Last year, my mom and I planned to spend Thanksgiving weekend at Harrison Hot Springs. Unfortunately, she had a freak fall and needed emergency surgery only days before our arrival.
Travel has been hyper-local lately, which gave us a chance to re-book our stay. I was itching to get out of Vancouver and relax for a few days—something as close to a “vacation” as possible.
My mom currently needs a walker, so we called to inquire about the hotel’s accessibility options. They ensured us she’d be fine. We hoped the natural hot water would be healing. We paid $10 extra per night for a lakeview.
Then I started reading the reviews.
Complaints of dirty rooms, bugs, no physical distancing and zero mask regulations littered the comments on TripAdvisor. Guests posted photos of hair left in their bathrooms and nebulous stains on the carpet. I was nervous of catching COVID-19, but also disheartened—I wanted this to be a relaxing resort, not a gross hostel. I nearly cancelled our stay.
I’m glad we didn’t—but I’m mostly glad I arrived with low expectations.
Upon arriving in Harrison, I was blown away by the beauty of the sparkling, glacier-fed lake. Stretching for 60 kilometres, it’s the largest lake in southwestern British Columbia.
We checked into our room. The process was surprisingly easy. I saw notices posted about COVID-19 and lines on the floor to encourage distancing, but masks weren’t required. During check-in, we learned we had a first-floor room and requested a higher floor as we’d paid extra for that view. Unable to accommodate us, the front desk staff gave us complimentary parking—which made our room even cheaper than the pool-facing rooms (which I would not recommend—more on that later).
Luckily, we still had a great view! The relatively big room featured two queen-sized beds, a TV with cable (no Netflix) and a spacious bathroom. It clearly hasn’t been updated for awhile and yes, there were some stains on the drapes and rust in the bathroom—but I had tempered my expectations due to the negative reviews, so I was pleasantly surprised. I also think staying in the first-floor, accessibility room might have actually made a positive difference (perhaps it’s used less or cleaned more).
Besides—we weren’t there for the room. We walked outside into the beautiful early autumn day and traced a gravel path alongside the lake to the hot springs source. The water boiled; a sour sulfur smell wafted from a blocked-off, steaming pool. Nearby, circular rock formations created small hot pools. A few hikers warmed their feet, but it was so hot, they needed to constantly stir up ground water to cool it down. Now that the public pool is closed, this is the only other way to soak in the hot springs. Harrison Hot Springs Resort used to sell day passes, but these are currently unavailable due to Coronavirus.
After enjoying a glass of wine on our patio overlooking the lake, my mom and I experienced our first dip in the healing waters. We gravitated towards the adult pool in the evening, which had about 10-20 people in it. But when it got busy, it stayed noisy late into the evening. Adults were obviously drinking, not bothering to hide the cans and bottles. Kids splashed and played well-past the 10 p.m. curfew and I retreated to my relatively quiet lakeview room, feeling bad for the guests in rooms overlooking the pools. I assume the atmosphere would be even rowdier on weekends.
The next day, we spent five full hours lounging by the lap pool. For a few hours, we were the only ones enjoying the massive body of warm water and reading in the sun-tanning lounge chairs. Mid-week travel during the school season coupled with the hotel being at half-capacity allowed us the luxury of enjoying it all to ourselves. We even got a little sunburnt! For an autumn retreat, I wasn’t complaining.
Besides the hot springs, the area is also famous for Sasquatch sightings. The town is a sleepy tourist haunt, with tacky souvenir shops, statues of the mysterious and aloof Sasquatch and a few restaurants: an odd but delicious German steak restaurant (try the schnitzel), a beaten-down but incredible fish-and-chips (and teriyaki) shack and an ice cream shop with popsicles freshly dipped in chocolate, then rolled in nuts or sprinkles. Yum!
All in all, it was a very pleasant “trip” away. My main issue with Harrison Hot Springs Resort was the lack of communication on our checkout day. To our surprise, a studio was setting up to film all around the hotel. We weren’t allowed to use the front doors, which was an accessibility issue for someone like my mom, who uses a walker. The front desk staff weren’t very helpful and (in my perspective) didn’t make us feel like valued guests—the movie set seemed more important. With all the noise, construction and commotion, I was very glad we were checking out—and a little peeved we weren’t warned about the film first. Eventually, we found a manager who helped us find the exit.
If you’re considering staying at Harrison Hot Springs Resort, be forewarned: this isn’t a “resort” by luxury travel standards. Amenities aren’t upgraded and the rooms are not modern. Right now, due to the pandemic, we had to strip the linens off our beds ourselves (so weird) and while the pools were practically empty on an autumn afternoon, I heard the summer weekends felt far too crowded to be safe. If you’re looking for a more upscale alternative, stay at the Marriot in Whistler and spend a day soaking in the pools, saunas and steam rooms at Scandinave Spa. That’s what I’ll be doing next.
Have you stayed at Harrison Hot Springs? What did you think?