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.

Families Travel! Breitenbush Hot Springs with Kids

Over the 2010 Labor Day Weekend, Portland mom Jennifer and her husband Tony (owners of Portland’s Milagros Boutique) took their two children to Breitenbush Hot Springs Retreat and Conference Center in Detroit, Oregon. This resort, founded in 1977, is old-school crunchy Oregon, through and through. It’s a worker-owned cooperative featuring geothermal heating, eco-conscious structures and an off-the-grid lifestyle (no phone, no TV, no wi-fi).

The laid-back attitude extends toward clothing, which is optional in the tub areas. “A family uncomfortable with nudity would not feel comfortable in the bathing areas of Breitenbush,” Jennifer says. “The majority of folks in the bathing areas are naked.” So this may not be a resort for everyone – it depends on whether you’re OK with the pool aspect. As you can see from the photo at right, the kids are wearing swimsuits — it’s up to you how to dress.

For many families, the real draw of Breitenbush Hot Springs is the secluded, peaceful atmosphere. To get a better understanding of this Oregon institution, let’s find out more from Jennifer and Tony.

Q: What did your family like about Breitenbush Hot Springs?

Breitenbush is a unique experience, it is a opportunity to step away from the busy day-to-day and reconnect with our individual selves and, in our case, together as a family. There is no cell phone coverage, no internet, no electronic media of any kind so the typical distractions and attention-pulling activities in our regular lives are just not available.

The setting is bucolic and welcoming.  We spent our days soaking in the hot springs, exploring the scenery, reading together, eating together, and relaxing.

The kids enjoy soaking in the springs, walking in the woods, climbing trees, playing instruments in the Sanctuary, connecting with new friends (kids are great at connecting with other kids), and letting their imaginations fly free.


Q: Describe the pools for us, please? Were they really hot? Were they fine for little kids or babies?

There are two sets of pools. All the pools are outside with views of the surrounding woods, hills and nearby river. The sacred pools are more natural in their design and setting. The spiral pools are more traditional tiled pools.

In each area, there is a progression in the heat of the water and each has a pool that is set at a temperature that works well for kids (at or below 100 degrees). And if you want it really hot, they have that too!

Parents need to actively supervise their kids in the pools. Making sure they are not getting over heated, keeping them hydrated, and having them by stepping out of the pool to cool off from time to time.

Q: How about the Breitenbush resort itself? Is it actually resort-like or more camp-like? Is there good food at the resort or did you bring your own?

Breitenbush is a very relaxing and enjoyable experience but Breitenbush isn’t for everyone. It is rustic and simple.  The setting is a lovely wooded preserve with a river running through it.  When we are there, most our time beyond eating and sleeping, is spent outside. They have a number of free programs and classes happening everyday for folks on personal retreats. In addition, body work (such as massage) may be scheduled for an additional cost. The cabins are basic but comfortable, some have bathrooms others are shared.  During the summer, tent camping is also available. Organic, vegetarian meals are served three times a day in the cafeteria. It is a self-serve buffet and the selection is always tasty.  They also offer alternatives for folks who are vegan or gluten intolerant.

We did pack some snacks to have on hand between meal times and a few other food items just in case our picky little eater didn’t find something he liked in the buffet.

Q. What else can you enjoy at the resort?

There are trails nearby for exploring. On this last trip, Tony walked a five mile loop through ancient trees and over rivers.  The kids joined him on a number of shorter jaunts into the woods. The lodge itself has an expansive deck and library for reading, visiting, and quiet contemplation.  Other facilities on the property include a sanctuary for making music and the labyrinth for a unique meditative walk.

The retreat is near Detroit Lake and other outdoor attractions but we never felt bored. As odd as it sounds, soaking, eating, sleeping, and exploring the grounds was more than enough on the to do list for both parents and kids during the five days we were there.

Q. Did you enjoy any of the classes/workshops/spa treatments at Breitenbush?

We haven’t taken in any of the many free classes and workshops and they always sound intriguing. Jennifer did enjoy a wonderful massage (the massages are 90 minutes!) during our first visit.  One challenge for our active participation in many of the classes (although some are family welcoming) is that there is no childcare available at the retreat center. Active supervision of the wee ones is expected, so it’s not easy to peel away for a class.

For us, a big attraction is the time together away from all other distractions in a natural environment. It is a rejuvenating experience physically and spiritually and it is one of the reasons we made a return trip and hope to go again sometime.

Thanks for telling us your story, Jennifer.

Hot Springs in Oregon and Washington with Kids

Northwest hot springs with kids

Northwest hot springs with kids

If you were a miner back in the 1880s, how did you get really clean? You planned a trip to the closest hot springs.

Hot spring trips have long been a traditional pastime in the BC-Washington-Oregon region, says Jeff Birkby, author of Touring Washington and Oregon Hot Springs, a history-rich guidebook to hot springs in the Pacific Northwest. Hot springs are formed when ground and rain water sinks below the Earth’s surface, then heats in volcanic pots deep below the surface. The mineral-infused water springs back out once it’s at a boiling point, then cools in pools.

“Hot springs were social centers,” Birkby says of olden-days hot spring spots. The hotter the springs ran, the more popular they became in winter. Posh ladies booked a room for a week or more to shake the chill and recover from a host of maladies. And back in pre-plumbing days, hot springs (whether in a resort, in a simple a-frame building or on undeveloped property) were the only clean-up spot available to miners.

Unfortunately, few of the grand resorts still stand today. Most (constructed of wood) burned to the ground long ago. However, families looking to enjoy the magical heat of warming waters find plenty of places to soak their bones.

And with an extra-cold winter approaching, you may want to reserve your getaway now.

Hot spring resorts

For families, an established resort offers the most amenities and secure surroundings. Differing pool temps mean that you can get your extra-hot tub experience while the kids enjoy cooler pools.

In Washington State, Bonneville Hot Springs Resort provides a family-friendly atmosphere and spa treatments. It’s located about 40 minutes east of Portland, Oregon. If you continue east along the Washington side, Carson Hot Springs is a historic property — but a little ragged around the edges.

Near the Seattle area, Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort is Birkby’s pick. The resort, nestled in the Olympic National Park, offers a retreat for all ages and waters between 94-104 F. “Sol Duc has really nice campground,” Birkby says, “It’s great for kids, great waterfall, cabins and a restaurant.” However, Sol Duc closes on October 23 and reopens in May 6, 2011; the nearest year-round hot springs is Harrison Hot Springs, located about three hours north in British Columbia.


Oregonians can try central Oregon’s Kah-nee-tah Resort, just over Mt. Hood (about two hours from Portland). “There are a lot of wonderful kid-friendly pools,” Birkby says, such as one with bear statues spouting mouthfuls of water.

The new-agey Breitenbush Hot Springs is two hours southeast from Portland, and offers vegetarian meals in a forest setting. Birkby says it’s a fine resort if you don’t mind the clothing-optional tubs, and as long as parents check out the workshops going on. Don’t bring kids when there’s a couples-only weekend retreat.

And finally, Belknap Hot Springs, Lodge and Gardens offers day-use passes and overnight stays (lodge rooms, RV, cabins or tent sites). There are several affordable options at this central Oregon resort, where rooms range from $65-$250 in dreary November.

Undeveloped hot springs

Of course, there’s also the age-old tradition of jumping into a “wild” hot springs – the kind that bubble up in the midst of a forest, clearing or rocky scrub. These undeveloped hot springs, whether on public or private land, don’t come with a lifeguard or resort atmosphere. In exchange, the only price paid is the day-use pass. There aren’t mobs of tourists in these springs, often only known to locals.

Families can ease into the Cougar Hot Springs at Terwilliger, which offers a changing area and an alcohol-free atmosphere.

At Terwilliger — and most undeveloped hot springs — there’s an interesting dilemma: “Birthday suit or bathing suit?” Most established hot spring resorts in the Pacific Northwest ask everyone to keep their clothes on, with the exception of Breitenbush. But in undeveloped hot springs, you’ll often find a liberal, back-to-nature attitude toward clothing. What’s the expectation? First one in the pool sets the standard, says Birkby. If you arrive and everyone’s in a bathing suit, that’s the dress code (for now). However, it’s unlikely that anyone would look askew at someone wishing to wear a suit (particularly if it’s your kid).

Undeveloped springs can attract car theft. Just don’t leave valuables in sight. If you’ve gone hiking or camping, you already know this. At some hot springs, there may be drug or alcohol use; read up on the springs via online sites like Hot Springs of Oregon or in Birkby’s book and make sure you’re comfortable with the scene.

Family considerations at hot springs

“At any major resort, the big pools are comfortable, but the smaller, hotter indoor pools I’d be cautious about,” Birkby says. A comfortable zone is around 100 to 104, but anything over 104 feels too toasty, he adds. Ask at check-in for the pool temps and stay aware, particularly with younger children under age 12. Keep a cool head – don’t let anyone in your party submerge in hot springs water.

Parents of young children should also ask about the swim-diaper scene. Some resorts required children to be toilet-trained and do not allow swim dipes, ever.

And finally, in undeveloped hot springs, bring flip-flops or aquasox (to protect against jagged rocks), never let the kids drink unchlorinated natural hot springs water (blech) and stay close to children, as the water can be murky.

But your feet will finally feel warm.

Have you visited a Washington or Oregon hot spring destination with kids? What’s your favorite way to warm up in rainy, cold weather?

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.