Soaking in Adventure

By Chris and Rick Millikan

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During the mid-1800s, 61-kilometre-long Harrison Lake was part of the main route to the Cariboo goldfields. Falling from a canoe, a prospector expecting frigid waters discovered a future hotspot instead: Harrison Hot Springs! Early visitors arrived by boats, trains and wagons; nowadays, most drive. For us, it's less than two hours from our home near Vancouver. Over decades of soaking up good times, we've discovered Harrison makes a perfect base for outdoor recreation.

Our spring fling includes a boat cruise around Harrison Lake's southern section. Departing, we consider nearly century old Harrison Hot Springs Hotel standing amid the modern wings of the famed spa resort. This historic brick hotel replaced an even earlier St. Alice Hotel and Bath House built in 1886.

Soon, onboard interpreter Lorna tells us about another attraction: fishing for salmon, trout and sturgeon. The lake sparkles in beautiful turquoise, fed by glaciers seen on north coastal mountains. Isolated cabins dot remote shorelines, prompting speculation on these residents' simple lives. Pausing below Echo Island's steep cliffs, Lorna tests the horn; sure enough, reverberations boom! She later shows us clamshells embedded in rocks gathered at Fossil Bay. At the end of a narrow inlet, we gaze at surrounding snowy peaks and .6-kilometre high Rainbow Falls.

We regularly amble the village's flower-bordered walkways. A promenade stretches along Harrison's sandy shoreline and at its midpoint, links a raised trail looping the man-made lagoon. For years, we admired the artistic creations built on these golden beaches during September's sand sculpture championships. The promenade itself continues eastward through a park to Ranger Station art gallery above the public docks, providing avid walkers with yet another terrific lakeside panorama.

To the west, the promenade passes in front of the resort to the mouth of the Miami River. Two public trails continue onward. One, Sandy Cove trail passes the hot spring's steamy source to a small beach and ultimately Whippoorwill Point overlooking the Harrison River. Seals are commonly seen here. Behind the resort, Bridges Trail parallels the Miami River and spans nine wooden bridges traversing a craggy fern-filled mountainside before descending into the village.

Other trails fan out throughout village neighbourhoods. Melodious birdies serenade our walks. Purple finch, plump robins, white-crowned sparrows, yellow-headed and red-winged blackbirds chirp from newly leafed branches. Honking geese fly overhead and strut on verdant yards. Pileated woodpeckers hammer in the distance. Flamboyant wood ducks and mallards quack happily in the river.

From McCombs Drive, several trails lead into an adjacent forest with most following the meandering Miami River. An anonymous artisan transformed one path into magical Mask Trail where earthen ceramic faces emerge from elegant red cedars. Winding into this wondrous woodsy world, we arrive at a gallery-like grove presenting a dozen such mystic spirits.

Sasquatch sightings occurred during the area's early history. So two replicas of these legendary hairy giants aptly adorn Harrison's main road; a Sasquatch silhouette tops a signpost outside the public hot springs pool. Just beyond town, Sasquatch Provincial Park seems an ideal spot to meet Mr. Sasquatch and commune with other woodsy denizens!

Our trail encircling Hicks Lake begins as an old logging road rising above the eastern shore. Heeding Dr. Suzuki's encouragement, we take our brains for a walk among evergreens, breathe in pure air and revel in natural splendour. Remarkably, the forest pushes upward through a rock solid base. Thick, pea-green moss softly blankets fallen logs, branches and sedate stumps.

At the lake's northern end, we descend to the sandy shoreline and recline against a log to admire the lake's glassy reflections. An eagle soars above us while stellar jays hop amidst branches of lacy hemlocks. A narrow trail leads us southward, weaving along rugged slate cliffs just above the waterline. Thick board bridges carry us across countless burbling streams. Under an evergreen canopy, we delight in more birdsongs, wildflowers and solace. After two pleasant hours, our meditative adventure ends.

Cycling has also become popular here. Though rental bikes are available, we bring our own. My hybrid provides a comfortable padded seat. Rick's touring bike boasts panniers for snacks, repair kit and extra clothing. His handlebar pack carries our road map and camera.

Donning gloves and helmets, we pedal on Hot Springs Road, its ample shoulder separating us from streams of motorists. Near the welcoming entrance into Harrison, long-horned, woolly highland cattle gather in a field under huge cottonwoods. The end of the lush golf course signals our turnoff onto Golf Road. Now on quiet country roads, we pass blossoming cherry trees, yellow daffodils and red tulips lining fences. Thousands of tiny white daisies will later carpet surrounding meadows; late summer brings rippling crops of corn.

Spinning along pastoral back roads named for pioneers, we pass vintage farmhouses, weathered barns and pastures with black and white dairy cows. Observing a cyclist maxim "drink before you're thirsty," we regularly sip water. Two other cycling dictums decree "rest before you're tired!" and "eat before you're hungry!" So, arriving in Agassiz, we take a break, snacking at a Pioneer Park picnic table.

Bordered by railway lines, the nearby museum highlights a long relationship with Canadian Pacific Railroad that led to Agassiz's early prosperity. The 1949 steel caboose reveals the work and life aboard a train. Inside the museum, we discover that for 60 years, a basic beer ingredient, hops, was a main export. Baskets, artwork and photographs chronicle local native lives. Recognizing the waters' healing properties for centuries, native bands travelled to bathe off Harrison's southern lakeshore. We also read about Port Douglas located at the northern end of Harrison Lake, a small In-shuck-ch village - and for a few days long ago, British Columbia's capital!

After perusing town murals depicting local history and inherent beauty, we turn down Agassiz Drive to see the original 1868 Agassiz family farmhouse. It once housed the town's first post office, church and general store. Now a large dairy farm, Holstein yearlings graze in meadows out front. In another pasture, sleek mares supervise leggy babies, flick their silky tails and munch, perfectly portraying the patience of motherhood.

We roll onward past young maples lining the way to Mountain View Road. Snow-capped Mt. Cheam dominates sweeping panoramas. Nearby Hopyard Mountain was named for former large plantations, which in 1892 employed over 100 hop-pickers. One such picker was reputedly a Sasquatch who walked daily to work from a remote forest home.

Random signs proclaim Rainbow Country. Besides the resplendent skyward variety, floral "rainbows" continually dazzle. Vibrant rhododendrons, pink blossoming apple trees and myriads of wildflowers line spring roadways; from June, wild roses, dogwood, snowball trees, lupins, irises and magnolias bloom.

After retracing our route, we avoid Hot Springs Road traffic riding between pretty subdivisions and evergreen forest on McPherson and McCombs. Bridging the Miami River, we're soon amid village restaurants, modern condos, new hotels, galleries and boutiques. Pedalling our trusty bikes these 14 peaceful kilometres generates some needed exercise, rejuvenates our outlooks and even produces a sense of triumph.

Harrison Hot Springs offers us awesome adventures and "ahhh-some" relaxation close to home! Our robust activities always instil new perspectives, insights and inspiration. And naturally, each feat is rewarded with tasty village cuisine and celebrated with those notable soothing soaks!

When You Go:
* Tourism Harrison: for maps and activity details
* Harrison Hot Springs Resort & Spa:
* Crazy Fish Bistro: 310 Hot Springs Ave., Harrison Hot Springs B.C. (604-796-2280) for seafood
* Shoreline Tours & Charters: for sightseeing and fishing expeditions



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