Getting back to nature in Fraser Valley

Just outside town, a sculpted wooden Sasquatch welcomes visitors to Harrison Hot Springs. Like us, many stop for photos with this legendary being. As well, similar sculptures pose in other village spots. Giant footprints decorate pavement tiles linking hotels, public pool, restaurants or shops selling 'Bigfoot' chocolates.

This delightful lakeside village also boasts fine eateries featuring seasonal, locally sourced edibles. The renowned Copper Room accords us an evening of haute cuisine, lively band music and inviting dance floor. Along the waterfront, cozy Morgan's Bistro provides another exquisite dinner. And further on, Muddy Waters serves up mouthwatering casual fare and yummy baked goods.

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Several trails around town furnish leisurely strolls. One circles the manmade lagoon, a fitting distance before breakfast or after dinner. Another meanders through parks and neighbourhoods bordering the slow-moving Miami River.

And the Bridle Trail loops into nearby forests perfumed with woodsy aromas, where a wooden bridge leads onto the Spirit Trail, our favourite. Here, a local artist evokes sylvan spirits with 24 terracotta masks. Mounted high on soaring red cedar trunks, some express surprise; others grin; several meditate.

A lakeshore pathway leads us to the source of Harrison's geothermal waters. Storyboards outline the nature and history of these celebrated hot springs bubbling up at over 70 degrees Celsius. For generations, aboriginal families used them for therapeutic healing. The waters now piped to public pools and resort spas cool to a mere 29 to 40 degrees.

We're reminded that prospectors returning from the goldfields capsized their canoe into glacierfed Harrison Lake in 1858.

Dreading frigid waters, warmth shocked them instead. Word of the curative waters quickly spread and the St. Alice Hotel and Bathhouse soon became B.C.'s first vacation retreat. A mountainside footpath above the trickling Miami takes us past stately evergreens, across a bridge and back to the hotel.

Though destroyed by fire in 1926, this landmark reopened as the Harrison Hot Springs Hotel. Our comfortable rooms in its historic redbrick core lie close to the soothing pools. Lower hallway photos show early hotel patrons. Some guests arrived on paddlewheelers then plying the Fraser and Harrison rivers; others came on a Studebaker bus that shuttled them from the train station in neighbouring Agassiz.

We've often pedaled our bikes across quiet farmlands into Agassiz for ice cream treats, but this visit we drive to nearby Sasquatch Provincial Park for a six-kilometre hike looping Hicks Lake.

Further encounters with nature begin at the resort marina. One morning, a six-passenger Harrison Eco Tours boat swoops us up the pristine Harrison River, widening out at the Chehalis River junction. Stately bald eagles perch haughtily on pilings once used for log sorting. Sleek seals swim curiously past us.

Another afternoon, a 62-foot cabin cruiser carries us northward up the lake. While we absorb sweeping panoramas, the crew grills burgers on the sundeck. Our chicken burger lunches prove perfect.

Nearing Echo Island's steep cliffs, guide Sterling circulates a large rock studded with black clamshells.

"These local fossils suggest an ancient seabed, likely pushed upward by tectonic plates," he recounts. "Eons later, iceage glaciers carved out our beautiful, 60-kilometre long lake."

Nestled amid majestic mountains less than two hours from Vancouver, Harrison Hot Springs offers us superb encounters with nature.

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