ur Alaskan friends insisted we stop at milepost 496 to visit the Liard River Hotsprings, Canada's second largest hotsprings. This pristeen Provincial Park is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and charges no admission (or poses any entrance restrictions for that matter).
It was about 4am when I pulled the silent van into its parking area. The hotsprings was deserted; I was able to interest one other band member in checking it out.
The hotsprings are accessed by walking .4 of a mile along a level boardwalk which traverses a swampy bog. The wetlands water is naturally warm, and in contrast with the chill air causes a light fog to enshroud the area. Hundreds of plant species grow there, including an unlikely fourteen species of orchids.
At the boardwalk's end we found a deck surrounding the "Alpha Pool," the smaller of two natural hotsprings. The amount of development is beautifully balanced. It is rustic enough to compliment the vividly natural surroundings, yet comfortable enough to help maximize the experience for a wide range of visitors.
On the deck are two changing rooms, and the shallow pool features submerged benches and a smooth, small-gravel bottom. A 3-foot-high waterfall splashes nearby. The water is very hot. The temperature varies wildly, ranging from 100 to nearly 130 degrees. This limits the amount of time one can spend in the water; we spent about 20 minutes.
At this far northern latitude, summer days begin early. Walking back, the gray light gave the swampy scene a primordial, prehistoric feeling.
Being such a well-known and special place, there are quite a few references to Liard Hotsprings on the web.
Our little jaunt to the springs was idyllic. Another side to visiting the hotsprings, one that was thankfully not part of our experience, is revealed in this terrifying 1997 news item:
YUKON NEWS-Wednesday, August 20, 1997-Fort Nelson RCMP have released further details about last week's black bear attack at the Liard Hot Springs in northern British Columbia. Police have confirmed the attack took place in the hanging gardens, an area located between the upper and lower hot springs.
What was the chance our idyllic interlude might morph into an encounter with a bear or other dangerous animal? We should have recognized this as a possibility. In this part of the world, wild animals are encountered regularly and without warning. Our experiences already included up-close sightings of bear, moose, elk and mountain goats.
But, tantalized by the promise of the luxurious hotsprings in the peaceful, pre-dawn wilderness, we didn't give it a thought.