Headed to Tofino? Make sure to add Hot Springs Cove to the itinerary. The remote pools lie in a unique and spectacular setting, cascading over a waterfall into a series of natural pools in a large rock cleft leading directly to the ocean. The springs are located on Vancouver Island at the north end of spectacular Clayoquot Sound in Maquinna Marine Provincial Park. It takes about an hour and a half by boat to make the run north from Tofino to Hot Springs Cove or a short hop by float plane. Upon arrival at Hot Springs Cove, it is evident the place is well maintained—the docks, campsite and state-of-the-art composting toilets are clean. A caretaker with a live-aboard tied to the dock manages the facilities and collects the nominal $4.00 user fee, or you can drop it at the self registration fee station located at the trail head. A small campsite designed for kayakers sits close to the dock, plus ample moorage space for several vessels if you arrive on your own boat.
Hot Springs Cove itself is located near the head of Stewardson Inlet – a 2km (1.2mi) walk along a cedar boardwalk. Spectacular in its own right, the well maintained boardwalk of long level runs interspersed with sections of stairs winds along the shoreline and through old growth forests of towering cedar and spruce. The system for maintaining the boardwalk is quite innovative. For a fee, you can buy a board, engrave it, and send it back for installation. Many of the boards are extra creative, and you may find that you spend as much time reading your way to the springs as you do soaking.
Arriving at the springs, the familiar faint whiff of sulphur permeates the air as the magma-heated 50°C (122°F) water emerges from deep beneath the earth and flows down a small streambed to cascade over the falls. I find the falls too hot to stand under, but have seen hardy souls enjoy a hot steam bath under the torrent. From the falls, a series of cascading pools lead to the ocean, each one slightly cooler than the previous, and the incoming tide helps flush the pools keeping them fresh. It is a truly unique and memorable experience to sit in these mineral pools among bits of floating seaweed and driftwood fragments while gazing out at the spectacular blue waters of the inlet.
Although getting there can be a bit of a jolt to the wallet with adult fares for the boat-only trip starting at around $130 and north of $185 for fly in–boat out, most visitors feel the six plus hour trip is well worth it. I have been fortunate to have my own boat during prior visits to the springs. This allowed me the selfish pleasure of enjoying the springs in relative privacy without having to share them with tour groups. The pools are of modest size, and there is only room for a dozen or so people to comfortably soak at any given time. If several tour groups plus private boaters converge at once, there could be twenty or more people vying for a soak, so be prepared to take turns.
The trip to and from Hot Springs Cove is an experience in its own right. On sunny days, you are rewarded with stunning views of Clayoquot Sound, including a breathtaking trip along either side of Flores Island. Keep your eyes open for wildlife along the way as you will almost certainly see whales. The region is home to quite a number of sea otters, and near Hot Springs Cove I have seen rafts of dozens of the cute creatures merrily floating on their backs with feet and heads poking from the water.
Like any hot springs, you need to use common sense and follow the rules. This includes no glass containers in the pools, and save the soap or shampoo for the hotel. No dogs are permitted on the boardwalk or at the pools, and for those of you who like to go au naturel—sorry, you need to cover up. The pools are totally natural, which means no engineering of any type, so the rocks can be sharp and unforgiving. I would suggest taking a pair of beach shoes for walking around the springs and wearing good treaded footwear for the trip in as the boardwalk can be slippery when wet.
Getting to Hot Springs Cove
The most popular way to get to the springs is via charter boat or plane from Tofino. Most of the outfits in Tofino offer dedicated trips to the hot springs or whale watching and hot spring combination tours. Tours generally leave one to three times daily depending on the season. Tofino Air offers air charters to the cove and the short twenty minute flight can be handy if you have limited time or would like to see the coast from the air. Jamie’s Whaling Station also offers a trip where you can boat up and fly back or fly up and boat back for the best of both worlds.
If you have read this far, you are now eligible for my hot tip to make the most of Hot Springs Cove. The key is to get there as early as possible in the morning before numerous tour boats arrive. Spend the extra money and do the fly in, boat out trip, but only if the day dawns sunny and fog-free. By going early in the morning, you will experience the magic of the springs without the crowds, making it much more enjoyable. You will also be relaxed for the beautiful trip back to Tofino, complete with whale watching and wildlife viewing during the warm part of the day.
An option for campers is to go up one day and come back the next. The private Hesquiat operated campground adjacent to the dock provides campsites, plus wilderness camping is permitted in certain areas of the park. A roof over your head is available at Hesquiat operated Hot Springs Lodge located across the cove. Contact Hesquiat First Nation at 250-670-1100250-670-1100 or 1-877-232-11001-877-232-1100 for information on the campground or the lodge. Clean facilities with water and composting toilets are located at the dock. This way you can have the springs all to yourself and soak for as long as you like plus explore the surrounding area. Ask the charter operators about this option.