By Anita Draycott
From historic spa resorts to remote parkland, from glacier-fed rivers to offshore islands, BC's hot springs are as varied as the landscapes they spring from.
The province's biggest concentration of natural hot springs is in the Kootenay Rockies region; the easiest way to find them is to follow the signs for the Hot Springs Circle Route.
This five- to seven-day, 852-kilometre (530-mile) route, one of over 60 suggested self-drive touring routes posted around the province (see Driving Routes), takes in seven hot springs (in about as many days), and passes through some of BC's most stunning lake and mountain scenery.
One of the more rustic soaking spots en route is Lussier Hot Springs in Whiteswan Lake Provincial Park. Northeast of Kimberley, these natural hot pools on the banks of Lussier River are popular, but completely undeveloped.
By contrast, nearby Fairmont Hot Springs Resort, where vacationers have taken to the odourless waters for close to a century, boasts golf, skiing, riding, restaurants, a spa, and several swimming and mineral pools of various temperatures.
At Radium Hot Springs, just north of Invermere in Kootenay National Park, two outdoor mineral pools, including one of Canada's largest hot springs-fed pool, are tucked against the sheer walls of Sinclair Canyon. Keep a sharp eye out: bighorn sheep frequent the site. More soaking opportunities await at Canyon Hot Springs near the eastern edge of Mount Revelstoke National Park, and at Halcyon Hot Springs and Nakusp Hot Springs, both overlooking Upper Arrow Lake.
One of the most interesting hot springs in the area is Ainsworth Hot Springs, south of Kaslo on Highway 31, where warm mineral water flows through a horseshoe-shaped cave creating a natural steam bath. There's also a big warm pool overlooking Kootenay Lake and a stream-fed cold plunge pool.
BC's hot springs aren't, however, limited to the Hot Springs Route; in fact, wonderfully sited spring-fed pools appear in virtually every region of the province.
A classic is Liard River Hot Springs Provincial Park, roughly 60 kilometres (36 miles) north of Muncho Lake, on the Alaska Highway. The heat from the springs creates a micro-climate so warm and humid it can support thermally-influenced flora including 14 unique species of orchids.
From Tofino on Vancouver Island's west coast, a boat ride across Clayoquot Sound (just over an hour) takes visitors to Hot Springs Cove at Maquinna Marine Provincial Park. Accessible only by boat or float plane, followed by a two-kilometre (1.2-mile) walk along a boardwalk, these popular hot springs feed a series of natural rock pools at the ocean's edge.
A good spot to finish a tour of BC's hot springs is at one of the province's oldest spa towns. About two hours east of Vancouver, Harrison Hot Springs has long been revered as a place of healing by the Salish First Nations people and has drawn spa-goers since the 19th century. The springs supply pools at the Harrison Hot Springs Resort and Spa and at a public swimming pool. A lavish spa at the resort, a sandy beach, and a mountain-fringed lake complete the picture.