My wife and I had the most amazing holiday at Harrison Hot Springs. We left Vancouver and spent two days at the lake surrounded by eagles and fall colours.
We went mid-week, which made it an especially relaxing experience, and stayed at the Harrison Beach Hotel. On our trip we saw wildlife, enjoyed the hot springs and went for walks in nature. It was wonderful! What a great getaway, and so close to Vancouver!
If you’ve never been to Harrison Hot Springs in the fall, you should go. We highly recommend it!
Couple’s Retreat at Harrison Hot Springs
Ever feel like you need to get away, but don’t want to drive for hundreds of miles or get on a plane? Ever wanted to spoil yourself and your partner with a romantic yet affordable staycation right here close to home? If you have, then check out Harrison Hot Springs. It’s a world-class holiday destination and there is nothing else like it in the Lower Mainland.
In this article I describe our recent two-day, one-night holiday in the fall of 2019. I describe where we went and what we did to give you an idea of things you should do when you go. On our trip it was just the two of us – me and my wife – so it was a romantic getaway, but it would have been a wonderful family outing too.
On our trip we soaked in the public hot springs pool and went on a boat tour up the Harrison River where we saw dozens of eagles and someone catching a sturgeon that was well over 2 metres in length. What a memorable experience that was!
During our stay we also ate at a couple of great restaurants, enjoyed delicious Sasquatch feet chocolate caramels, and explored some beautiful trails. It was a wonderful mini vacation and we can’t wait to do it again!
What to Expect at Harrison Hot Springs in the Fall
Harrison Hot Springs is honestly one of our favourite places any time of the year. In the summer there is the lake with its swimming and boating opportunities, and year-round there is fishing, nearby forest trails to explore and, of course, the natural hot springs. Autumn though is extra special.
Between late September and early November expect to see beautiful fall colours in the mountains and forest around Harrison Hot Springs. During that same time, and even a bit later, you can also see salmon and an unbelievable number of bald eagles up the Harrison River.
Although a tiny place, Harrison Hot Springs has a good selection of quality restaurants, many of which are right by the lake, and artisan shops (including the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory which makes many of its own products on site).
In short, Harrison Hot Springs is a world-class tourist destination that’s beautiful in the fall and less than a 2-hour drive from Vancouver. And it’s for all these reasons that in late October 2019 we headed there for our romantic couple’s getaway (and boy, are we glad we did)!
Harrison in Autumn Video
To give you an idea of what Harrison Hot Springs looks like in the fall, and for ideas on what to do on your own Harrison autumn getaway, check out the following video which showcases some of the highlights of our trip.
TIP: If you want to experience Harrison Hot Springs at the peak of eagle-viewing season, then head out there in mid-November for the annual Fraser Valley Bald Eagle Festival. There are eagles all around the Harrison River throughout the month. During the festival though there are special viewing stations and information. Go for the festival and you’ll see hundreds of the giant birds.
Our Autumn Holiday at Harrison Hot Springs
We left Vancouver on a miserable late October rainy day and drove the 130 or so kilometres to our destination in the Fraser Valley. It was still raining by the time we got to Harrison, but not nearly as much, and there was no rain the following day.
We checked into our room at the Harrison Beach Hotel at 160 Esplanade Avenue. It was a lovely suite with a king-sized bed, kitchenette, balcony and unobstructed view of the lake. It also had a nice swimming pool. We’ve always wanted to stay here, as it’s a prominent hotel in the area, and we weren’t disappointed. It was a great room and the hotel had friendly service. We’ll stay there again someday.
Exploring the Town and Finding the Chocolates
After checking in we went for a stroll. First we headed west along the waterfront, past the Harrison Hot Springs Resort, to the source of the natural hot springs. It seems that almost every time we visit Harrison we do this route. It’s a nice little walk – not too far, with beautiful views and something interesting to see at the end.
We then made our way back, along the main street (Esplanade Avenue), and past a number of restaurants and gift shops. We’ve been to Harrison many times before, usually just for a day trip, but one place we had never noticed before was the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. Curious, and being lovers of chocolate, we went in.
Inside the chocolate shop we met Mark. We chatted for a while and learned that he had recently left the corporate world so that he and his wife could start a new life making and selling chocolates at Harrison Hot Springs.
Mark explained that he made much of what we saw by hand in the store. We didn’t know that about the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, that some locations made their own sweets on the premises, nor that the chain of franchised stores was a Metro Vancouver-based company.
We admired the selection of fancy chocolates in the shop and got to see Mark make some fudge. That was pretty cool (and the sample was delicious)!
We left the shop with a Sasquatch candy apple, pecan cluster, Sasquatch caramel foot and a small box of chocolates. Some of that was for gifts, including for our teenaged kids who we’d left at home, but we did indulge a bit ourselves. And let me tell you – everything we tried we now highly recommend!
TIPS: Located at 328 Esplanade Avenue, the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory at Harrison Hot Springs usually has samples of treats inside on its counter. You can try a sample with no obligation to buy. Be warned though! Their products are so good that it’s unlikely you’ll leave without some kind of exotic treat!
If you’re looking for quality souvenirs that are sure to please, this is a great place to get them. The top sellers apparently are the maple fudge and the caramel apples.
At the Hot Springs Pool
Although we’ve been to Harrison Hot Springs many times before, and despite the fact that the resort town is world-famous for its natural spring waters, we had never actually been to the town’s public pool before this trip. We’ve been in the pools at the Harrison Hot Springs Resort before, a few years ago, and they were lovely! This was our first time soaking at the public pool though and it was most enjoyable.
Located at the corner of Esplanade Avenue and Hot Springs Road, the public pool is about the size of a very large pool you might find at a hotel. It was bigger than one you’d find at a person’s home, but smaller than what you’d find at most rec centres.
The water at the public pool was pleasantly warm, at about 100 degrees, and only about half a dozen other people were there when we visited. We stayed for about 45 minutes and enjoyed our relaxing soak.
TIPS: The hot spring waters were a very comfortable temperature. If you like it warmer though, you’ll find the extra hot inflow coming from jets by the stairs. Sit in that area and you’ll find it extra toasty! Don’t stay in the water for too long at a time though.
The sulphur and other minerals in the therapeutic waters are very relaxing and can affect you as though the pool is warmer than it really is. It’s recommended that you stay in for up to 10 minutes at a time, and then get out, take a break, cool off and relax in one of the pool-side deck chairs, and then go back for a second (or third or fourth) soak.
Dinnertime at Harrison
For a small resort town, and in the non-summer season, Harrison has a remarkable number of really good restaurants. If you wander around you’ll find Japanese, Greek, German, Indian and a variety of other places. And we hear that the quality of all is really good. Those we tried were all exceptional.
For dinner we were tempted to eat at Morgan’s Bistro, which is right beside the Harrison Beach Hotel and a place we’ve heard so much about. It’s a fancier place with great reviews. We weren’t that hungry though so went to the Royal-King Indian Restaurant instead and enjoyed a delicious curry with rice and naan. It was a great choice and reasonably priced. (We’ll check out Morgan’s next time and when we have bigger appetites.)
After dinner we went for a stroll along the promenade by the water before heading back to the hotel for an early night.
TIP: From late September until around February the Royal-King Indian Restaurant offers 15% off for people staying at hotels in the town (or at least they are offering that this year). Just show them your room key. The restaurant is located at 140 Esplanade Avenue.
Breakfast and Another Stroll
After a great night’s sleep we went for another walk along the waterfront and then for a bite to eat.
We were told that the best place for breakfast in town is at the Muddy Waters Cafe and so that’s where we went. And were the recommendations ever right! The farm-to-table food was delicious!
Our Eco Tour Adventure
After breakfast we headed to the docks at the lake for our appointment with Harrison Eco Tours. Our trip with them was a highlight of our holiday!
Harrison Eco Tours offers 90-minute jet boat tours up the Harrison River. Trips depart from Harrison Hot Springs two or more times per day.
We met Frank, the tour guide and boat operator, and set off on our adventure. Joining us on the tour was a young family from Finland. Everybody on board had a wonderful time!
On our hour-and-a-half expedition we saw fall colours in the hills and fishermen at the sides of the river and in their boats. We also saw dozens of bald eagles perched in the trees, and others on the banks of the Harrison enjoying the spawning season and resulting smorgasbord of dead salmon.
The eagles on the Harrison River this time of year are everywhere! It was amazing! We were told that it was just the start of the season and that thousands more of the beautiful birds would be arriving in the weeks ahead.
In addition to the beautiful scenery and eagles, we saw two other very interesting things on our trip. First, near the start of our voyage, Frank took the boat right up close to a cliff where we could see petroglyphs (carvings) and pictographs (paintings). Both were made by local Indigenous artists many hundreds of years ago. That was very interesting.
The other special event we got to witness was a group of fishermen hauling in a 246-cm sturgeon. That’s about 8 feet long! For a fresh water fish!
Frank explained that, depending on the size of the fish, reeling a sturgeon in can take anywhere from between 10 minutes and over an hour! We were lucky to have witnessed the end of the fight! And lucky for the sturgeon too, that, in BC, sturgeon fishing is just a “catch and release” sport – so the fish got to live for another day (and likely for several more years).
I must say, the fishermen who caught the sturgeon looked pretty pleased with themselves. It must have been very exciting for them, so much so, in fact, that the guy who caught it was willing to lie down in the cold water beside the fish long enough for his buddies to take some photos. Brrrr!
An hour and a half after departing from the docks in front of the Harrison Hot Springs Resort our jet boat returned to the exact same spot. We thanked Frank, gave him a well-deserved tip and wished our Finnish travel companions well on the remainder of their Canadian adventures.
Next we went to the Black Forest Restaurant at 180 Esplanade Avenue for some schnitzel and goulash soup. Lunch at the German restaurant was very tasty.
Autumn Hikes in Harrison
After lunch, but before ending our mini vacation and returning to Vancouver, we wanted to enjoy a bit more nature and Harrison’s autumn colours. Based on the recommendations of locals we had met, we headed first for a walk along the Spirit Trail and then to Hicks Lake in Sasquatch Provincial Park.
Harrison Hot Spring’s Spirit Trail
The Spirit Trail is a 1-km path through a forest right by the Village of Harrison Hot Springs. It was about a 4-minute drive (or 2.5 km) from our hotel just off McCombs Drive.
Our walk was lovely. The ground was covered in giant leaves and the forest with its autumn colours was beautiful.
An interesting feature of the Spirit Trail is the fact that ceramic masks are placed on trees along the trail. As you walk the route, which is a loop, you see one from time to time high up in the trees.
The masks are made by a local artist and are a wonderful addition to an already exceptional place for a stroll. The masks are no doubt good for kids too – I’m sure many parents use them to make walking with young family members extra interesting and enjoyable.
Hicks Lake at Sasquatch Park
Our final destination on our overnight getaway was to Hicks Lake. It’s located about a 13-km drive from downtown Harrison Hot Springs in Sasquatch Provincial Park. The journey to get there included about 7 km along a scenic paved road that wound for a bit along the side of the lake before turning east, and then another 6 km along a bumpy dirt road.
Hicks Lake is stunning! There is a trail that goes all the way around and takes up to about two hours to walk. The trail goes up and down in parts, but isn’t too challenging. It was getting late in the afternoon when we arrived so we didn’t stay for long. We made a note to ourselves though to come back and do the full hike on a future visit.
Because of what we saw, we also plan to return one day and stay at one of the nearby campgrounds, plus maybe bring a canoe or a couple of kayaks. Perhaps next summer, and with the kids.
TIPS: The final 6 kilometres to Hicks Lake is a dirt road. After the summer, by mid-autumn, it has its share of bumps. We had no problem driving to the lake in our Toyota van. You wouldn’t, however, want to take a Lamborghini or other fancy or low-to-the-ground car along that road. In any normal vehicle though, the destination is well worth the drive! And the scenery along the way is beautiful.
Go to Hicks Lake in the fall at round 3 pm (plus or minus), which was the time when we visited. Take a look at the shadow on the right side of the lake. Doesn’t that look like the silhouette of a Sasquatch lying down on his side? Kind of cool!
The End of Our Harrison Staycation
It’s hard to believe that a place as lovely and unique as Harrison Hot Springs is less than 2 hours from downtown Vancouver (and as little as 90 minutes in ideal traffic). It’s close enough to consider an overnight visit a “staycation” for someone who lives in the city, but far enough that it feels like you’ve really been away.
Our only regret about our mini holiday at Harrison Hot Springs this fall was that we couldn’t stay longer. There is so much to do there and places to explore, even in the slow season like the fall (or even winter or early spring). Those seasons, actually, can be some of the best times to visit!
Harrison Hot Springs is without a question one of our favourite places in the Lower Mainland (and trust us, due to our work, we know the entire region very well)! We’ll definitely be coming back again for another overnight stay (and not before long).
More Tips and Advice
I hope the above gives readers ideas on what to do at Harrison Hot Springs, and perhaps inspires them to visit the place soon. Whether you’re a local resident of the Lower Mainland or a visitor from far away, it’s a wonderful place to visit.
Below are some additional tips and pieces of advice to help you make the most out of your next holiday at Harrison Hot Springs.
Tip #1: Harrison attracts travelers from around the world. You don’t have to be rich to enjoy it though. Yes, you can certainly spoil yourself with spa treatments, exotic fishing expeditions and first-class accommodations. You can also find very reasonably-priced places to stay too though (including camping in warmer months). There are lots of free and beautiful parks to explore too, and one of the nicest beaches anywhere! The area has something for everyone!
Tip #2: If planning to camp or stay at a hotel in the summer, it’s best to book well in advance.
Tip #3: Harrison Hot Springs isn’t just a summer and autumn destination. Winter is a fabulous time to visit too, especially with the hot springs. The Sasquatch Mountain ski resort is also just a short drive away. Spring is an exceptional time for mini vacation getaways too. Even when it’s cold and rainy, there is no better place to be than in a hot spring pool!
Tip #4: Drop by the Harrison Visitor Centre near the start of your visit. It’s located at 499 Hot Springs Road (which is less than a kilometre from the beach and Esplanade Avenue). At the Centre you can get maps and advice on what to see and do. There is also a tiny free museum there with information about Sasquatch (i.e., the legendary creature that’s also known as “Big Foot” in other parts of North America).
Tip #5: When visiting the Harrison Visitor Centre be sure to get their brochure that’s full of coupons. If you use those you’ll save yourself some money. At the time of our visit, inside the pamphlet were discounts for a couple of the restaurants, the public hot spring pool and some of the other attractions.
Tip #6: Why is the Sasquatch such a prominent character in and around Harrison Hot Springs? Because there have been more sightings of him (or her) in the immediate region than virtually anywhere else on the continent. The word Sasquatch is actually of Salish origin, from the local Sts’ailes First Nation, from the word sέsq̉əc, which means “wild and/or hairy man.”
Tip #7: If you see a Big Foot, or Sasquatch footprints or other traces of the legendary creature, share your experience on social media and at hashtag #harrisonhotsprings and #justuptheroad!
Tip #8: Great souvenirs from the area include Sasquatch T-shirts and stuffed animals. From personal first-hand experience, we can also highly recommend the Sasquatch Paw chocolates from the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. (And no, Mark from the store isn’t paying us to say that!)
Tip #9: While you’re in the Fraser Valley, don’t forget to fill your vehicle’s tank up with gas. Fuel in places like Abbotsford, Chilliwack and Harrison Hot Springs is usually at least 10 cents a litre less than in other Lower Mainland communities (because of the transit taxes within Metro Vancouver).
Tip #10: Anytime of the year is a good time to visit Harrison Hot Springs. The place can be especially fun though when there is a festival or other special event going on. Some of the community’s best events in the non-summer season include the following:
- Harrison Uncorked – a wine festival on a weekend in April.
- Harrison Beer Fest – an Oktoberfest-type event featuring craft beers in October.
- Fraser Valley Bald Eagle Festival – an opportunity to admire and experience one of the world’s biggest concentrations of migratory bald eagles in November.
- Lights on the Lake – from late November until mid-January the waterfront at Harrison Hot Springs gets lit up with Christmas lights and Sasquatch-themed illuminations. And new for 2019, there is an outdoor ice rink on site too.
Other articles that might be of interest include the following:
- Fraser Valley Bald Eagle Festival
- Sasquatch Provincial Park
- Harrison Hot Springs Deals
- Harrison Places to Stay
- Harrison Hot Springs Restaurants
- Sasquatch Mountain Ski Resort