With everything from forested mountain trails and epic surfing to unparalleled cycling trails and world-class fishing, Vancouver Island on the coast of British Columbia, Canada is one of the best places in the world to find jaw-dropping outdoor adventures. If you love adventure and are looking for a totally unique experience during your visit, then you have to explore the hot springs on Vancouver Island! Accessible only via sea or air, these hot springs are in completely remote locations in the Clayoquot Sound near Tofino. If you’re staying in any of the EMR properties on Vancouver Island, Tofino is only a few hours road trip away and worth the trip! So grab your bathing suit and get ready for a totally unique, West Coast experience!
Located in Maquinna Marine Provincial Park on the west side of the Openit Peninsula in the Clayoquot Sound region, is the stunning natural hot springs on Vancouver Island of Hot Springs Cove. Long before the hot springs became a tourist attraction, they were used by the Nuu-Chah-Nulth First Nations for thousands of years. Today, visitors can access the hot springs year-round either by a 20-minute float plane trip or a 1.5 hour boat ride. Both modes offer spectacular views and can be combined to make the most out of the experience. Often, people choose to boat in a fly back – what locals call the “sea to sky” journey – giving visitors an unprecedented opportunity to watch for wildlife and enjoy the stunning views of the Clayoquot Sound.
Once you’ve arrived at the docks you’ll need to be prepared for the 1.5 kilometre boardwalk trail through the forest. It takes approximately 30 minutes to reach the hot springs on the trail and while you’re hiking, be sure to have a look at the many names carved into the wood along the trail! When you arrive at the hot springs, you’ll find that the area is undeveloped, with a simple ‘change room’ building where visitors have little privacy to change out of their hiking gear and into bathing suits and water shoes – but when you’re here, it won’t matter. The magic of this place is palpable and you’ll want to make the most of this day trip to the best hot springs on Vancouver Island. This once-in-a-lifetime getaway is one that you shouldn’t rush so we recommend budgeting 6-8 hours and remember to pack food, water, towels and appropriate gear! If you’re unsure what to bring, your Tofino outfitter will be able to help provide you with some guidance to make your day an incredible one!
At the springs themselves, you’ll find a series of natural, terraced hot spring pools, filled with hot water that bubbles up from deep in the earth and cascades down a small cliff to fill each pool on the way to the Ocean. The pools are slightly different temperatures – the lower being cooler than those higher up – but the waters in each are still very hot with water temperature reaching 47 degrees Celsius (117ºF) with a very light smell of sulphur. During the course of the day, as the tides rise, the cold water from the Pacific surges up into the lower pools both cooling them and flushing the water so that they are always crystal clear. If you can stand the heat, try taking a little ‘shower’ under the hot waterfall at one of the top pools as it falls from the cliff! There is nothing on earth quite like relaxing in a mineral bath in the middle of an old growth rainforest on the edge of the Pacific! If you prefer to experience the hot springs with a little more privacy, fall and winter are generally slower with more visitors arriving in the spring and summer. It is also important to note that water shoes are recommended to help visitors navigate the slippery rocks between the pools safely.
Wilderness and backcountry camping are permitted in Maquinna Park except on the peninsula where the hot springs are located but there are no public camping facilities. There is a private campground just north of the government dock that is operated by the Hesquiat First Nation that is open year-round.
Two years ago, when the hot springs closed due to the pandemic, it provided a necessary pause to the overwhelming number of visitors to the hot springs. Now with its reopening, there will be a limit to the number of passengers allowed on commercial vessels headed to the hot springs and a limited time during the day that visitors will be allowed in the springs. Despite the new visitor restrictions, if you’re kayaking through the Flores and Vargas Islands or if you’re arriving at the hot springs via your own transportation, you can visit the area anytime. If you’re out fishing or on a kayaking adventure in the area, there is nothing more incredibel than stopping by Hot Spring Cove for a rejuvenating dip!
On the south side of Flores Island on the shores of Matilda Inlet in Gibson Marine Provincial Park, you’ll find Ahousat Hot Springs. If you want to avoid seeing people during your adventure, the Ahousat Hot Springs can offer more privacy. While these hot springs are more like warm springs with water temperatures only reaching 25 degrees Celsius (77ºF) maximum, you’re sure to have them all to yourself.
You can access Gibson Park via boat or seaplane and while there are camp sites available, it is best to prepare for backcountry camping as there are no facilities in the park. Unlike Hot Springs Cove, the hot spring water fills concrete ponds that you can soak in while looking out on the inlet. While there are many people who visit these springs, they are not for the faint of heart! The ponds are frequently filled with algae that create an unappealing look to the springs and require scrubbing off after a soak. If you’re in the mood for a challenging backcountry adventure, this might be it!