Cycling to Pitt River Hot Springs
Vancouver-area pools are accessible by boat and bicycle ~ but not by car
[Updated July 2009. Originally published in Adventure West Magazine, October 2004. Photos by Luke Moloney. ]
My trusty B.C. Backroad Mapbook refers to the Pitt River Hot Springs as one of the most scenic hot spring destinations in Southwestern B.C. Having been to a few over the years and this one in particular in August I have to agree; and the best part is that it’s gurgling away in our own backyard, yet utterly inaccessible to the car-bound.
To us crafty multi-modal adventurers, however, it’s a simple matter of combining bus, bike and boat. The reward is a sweet, sand-bottomed pool carved out of a canyon shelf that overhangs the rushing Pitt River. An upper, hotter pool holds the spring water until it is ready to be sluiced down a rock crevasse into the river-side pool. There, six or seven cyclists can get naked, settle in, and watch shreds of cloud slip down between the canyon’s fern-and-moss-covered wall to meet the river’s milky spray.
In our case, just the five guys were naked. Faye and I “stayed modest” as we scrambled into the pool to join the guys and chow down on packed-lunch bagels and cold lasagna before the fine rain soaked them through.
Friends of friends, we’d all just met that morning in Grant Narrows, Pitt Lake’s southern launch area. Luke and I had taken Translink’s Skytrain from Vancouver to Surrey Central station the night before and cycled to Paul’s Fort Langley farmhouse for an overnight visit. Yves pedalled into the yard the next morning, full of strong coffee and rough jokes. The four of us climbed into Paul’s van, caught the 10 minute Albion ferry into Maple Ridge, headed north on Neaves Road and pulled up to the dock just in time to help Faye, boyfriend Rick and buddy Duke load Bob Edward’s 26″ aluminum jet boat.
Bob lives on the river a few kilometres down, and will take six cyclists and their bikes (seven, without camping gear) 30km up to the north end of Pitt Lake for about $280 return [see below for update on water taxi service and rates]. With Burke Provincial Park to the west, Golden Ears Park to the east, and Bob pointing out highlights in between, the boat ride was a quick 45 minutes. At the north end dock, Bob maneuvered us past log booms, tugs and equipment to tie up.
The bike ride out of the logging camp and north along the 22km logging road is hard-packed, flat, shaded and on this particular Saturday, free of trucks. The Alvin logging camp comes up at around kilometre seven and according to the owners of the Pitt River Lodge ~ which now occupies part of the old town site ~ Alvin had a school, town hall, hotel and “at least 200 people” in the early 1900’s.
The Pitt River continues to keep the road company along the route, and with regular kilometre markings, the trailhead is relatively easy to spot: at about the 21km sign take the left fork. Follow it to the other side of the bridge, and immediately look for a pathway heading upriver. A short hike and then a rope descent lead you to the edge of the river and the heart of hot spring heaven.
The ride back to the pick-up point is easier and faster. In our case, it was also wetter. The mild rain that refreshed us while we sat in the springs had gradually transitioned into a full downpour. We pedaled fast past cedars, puddles and rain-soaked salmon fishers.
Luckily, Bob’s boat had a heater. The cabin became silent and steamy as he navigated our soaked group back to the launch. We unloaded the bikes and exchanged hugs, and Paul offered Luke and myself a ride the Port Coquitlam Centre bus exchange to catch the #160 back into Vancouver.
2009 UPDATE: Bob Edwards no longer offers passage, but Earl and Bobbie of Pitt River Water Taxi will take four people for $400 (CAD) return and up to seven people and bikes for $500 return. There are no formal campsites in the area, but Earl offers overnights in a cabin on his property for $100 (CAD), not far from the Pitt River Lodge.
2016: If you have recent experience with this trip and advice to share, I invite you to add a comment. — Ulrike