which has expanded into the 6 surrounding regions. Visitors can savour and purchase delectable farm fresh products, connect with the origins of their food and experience the countryside in all its glory.
Southwest of Harrison Hot Springs on the Lougheed Highway is the community of Harrison Mills, situated near the confluence of the Harrison, Chehalis and Fraser Rivers and surrounded by towering mountain peaks, lush forests and salmon-rich rivers. Agricultural, farming and tourism are the mainstays of the Harrison Mills community.
Circle Tours: See the best of the area on a driving Circle Tour. Head north out of Vancouver for the scenic Sunshine Coast and Vancouver Island Circle Tour, or stay on the intensely scenic Sea to Sky Highway, passing through the magical winter resort town of Whistler and Coast Mountains Circle Tour. To explore the rural farmlands and forests of the fertile Fraser Valley, take the Fraser Valley Circle Tour, travelling outbound on the scenic route north of the historic Fraser River, returning westwards along the Trans Canada Highway 1 to Vancouver. Circle Tours in British Columbia.