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Summer Van Life Road Trip 2023: Exploring the Healing Waters of Nakusp Hot Springs

It's been an incredible journey so far on my 2023 Summer Van Life Road Trip through the breathtaking landscapes of British Columbia. From the picturesque shores of Okanagan Lake to the tranquil vineyards above Rossland, each stop has gifted me with unforgettable memories and new insights. Earlier this week I wrote about the lovely hot springs town of Nakusp and promised a closer look at the day I spent at the actual Hot Springs location found just outside of town. Today, I'm thrilled to share the seventh chapter of this extraordinary expedition – a day spent at the enchanting Nakusp Hot Springs.

During my summer road trips, I travel in my converted Sprinter cargo van, Wanda. Wanda and I have been together for three years now and I am delighted to embrace the van life -- at least during the summer -- to explore my beautiful home province of BC. To read about my previous adventures all across Canada, I encourage you to check the "Canada" category on this blog. For Wanda's adventures, click on the category labelled "Wanda".

I have a particular fondness for hot springs. I have soaked in fancy resort hot springs and humble natural ones in BC, Iceland, and Costa Rica. I delight in the delicious, bone-deep relaxation I experience. I'm not convinced if the "healing properties" have long-term benefits but on the day of the visit, I am remarkably relaxed and comfortable.

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Summer 2023 BC Van Life Road Trip -- so far

In the words of the indigenous peoples who have cherished this sacred place for generations, "Skʷum̓ kwɪʔ tl̕ saƛ̕ iʔɨm̓?" ("Will you come and visit?")

The Route to Nakusp Hot Springs

Nakusp is located in the Kuskanax Valley of British Columbia. To get to the hot springs from town you'll head northeast out of town on Highway 23 for about 14 kilometres. Keep an eye out for signs indicating the turnoff to Nakusp Hot Springs. The signage is well-marked, ensuring you won't miss the exit. Turn left onto the appropriate road as indicated.

screenshot from Google Maps

Look for a pullout partway up the road on the left side for Gardner Waterfalls. It's a bit tricky to spot it on the opposite side of the road until after you've passed it the turn. I suggest making a note of the location and stop when coming downhill when it is on the same side of the road as you will be driving and it is easier to spot the entrance. You can scramble along the rocks to get right to the base and a small shallow pool good for dipping your feet in.

Continue for a short drive up the former forestry road (it can be rough in sections) to arrive at Nakusp Hot Springs, located near the campground at the end of the road. There is a small parking lot behind the building. Access to the trails is off the parking lot.

History and Cultural Significance

Hot Springs have been important to indigenous communities who have lived on these lands for countless generations. The hot springs are geothermal -- meaning they are heated from deep inside the earth. The water is heated within the Earth's crust and then rises to the surface, full of minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and sulphates. Hot Springs sites are considered sacred and are revered as places for healing and promoting spiritual growth. The healing powers of the mineral-rich water were believed to be powerful medicine capable of alleviating many different ailments both physical and psychological.

With the advent of the modern era, word of Nakusp Hot Springs spread, attracting curious travellers eager to experience the famed healing powers for themselves. As the hot springs gained popularity, facilities were developed to accommodate visitors while ensuring the preservation of the natural environment.

Accommodations Nearby

While I chose to stay in the town of Nakusp at the Nakusp Municipal Campground, it is possible to stay right near the Springs. Nakusp Hot Springs, Chalets, & Campground offers charming rustic cabin retreats or camping for tents, campers and large RVs with full amenities available. For those wanting to indulge in several days of soaking, this might be a great choice.

The Footbridge Trail

Eager to explore the wonders that Nakusp Hot Springs had to offer, I set out on the much-recommended Footbridge Trail. I found the trailhead at the edge of the parking lot. The trail is flat and wheelchair accessible up until the footbridge.

Within a few steps, you will begin to hear the sound of running water signalling that you are close to the Kuskanax River. I was delighted to see a deer in amongst the trees... unfortunately, as I was trying to get a photo, she darted away... which seems to be the story of my wildlife encounters on this trip! As disappointed as I was not to capture the image, I did enjoy the moment.

As I walked further, the footbridge gradually came into view through the dense foliage. To my amusement, at first glance, it appeared like a magnificent building nestled amidst the trees. Its architectural beauty and scale were awe-inspiring, blending harmoniously with the surrounding landscape.

Upon reaching the footbridge, I was captivated. The bridge was thoughtfully constructed to provide a crossing over the cascading waters, connecting both sides of the trail. Built with sturdy wooden planks and crafted with meticulous care, it works with the natural environment.

Benches thoughtfully placed along the bridge invited me to linger and provided a perfect spot to pause and spend some time watching the river below.

After crossing the footbridge, the trail transitioned into a slightly rougher path. The terrain was uneven, with occasional rocky patches, adding an adventurous touch to the journey.

Trekking to the Source

Eager to discover the source of Nakusp Hot Springs' miraculous waters, I set out on the trail beyond the footbridge. The signpost presented me with two options - the famous Hot Springs Trail, a long and challenging path that doesn't loop back, and a shorter trek to the source, ideal for those seeking a less arduous adventure.

Opting for the latter, I heeded the warnings about poison ivy seen on various signs, vowing to stay on the path and take every precaution. I kept an eye out for any signs of poison ivy with the old saying, "Leaves of Three, Leave It Be!" ringing in my head. If you aren't familiar with poison ivy, I suggest you google it before heading out along the trail.

The path to the source was a delightful mix of rocky terrain and soft evergreen peat. It meandered through a lush forest, offering shelter from the sun and a gentle breeze that invigorated my senses. The gradual ascent provided an enjoyable journey, and the sound of the river accompanied me like a comforting companion.

As I approached the source, the path converged with the pipes that carried the hot spring water down to the public pools.

Upon reaching the source, visitors will not find the bubbling pool the hot waters of ancient times. Instead, like most commercial hot springs, the hot spring is capped and piped, carefully managed to ensure its sustainability.

As a hot springs aficionado, I know that sometimes trickles of hot water make their way to the river. I decided to make my way down the rocks along the river to see if I could discover a pool of water deep enough to soak in. While I didn't find any pools deep enough I did enjoy exploring the area, clambering over rocks and listening to the soft trickle of water.

With the sky darkening and some stormy clouds perched on the horizon, I retraced my steps along the trail, heading back to the public pools. I knew I would appreciate the hot waters more on a cooler day.

A Relaxing Afternoon at the Public Baths

Upon arriving at the public baths, I found the admission prices to be quite reasonable, making them accessible to all visitors. For a single swim, the cost was $12 CAD, while the in-and-out day pass offered unlimited access for just $18 CAD. The Hot Springs also offered special pricing for kids and seniors, making it an excellent option for families and seniors seeking a rejuvenating experience. The public baths welcomes visitors from 9:30 AM to 9:30 PM all year round.

The hot springs building is an amphitheatre-shaped, natural wood building with ample and well-maintained amenities to ensure a comfortable and enjoyable experience. The large change rooms came equipped with lockers for secure storage, requiring a $6 deposit ($5 is refunded upon returning the key). Spacious open showers and hair dryers were available for use, making it convenient for guests to freshen up after a relaxing soak. (For those in the know -- the showering instructions are not nearly as strict as in Iceland!) Towels can be rented, too.

The public baths features two outdoor pools, each offering a unique experience. The small pool, known for its hotter temperature, is perfect for those seeking a more intense and therapeutic soak. Meanwhile, the larger pool provided a more moderate temperature, making it ideal for a leisurely and refreshing dip.

As I settled into one of the lounge chairs on the pool deck, I couldn't help but be captivated by the breathtaking views surrounding me. The hot springs deck is open to the views of the surrounding mountains and lush forests.

As I sunbathed and soaked my aging bones, I found myself indulging in the tranquil ambiance that enveloped the pools. The sights and sounds of nature were a symphony to my senses, with the joyful flitting of hummingbirds around numerous feeders adding a delightful touch to the experience.

One minor consideration for those planning to spend extended hours at the pools was the limited shade available on the pool deck. However, the small sliver of shade at the benches along the edge of the building provided a welcome respite for those seeking a break from the sun.

Final Thoughts

Nakusp Hot Springs is a true oasis of serenity and natural splendour. The healing power of these geothermal waters combined with the breathtaking surroundings makes it a must-visit destination during your British Columbia road trip.

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