Overnight at Keyhole Hot Springs

Keyhole Hot Springs in Pemberton B.C

Last fall I stumbled upon a photo of Keyhole hot springs. “Where is this magical place?” I wondered. A quick Google search gave me the low down. Practically the back yard! About an hour north west of Pemberton and a few kilometers hike into the bush. I was sold. I had to go there, so I planned a day trip. It was forecasted to be in the negative temperature, dry but with recent snow fall. Imagine it! Magic! But the day before I was going to leave, I found out the road was closed due to a fatal accident at a work site nearby. That was that. It was too late in the year to attempt another trip in.

So spring was humming along and summer like weather had been beating down on us. The weekends were filling up with plans and I still needed to go to this place. Curtis and I picked a weekend, arranged doggie care (thanks Paige!) and packed our back packs for one night in the bush. We left mid day with an ETA of getting to the trail head around 4:30 pm.

On the forest service road to Keyhole hot springs

Heavy machinery on the way to Keyhole hot spring

We got through Pemberton, picking up supplies as we went, and headed up the logging road. It’s a well maintained road due to the fact that there is a massive hydro construction project going on. We were in the truck but a car could easily be able to make the journey as well. There is a check in booth before passing the construction area where you must check in. It’s for safety so be sure to cooperate.

We found the parking area near the trail head and grabbed the last spot. I was a little concerned at this point. That the pools would be packed with people and this magical, get in touch with nature weekend I had planned may be a little less so.

Trail access to Keyhole hot springs

Bear warnings at the trail head to Keyhole hot springs

We got everything organized and headed in. Right away there was a stream of people on their way out. I was feeling better about it already. There were a lot of signs warning of bears but I was wearing my bear bell and the trail seemed to be well used. We were stopped by another hiker on their way out to be told about a mama bear and her cubs. They had been spotted near the hot springs so it was something to keep in mind.

Either the hike was harder then I expected or I’m not in as good a shape as I thought! I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone who isn’t relatively fit. It can be quite steep both up and down, you will need to bend down to walk under fallen trees and cross boards over water. I am pretty lucky to have Curtis carry the heavy pack. Mine was much lighter but I still found it heavy! The hot tubs are pretty good motivation though!

Hiking the trail to Keyhole hot springs

Hiking the trail to Keyhole hot spring

We scouted out some camp site locations and chose our home for the night. Curtis collected fallen wood for a fire while I set up the tent and tarp, as rain was in the forecast.


Camp set up near Keyhole hot spring          

I recommended we sort out dinner before we lost all the light. We got the fire going nice and strong and roasted our sausages. Dinner consisted of chorizo sausage, french bread and potato salad. What I could not finish I threw into the fire.

Camp fire near Keyhole hot spring

It had been a satisfying day and it was off to bed. Not long after sun rise the rain began to fall. I didn’t worry too much about it. The tarp was good protection and the tent holds up well in the wet. I fell back asleep for a couple more hours. We woke up at the same time. We said good morning to each other and almost instantly heard a blood chilling sound.

As much as I was hoping it not to be, I knew it was a baby bear. Moments later mama made her deeper, throatier noises. This was a nightmare come true for me. Not my worst nightmare, as I wasn’t being devoured yet, but pretty bad. I suppose I should let you know I am very scared of bears. Our only mode of protection was bear bangers. And without knowing where mama was in relation to babies, using one was out of the question. The logical part of my brain was telling me that the most likely scenario will be us waiting patiently while the bears do their thing and wander away. The fear stricken part was planning my escape over the cliff side to rock climb to safety. I was preparing to take my chances off the side of the cliff then becoming bear breakfast.

Curtis kept his cool while very gingerly opening the tent and peeked out under the fly. “It’s a baby and it’s brown” he said and I could see real concern cross his face. We did the only thing we could do. Sat, like a couple of suckers, hoping to avoid becoming a human burrito in our tent. And like I knew deep down, the bears went on their way. Curtis went out to investigate and let one of the bangers go into a stump where the bears had been. They had been about 3 meters from our tent, making noises that I will be content to never hear again. Let me tell you, cubs playing with each other sounds like something is being murdered. Not pleasant.

With the wind taken out of our sails, I wanted to get going. So we packed up and made our way to the keyhole hot springs. Once down by the river we heard a loud crack, then the moan of a cub and the groan of his ma. Are you kidding? They were very near where we had just come down from which also happened to be our exit. So a soak in keyhole was definite. My anxiety levels were pretty high. I wasn’t feeling the magic anymore and to be quite honest I didn’t have much interest in getting in the tubs. But what else was there to do? The bears were between us and the way out.

Hiking the trail to Keyhole hot springs

Keyhole hot springs

Keyhole hot springs all to ourselves          Relaxing in keyhole hot springs

We had the tubs to ourselves and the longer I sat in them the better I felt, relaxing bit by bit. I felt confident that mama bear and her babes were as eager to get away from us as we were from them. So after a while we got dressed and continued on. We took some time to explore (making a lot of noise as we went!) and like most journeys, the trip out seemed easier then the trip in. Perhaps that had something to do with a lighter load in the packs?

Exploring the area around keyhole hot spring

Hiking the trail out from Keyhole hot springs

Parking area at the trail head for Keyhole hot springs

Back at the truck, we piled in and drove into Pemberton for some breakfast. We were hungry! The trip was great. Bears and all. I’m looking forward to doing it again. Maybe I’ll get my wintry hike in this fall and hopefully drag some friends along for the fun! Remember, wear a bear bell, bring some bear spray, take out what you bring in, and leave nothing behind but soft footprints. I hope your trip is as great as mine was and a little less frightening! Safe travels! x  

Hiking out from the Keyhole hot springs

To get to the trail head from Vancouver you take the Sea to Sky Highway (HWY 99) north. Once in Pemberton turn left onto Portage Rd at the Petro-Canada station. Stay on this road making a left at the round about and go right at the stop sign which is Prospect St. This will turn into Pemberton Meadows Rd. Stay on this until you get to Lillooet Forest Service Rd on the right. It will be pavement for a short bit, then you will cross a bridge and it will turn to a gravel logging road. There is a lot of large machinery active on this road for the Hydro Construction Project so take care.

Once on gravel you’ll start to see kilometer markings on the right. At the 9 km mark be sure to keep left. At 37 km there is a turn off on your left which now leads to no where. This is the site of the Meager Creek mud slide. Just past the 42 km mark start looking for the parking area on the right (room for about 15 cars). There are signs directing you to the trail head through a construction zone.

The trail is well marked and easy to follow but I wouldn’t recommend attempting it after dark. It is less then 2 km’s long and the campsite is impossible to miss. Another 5 min walk down to the river and you will find the hot springs. Bring your towel and enjoy!

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