There is no need to spend a fortune on a fancy spa when there are natural hot springs out in the great outdoors. The hot springs pour boiling water fresh out the ground into four man made pools, with nothing but the sound of the raging river and a cool breeze to bother you. Whilst technically these hot springs are free, you will need to pay with a little bit of terror sweat.
Keyhole Hot Springs is a two-hour return hike. From Whistler, you drive north towards Pemberton, across the Pemberton Meadows, and onto a gravel road which follows the river upstream. Kilometer markers note the slow count to get to the 49 kilometer car park. Currently, (Spring 2016) there is a lot of construction in the area. This means the parking lot and trail are well sign-posted, but it also means you have to log your arrival at an office along the road and you will need to look out for large trucks driving back and forth.
Once parked, you head down a rather steep gravel path. We passed a couple turning back because they only had flip-flops and the woman was scared of heights. Whilst it wasn’t particularly high, hiking shoes are a necessity. The marble-like gravel is a sure way to get your terror sweat glow. The start is one of the harder parts of the trail. Once you are at the bottom you follow a clear trail along the river and through the trees.
After about 30 minutes there is a lookout over the river with a waterfall in the distance. It’s a nice spot for a breather and a photo. However, tread carefully when heading back to the main track. We took a wrong turn (there are two separate well-marked trails from here) and followed a trail for about 15 minutes before it came to an abrupt stop. From here you are able to scramble up a bank to get back to the path, but be prepared for a little more terror sweat. If you take the correct trail, you will head uphill quite quickly and pass a second lookout. The trail can be very dry, which can make for an unexpected slide if you aren’t paying attention.
Once you reach the campsite (which is large, comes equipped with a bear-proof area to store your food, and looks like a great spot to spend the night), you are very close to the pools. Continue down the trail for 5 minutes as you head back towards the river. The man-made pools are nestled in against the riverbank and need careful consideration to reach them safely (and a touch more terror sweat).
The pools come with a bucket for collecting cold water from the river to cool down the hot pools to your ideal temperature. Just as you reach a nice temperature, the pools quickly heat up again with the constant heat source. The pool closest to the river is the easiest one to cool down. The pools are relaxing and well worth the hike. For the more seasoned hiker it’s a pretty nice walk and a relaxing soak for your muscles. For the less experienced hiker you will have endured an emotional journey and the pools are a way to calm your frayed nerves.
The pools can get busy (judge this from the number of cars in the car park), so be prepared to make some new friends. Don’t forget your swim suit, bug repellent, picnic lunch and a sense of adventure.