There’s some fault line thing that stretches from Harrison Hot Spring in the SE up to Keyhole Hot Spring NW of Pemberton, and maybe beyond. As recently as last year I had visited Keyhole HS, Meager HS (2x), Skook or Tsek HS (3x), so there was only Clear Creek HS and Sloquet HS left for me to do. (Visited Harrison HS about thirty years ago and Harrison is a resort so not interesting). The 3rd edition of the Hot Spring Guide has excellent detailed instructions for getting to Clear Creek, as well as GPS coordinates. The latter half of the route, particularly the last 10 km, requires a high clearance vehicle. We did not use 4 wheel drive. We drove through three moderate rivers, and we dodged about a thousand pot-holes, most of them successfully. On the way in we opted for efficiency over scenery and took exactly four hours from Vancouver to the hot spring, with time off for a pee break and to buy gas at Harrison.
Because this was strictly a car camping trip, with no carrying involved, I should mention some things that we found very useful to have along. Apple pie. You don’t want to eat porridge for breakfast, do you? Binoculars. To see the mountain goats across the valley. They were whitish, large, far away, and they moved, but they might have been mountain sheep. Coffee. We totally forgot to bring coffee. Sitting in the hot pool in the morning, drinking coffee, is recommended. And you might want to bring swimming attire. Or not, as usual.
This is strictly a mid-week trip unless you are into crowds of drunken strangers. Do NOT attempt to come here on a weekend. Especially not a long weekend. We went on a Wednesday. When we arrived, there was nobody else at the pools, which is pretty nice. Eventually “the mechanic” showed up. He was quite pleasant, hauled up a huge amount of firewood, and beer. He spent a lot of time sitting in the pool, drinking beer, and sometimes when asked, he could tell us a bit of history of the area as he’d been going up there for around twenty years. He invited us to sit by his fire, and Carla liked that. He slept in his truck. Next, a guy showed up to soak his foot because he’d “rolled his ankle” recently. He was OK, and told us about bringing his girlfriend up on a rowdy weekend and finding two totally naked tattooed ladies in the pool. His girlfriend didn’t like the competition. Finally two other males showed up in a Honda ATV, carrying a shotgun. They explained that they had used up all the whiskey on the drive up and were having to get by with just beer. They were a fairly happy crew, though a bit too drunk. From my small random sample I’d have to conclude that all the hot spring users are male, they all have extensive tattoos, all drink beer, and three quarters of them return to “civilization” in the evening.
The road into the hot spring parallels Clear Creek and by the time we get up to the hot spring (elevation 600m) the terrain is pretty steep, with patches of snow, signs of recent avalanches, alpine terrain, goats, etc. Under foot around the pools the ground crunches because of the many abandoned beer cans, spent shotgun shells, and other leftovers from previous visitors. There was quite a lot of discarded clothes, mostly men’s underwear, but not my size, alas. Several towels, but we didn’t need towels either. The pools consist of four tubs, one rather small, two of pleasant size, and one large enough for eight, or if VOC, probably 20. The hot water is adequately warm but not particularly abundant for four tubs, and where it seeps out of the ground it has to avoid getting diluted by a cold stream, and then it is not very high above the tubs. I thought about a major makeover for the hot spring. We would need either dynamite or Jeff Mottershed to move some huge boulders, then a dam plus some pipes to divert the cold water past the pools, then a large pool of hot water could be created to feed the tubs, as at Skook. Management and planning would be required. $5k would be a good start. Might want a geologist but they are not expensive.
Finally what you are waiting for, a hot spring trip rating system, with examples.
Meager is the best. It has huge capacity for people, and hiking access of around 10 km keeps the crowds down. The drive is long, terrain includes several rare plants, several very large natural-looking pools, structures like board walks, a composting toilet, changing room and other indications of past glory. It also has signs forbidding you to go near the hot springs because of the geological instability of the area. Saw a grizzly up there once. Future is uncertain because the loggers in the area want to restrict driving on the roads that they use to haul logs, and the Authorities would like you to obey the signs around the hot springs and stay away, but VOC would like to maintain access to our Harrison Hut.
Keyhole is the worst. It has very limited capacity for people in small pools mostly cemented onto a cliff beside the raging Lillooet River. The drive is long but the hike is only around 2 km, making this a crowded destination on weekends. Geology is interesting with large lava flows and other volcanic features. Abandoned clothes are in evidence; I picked up a nice towel and a pair of shorts when I was last there. Currently the Authorities have closed the hot spring due to bears in the area associating humans with food, which is never a good thing. Future is uncertain because of the bears and because the Lillooet River is mostly getting diverted around the hot spring by a “run of the river” power project.
Skook, or Tsek, has a long drive but no hiking. It is actively managed, which means somebody will collect overnight fees for camping, and day-use fees if you are a day-use person. You will spend way more on gas, getting there. Capacity is good, though it can get crowded on weekends; especially avoid long weekends. Hot water is abundant. Lots of signeage telling you not to eat, or drink alcohol in the pools but these are not enforced. There is history as this was on the path of the Gold Rush. Several First Nations cemeteries are nearby, and a famous church and a small village is in the area. Expect Skook to be around for a long time as it is actively managed, has a revenue stream, and access roads are important to First Nations people living nearby.
Clear Creek has no hiking, but a long (200 km) drive unless you live in Harrison or nearby. The last 10 km is high clearance, and the previous 40 or so km has logging trucks to dodge (we saw five). There is no active management, but obviously somebody has done work up there, installing hot tubs, and a bizarre changing room made of corrugated sheet steel. There is a lot of plastic pipe around, but most of it isn’t doing anything, it’s just lying around. History tells of a legendary pioneer named Ruth Larsen who dug a large pool, perhaps hoping to capture a lot of warm water and attract tourists, but now the pool contains only frogs, and early in the morning small whiffs of steam come off the slightly warm water. Probably the road will be maintained somewhat, but I did not see anybody working up there, so no good reason to maintain it.
Conclusions: Mid-week trips are great. Car camping is great. Clear Creek is OK, but you could do better. A hot spring trip classification system is difficult due to the multi-dimensional nature of hot springs.
In a few weeks I hope to do the Sloquet-Skook traverse. Mid-week. Watch for it!