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Five You Can Drive: Whitewater rafting and hot-spring soaking within three hours of Vancouver

Jordan Yerman, Entertainment and Civic Affairs Editor for the Vancouver Observer, explored Lytton and Harrison Hot Springs. He found roaring rapids, winding roads, and hidden works of art. This is the third of VO's "Five You Can Drive" series: amazing vacation destinations you can reach within a day from Vancouver, BC, sponsored by Ford Escape.

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The drive from Vancouver to Lytton is pretty easy: only three hours, give or take a few minutes, if you manage to beat rush hour. Once I lost CBC Radio 2, I popped in a Stones CD, and turned into the Kumsheen welcome area shortly after Mick and Keef were finished. Once you get past suburbia and approach Hope, the scenery is gorgeous: dramatic mountains, lush trees and glimpses of rivers and lakes as the highway snakes north towards Cache Creek.

The drive features my favorite aspect of roadside North-Americana: the signage. Designers in Vancouver will fuss for days on end over different weights of Helvetica, while folks in the interior throw up evocative signs without even thinking about it.

Roadside sign fonts

Lytton itself takes its name from Edward Bulwer-Lytton, who has the dubious distinction of having written what is considered the worst opening sentence in the English language: “It was a dark and stormy night.” Lytton the writer’s legacy has been debated ever since; Lytton the town has evolved from gold rush camp to international whitewater rafting destination.

Early the next morning, I drove back south, heading west on BC7 before reaching Hope. The drive is gorgeous: mountains loom over the trees, which lean in on the twisty road.

Highway 1: Lytton to Hope
Trans-Canada Highway (photo: Jordan Yerman)

Harrison Hot Springs

The hot, hot waters of Waum Chuck were believed by the Sts'Ailes First Nation to have restorative powers. I reckon they were right. What is now Harrison Hot Springs began life as St. Alice’s Well, and was accessible from the nearby railway line. Today, Harrison Hot Springs welcomes hikers, swimmers, spa-soakers, boaters, jet-skiers, dog-walkers and even cat-walkers. Wait, what?

Bengal cat at Harrison Lake
Bengal cat at Harrison Lake (photo: Jordan Yerman)

Yeah, that’s Dillinger. We crossed paths not far from Harrison Hot Springs Spa and Resort, where I’d later enjoy a soothing soak in a warm pool.

Harrison itself is a small lakeside town, with lots of beachfront hotels.

Dining options are surprisingly varied: from burger shack to Japanese to Bavarian.

Aside from Harrison Hot Springs Resort and Spa, visitors can sample the sulphuric spring water at the public pool. Should you tire of the lake and the springs, the hiking in Harrison is beautiful and easily accessible. If you’ve got kids, check out the Spirit Trail, just south of the main town. Local artist Ernie Eaves has hung numerous ceramic masks along the trail for you to discover.

Spirit Trail masks, Harrison
Masks along the Spirit Trail (photos: Jordan Yerman)

Robert Reyerse, Executive Director of Tourism Harrison, told me, “A couple of them got knocked down during the winter, but [Eaves] hung around 50 of them.” I counted 39; can you spot more? Looking for these hidden works of art –– some spooky, some silly, some serene –– is a great way to break the habit of looking at your feet when you hike, and really start enjoying the scenery. Listen to that rustle in the bushes: is it bird, beast ... or spirit?

As day turns to dusk, Harrison gets very quiet. The view of the lake can be magical.

Harrison Lake
Harrison Lake at dusk (photo: Jordan Yerman)

The following morning, I thought it best not to waste a sixth-floor view of the lake:

Lake Harrison in the morning
Harrison Lake in the morning (photo: Jordan Yerman)

On the way home, I decided to take the Lougheed Highway, which I'd never driven before. No sense in rushing back into the world of research, writing, and deadlines: I made a few stops on the way from Harrison Hot Springs to Vancouver.

The Circle Farm Tour is a self-guided excursion through Agassiz and Harrison Mills, where you and your family can check out the local agricultural businesses around Harrison and Agassiz. I stopped by The Farm House, an award-winning artisan cheesemaking ranch. Visitors can wander freely around the grounds: I met one of the actual cheesemakers. Talk about friendly locals.

Agassiz goat
Goat at The Farm House (photo: Jordan Yerman)

After stopping by Canadian Hazelnut for a few fistfuls of nuts, I paused to gaze out upon the orchards of hazelnut trees soaking up the sun, watched over by the mountains.

Canadian Hazelnut

The drive from Agassiz through Harrison Mills, Maple Ridge, and Pitt Meadows took just over an hour. Having only driven east of Vancouver to go skiing, I was thrilled to discover such wonderful adventure, scenery, people, cats, and goats; all within three hours' drive of home.

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