Relaxation along the Alaska Highway and beyond.
[by Kristin Wognild]
NO MATTER HOW YOU LOOK AT IT, 1,387 miles is a long way to drive. Running from Dawson Creek, BC, to Delta Junction, Alaska, the Alaska Highway crosses vast wilderness, providing its drivers with just as many opportunities for backaches as for viewing wildlife. If only there was a better way…
Welcome to the highway’s best kept secrets: hot springs. Each is spread just far enough apart to keep lumbar spasms at bay and your muscles limber, allowing you to devote your energy to what really counts—exploring Alaska.
Liard River Hot Springs Provincial Park, British Columbia
The first stop is a local favorite. Located at Mile Marker 475, this provincial park in British Columbia is reason alone to drive the highway. e second-largest hot spring in Canada, Liard is a natural spring situated in a lush boreal spruce forest. Surprisingly, because of its warm microclimate, tropical plants flourish here— including 14 species of orchid.
As you enter the park gate, be prepared to pay a minimal day-use fee. Recent costs have been $5 for adults and $10 for families. When traveling with children, you’ll appreciate the large new playground near the parking area. Vehicle-accessible camping options are available year-round, and a limited number of sites are available for reservation from mid-May to early September. If you don’t secure a spot ahead of time, make sure to arrive early since the first-come, first-served campsites tend to get snatched up right away.
On the way to the springs, hop on the boardwalk for a five-minute walk through a forest encircled by spring-warmed waters. Keep an eye out for wildlife and consider carrying your bear spray. This ecosystem supports abundant and diverse plant, mammal and bird species. If you want to take a dip in the springs, you’ll find a modern change house and wooden deck along the pool. Steps from the deck lead you directly to the water, and you can leave your street clothes in a cubby while you dip.
Liard has two pools of springs, but only the closest—the Alpha pool—is currently open. The second is permanently closed as a result of frequent bear traffic. The Alpha alone, though, is well worth the trip. Its waters run through a lush natural setting and range in temperature from 108 to 126 degrees Fahrenheit. Often busy in the summer months, the pool is large enough that you can find solitude. Quite possibly, its only drawback is never wanting to leave.
Takhini Hot Springs, Yukon
Only 18 miles from the bustling town of Whitehorse, at approximately Mile Marker 883, Takhini Hot Springs is locally owned and often frequented by residents of the Yukon’s capital city. Its first commercial pool was built of wood and canvas in the 1940s and used by U.S. Army members while they constructed the Alaska Highway. Since then, two connected cement pools and a building for changing clothes and showering have been built.
Today, Takhini is known for its uniquely odorless pools. Owners claim that the pools’ combinations of minerals—calcium sulfate, magnesium and silica— offer relaxation and muscle relief, suppress inflammation and bring healing to the body. Temperatures range from 95 to 104 degrees.
On site you will also find the Café balzam restaurant, which features French cuisine made with local and sustainable products. There’s also the Hot Springs Campground and Hostel, which offers dorm rooms as well as sites for RVs, campers or tents.
Chena Hot Springs, Alaska
While not actually on the Alaska Highway, Chena Hot Springs is well worth the extra miles. Located 60 miles east of Fairbanks, the entire Chena Hot Springs Resort is heated and powered by its geothermal energy.
Chena Hot Springs was discovered during the gold rush more than 100 years ago and quickly became a sought-after destination. People claimed that its waters relieved arthritis and muscular pains and lessened circular and bronchial disorders. Judge James Wickersham, who served as Alaska’s delegate to the U.S. Congress from 1908 to 1917, had the waters tested and found they held a rare combination of sulfate, chloride and bicarbonate of sodium—an aggregation similar to the famous mineral waters of Bohemia.
Today, Chena includes an indoor, heated family pool, an outdoor hot tub and, the main attraction, Rock Lake, which is a natural outdoor hot spring. To maintain a sense of solitude, Rock Lake is adults only and maintains an average temperature of 106 degrees. The resort also includes an updated pool house and locker rooms, a restaurant that includes produce raised in an on-site greenhouse, camping sites, a yurt for rent and comfortable hotel rooms. The resort also comes with an activity center offering year-round dog sledding and tours of the Aurora Ice Museum.
To learn more:
- Liard River Hot Springs Provincial Park
- (250) 776-7000
- Takhini Hot Springs
- (867) 456-8000
- Chena Hot Springs
- (907) 451-8104