Hike to the Ahousat (Flores Island) Warm Springs
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Added by Rumon Carter
Take a dip in the waters of a natural, therapeutic warm springs, while looking out over a gorgeous coastal inlet. Have the scene to yourself, avoiding the madding crowds at the far-more-famous (and, admittedly, far warmer) Hot Springs Cove, up the coast. Feel adventurous making your way to the springs via a very rough trail, a remnant of an historic route through forests, across marshes and past culturally modified trees. The route is said to have once provided access to a life-saving telegraph line and an old homestead. Situated within the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve of Clayoquot Sound, Flores Island, site of the springs, holds one of the largest tracts of contiguous old-growth forest in the Vancouver Island region.
A 1-hour boat ride north of Tofino, on the west coast of Vancouver Island, is one of the Clayoquot Sound region’s biggest attractions: Hot Springs Cove in Maquinna Marine Provincial Park. Drawn by the prospect of soaking in 50 C / 122 F natural hot mineral springs surrounded by coastal rainforest, thousands of visitors per year flock to the pools at the end of a short boardwalk.
The Ahousat Warm Springs are, more or less, nothing like this.
Found - more accurately, hidden - on a smaller island between Tofino and Hot Springs Cove, these warm springs are nonetheless so much better in many ways. Here’s how to find them, and have them all to yourself.
The trailhead to the warm springs trail, visited typically - if very infrequently - as a side trip off the Wild Side Trail between Ahousat and Cow Bay, is marked by a float hanging from a tree approximately halfway along the western beach (there are two separated by a headland) at Whitesand Cove, which forms the southern edge of Gibson Marine Provincial Park on Flores Island . From here, the warm springs are found at the end of an approximately 4 kilometer / 2.5 mile trail at the northern end of the Park, overlooking idyllic Matilda Inlet. (If you have a boat, you can also access the springs directly via the inlet.)
The trail should be more accurately described as a route. While adequately marked with ribbon and visible on the ground along most of its length, the ground it covers is so wet and rooted, and clearly so infrequently traveled, that it is rough in the main. If you have any desire to keep your feet dry, expect to be ducking branches, climbing over stumps, leapfrogging between roots and searching out the highest clumps of grass in marshes. Speaking of leapfrogging, while doing so be sure to pause long enough to check out the frog eggs (look closely for the green egg mass in the water beside Jennie’s shoe in the photo above) and tadpoles in the puddles along the way. And keep your eyes and ears open for wildlife in general, not least for the resident coastal wolf population for which Flores is known. As well, be on the lookout for culturally modified cedar trees along the route, bark stripped and heart wood chiselled out by local First Nations in years gone by for making baskets and other wares, in a practice that leaves the tree alive.
Having succeeded in crossing the gauntlet of the trail, the route opens up onto the Matilda Inlet, site of the springs. At this point, if you’re expecting a 5-star spa to reward your hiking travails, expect to be disappointed. However, to the report we read before going that said “the Warm Springs consist of a grubby, cement pool” into which “you may not want to jump in,” we call bullshit. Sure, the underground spring gurgles into a little creek that fills a cement pool of unknown provenance. True, there’s a faint smell of sulphur and the water reaches a temperature only half that of the springs up the coast (25 C / 77F). But those waters are clear and fresh and, especially on a hot day, you’d be a fool not to jump in for a therapeutic dip overlooking a little slice of paradise. (Doubly so if you’ve been paddling and running for days before reaching the pool, not a shower in sight, as we had.) Because, let’s be honest, paradise shared - except with your closest friends - is paradise diminished, if only a little bit. The Ahousat Warm Springs, while far from the height of luxury, should definitely get put near the top of your list of hidden gem adventures when visiting Clayoquot Sound.
As mentioned above, while they would be very difficult to find, it is possible to reach the warm springs by boat, via Matilda Inlet, which opens onto the southeast end of Flores Island. Accessing the trail described above requires first reaching Flores Island by one of a few means. 1. You can paddle from Tofino, approximately 20 km / 12.5 miles to the south, landing directly at Whitesand Cove. 2. You can hire a water taxi (~ $25) or floatplane (check with local providers) to make the trip from Tofino to Flores’ main community, the Village of Ahousat. From there, hike the Wild Side Trail approximately 6 km / 4 miles to reach the warm springs access trail trailhead, as described above. Note that the Ahousat First Nation, builders and maintainers of the Wild Side Trail, charge a $25 (CAN) fee, payable in Ahousat, to hike the trail.
- Waterproof hiking boots or gumboots
- In lieu of those, a spare pair of socks and a willingness to have wet feet
- Hiking poles would be helpful for staying upright
- Biodegradable soap
- Drinking water (there's no potable water in the park)
- Bathing suit (optional)
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