Someone’s Coming

April 22nd, 2009  |  Published in Hot off the press

Beautiful BC Traveller Magazine
          text by Cherie Thiessen

Top ten skinny-dipping holes of B.C.

I dive for cover behind some rocks. My mother, a dignified 75, smiles
serenely at the startled couple who have just arrived and are cowering
behind their picnic hamper, and invites them in for a dip. Not used to
seeing such brazen nudity, they decline and beat a hasty retreat. I come
out from my hiding place, full of admiration for Mother’s unwavering
nerve. She and I have been skinny-dipping since I was a child. We
continue splashing and giggling in the chilly waters of the Englishman
River, then decide to move farther downriver to a more remote area.

The problem with telling people about the “best places” is that as soon
as you do, those places are no longer private. It¹s a quandary, but like
seagulls, we humans love to squawk about a good thing, though inevitably
we bring others flocking. So, given the opportunity to write about the
10 best places to skinny-dip in southern British Columbia, I was
delighted to do it, even knowing there may be more bare bodies in my
favourite spots next year.

The criteria I used for selection were natural beauty, warm water, and
local tolerance for “over exposure.” Most spots are therefore located in
parks. Finally, I’ve chosen locations for variety: some are easy to get
to, some require more effort; some are quiet and some more public; some
are lakes, some are rivers; some are sulphurous and one is briny.

The spots are scattered across southern British Columbia, from Vancouver
Island to the Gulf Islands, from the mainland to the Interior. Of
course, there are many more that only you know about and probably
won’t share but here are those I chose, in order of preference.

 

1. HOT SPRINGS COVE, MAQUINNA PROVINCIAL PARK

Purists will be very happy with Hot Springs Cove, north of Tofino on
Vancouver Island’s west coast. At the site, there’s not a hint of
anything manmade except for melted wax on some of the boulders, traces
of candlelight soaks. To enter the pools you first have to pass under
the hot springs as they cool and cascade over the rocks.
(Rubber-bottomed aquashoes are a big help here.)

These three pools, each snugly accommodating up to four bathers, lie
between large boulders where seaweed and icy salt water mix with the hot
sulphur springs. The ocean tumbles nearby, and at high tide the waves
roll in to cool down the pools, making you feel as if you’re surfing.
When you’re not bobbing or soaking, you’ll be sitting high on the rocks
overlooking the open ocean and watching for grey whales. Sublime! The
guidebook Hotsprings of Western Canada gives this spot four stars and
rates it as “tops.”

You probably won’t have paradise to yourself, though, unless you come in
winter. Up to eight Tofino companies offer trips to the cove in remote
Maquinna Provincial Marine Park, accessible only by boat or floatplane.
Visiting yachts and fishing boats sometimes tie up at the dock, and there’s a well-maintained campsite in the park. The 1.5-kilometre
boardwalk to the springs makes for great reading: many planks are carved
with names of boats and skippers and other interesting messages

The regular water taxi from Tofino costs $60 return. Sightseeing boats,
which sometimes throw in whale watching, charge $75. Floatplanes make
the trip for about $700 a plane-load.

 

2. HALFWAY RIVER HOT SPRINGS, UPPER ARROW LAKE

These sylvan hot springs are located on Crown land off Highway 23 in the
West Kootenay, about one hour’s drive north of Nakusp and about 10
kilometres along a disused logging road. You can get specific directions
at the Nakusp Chamber of Commerce. Halfway River Hot Springs is one of
my favourite skinny-dipping holes because of its remote, natural
location on the banks of the river, with no nearby roads or buildings.
There’s a pristine little campsite here, too, very rarely used.

There are two pools at Halfway River, the first totally manmade, and the
second snugly adapted to the boulders. At the second, you can cool off
in the tumbling river just beside you, or adjust the temperature of your
pool by adding a bucket of cold water. I’ve been tempted to put a sign
out at the furthest pool “Warning: skinny-dipping in progress” but until
I do, we take our suits along in case shyer soakers show up. Only one
hazard lots of poison ivy!

 

3. PRIDEAUX HAVEN, DESOLATION SOUND

No discussion of skinny-dipping holes can leave out Desolation Sound
Provincial Marine Park, though it’s accessible only by boat.
Surprisingly warm water can be found here close to the junction of the
major tidal streams, up to 24 C!

In the height of summer, Prideaux Haven is jammed with boats, with
little room to anchor let alone skinny-dip, but in late spring or early
fall I love it here. After anchoring, you can take your dinghy and
disappear into one of the many little tidal coves for some serious
intertidal exploration and skinny-dipping. There are many places in
Desolation Sound to bare your soul and body, but here the water is soupy
warm and a beautiful colour, perhaps because of the shell bottom, and
the boulders ensure privacy. Be sure to wear aquashoes, as spiky
crustaceans can be plentiful depending on the tide, and don’t sit down
without looking!

 

4. ST. AGNES WELL, PEMBERTON

One of the Skookumchuk Hot Springs, named after the nearby old native
village, this delightful site is within a day’s drive of Vancouver. St.
Agnes Well is a monument to human ingenuity. Under a cedar A-frame there’s a wonderful large tub improvised from half a large tank, with
taps that let bathers adjust the mix of water from the hot and cold
springs. Outside, there’s a shower rigged up in the trees, and a smaller
open-air bathtub. At any time, you can expect a mix of bathing and
birthday suits. If you want uninterrupted privacy, try going early in
the morning or mid-week in late fall.

This particular spring is rated in the Hotsprings of Western Canada as
four-star and one of the province’s finest. It’s on private land, and is
maintained by the B.C. Forest Service. There’s a rustic campsite on the
premises, so moonlight soaks and early morning dips are possible.

From Vancouver, you drive to Pemberton and then to Mount Currie, turning
right on the dirt road that follows Lillooet Lake. The hot springs are a
54-kilometre drive from here. The turnoff to the springs is on the right
by the number 682 on the electricity pole. If you have a 4×4 vehicle,
you can do a circular route back to Vancouver by carrying on along the
road to Harrison Lake, stopping to pan for gold in the Lillooet River or
to sleuth out more hot springs en route. 

 

5. SOOKE POTHOLES PROVINCIAL PARK

Many islanders are familiar with this summer favourite, located just
north of Sooke off Highway 14 on southeast Vancouver Island. A good road
on the right takes you five kilometres to the parking lot. This area may
be busy, but don’t despair, the Sooke River will reward you. It
contains many private pools farther along. You can walk a short distance
to a gate that’s signed “Private Property” and find secluded spots
beyond (near the site of an abandoned, unfinished resort overlooking a
waterfall), but I recommend taking the nearer trail on the right, just
past the bridge. You can clamber up to several pools from here and find
your own private spot.

Another option, for hikers or cyclists, is to take the leg of the
Galloping Goose Trail that runs just above the road. About three
kilometres past the historic Barnes railway station there¹s a section of
the river with beautiful pools, sheltered from the trail and from the
road on the river’s other side. I especially like this skinny-dipping
hole because I can combine it with cycling, which lets me get well away
from the crowds. It’s also a great way too cool off after all that
exertion, in deep clear water surrounded by small waterfalls and
boulders. Just remember that road on the other side. You may not realize
it¹s there until you disrobe and suddenly hear cars braking!

 

6. ENGLISHMAN RIVER FALLS PROVINCIAL PARK

This river has one exception to my criteria: the water’s not warm. It
really is wonderfully invigorating, though, on a hot summer day. The
water is beautifully clear and green, and the surrounding forest is
shared by pileated woodpeckers and warblers. You’ll soon forget about
the chill. Honest.

Englishman River Falls Provincial Park is 10 kilometres off the
Vancouver Island Highway, near Coombs. The park is at the end of the
road, and offers great camping. Drive down to the picnic area, and head
over the bridge that overlooks Englishman River Falls. Then turn right. There’s a directional sign here that shows the trail. The farther down
the path you¹re willing to walk, the greater your reward.

The spot where the couple interrupted my mother and me was 10 minutes
along the path, just past the last picnic table. After the surprise, we
scrambled another 10 minutes along the trail, crossing a logging area,
and found complete privacy. 

 

7. HAGUE LAKE, CORTES ISLAND

This gentle blue lake with its white sand and crystal waters is on one
of the most beautiful of the northern Gulf Islands. Driving from the
ferry (you’ll have to make two crossings: from Campbell River to Quadra
Island, and Quadra to Cortes), take the well-signed road to Smelt Bay. You’ll see a sign and a parking lot for Hague Lake just before the
T-junction to Mansons Landing Provincial Marine Park. Take the trail to
the beach, and then head left along the shore for a few minutes, until
some discarded clothing signals the skinny-dipping spot. It’s also
accessible by a path from the road. This area is not as sandy, but the water’s warm and the boulders offer privacy and are very comfortable for
sunbathing.

One note of caution: beware of swimmer’s itch. They say dosing your body
with oil will help keep the itch at bay, but I can’t attest to it. I’m
always too impatient and charge right in.

 

8. PRIOR LAKE, GREATER VICTORIA

So far I’ve assumed you want a private skinny-dipping hole, but let¹s
assume you’re more sociable. If Wreck Beach in Vancouver is your idea of
a great place to skinny-dip, here’s another.

This shy little lake is warm and fringed with lily pads, and has a
wooden dock for diving and sunbathing. If you want company, go on a hot summer’s afternoon; if you want privacy, try it early in the morning, or
in the fall. The water is so warm it won¹t be a hardship. When I arrived
last summer at 6 a.m., I had the place to myself. The mist steaming on
the lake assured me it was warmer than the air. It was.

You can drive to Prior Lake on a short dirt road, but don’t expect
Tourism Victoria to give you directions to this unoffically acknowledged
nudist lake. Many locals don’t even know it exists. It’s behind Thetis
Lake Park. Follow Watkiss Way past Riverside Ridge Housing Development,
near the new Colwood underpass. From here, the road’s unpaved and the
lake is only minutes away.

 

9. CASTLE CREEK, MANNING PROVINCIAL PARK

You’re driving along Highway 3 on your way to Aunt Mabel’s in the
Okanagan. The engine’s beginning to overheat and so are you. Good time
for a skinny-dip in some of that cool-looking water you’ve been
following. It’s Castle Creek, and at the junction of the creek and the
Similkameen River, there¹s a wonderful, sparkling jade swimming hole
just waiting for you.

This beautiful spot offers maximum privacy for minimum time and effort.
The water is cool without being icy cold, and its colour is gorgeous. It’s located on one of Manning Park’s many hiking trails; if you want to
stretch your legs a little more after your swim, continue along the
trail over the bridge to Boyd¹s Meadow, about 15 minutes away.

To reach this refreshing site, drive 3.5 kilometres east of Manning Park
Lodge, and turn right at the trailhead marked Mon. 78-83. Park here and
take the trail by the gate. After a pleasant five-minute walk, you’ll
come to an old bridge. You’ve arrived! On the left is the jade pool, the
only deep swimming hole to be seen on this shallow creek.

 

10. ROE LAKE, NORTH PENDER ISLAND

Roe Lake in the Malahat Properties is a relatively recent
provincial-park acquisition, one that delighted many Pender Islanders as
it protects their last natural lake from development. A 215-hectare
forest surrounds this warm and very private little lake. There’s not a
sign of civilization as you slip into the water.

This is a quieter swimming hole than Hague Lake on Cortes Island because it’s lesser known. To get there, you turn right on Otter Bay Road,
coming from the ferry, and pass the lovely property called Roesland.
Take a right turn uphill on Shingle Bay Road and park at the top of the
hill. (After your dip, you might like to continue on this old road. It’ll take you down to Shingle Bay, where there’s a pretty little public
park.) There’s no sign, but you’ll see an old road heading uphill on the
left. A five-minute walk is all that’s left.

This lake gets full marks for privacy and natural beauty, but I’ve put
it last because there’s no beach area or easy access into the water.
Also, the shallow lake isn’t very clear. It’s very warm, however. Which
would you rather have?

Well, there you have it. My 10 favourites. Happy dipping, but keep your
eyes open for my mother. If she¹s there first, she’ll stand her ground.

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