After spending a few nights at Muncho Lake, we decided that we deserved to be pampered some so we drove to Liard River Hot Springs. These natural hot springs are the second largest in Canada and they provide a much needed respite for travelers along the Alaska Highway. These hot springs are actually a natural river that make a pool and are really popular among the local residents and tourists alike. When we were in Fort Nelson’s Visitor Center, the young women working there told us that they frequently make the 3½ hour drive one way to the Hot Springs. After soaking and relaxing in this beautiful setting, we understood fully the Hot Springs’ allure.
The Liard River Hot Springs are located in a lush boreal spruce forest that was called at one time the “Tropical Valley.” To access the Alpha Pool, the main pool that is open to the public, you must take a 10 minute walk along a boardwalk over a warm marshy woodland area. In this boreal forest, you can often see waterfowl and moose. There is a snail that lives in this swampy warm water and it’s the only place in the world where it can be spotted. Fish have also adapted to living in these waters.
When you arrive at the hot springs, there is a nice complex with changing areas and toilets on site. The Alpha Pool has water that ranges from 106 degrees F to 125 degrees F (42 degrees C to 52 degrees C) depending on where you stand in the pool. The main pool is surrounded by lush plants and is a very pleasant and inviting place. The bottom of the pool has gravel so that you can stand and walk easily. There are also concrete benches in the pool and along the sides of the pool where you can sit and soak up the beauty around you.
There is a 53 site campground there and 21 sites can be reserved in advance. Even though this campground has no hook ups, it fills up quickly particularly during the spring and summer. This campground is one of the nicest provincial parks that we have seen. The wooded sites are large and the staff comes and rakes and cleans the sites after campers leave. The staff is very accessible and very friendly. The Hot Springs are open 24-hours a day year around, if you are camping there. The campground and Hot Springs share the same entrance which is closed about 10:00 pm. The admission fee to the hot springs is included with your site. If you choose to come for the day, there is a CAD $5 per adult fee or CAD $10 for families. All the fees must be paid in cash only.
On the cool spring day when we were there, there were a lot of people of all ages enjoying the hot springs. We met two families who came together to this spot. Together they had six children all under the age of six and they live ten hours away. They make the journey every year and they said that it was totally worth it. We also ran into another couple from California, who we had originally met at Muncho Lake, and we enjoyed getting to know them better over the next two days.
Across the highway is the Liard River Lodge. They have WiFi for a fee and since we had had no cell phone service for days, we went to the Lodge to check our mail, send texts, post blogs, etc. The folks who ran the Lodge and the restaurant were very friendly and helpful.
While we were in the Lodge, a wood bison came ambling down the side of the highway. We knew that they were in the area but had not seen one before. The wood bison are the largest mammals in North America. A male bison can weigh as much as a ton and stand up to 78 inches (2 meters) in height. Although they are related to the American bison that you see in Yellowstone National Park, they differ in that they are a darker brown color, have a large hump on their backs, thick shaggy hair on their necks and head, a beard, and a short tail. They also have sharp hooves and horns for their protection.
There are about 10,000 wood bison in Canada, specifically in Saskatchewan, the Northwest Territories, and the Yukon. At one time, there were 168,000 in Canada but heavy hunting and severe winters reduced the population. These bison are currently endangered. The government is working diligently to protect their habitat and ensure their survival. It was very exciting to see these enormous creatures.
While we have been on our Alaska journey, we have seen a lot of wildlife. Here’s our count thus far: 1 marmot, 1 ptarmigan, 7 black bears, 10 deer, 11 elk, 2 caribou, 2 moose, 36 Stone sheep, 2 Bighorn sheep, 10 wood bison, 1 coyote, and many waterfowl and birds.
It’s been extraordinary journey so far. We are looking forward to more adventures in the Yukon next.