Harrison Hot Springs with Kids: Where to Eat, Sleep & Splash

My kids and I recently went on two trips to Harrison Hot Springs, which is about 90 minutes east of Vancouver, and two hours north of Seattle. And we loved it.

Harrison Hot Springs Resort outdoor pool.

Harrison Hot Springs Resort outdoor pool.

The hot springs of the town’s name are located inside Harrison Hot Springs Resort. While there are little restaurants and hotels in the town of Harrison Hot Springs, this is a town that takes up all of about four blocks, and in order to use the hot springs, you must stay at the resort. So for that reason, check out the family deals and specials offered through the hotel’s website.

The hotel itself, although called a “resort,” is a straightforward middle-class retreat. You won’t find a lot of fancy touches (although there is free wifi) or luxe trappings. The property almost feels like it’s from the 1980s, and I mean that in a good way. The resort attracts people of all income levels, nationalities and languages. No one is here to put on airs — you’re walking around in a bathrobe, for goodness sake.

The pools at Harrison Hot Springs:

Natural hot springs come out of the ground at 150-degrees Fahrenheit; cool water is added, then the mix is fed into the resort’s five pools (which are also chlorinated for hygiene). Outside, plunge into one of three pools: the rectangular lap 87F/30C pool or the asymmetrical curved lines of the 95F/35C larger family pool or adults-only 105F/40C-degree pool. The water is warm enough to sit around in, whether it’s summer or winter, night or day. After sunset, we saw kids bringing glowsticks into the pool — and at night, you can look up and name constellations overhead without city light pollution.

Outdoor pools at Harrison Hot Springs

Rainy day at Harrison Hot Springs Resort

In summer, a spray park sits beneath surrounding towering mountain range –great for toddlers and preschoolers.

Indoors, you’ll find two more pools — another large, rectangular warm pool, and a very hot circular tub (38C/100F) below a dramatic ceiling and skylight. You can go from warm to cool to hot in a matter of steps.

Rooms at Harrison Hot Springs

Inside Harrison Hot Springs Pools

No poolside towel service exists here; you receive towels in your room, and you might not have enough of them during your stay. It seemed like our towels were constantly wet. You might bring some super-absorbent pool towels from home.

Poolside deck chairs are available, but you won’t find much shade. Pack sunscreen. Also, if you’d like a deck chair on a sold-out weekend, you may need to send a member of your party down to scout out chairs early (7 or 8 a.m., perhaps).

Rooms at Harrison Hot Springs:

Family-friendly rooms at Harrison Hot Springs

East Tower rooms at Harrison Hot Springs

Rooms come in more than 25 configurations in four different buildings: each were developed during different time periods. Choose from the East Tower, Main Hotel, West Tower and West Wing. The East Tower offers the most modern, with larger rooms. The family rooms — in the Main Hotel — are historic (so historic, they don’t have air conditioning in summer…). The East Tower and West Tower have balconies, and most rooms have two Queen beds. Views are categorized as garden, pools, lake, mountain and village.

I don’t like a lot of commotion, and rooms facing the inner pools get noisy, so I ask for a lake view room. Many young professionals and groups of friends come here to enjoy the adult-only pool late into the night (the pools are open past midnight), so you might want to figure that into your room choice considerations.

Because the rooms are smaller, you may want to pack some board games and books for the common areas, which are spacious. Lots of little nooks, two-person chairs, couches in front of the fireplace and table-side seats.

Awesome stuff: Arrive by 4 p.m. to take advantage of the daily tea service, so you can get a cuppa and a cookie. On very busy weekends, you may not be able to check in right away at 4 p.m., if your room isn’t ready, so be prepared to walk along Harrison’s lovely beachside path or go play at the town’s playground for a few minutes.

Eating at Harrison Hot Springs:

Most rooms come with a mini-fridge, which is great if you’d like to bring snacks or your own breakfast. We enjoyed the hot breakfast buffet in the resort’s Lakeside Cafe once, and it was okay (great views if you’re lucky enough to score a window). But the buffet is not something I would make a habit of, due to the price (unless you get a Harrison resort package or deal). So you might bring cereal and milk for the fridge.

Lakeside cafe kid-friendly restaurant in Harrison Hot Springs

Getting served at the Lakeside Cafe

The resort’s “Miss Margaret” cafe serves quite good (and shareable) wraps and salads, perfect for a poolside lunch. The hotel’s Copper Room is renowned for its live music, fine dining and light-up dance floor. There’s even a children’s dance floor. However, it is very expensive — sort of a special night out. I’ve never eaten there.

Dining in town is also sort of 1980s  — at 2025 prices. Harrison Pizza is decent, has great service, and offers good deals.  The Yukiya Sushi spot is also fine (despite what the Yelp reviews say), but expensive. In the sushi restaurant, there’s a cute little table-booth that feels a bit more private — as a family, I’d go for that booth. 

Muddy Waters Espresso Bar serves up gourmet sandwiches featuring local ingredients (until 2 p.m.). But mostly, this is a town with $11-12 children’s meals (yes, you read that right), so you may well want to plan for PB&Js or sandwich wraps in the room. There’s no grocery store in town, so stop at the Costco in Abbotsford, at the Abbotsford Farm & Country Market or a grocery in Chilliwack, 25 minutes away to the west.

Kids at Harrison Hot Springs:

The hotel supplies you with two adult robes, but no robes for children. Bring robes for the kids from home, and do bring them — walking between the rooms and the pools can get very chilly, especially at night. During peak travel seasons, the hotel plays kids’ movies.

Be aware that because of the high mineral content in the water, your muscles get tired (aka “relaxed”) very easily, so don’t let the kids wear themselves out on the first day. There’s a zero-entry point (like a beach) for the outdoor pool, perfect for babies and toddlers visiting Harrison Hot Springs Resort.

Bring flip-flops to make an easier (and cleaner) transition between hotel room and outdoors, and between the indoor and outdoor pools.

Kids can wear floatation devices, bring toys into the pool with them, and so on — so don’t forget those toys, either.

There are no lifeguards at these pools. You are 100% responsible for your own kids.

In the main building, kids might like the game room with some old-school arcade games. The resort’s gift shop is definitely the best one in town for families, with board games, activity books, t-shirts, and water toys. Outside, on the resort’s grounds, there’s a small garden suitable for hide-and-seek.

Family Activities in Harrison Hot Springs:

Okay, the truth is that my kids and I mostly like sitting around and playing in the hot springs. If you’d like more though, there’s a nice playground and beach (bring sand toys) lakeside, a water park (like a water playground), surrey bikes for rent and bumper boats for rent. Nearby, you can hike at Sasquatch Provincial Park, which offers picnic tables and Bigfoot (or so I hope, although I didn’t see him when I was there). A public swimming pool sits right in the town center, but it’s not really worth a visit.

***

Later this week, I’ll talk about what else your family can do around Harrison Hot Springs, if you’d like to make it a multi-day stay.

Family Travel! Bobbi Sue camps with kids in British Columbia

bobbisue2Bobbi-Sue Menard kicks butt at camping. This Kelowna-based freelance journalist and mom of five kids knows a LOT about camping in every type of weather and condition. She goes on 10-day camping trips, she’s experienced 12-hour drives, she copes with torrential rainstorms, she’s even gone canoe camping. Wow. Sort of puts the one-night outing in perspective. Let’s hear more:

Why do you love camping with your kids?

I love camping with my kids because we do it together with abandon.  Once we are out there, while we might have adventures, and it might not work out, life is kind of simple.  We’re camping and that’s it.

Do you have a favorite BC family camping spot?

We were at Shuswap Lake Provincial Park three weeks ago and loved camping in the middle of a cedar forest, just beautiful.  The sites seem like they are set up in a fairy glen forest.  We also have fond memories of the Lakes District around Burns Lake.

What’s the longest camping trip you’ve been on in British Columbia?

We did 10 days in two stages. The first spot was in Syringa Provincial Park, which we loved, although it doesn’t have showers. We were there for three days before moving on to our true destination, Waterton Lakes National Park.

We looked at the map and despite the fact we are experienced mountain drivers we estimated the second leg of the trip to be 7-8 hours drive; we were wrong about the travel distance, it was closer to 12 hours with traffic, plus we had a late start as we had had truck problems so we left late.

When we arrived at 11 p.m., we set up in Waterton at our reserved site on the flats at the end of the lake. It was the pitch dark, with the torrential rain driven by 60-90 km/hr wind gusts.  We pitched the brand new, 8-person dome tent in the shelter of our Expedition SUV, yet the wind was so strong, the tent would inwardly flex so the roof would touch our faces.

The next morning we tore down camp again and waited in line at the non-reservable campsite on the mountain side where the wind was still strong but bearable. After a morning blessedly free of rain, it turns out it was just saving up…it sheeted rain for the next two days.

Eventually it eased off into a steady drizzle for the remaining two days of our trip and we got in some hiking and went paddle boating. Nonetheless we considered the trip a triumph.  The kids were aged 9, 8, 5, 3 and 1 — and none of them were sick, everyone kept good spirits and we were able to tell some really fun stories.

Wow, that is hardcore. Is there a point at which you know you need to pack up the tent, call it off and go home?

Serious vomiting or diarrhea, significant equipment failure that we can’t reasonably replace and puts us in real discomfort or possible danger. For example, when the last kid to go pee doesn’t shut the tent properly and the sleeping bags at that end of the tent get wet beyond reason with no way to dry the bags — we go home.

We have canoe camped with young kids, despite tons of planning, the right gear, and short trips, it generally sucked.  Time in a canoe is rarely fun after the first half hour or so with small kids.

Any general tips on camping with babies or toddlers?

With babies or toddlers, divide and conquer. Take turns with the kid(s) while the other parent accomplishes the basic tasks.  Bring the portable play pen, put the toddler in it whenever necessary.  If you aren’t too tired, use your child backpack or baby carrier liberally.

If you are hiking to the most gorgeous waterfalls you’ll ever see and they are at the end of a 7 km trail, with a 7 km hike back, make certain you have had toddler in a backpack for a 14 km hike more than once.

Love the environment, but don’t be a fanatic, bring stacks of baby wipes, STACKS. (Lora says: And bring even more baby wipes! An unending supply of baby wipes! Or 1000 cloth washcloths, if you must).

I am in awe of anyone who manages cloth diapers on a camping trip.  Make certain you have a good system, because those diapers will either be locked in your vehicle overnight because of bears or in your hard sided, possibly un-air-conditioned car with you.

Invest in a box of large Glad freezer bags, they’ll fit a wet, soiled outfit perfectly and keep the mess safely stowed until you get home to your laundry.  When I said invest I meant it, handling liquids on a camping trip can be a hassle, with kids you could be relying on the sealing power of quality bags more than you think.

What’s the most difficult thing, in your opinion, about camping with infants and toddlers? How do you overcome that problem?

Accepting how infants/toddlers sleep schedule is going undergo a big shift and you will be at its beck and call.  Depending on your kid, day two or three could see a parent quietly sitting in camp while your darling naps away an entire afternoon while the other parent takes older siblings on an outing. Plan to keep your child well rested; that will cut down on accidents (trips and falls), keep the hot afternoon whining down, and your child’s eating more regular.

So, what’s your never-leave-behind item that you feel like every family should pack on a camping trip? Anything special when you’re camping with toddlers?

Never leave behind prescription meds, a photocopy of ID, emergency contacts and medical insurance, and $100 cash. That’s the civilized list.  For physical emergency, never forget a first aid kit, or rain gear.  Bring pull-ups/overnight diapers for any toddler night trained for less than a year.  It gets cold in a tent and when kids are TIRED, accidents are more common than you would like to believe.

Is there anything that you think a family COULD leave at home?

You COULD leave home your dog on the first trip ever.  The first time can be a bit overwhelming and a dog can be a lot of stress.  You could also leave home everything electronic. Try the trip without a DVD player — play ‘I spy’ or ‘Simon Says’ in the car.

Any tricks for preparing for a camping trip with five kids?

For me the big thing is to think through solutions to situations before I leave so that my expectations are managed.  Then I tell the family how we are going to handle things when they go wrong.  For example: We now bring on board game for vehicle breakdowns.  We laugh about it, “This trip Monopoly only gets played it the truck dies…” etc.

For little kids we go over our expectations each day, “We are camping, we are here to have a good time, but as a person although you are small, you must remember please and thank-you, no whining and you wash your hands with the baby wipes before you eat anything.”

Families Travel! Okanagan with Kids

Amy and Mike Sztupovsky live in semi-arid Oliver, British Columbia (about halfway between Pentiction, BC and the US-Canadian border). This couple are real travel aficionados – something made easier by the fact that they unschool their two kids, Lan (5) and Kayden (3).

“When our oldest was coming closer to school age we started to research homeschooling options,” Amy says. “I had never heard of unschooling before but when I started to learn about it, the method really spoke to my heart.”

So this family doesn’t need to worry about pulling the kids out of preschool or school to travel, and travel becomes part of the kids’ schooling. Naturally, Amy’s own website is called Worldschool Adventures. Let’s find out why unschooling and traveling fit together, and what to do in the Okanagan with kids.

(All photos courtesy Amy Sztupovsky: at right, Tuc-El-Nuit Lake)

How did you decide to unschool? What is unschooling?

Unschooling is best described as interest-led learning. We watch for the sparks of curiosity in our children and then we expand upon their interests so that they’re always engaged, involved and curious.

Mike and I have been planning on doing long-term traveling with our children since before they were even born!  The more I read and learned the more excited I became about the unschooling philosophy and I started to attend homeschooling meet-ups in our area.  I questioned mothers who were already doing it and began to get more and more comfortable with how it would work with our family.  We dove into unschooling head first and haven’t looked back since!

Like any type of homeschooling approach, unschooling allows us to take advantage of the off season (and off season prices!) We also like to do many of our outings on weekdays when things are less crowded.

What’s it like to live in Oliver, British Columbia and unschool?

Oliver is a very rural area, which offers both pros and cons for unschooling.  One of the cons is that our town is just too small to offer many of the amenities and programs that a larger center would offer.  But of course, there are many advantages to growing and learning in the rural Okanagan community.  We know where much of our food comes from and take an active roll in the process by supporting farmers markets and u-pick orchards.

Oliver has a fabulous paved pathway along the Okanagan River and we can ride our bikes into town and to Oliver’s fantastic water park, Kinsmen Water Park, near the Kinsmen Playground. We attend local festivals like The Festival of the Grape held every September.

Riding bikes in the Okanagan

Much of our learning stems from observations in our environment and the South Okanagan provides ample opportunities for hiking, biking, and swimming in the summer, and in the winter Mount Baldy Ski Resort is only a half hour drive away where one can ski, snowboard, snowshoe or cross country ski.

Do you go camping with kids in the Okanagan, in British Columbia?  How early do you have to reserve a spot?

There are so many campsites in the Okanagan. The summer months see many tourists passing through and camping on our many beautiful lakes and rivers.  We, however, like to head for the hills when the camping season starts.  Our best resources are a Back roads Map and a Camp Free in BC book.

Almost every mountain lake will have a forestry campsite on it with groomed sites, picnic tables, fire rings, and pit toilets.  They are beautiful and best of all they are free!  Most can be reached within a half hour to an hour drive of the towns but try to get there early as many will fill up on a Friday night. Our favorites are Isintok Lake and Idleback Lake near Penticton.

Do you have a favorite kid-friendly restaurant (or restaurants) in the Okanagan region?

Our favourite restaurant in Oliver is the Fire Hall Bistro.  This old converted Fire Hall has memorabilia and photos of its glory days. What kid wouldn’t want to eat in an old fire hall?

When is the best time to visit the Okanagan?

Many tourists come for skiing in the winter but most of our visitors come in the summer months.  We get very hot weather in July and August and people flock here for our lakes and beaches.  If I were to recommend a time of year though, I would say come in June or September.  Things won’t be so crowded but the weather is still great!

Read more about Oliver, British Columbia at the Oliver Tourism website.

Families Travel! Penticton with Kids

Joanna Nesbit, a Bellingham-area mom (and fellow travel writer) recently went with her family to Penticton, BC, for three nights. Penticton is about a five hour drive from Bellingham, six and a half from Seattle and about five from Vancouver, BC.

“We went over Memorial Day weekend, which is a great time in Canada because it’s not their holiday,” Nesbit says. “Penticton is a beautiful town located on the land bridge that separates Okanogan Lake and Lake Skaha. It’s friendly, easy to navigate, and there are plenty of grocery and restaurant options for visitors.”

Nesbit went about her trip in a smart way – she brought her 13-year-old daughter’s friend along with them, and then met up with friends (who had a son the same age as Joanna’s 10-year-old).

Q. Where did you sleep in Penticton, BC?

We camped at Banbury Green RV Park. It’s pretty but tight. I wasn’t prepared for was how small the sites are. There are some other RV parks that might be just as good, not sure. Here’s a list of RV parks (Kaleden and Penticton addresses good; others too far away).

Penticton camping site

Penticton camping site

Q. What did you like about the campsite? What types of amenities did it offer?

The location was fantastic, a few minutes out of town right on Skaha Lake. We rented a paddle boat and the kids swam (sort of – the lake was cold). We also played rousing games of volleyball, rode bikes on a nearby trail, and of course roasted marshmallows. The RV park has showers, toilets, amenities for washing dishes, ice at the office, and paddle boat rentals (with life jackets)– $10 per hour or $25 for 4 hours.

Q. Which Penticton activities did your family enjoy?

We went to the Okanagan Amuseuments Go-Kart track just a few minutes down the road from the RV Park, where some of us got on Go-Karts and others got on bumper boats. Found Loco Landing online, which we missed, but I would feel confident saying it would be a blast. The bumper boats are cheaper here than what we paid.

bumper boats in Penticton, BC

Bumper boats in Penticton, BC

We went to the Skaha Bluffs climbing area, on the other side of the lake from the RV Park. The climbing area in the spring is a huge attraction for visitors (and the RV Park was full of climbers). It’s a beautiful place to walk around even if you’re not a climber (I’m not), and a great place to climb for all ages. However it would be too hot to climb there in the summer.

We also played on the public beach on Skaha Lake that features a playground, picnicking areas, a kiosk with ice cream and sno-cones. The lake does have a drop-off that parents of small children should be wary of – it’s marked (more on Penticton beaches here). We saw a kids’ spray park for younger kids (Lakawana Park) that looked great but it didn’t appeal to mine (ages 10 & 13)

Q. What did you need to do to bring a child’s friend across the Canadian border? How did that work out?

To take unrelated kids across the border, you need either a passport, or picture ID and a certified copy of a birth certificate, as well as a letter of permission from the parents that includes phone number(s) of parents and dates their child is entering and leaving Canada. There might be a form online. We put her documents in a clear zip-loc bag for easy visibility, and it was no problem.

We took a friend for Leah because we knew her younger brother would have a friend there. She had someone her own age to hang out with — by the time kids are teens (she’s 13), they really care about hanging out with friends. It worked out very well. But I’d pick that friend carefully if it’s for multiple days (we had Leah’s friend for three days).

Read more about entry into the Canada with kids or entry into the U.S. with kids.

Families Travel! Harrison Hot Springs with Kids

As you probably remember from last week, we interviewed Sarah Reese, a Washington mom to 11 natural, adopted and step-children. This week, she tells us what she loves about BC’s Harrison Hot Springs Resort and Spa, located 90 minutes east of Vancouver, BC and three hours Northeast of Seattle. First Nations peoples discovered the springs thousands of years ago; The springs have been soothing tourists since 1886, after one of the region’s first resort communities was established.

Kids at Harrison Hot Springs BC

Four of the kids at Harrison Hot Springs

Tell me about how your family of 11 stays at Harrison Hot Springs?

The older part of the hotel has the lowest prices. They also have family suites that have two rooms and a bathroom in this part of the hotel: One room with a double bed and the other with two single beds. We try to always book a deal for a weekday off-season in the older part of the hotel. We’ve managed to get each room at a good cost with free breakfast buffet included for the adults.

The west and east wings of the hotel have nicer interiors, but cost a bit more. The resort has several small cabin rentals that aren’t available online. These allow families to bring along a pet to the hotel.

The hotel also has a game room, lovely coffee shop, exercise room and beauty salon. During the summer months there is an outdoor tennis court and spray park right on the property as well.

kids harrison lake at the family-friendly harrison hot springs

Catching a ride along Harrison Lake BC with kids

So, what are the resort pools like at Harrison Hot Springs Resort?

The resort has five hot-spring fed pools, open year round. Outside, there’s a family pool, lap pool and adult only pool.

Inside is an indoor pool and VERY hot “hot tub.” Inside they also have men’s and women’s lockers with eucalyptus steam rooms. Be sure to bring your bathing suit, water bottles, bathrobes for the kids and flip flops for all.

There is a public pool that is hot spring fed, but we found the first time that we went there that by the time we paid for everyone to get into the public pool we could have paid for one hotel room. Only hotel guests are allowed to use the hotel pools.

What do you do for family dining at Harrison Hot Springs?

There are two restaurants — The Lakeside Cafe which serves beautiful buffets overlooking Harrison Lake and The Copper Room which has five course dinners and fancy brunch on the weekends and holidays.

The resort hotel also has a bar and a large lounge area inside where they serve tea at 4pm each day. Every guest room comes with bathrobes (for the adults), so almost everyone just goes around the hotel with their bathrobe covering their swimsuits. This takes a bit of getting used to, but the kids think it’s the best thing ever! Of course for dining you would want to wear proper attire, but for tea, it’s nice to sit in front of the fireplace and have your tea and cookies.

In the mornings, we have the older children and Dad go for breakfast while I have breakfast in the room with the younger children, then we all go for an early morning swim.

For dinner we usually have pizza or other take out in the room from local places we can walk to. Or if it’s nice out we walk and eat by the lake. Most of the rooms have a small fridge.

What else can families do? Are there many kid-friendly options near Harrison Hot Springs?

Locally, there are many other things for families to do including Bridal Falls Water Park, the amazing Minter Gardens, Bridal Veil Falls Provincial Park and visiting the Fraser River and Hell’s Gate Airtram.

family-friendly resort in the lower mainland bc

Kids along Harrison Lake, BC with kids

You can walk along the lake and each fall there’s a sandcastle competition (From Lora: check out this YouTube video of the totally amazing sculptures). Of course there is tons of fishing, boating and camping opportunities as well.

It’s really a great place to go without kids for romance, or a “girls get-away” with friends. Just one night at Harrison Hot Springs Resort feels like a week away.

Find out more about kid-friendly Harrison Hot Springs in British Columbia at the Tourism Harrison website or this great article, Weekend: Harrison Hot Springs, BCat the Canadian Tourism Commission.