As you begin your Alaska Highway road trip through BC and the Yukon and across the U.S. border, make sure you stop at the steamy Liard River Hot Springs. It’s at mile 475 (km 765) between Fort Nelson, BC and Watson Lake, Yukon.
In addition to being an absolutely beautiful setting for a break from the drive, this is the site of the second largest natural hot springs in Canada.
Water temperatures run from 42C to 52C which makes this a comfortable dip in all seasons. The result is a northern oasis of lush plant life. There are 14 species of wild orchids here and it was originally known as the Tropical Valley.
If you’re lucky, moose and bears (including grizzlies) might wander in from the surrounding wilds to feed in the warm water marshes. When they amble to within 10 feet of your soaking self in the hot springs, keep your cool and you should be OK!
The swamp and boreal forest at Liard River Hot Springs supports rich and diverse plant life, mammals and birds. At last count, 104 bird species and 28 mammals had been recorded here. Moose are year round residents. In summer, bulls, cows and calves feed on swamp vegetation.
Mallard ducks and Canada geese also breed here. Sandpipers and common snipes breed in the swamp. Gulls, swallows, blackbirds, kingfishers and nighthawks frequent the swamp, while flocks of bohemian waxwings perch on black spruce trees around the edges of the swamp. Also watch for woodpeckers, thrushes, warblers and sparrows in the park.
Beside the boardwalk on the way to Alpha pool, you’ll find tiny, darting lake chub, unique in their ability to thrive in the warm water.
As soon as construction on the Alaska Highway was underway in 1942, the Alaska Highway construction crews built the first boardwalk and facilities.
In 1957, British Columbia made this area a Provincial Park.
- Bathing springs
- Change houses
- Boardwalk: A 300-metre wooden walkway over muskeg from parking to springs
- Composting outhouse toilet
If you’re driving the Alaska Highway in the winter months, stop in for a soak in the springs, surrounded by snow under northern lights.
There’s a seasonal day-use fee of $5 for adults, $3 for children and $10 for families. Annual passes are $10 for adults and $20 for families.
- The Liard River Hot Springs do not flow directly into a nearby river or creek like most other thermal springs in Canada. Instead they flow into an intricate system of swamps that have created a microclimate allowing a unique vegetative community to thrive. Although shallow, the warm swamp waters never freeze, allowing unique tiny lake chub to thrive actively all winter.
- The hot springs area became a major construction camp in 1942. The natural hot springs were used by the troops on a daily basis, although once a week they cleared out to allow the women of the camp to use them. These troops built the first boardwalk and pool facilities. Photos of the troops using a piece of wood to get in and out of the water are viewable at the Fort Nelson Heritage Museum.
- The first written record of the hot springs on the Liard River was made in 1835 by Robert Campbell of the Hudson’s Bay Company during exploration.
Chris Gale – Wild North Photos