Every good escape needs a great escape. That thought might strike you as you lay supine in a soothing British Columbia hot pool, staring up into the misty sky and forgetting about...
HARRISON LAKE, B.C. Every good escape needs a great escape.
That thought might strike you as you lay supine in a soothing British Columbia hot pool, staring up into the misty sky and forgetting about everything until eight children from Surrey perform synchronized cannonballs into the water all around you.
It’d be a great show for the old Aqua Theater at Green Lake. But it’s a bit disconcerting at Harrison Hot Springs Resort, a lovely place that no doubt is a semi-luxurious treat from reality for those who have the good sense to schedule a getaway here sometime other than spring break for B.C. schoolchildren.
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Not that we have anything against B.C. schoolchildren, who, in their natural habitat, surely are a delight. And for the record, Harrison Resort, a grand property with acres of hot pools, a first-rate spa and pleasant, lake-view rooms, has at least one adults-only soaking pond.
But it’s within splashing distance of the kiddie aquifer, and after an hour or so, you might be ready for that great escape traveling just a bit farther afield to soak up some of that legendary B.C. wilderness.
Valley of the fun
Fortunately, Harrison Hot Springs, the lure drawing most of us to sprawling Harrison Lake, isn’t the only reason to follow the trail of recreating Vancouverites on the pleasant drive north of Highway 7 into the Fraser Valley.
The Harrison area itself is an aquatic playground for boaters, anglers and sightseers. And nearby Sasquatch Provincial Park, a 5-square-mile collection of mountains, streams, lakes and campgrounds, is a first-class recreation hangout just a short drive away.
To get there, follow signs from downtown Harrison Hot Springs, the small community at the foot of the lake, about three miles to Green Point, Sasquatch Park’s day-use area. It’s a mondo lakeshore picnic ground, with typically fine (compared to our own sadly neglected state parks) B.C. Provincial Parks amenities: picnic tables, barbecue grills and a broad, gravelly beach.
It’s a tourist hotspot in the summer, but particularly pleasant in the spring or autumn, when crowds thin and the breezes off Harrison Lake get their bite back.
Another mile or so up the road, enter Sasquatch park proper, which lies in a unique setting. The park occupies the lower half of a very narrow, Y-shaped valley, with Harrison Lake on the west end and the mountainous, forested Dewdney Provincial Forest in the upper, east end.
In between are a series of placid “pocket” lakes Deer, Hicks, Moss and Trout surrounded by second-growth mixed forest notable for its large stands of birch. When the birch trees leaf out in spring, the hills come alive in yellow-green. When the leaves turn in the fall, the valley turns to a stunning color-scape.
Beneath it all is a grand outdoor playground segmented roughly into three sections that correspond to the park’s three campgrounds:
Hicks Lake, the largest and southernmost lake, has 71 lakeshore campsites and a large group camp. A boat launch awaits small craft (the lake has a 10-horsepower motor restriction.) Boaters and paddlers can head to the south end of the lake to aptly named Sandy Beach, a quiet respite also reached by a trail from the camping area. The trail loops the entire lake in about 2.5 miles.
Deer Lake, just to the north, is a stunner, with steep, forested valley walls leading the eye to the often snow-covered mountains beyond. Lakeside Campground, on its western shores, has 42 campsites, including some particularly good tent sites. It’s a family-oriented camp, with a beachfront playground and picnic area, a boat launch and small-boat dock, and an amphitheater for fireside talks. Internal-combustion motors are not allowed on the lake, making it a grand canoeist destination.
Both lakes, as well as nearby Trout Lake, which has no camping facilities or boat launch, are stocked with cutthroat, rainbow and brook trout, and offer excellent small-boat or bank fishing in season. Deer Lake, in particular, is popular with float-tubers, thanks to ample shore access near the campground.
Near Lakeside camp in the east portions of the park, a third campground, Bench, offers another 64 campsites in a wooded area above Deer Lake. None of the camps offers RV hookups, but the sites are generally well-used for much of the summer. Reservations are a good idea, although some sites at each camp are reserved for first-come, first-served campers.
Be alert for wildlife throughout the park: A short trail from Lakeside campground follows a boardwalk literally atop a beaver pond. If you’re lucky, you might see a local birch tree meeting its buck-toothed fate. Ospreys also have been seen fishing in Deer Lake. Hicks Lake has a small dam and fish ladder, where you might spot spawning rainbow trout through May. Spawning chum salmon can be viewed in Trout Lake Creek in October and November.
Sasquatch also has become a popular mountain-bike venue, with miles of logging and fire roads available throughout the park. Particularly popular is the Bear Mountain Road just south of the park boundary, which climbs about six miles and 3,000 vertical feet to grand views of the valley. On the opposite side of the lake, Hemlock Valley ski area also opens its trails to mountain bikers during the non-snowy months. It’s less than an hour away.
The park’s history is dominated by the gold-mining and logging operations that clear-cut most of this valley long ago. The Green Point day-use area once was a logging camp, and Hicks Lake was originally dammed by loggers. An additional dam on nearby Trout Lake Creek provided power to the hotel and town of Harrison Hot Springs before BC Electric lines came to the area in 1951.
All things considered, Sasquatch, named for the mythical beast thought to have roamed here (and, coincidentally, many another Northwest mountain town in need of a tourist hook), is a grand spot for a two- or three-day getaway, particularly for those arriving midweek, thus avoiding weekend crowds from 90-minutes-away Vancouver.
Getting soaked, in a good way
Of course, if the full-pamper treatment of a hot-springs spa sounds more your speed, the Hot Springs Resort is as good a place as any to soak away worries.
The water temperature hovers around 100 degrees just hot enough to be relaxing; not too hot to linger for an hour or two over a good, soggy paperback. In the center of it all is a lodgy, recently remodeled wood-beamed building containing the resort’s indoor pool and professional spa, with full range of massage and other services.
The hotel also has an Olympic-sized pool and water-play area, both popular with kids. A golf course is nearby, between Harrison Hot Springs and Agassiz. Lake cruises, windsurfing rentals and guided fishing trips are available from the dock in front of the hotel.
Rooms, all non-smoking, range from the traditional main-hotel offerings to modern rooms and suites in the East and West Towers, both of which offer views far up the 45-mile-long lake. A range of restaurants and other services are in walking distance in the small, lakefront village, filled mostly with typical summertime tourist draws such as campgrounds and go-kart tracks.
Two restaurants one formal, one informal and a coffee shop are found in the hotel, but a range of other eateries is within walking distance. Outside, a mile-long, sandy beach and enclosed swimming area are constant draws through the summer, attracting the largest crowds of the year for a mondo sand-castle competition each September.
Smarter visitors might hear the din all the way up at Deer Lake, where a crackling fire cooking fresh trout will make it seem a lot farther away than the half-dozen miles it really is.
Ron C. Judd: firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-464-8280