Into the Woods (Skookumchuk Hot Springs)

View from our campsite at Skookumchuk Hot Springs

View from our campsite at Skookumchuk Hot Springs

My TC and I are a couple who enjoy two things very much: exploring BC (our adopted home), and relaxing in peaceful outdoor settings.

It is for this reason that you won’t catch us at any Vancouver beach apart from Wreck, and why TC (who is more motivated when it comes to looking up stuff) took it upon himself to organize a quick overnight trip to the Skookumchuck Hot Springs near Pemberton.

Also known as St. Agnes Well or the T’sek Hot Springs, the Skookumchuk Hot Springs are accessed by the In-Shuck-Ch Forest Service Road, which runs along the beautiful Lillooet River. Campsites and use of the springs are to be had at an incredibly reasonable $10 per person per night, plus $10 per vehicle. Though a few sites were a little exposed, they were generally quite nice with picnic tables, fire pits, and nice flat places to set  up tents. Most of the sites (like ours) are on the river and provide gorgeous views of swift green water and beautiful mountainscapes.

I have long believed that I am a terrible camper and I was apprehensive about my first camping trip since high school. It turns out that tents have come a long way since then (they’re so easy to set up now!), and that camping for one night is basically just having a picnic somewhere and then sleeping over, so it takes very little worry or organization. Or maybe I just think that because TC took care of most of the preparations. At any rate, we forgot to bring any soap but the hot springs did have hand sanitizer and, well, hot springs.

The springs themselves are a collection of soaking tubs of various sizes (some quite large) set in a clearing. Hot water is piped in from the natural spring a little farther up the slope, but the rock pool itself is far too hot to soak in. Bathers in the tubs can control the temperature of their tub by controlling the amount of cold water that flows in with the hot. As for the tubs, they are the kind of fairly ingenious assortment that would make a DIYer’s heart skip a beat. A couple of the tubs are the round, wooden-slatted variety (the kind you’d imagine people crushing grapes in). A couple of the tubs are simply empty water tanks, sawed in half and set in a wooden frame. And one tub (our favourite), is a hot tub shell propped up by wood and rock. Water is constantly flowing into the tubs and, at the same time, spilling out the other side. The tubs are cleaned often and the pools are never stagnant. I hardly noticed the kind of sulfur smell I’d come to expect with most natural hot springs (that said, I removed my engagement ring as a precaution before getting into the water since sulfur can ruin precious metals). Speaking of removing things, the tubs at Skookumchuck Hot Springs are clothing-optional, and most bathers seemed to favour the option of NOT wearing clothes.

If you like sitting in the tub at home, you’ll love sitting in a huge one that never gets cold and that allows you soak, chat with friends/loved ones, and be in the woods at the same time. We were at the Skookumchuk Hot Springs for less than 24 hours, but we managed to get three good soaks in. Heaven.

Just as enjoyable for me was the drive to and from the springs. I’m not generalizing when I say the In-Shuck-Ch Forest Service Road is beautiful. It truly is, with new vistas opening up at every bend. Additionally, if you’ve ever driven the Sea-to-Sky highway, you are probably familiar with the drive between Vancouver and Pemberton and know exactly why TC and I love doing it so much.

The journey also provides fun opportunities for other things. On the way to Pemberton, we stopped for the l.5 km walk to Nairn Falls (where interpretive signs teach you all about the formations around the waterfall). It was, of course, rugged and beautiful and made me think of Lord of the Rings for some reason.

Nairn Falls. Photo: Brayden McCluskey

Nairn Falls. Photo: Brayden McCluskey

On our way back from the springs the following day, we stopped along the service road to take a look at a fascinating old cemetery that appears (due to the lack of surnames on most of the tombstones) to be a family plot. The newest headstone I saw was from 1930, though since I didn’t enter the cemetery itself I can’t be sure. What is obvious is that this plot has been carefully tended, and the tombstones decorated in much the same style, with coloured beads pushed into the cement. I was a bit surprised to see inverted pentacles carved into a couple of the older wooden grave markers (it just seemed unorthodox for an ostensibly Christian plot), but a cursory internet search suggests that an inverted pentacle was sometimes used by Christians to denote the eastern star, without being anything creepy.

In-Shuck_Ch CemeteryWe were starving by the time we got to Pemberton (the service road is a bit rough and takes over an hour to travel carefully), and all I wanted to do was eat and wash my hands (but not in that order). We stopped in at The Pony, where I had the best open-faced sandwich of my entire life: chicken breast stuffed with artichoke, red pepper, and feta on a bed of mixed greens and tomatoes, covered in harissa sauce and served on a thick toasted slice of homemade whole wheat bread. Oh yeah, and it came with soup. The sandwich WAS the special for the day, so I don’t know if it’s part of the menu usually, but it should be. Best sandwich.

And then of course, the view from the parking lot behind The Pony was so impressive I just had to take a photo. Ta-da!

Just a big ol' mountain. Visible from a parking lot in Pemberton.

Just a big ol’ mountain. Visible from a parking lot in Pemberton.

My god, this province is stunning.

When it came to discovering and getting to the Skookumchuk Hot Springs, we made use of the incredibly helpful directions and suggestions on the Whistler Hiatus website.

Nairn falls