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Deer River Hot Springs

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Bush whacking through head high ferns inter-laced with deliciously ripe raspberries I had to wonder what the local four-legged furry residents thought of my being here. I hadn’t yet come to terms with why I was there.
Why do I enjoy getting myself as far away from civilization as possible all in the pursuit of hot water?
Isn’t the hot water tap enough?

Deer River Hot Springs, in my mind, is the pinnacle of remote hot springs in British Columbia, probably even all of Canada. Large, hot and so remote that it’s almost impossible to hike to. Almost. This spring is so remote that Glenn Woodsworth, the guy who literally wrote the book on hot springs in Canada has not been to them.

A few tantalizing snippets from his book, Hot Springs of Western Canada follow:

…they are seldom visited despite being large and hot…

…follow an old trail for about 16km up the Liard River… follow the Deer River for 13km upstream…

…people have become lost…

…the springs may have the largest total volume of all the springs in Canada…

No co-ordinates are given, and no pictures shown. I’m not sure if it’s the extremely brief details, the lure of “large and hot” or the possibility of the largest total volume in all of Canada – something about this spring draws in hot spring enthusiasts better than any other.

My friend tried on four separate occasions, driving a total of more than 4000kms before actually reaching this spring. I could see the sense of achievement in his eyes and hear it in his voice – he spent a lot of time and effort on this one, and he got there. With his help I spent over a month planning, talking to locals, buying maps, doing google searches and planning some more before I made my attempt. For this reason I feel strongly about keeping my exact route to myself. If there is one hot spring out there that remains the ultimate challenge to find, I think it should be this one. I hope detailed directions are never published, every person should experience the adventure for themselves and they will come away felling on top of the world.

If you ever plan on visiting the springs yourself, I mean seriously plan on visiting them, I urge you to not read any further. I go into quite a lot of detail about the landscape and have tons of photos mostly for those people that will never get the chance to visit themselves. I think you will enjoy the springs a lot more if they are as much a mystery to you as they were to me.
Stop now if you don’t want to spoil the mystery.

Safe to say there was an ungodly amount of bush whacking involved, so much so that I slumped down on the ground on two separate occasions completely ready to give up and turn around. I couldn’t help thinking that every step I took was a step further from civilization as well as another step I would have to take on the return trip. Falling in the frigid Deer River and getting soaked from head to toe did nothing to help my spirits – it would have been game over for this attempt if my down sleeping bag had gotten wet, luckily my dry bag held and I was able to continue.

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Wow, just wow

Arriving at the springs was quite surreal, all my estimates said I still had a few kilometers to go, so I was quite taken aback and elated the hunt was over. The main pool was exactly as it had been described to me. About 10 meters across, a few meters deep and the most amazing shade of turquoise-blue that seemed to change every time the sun hit it from a different angle.

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Pretty excited to have made it...

The book elusively reported the temperate as 32 or 42 degrees, so I was unsure of which to expect.
My thermometer showed spot on 32 after being underwater for a good 10 minutes.

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Deer River Hot Springs temperature after 10 mins underwater

This large pool had water swelling and bubbling up from it’s centre, with a very high, deceiving rate of flow. In all of the following pictures, all of the water is coming from this one pool – which is a lot to put it mildly. The bottom of the pool was extremely fine sand or silt, and behaved quite like quicksand – a fine sand with water and gas moving up through it. After I stood in it for a few minutes my feet were completely gone and it was difficult to pull them out. The silt was so fine that walking on the bottom stirred up a huge mess that took a few minutes to settle.

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Disturbing the silt by walking

The water flows from the main pool along a series of streams and cascades over 3 separate waterfalls into Deer River, which is really more like a creek at this point. The entire area is extremely beautiful, although I was surprised at the lack of rainforest-like greenery which was abundant on the sides of Deer River.

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The hot streams from the main pool to the waterfalls

In an area like this there are many delicate organisms and plants so I had to be extremely careful where I was stepping. I also camped a few hundred meters away from the spring to give animals access to it during the night.

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Cascading pools of hot water

Happily, it was almost impossible to tell if humans had ever been there before, I didn’t see a single piece of trash. There was a very small fire site, logs had been moved to form a crude circle and some trees had been cut down using saws. All of this seemed very old and took me a while to notice.

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Sitting in the waterfall was amazing...

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Same waterfall, showing the pools below

All afternoon I soaked, worked on my tan and soaked some more, thoroughly enjoying having the springs all to myself. Another unique aspect of this spring is the ability to swim – not just lie around or splash to and fro, I mean serious swimming. I’m not sure I’ve ever done that at a natural spring before.

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Swimming around the big pool, disturbed silt in foreground

I couldn’t help but think about how these springs had been sitting here, bubbling away for hundreds or maybe thousands of years, and will continue to do so for a long time to come.

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Bigger hot waterfall, going directly into Deer River

I didn’t see a single large critter the whole time I was out, a couple of times things crashed through the bushes ahead of me and in the middle of the night I heard a large hoofed animal walk right past my tent, probably a moose going to soak in the springs. Others I had spoken to descried the springs as ‘bear infested’, including some chopper pilots who said ‘Oh, that place. There are always too many bears around for us to land.’ I thought of these happy thoughts as I drifted off to sleep.

morning steam 640x480

Steam in the morning sun

When it was time to leave I bush whacked a little further from the river looking for easier going and, lo and behold, about 500 meters south of the big pool I saw steam in the meadow, lots of steam. I had no idea there were more vents and was extremely excited at this development. Hot water literally flows out of the base of the hillside forming a river of it’s own. The major one I took a photo of had a flow rate greater than most hot springs I have been to.

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The main hot vent with very high flow rate

This river was several hundred meters long and continued to pickup more water as it went, sometimes it was bubbling up from the bottom of pools, sometimes flowing out of muddy swamp-like areas. My thermometer at the ready I was eager to discover the 42 degree vent, but it was not to be. The vast majority of the vents were within a degree or maybe two of the big pool, the only outliers were significantly colder. This area of the meadow was still in shadow, accounting for all the ‘extra’ steam that I was so excited about.

hot river 360x480

The hot river with many vents along it

The flow rate in the big pool was already the highest I’ve ever seen in a natural spring, when combined with these other vents, I think it must be one of the highest in Canada, if not the highest.

An amazing trip & I’m certain I’ll go back one day.
Not soon, but one day.

-Dan

23 Responses

  1. Dan says:

    I’d love to hear from anyone that has been to these springs or who makes it there in the future.
    Have they changed much over the years?

  2. Graymatter says:

    Thanks for this. When my kids grow up, maybe I will add this to my to do list. Amazing pics and very good to keep as secret as possible

    Graymatter

  3. Eva says:

    Nice work Dan! You survived and then some! We were thinking of you while on our canoe trip and wondering how you were making out.

    The homestead is not quite the same without you – I still think you should turn around and winter in the Yukon!

    Cheers, Eva

    • Dan says:

      haha, it’s 26 degrees here right now, winter is far from my mind!
      the leaves have not started to turn here, so I know I’m driving in the right direction.

  4. Catherine says:

    Dan,

    I found your website when I wikipedia’d Chris McCandless. I must say, it’s been amazing to read your blog & read of your journey. I, myself, am on my own little adventure. I lost my job about a month ago and set out to drive cross country, by myself, to try to make a go of it in CA. The places I saw and visited made me realize a great deal about myself. It’s a trip I won’t ever forget. Your blog and especially your entry of the “Magic Bus,” really inspired me. I, too, would love to visit that sight. I have always wanted to be around something new and have new experiences, and now, I know I’m not the only one that feels that way. Good luck on your adventure. This is truly a wonderful thing you are doing. Godspeed.
    -Catherine

    • Dan says:

      Catherine,
      it’s great to hear you made the best of a bad situation and new doors are opening up for you.
      Thankyou so much for the kind words or encouragement.

  5. Mikel G says:

    Dan, it seems congratulations are in order. That’s a 90-degree-F lake you’ve ‘discovered’. (32*C x 9/5 + 32)

    If it were me, I’d try to balance the difficulty in getting there with a nice relaxation period before hiking out. That is, a few days stay. Low-impact visitation is the word, and unless you say otherwise, I assume it’s possible.

    Maybe in fact it’s best discovered only by the intrepid few. My days of such bushwacking are probably all in the past. But would others make less environmental disruption by knowing the best possible way in?

    Did you make any attempt to dive down to the source? Is it so prolific that there’s not much temperature variation within the lake?

    Is this as big a thermal flow as that at Glenwood Springs in Colorado?

    • Dan says:

      Hi Mikel,
      Yep, I should have stayed at least 2 nights at the springs but the bears were freaking me out. I find when I’m on the move and making noise I am OK with being in bear country. As soon as I sit still I start to freak out and don’t feel comfortable. Maybe next time.

      I was wondering about the environmental impact part of things too – but it was amazing how dense the forest was and how quickly my tracks were erased. On the way out I would often come to a landmark that I recognized and have not seen a single sign of me being there just a day earlier, everything sprang back to where it was.
      To be honest, I think it’s best the general public doesn’t know how to get there, otherwise we’ll end up with the ATV riding 6-pack carrying crowd that is so prolific at the springs in southern BC.

      I didn’t dive down to the bottom, it’s such a pain to dry my dreads. From the shore it looked to be a couple of feet deep. When I walked in it looked a meter or maybe two. Treading water it was still very hard to judge, but it could have been 3 meters or maybe 6-10. I should have duck dived to the bottom.
      The lake was huge and I don’t really think there was much temperate difference around it, although a degree or 3 is quite possible.

      I’ve not been to springs in Colorado – I’ll add that to my list of places to go on the way south!

  6. John Clough says:

    Wow, absolutely amazing!

    I had no idea these springs existed, and have added them to my list of places to go when I get around to travelling in North America – amazing!

    Nice to see you living the dream, Dan – Best of luck and I hope you’re having as cool a time as you appear to be! :)

    • Dan says:

      Hi John,
      Deer River Hot Springs is an amazing place and well worth the visit – if you are a serious back country traveler. There are countless springs in lower BC and the northern US that are well worth the visit and much much easier to get to.
      I recommend a visit to those before you attempt something as difficult as Deer River.

  7. ASH says:

    Thanks for the great review!
    Would love to go one day :)

  8. Stefan says:

    Any hints you can give to someone planing a trip there their this summer? I’m well versed in buchwacking I just don’t want to get lost. It appears there is two branch’s of the creek is it on the West or East branch.

    • Dan says:

      Buy the book “Hotsprings of Western Canada” by Glenn Woodsworth – it’s the absolute best guidebook I’ve ever had and you will not regret it.

  9. Josh & Chris says:

    Hey Dan,

    My friend Chris and I tried to be the first people we could imagine to find this place in the winter. Didn’t work out so well. The first section of “road” isnt touched in the winter, so it was a long way to the deer in snowshoes with packs loaded for a week trip. On the third night we hit the area that seems to be dense willows are mostly realativly new growth. no real place to camp out of the wind and find any deadwood for a fire. it got down to -50 with windchill that night, and in the morning most of our fuel had froze. With food low due to the extra km’s and chris’ sleeping bag getting wet, not to mention the -50, hah, we decided to turn back… the bears might be easier to deal with :)

  10. Bruce says:

    I spent a fair amount time in this area a few years back on horseback and ATV. I can tell you that if you hoofed it there, you are seriously hardcore. Any sort of bushwacking along the rivers in this area is a huge pain. Have you ever thought about trying to get to the Grayling Springs?

    • Dan says:

      Hey Bruce,
      It’s a beautiful and rugged part of BC for sure.
      I would absolutely love to get to the Grayling Springs. I talked to a guy that has been there, and he thinks I can make it on foot. I hope to get a trip off the ground for early next summer, though we’ll see.
      All the best,
      -Dan

  11. Jeff from BC says:

    Hi Dan,

    I found you blog a few years ago now. I just wanted to say that you are an inspiration to me and (as i read this) many others.
    The Deer river hotsprings is on my bucket list.

    cheers
    jeff

  12. steve says:

    hi there, i’m planning on trekking in to deer river springs this summer (i live in whitehorse). do you have coordinates you can share with me. i will keep them secret. i plan on going in regardless, but coordinates would certainly help…

  13. Nikki says:

    I used to live in Liard River and worked at the hot springs campground. I remember doing a midnight ATV ride to the outfitters lodge on that trail off the highway, which a friend of mine worked at at the time. Good memories. I was aware of the Deer River hot springs for quite sometime but never made the trek out. What confuses me is that in Glen’s hotspring book he says that the Deer River hot springs are on the west side of the river, which they are not. One day I will have to go back and make it out there.

  14. katherine says:

    Hey Dan,

    Great blog. We landed with a helicopter at Deer River hotsprings in 2011. The beauty there is unbelievable and home to some rare listed plants :)
    If you send me your email I can send you some photos of what the springs look like from the air!

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