For those born on or during an important holiday, finding a way to claim that birthday can be tough. As a late November baby, my sister’s birthday often falls on Thanksgiving itself, and regardless, always happens during the strange dead week that encompasses the holiday, meaning most places are either closed, or prices have skyrocketed because everyone else is traveling then, too. Her solution for a milestone like this year’s 30th birthday was simple: leave the country. Which is how I ended up at Harrison Hot Springs Resort, in British Columbia, Canada, over the past Thanksgiving break.
For those who live near the Canadian border — aka the Pacific Northwest, where my family is from — the trek up to BC isn’t very intensive, just a two hour car ride, give or take. If you’re coming by plane, fly into Vancouver and rent a car for the ninety minute drive, public transit won’t cut it for a resort this remote, but that’s half the appeal, right? Located about thirty minutes from a little town called Chilliwack, the resort is located right on the water of Harrison Lake, and obviously, includes a set of pools sourced from local hot springs that serve as its main draw.
For guests staying at the hotel, access for the five separate pools, three of which are outdoors, comes free of charge — and its available only to guests. Members of the community or visitors who aren’t staying at the hotel itself are also able to access nearby, public pools for a small fee that ranges based on age, whether or not they’re local, and length of the pass. A day pass for visitors between 15-64 who don’t live in the area is $12.75, so it won’t break the bank. Still, the ability to jump between the hot pools and lounging around in my own hotel room, then head back down, was a luxury most visitors indulged; the most coveted rooms on the property, in fact, were the ones on the ground floor with double doors that opened out directly into the hot springs area. Balcony rooms on higher floors facing the pools were popular too, though I liked being farther back in the older building of the West Tower, away from the noise. There are standalone one bedroom cottages on the property available too, for couples or young families who value proximity to each other and separation from the rest of the hotel, which is fairly massive.
When it comes to the resort itself, there are some pretty noticeable pros and cons right off the bat. Free access to the hot springs is the most obvious pro, but for American travelers, the affordability of the hotel right now is another huge draw. Rates currently range from $129 (Riverside Studio) to $239 (Deluxe Lake King View), and since the pricing is Canadian dollars, all the available rooms come in between $100-$200 American per night (For a garden view room with two Queens, I paid $202 Canadian a night, or approximately $150 in American). Since that’s well below market in the US, lots of travelers make their way up to Harrison to enjoy a vacation that’s slightly more affordable than time spent stateside.
Still, you get what you pay for. The resort is not hip, or chic, or even modern, really — though it is cozy in the way that older hotels often are. It’s been through several stages of development, from an initial 40-room hotel that opened in 1885 and was destroyed in a fire in the 1920s. Rebuilt in 1925, and briefly used as a sanitarium for women returning from working in World War II in the 1940s, the hotel had great popularity in ensuing decades, especially the ‘50s and ‘60s.
A large entryway with an adjacent coffee shop, and common areas including a fireplace, bar area and several gift shops make up the lobby level. The addition of a spa in 2001 helped bring the resort into the twenty-first century, but a throwback — the much more formal, seated dining of an onsite restaurant, The Copper Room — will cater to the whims of any foodie. A full dance floor and live band made this experience more than just a dinner, and the ideal place to honor a special occasion. More casually, the Lakeside Cafe offers buffet style fare for a set price with loads of options and friendly service — special recommendation for the brunch custom omelette bar.
As for the pools themselves, there is an outdoor adults only pool open from 5 AM to 11 PM, an adjacent outdoor family pool with slightly cooler water that keeps the same hours, and small but traditional lap pool with much cooler water, also open 5 AM to 11 PM. Indoor pools include the smallest, hottest mineral bath, which is open until 1 AM, and an indoor swimming pool that’s far less hot, though still heated, also open till 1 AM. According to the hotel’s website, minerals found in the water from the nearby source of two hot springs include the following: potassium chloride, sodium chloride, sodium sulphate, magnesium sulphate, calcium sulphate, calcium bi-carbonate, iron bi-carbonate and sulphurated hydrogen.
Overall, the resort was a welcoming and relaxing place, even over a busy holiday weekend, and I would love to go back with some friends of my own very soon. The clientele was definitely dominated by seniors and families, but not to the point that our younger, mid-twenties/early thirties group felt alienated or unwelcome. If you do go, plan to live in the big fluffy white robes the resort provides, and spend your time alternating between lounging in the hot pools surrounded by cold, crisp air, and curling up in your room, lounging in bed. If that doesn’t sound like a dream vacation completely free of holiday stress, I don’t know what is.