Every traveller has their type of trip. Some live for the spa vacation, while others love hiking and want nothing more than to rough it in the mountains. There’s those that seek out acclaimed restaurants or unique boutiques. My personal favourite? The hot springs experience. To me, there’s nothing better than floating in nature’s hot tub, surrounded by majestic scenery.
I had visited the glorious Liard Hot Springs in Northern BC earlier this summer, and finding myself in Ucluelet for Otalith Music Festival, figured it was a good opportunity to check another beautiful BC hot spring off my list. I’d heard great things about Hot Springs Cove near Tofino for years. Located in Maquinna Provincial Park and Protected Area, Hot Springs Cove is only accessible by boat or float plane.
Most people visit Hot Springs Cove on a day trip. It’s just over an hour by boat or 20-minute flight from Tofino, and the trip through the islands of Clayoquot Sound and along the mountainous Vancouver Island coastline feels like a special excursion in itself. But my hot springs preference is taking plenty of time to achieve that certain zen that comes with a good soak. I’d heard there was camping near the springs, and while most day trippers leave the park by the early evening, I liked the idea of watching the sun set from a nice warm pool.
Here are my tips for camping overnight at Hot Springs Cove:
Arrange transportation to and from Hot Springs Cove with one of the operators with a Park Use Permit to provide air and water access. There’s a list on the Maquinna Provincial Park website. I went with Ocean Outfitters – they easily accommodated my overnight itinerary by booking me two one-way trips.
If you make the same arrangements as me, remember you’re paying for water taxi service and not a whale watching or wildlife viewing tour. Even if you spot a wild critter, the boat operator may not have time to pull over for a closer look. But on the way back to Tofino, our driver made an exception to take us to see a nearby humpback whale, and we were rewarded with a fantastic show of breaching, waving fins and slapping tails.
But do expect to see some wildlife! I saw sea otters, sea lions, bald eagles and the aforementioned humpback whale in the span of 24 hours. Clayoquot Sound is a relatively untouched, rugged place, home to an abundance of wildlife.
Camping near Hot Springs Cove is rustic. There’s one small campground spread out along the shoreline at the entrance to Maquinna Provincial Park. It’s run by the Hesquiat First Nation, whose village can be seen just across the bay. There’s a state-of-the-art composting toilet, small food prep area and one picnic table, and otherwise the sites are scattered just above the rocky beach amongst the trees and shrubs. Most will only fit a small tent. You’ll have to bring your own water too.
When you arrive at Hot Springs Cove, you’ll walk down a dock to the entrance to the boardwalk leading to the hot springs. If you take the trail to the left, you’ll arrive shortly at the campground. From what I could tell, there wasn’t a way to reserve campsites, and you register simply by dropping your overnight fee ($20/night per tent) into a little box next to the trail. The rest of the park is dense forest, so this is your only option for camping.
It’s not that rustic though. As of this year, an old fishing seiner parked at the dock doubles as a cafe with the best patio for miles. The Copper Moon Cafe is run by husband and wife Vic and Susan, and serves local halibut burgers, wraps and other lunch items. Best of all is a cup of coffee and one of the homemade treats that Susan bakes right there on the boat, enjoyed on the floating patio (fellow campers were swooning for her scones). Many tour operators recommend day trippers bring a snack or lunch for this particular trip– the Copper Moon Cafe is the perfect solution, and to my great surprise, they even take credit cards.
And if you’re really not into the rustic experience at all (like I said, everyone has their own preference for travelling!), you can check into the Innchanter Bed and Breakfast, a 1920s vessel retrofitted with luxury accommodation and an on-board chef for gourmet meals. The Innchanter floats in the bay, only a short rowboat trip from the entrance to the hot springs boardwalk.
Be prepared for some walking. The hot springs are accessed via a boardwalk that winds through some incredible forest for just under 2 km (1.2 mi). There are some stairs but the boards of the walkway are carved with the names of ships that have visited the park, making for an entertaining walk.
And be prepared for a little rock scrambling. The hot spring mineral pools are nestled in a rocky shoreline, fed by a cascade of warm water running from the forest. Once you’ve clambered over the rocks, you’ve got your choice of several pools, that decrease in temperature the closer you get to the ocean.
From the waterfall splashing into the pools, to the trees towering on cliffs all around, to the view of the ocean and wide, open sky above – it’s truly a special place and if, like me, you manage to steal a few minutes to yourself in the pools, with nothing but the crash of the waves as company, you’ll feel like you are experiencing the springs in the best way possible.
Hot Springs on Vancouver Island in British Columbia
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