Outdoors

Road Trip

Harrison Hot Springs or bust

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

It’s just a 90-minute commute from the Peace Arch border crossing, but as soon as travelers reach Harrison Hot Springs, they’re enfolded by undulating pastoral hills and valleys, so unlike the densely populated, traffic-heavy streets of metro Vancouver.

The massive Harrison Lake spreads before you, its mountains shrouded in dense foliage and rich in history and mystery. The hot water beckons at Harrison Hot Springs Resort, promising a soothing, replenishing soak that numbs the mind and leaves the skin baby-soft.

Our first stop was Kilby Historic Site in Harrison Mills, an old, once-bustling mill town that’s home to just 16 families. As far removed from a museum as possible, a visit to Kilby is like stepping back in time. Visitors peruse the general store and post office, which contain 90 percent of their original merchandise, their hardwood floors steeped in history. The upstairs rooms briefly rented out by the Kilby family are an historical gallery of furniture, with images of once-devastating floods hanging on the walls.

Outside, visitors stroll through the five-acre farm, picking apples from the orchard floor to feed the docile cow and scattering seed for the ducks and hens. We relished a slice of home-baked berry pie in the restaurant, then left for Harrison Hot Springs with a keen appreciation of life in this town circa 1930. 

Wintertime provides prime eagle-viewing on the Harrison River, and this year as many as 2,000 of the majestic raptors have congregated on the river banks to feast on spawning salmon.

We headed seven miles upriver with Harrison Eco Tours (http://www.harrisonecotours.com), grateful for a heated boat cabin on a frosty morning. The eagles, which outnumbered the seagulls two to one, were a magnificent sight, dotting the trees with their white heads and strutting on the sandbars ripping apart the soft, soggy bodies of their prey. Look out for breaching sturgeon and the odd harbor seal—a handful of seals have been tempted from their oceanic origins and taken up permanent residence in the salmon-rich waters of the Harrison River.

Back on dry land, choose Morgan’s for dinner, a casual fine-dining bistro operated by Morgan MacLeod and Chef Peter McGeown. We loved the Mediterranean-inspired menu, dining on strawberry-feta salads and the bistro’s specialty, rack of lamb. Locals had recommended Morgan’s as the best restaurant in town and we weren’t disappointed.

As dusk settled over Harrison Hot Springs, the pools at the resort beckoned and we surrendered to the hot water. The large pools with their nooks and curves easily accommodate many bathers without feeling crowded. Parents were chatting as their kids splashed around, couples were enjoying a meditative soak in the adults-only pool and as storm clouds rolled across the sky, it was the perfect end to a magical day.

If you’re not staying at the Harrison Hot Springs Resort, head to the Harrison Hot Springs public pool, an exceptionally large hot tub in the center of town that’s open until 8pm weekdays and 9pm weekends.

The journey and the destination rival for attention on day-long meanders, so be sure to take time to visit some of the quirky venues that catch your eye before you leave town—such as the First Nations art at the Happy Prospector, FarmHouse Natural Cheeses, the Back Porch Farm, Canadian Hazelnut, and more. You’ll be glad you did.

For more information about Harrison Hot Springs, call (604) 796-5581 or visit http://www.tourismharrison.com

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