If you ever travel the Alaska Highway you absolutely must plan your trip so you can stop at the Liard Hot Springs during the day. It is a once in a lifetime experience you don't want to miss. Liard Hot Springs is on the Alaska Highway, somewhere halfway between Edmonton and Whitehorse (in the middle of nowhere). There is a campground and lodge nearby but they are only open in the summer months. The access to the hot springs is free and open year round.
Our family stopped there in January 2010 on our way back to the Yukon after visiting my family in Calgary. We didn't realize it at the time, but it was 37 below zero! There were some locals there who were much better prepared than us so I'll include some tips we learned from then later in this blog.
To get to the hot springs you walk down a long boardwalk - probably about 500 metres. I love the way they have left it in as natural of a state as possible. There is a changing room and toilets but, be warned, they aren't heated. It is a beautiful experience no matter what the season, but winter is absolutely amazing because the condensation turns the surrounding trees into a winter wonderland. As you can see from these pictures, the trees aren't the only ones affected! Erik dunked his head in the water and then we gave him a mohawk. Check out the frozen drop on the tip of his fringe. It was stuck there the whole time. Before I took these pictures my hubby and daughter hadn't dunked their heads, the frost is just from the condensation. The water is very hot but varies depending on where you are in the pool. The trick to making it to the hottest part is to swirl the water with your hands in front of you which mixes the comparitively cooler water from the top with the hotter water from the bottom and makes it bearable to walk forward.
In the winter, the hardest part is getting out! Your feet try to stick to the ice as you gingerly run back to the changing room. Then your hands freeze as you quickly dry off and get changed. I got out first so I could take these pictures and then walked instead of ran back to the truck (to reduce the wind chill). I must have dryed off and rugged up better that the rest of my family because by the time I got back to the truck everyone was screaming in agony as they thawed out. It feels like you are being burnt by a hot poker. The tip of my daughter's nose and ears were white which is a sure sign of frostbite. She must have let her scarf and hat slip off them while she was running. The best part was she gained a healthy respect for the cold after that!
It seems like a crazy thing to do, but once the shock wore off we were glad we had the experience. Here are some tips we learned for next time, from some locals:
Bring thongs to wear when you first come out and a mat to stand on
Have your bathing suit on under your clothes so you can strip down right beside the hotsprings and leave your clothes and towel on the mat near the hotsprings instead of in the changing room. That way you can stay in the water while you dry your hair and dress the top half of your body.
If you're not game to take your wet swimmers off, make sure you have a dry set of clothes in the car to change into or you'll never warm up.
In the winter, leave your car running with the heater on high and doors locked while you go to the hotsprings.
Make sure you dress really warm for the walk down and back...long underwear, scarf, hat, gloves etc.
Make sure you time your road trip so you get there in the daylight because it is so far from any town that it's often dark by the time you get there. If you're travelling in the summer, stay at the campground or lodge (you can google them). It's an experience you'll never forget!