Natural Hot Springs Near Banff?
Whenever people visit Banff, they always ask us about natural hot springs. Of course, what they really mean is, “are there any undeveloped hot springs nearby?” i.e. hot springs that don’t look like swimming pools.
Well, tl;dr, the answer is a resounding yes, there are at least 2; Mist Mountain Hot Springs, and Lussier Hot Springs, but you’ll have to work hard to reach either of them.
July 2020 Update: Lussier is temporarily closed due to COVID-19. Check here to see the latest updates and closures
Lussier Hot Springs
Lussier Hot Springs is the closest undeveloped Hot Spring to Banff (aside from Mist Mountain and the secret hot springs beneath Fairmont Hot Springs), lying just across the border of Alberta in British Columbia, in the East Kootenay region.
Lussier is just one of several natural hot springs in the East Kootenays, a part of Canada that’s very well known for its geothermal activity.
The most famous hot springs in the region are, of course, Radium Hot Springs, but within a few miles you’ll also find Ram Creek, Ainsworth, Fairmont and Lussier as well. It’s a hot spring paradise!
Why are Lussier Hot Springs our favourite?
Of those hot springs in the East Kootenays, Lussier has always been our absolute favourite. Here’s why:
- Lussier is next to a cold, shallow river – Yes, unlike the others, Lussier is the only one that bubbles out of the ground right next to a river. That means you can enjoy the magic of a traditional, all natural, Nordic Spa experience; Hot, warm, cold, rest, repeat! It’s much like Umpqua Hot Springs in Oregon.
- Lussier is ‘undeveloped’ – it’s developed to a certain extent, but it still feels like the hot springs you’ll find buried in the Oregon Columbia River Gorge, not like a public swimming pool
- They’re only a short walk from the parking lot – This might not sound like a dealbreaker, but a long hike in can make winter visits impossible or increase chances of wildlife encounters (like Keyhole in BC)
- They’re free – (unless you count the 6 hours of gas you’ll use if you’re visiting from Banff).
- They’re hard to get to so they’re mostly quite quiet compared to the developed hot springs.
- They’re actually hot even when it’s -30C out.
Lussier Hot Springs
Lussier has three pools;
- The hot pool – this one is closest to the source, is piping hot, smells like egg and will turn you bright red like a lobster. It also usually looks like there’s bits of egg floating in it too. Quite frankly, I’m not sure if I want to know what that is. This is where everyone will be on a cold winter’s day. Get here early if you want a prime spot in this pool.
- The warm pool – this one’s a bit lower and a bit closer to the river. It’s usually more of a warm pool. This is probably where you’ll want to be if it’s hot out, but it might still be a bit chilly in winter
- The tepid pool – Unless you’re sitting right where the water flows in, you’re going to be pretty chilly in this one. This is the pool you get if you arrive late and the others are full.
And of course, there’s also the freezing river that runs alongside the springs, which can actually be a strangely refreshing experience, even when it’s freezing outside.
I’m certainly not recommending that you go for a polar plunge, but if you go straight from the hot pool to the cold river, the cold weirdly doesn’t hit you right away. It’s more invigorating than unpleasant, but again, do at your own risk!
What are the hot pools like?
The pools are all nicely enclosed by large boulders, with the base lined with sand. There are no sharp rocks to cut your feet on (except as you climb in), and in this case, perfect really is the best word to describe it.
Is there anywhere to store your belongings?
The only downside is that there really isn’t anywhere to stow your belongings, so most people just pile them up on the ground while they’re bathing. Theft isn’t likely here, but if you’ve brought anything valuable with you, you’ll probably find yourself constantly glancing sideways at your bag to make sure it’s all still there.
Because there’s no shelter, if it’s raining, freezing or snowing, your belongings will probably get cold and damp. It’s too far to leave things in the car (unless it’s a hot day), so your only option is to just grin and bear it.
On our last visit it poured with rain the entire time, but fortunately we were able to wedge an umbrella into the rocks and keep our things dry. I recommend bringing bags with waterproof covers if there’s any rain in the forecast.
Parking and facilities at Lussier Hot Springs
There is plenty of parking at Lussier Hot Springs at the top of the trail, and sadly, you’ll usually see cars parked there already when you arrive. Even at sunrise, it’s never a surprise to see other cars there because people often illegally camp here (We don’t advise that as the area is regularly patrolled by park rangers).
As far as facilities as Lussier Hot springs go, there’s a tiny shelter and an outhouse, but there really isn’t anywhere good to get changed, so be warned; if it’s freezing, there’s nowhere good to get out of your gear or dry off
Typically what we do is bring all of our gear down to the water, get really hot in the hot springs and then throw on our clothes before heading up to the car. Believe me, on the days where it’s -30C, you don’t want to be running back up to the car in your wet clothes!
Last time we visited, we dug out some surfing towel ponchos and they were the perfect solution to getting changed in a crowded hot springs with no changing rooms!
Getting down to the hot springs in Winter
Now, ordinarily I probably wouldn’t write a section on getting down to the hot springs if the trail was only a simple 100m slope down to the river. BUT, if you’re going in winter, trust me, this. hill. is. LETHAL!
The snow on this short trail gets compacted and the entire thing becomes a steep, slippery skating rink. There have been times where I’ve only managed to get up the hill again by literally reaching arm over arm on the fence and heaving myself up. There’ve also been times where I’ve completely eaten it and somehow narrowly avoided injury. It’s no joke.
If you’re thinking this slippery slope might be an issue for you, I might urge you to consider bringing cleats/ice spikes to get down.
Getting to Lussier Hot Springs
Lussier Hot Springs is part of Whiteswan Lake Provincial Park, and is closest to two towns called Canal Flats and Skookumchuck. However, the biggest towns with proper services, restaurants and hotels would be either Invermere or Radium.
Whiteswan Lake Provincial Park is actually a popular trout fishing spot!
To reach Lussier from Banff, drive the Transcanada highway to Castle Junction (about 1/2 way to Lake Louise), and take the 93S towards Radium Hot Springs (it’s signposted). When you hit Radium, turn left at the stop sign next to the gas station, and continue along Highway 93 south.
Continue until you reach the turnoff for Whiteswan Lake Provincial Park on the left. Take the turn and enter the dirt track logging road. Follow this road for approximately 17 – 18km until you see a sign and small parking area for Lussier on your right hand side. You can’t miss it.
Driving the logging road to Lussier Hot Springs
It’s important to know that the Lussier Hot Springs road is a fully operational logging road 365 days of the year. There are times when the logging road narrows to a single lane, so if you see a logging truck coming towards you, dive into the nearest pull in and wait for them to pass.
The logging trucks always have the right of way, and they don’t really slow down if they can avoid it, so it’s best to dive out of their way as soon as you see them!
As you drive, you might notice that each kilometre is marked along the side of the road, and this is because the road doesn’t fit two logging trucks at a time. Truck drivers need to radio their position in case there’s someone coming the other way, at which point they can pull into the nearest passing lane. You don’t have the luxury of being radioed, so drive cautiously!
Bear in mind that the logging road can be very slippery in winter as it isn’t really maintained, meaning it might take you much longer to stop. I’d recommend driving slowly and carefully, particularly as you never know what’s coming around the bend, and the road follows a cliff as you near the hot springs.
If you visit in summer, prepare for the road to be very bumpy. It’s not quite off roading, but you wouldn’t want to drive this road in a low clearance vehicle.
Rules at Lussier Hot Springs:
If you plan to visit Lussier, remember that this hot springs is operated by BC Provincial Parks, so there are rules that need to be followed:
- No Pets in the springs
- No liquor or drugs
- Pack out everything that you bring in – i.e. don’t litter
- If you need the toilet, please use the outhouse at the top of the hill
Clothing is also required – you didn’t get up at the crack of dawn to see Dawn’s crack, if you know what I mean. Ostensibly, nudity at hot springs seems to be more of a US thing, but it’s still worth mentioning.
A full list of the rules are posted at the entrance to the springs.
When is the best time to visit Lussier Hot Springs
Lussier is technically open all year round, but it’s a good idea to check the BC Parks website for updates in case they’re closed for construction (or COVID).
My personal favourite time to visit is in Winter, because I think you actually appreciate hot springs when it’s cold outside. Also the roads are much dodgier, meaning far fewer people are willing to brave the roads to get there.
I’d recommend getting there early in the morning, but at this point I really don’t think it’s likely to be quiet at any time!
Where is the best place to stay if you’re visiting Lussier?
If you’re really planning to get away from Banff and the Bow Valley and are looking for a getaway for a few days, I’d say your best options are Invermere or Radium. Neither are particularly lively areas to stay in, but they’ll be your best bet for accommodation and food.
We generally stay in the Radium area in one of the cheap motels, or at the campsite just outside Radium.
In Invermere, we can really recommend the Copperpoint Resort, and can say that it’s absolutely excellent; it has a great golf course and swimming pool, and is near several good restaurants.You can read our full blog post on our stay here. Click here for rates.
Places to eat near Lussier Hot Springs?
Again, when we visit Lussier, we tend to head back to Radium or Invermere for food. Strangely, there’s an unusually high concentration of Austrian restaurants in the area, so you’re actually spoilt for choice if you happen to be craving a good schnitzel!
Our favourite Austrian Restaurant is Helna’s Stube in Radium, but (and I hate to say it), we actually usually just grab an A & W in Invermere or a subway from the gas station in Radium. We’re usually ravenous after an hour in a hot spring, so we usually go for the fastest, easiest option.
We’ve also had a decent meal at Huckleberry’s Family Restaurant in Invermere.
There aren’t loads of options in the area, but you can find pretty much anything to suit any tastes! Just remember that once you hit Radium, you’re suddenly in BC and the tax is 12% not 5%!
We used to keep quiet about Lussier because it was such a hidden gem, but the word is now most definitely out. Expect it to be busy, but don’t worry, there’s plenty of space for everyone and even when it’s crowded, it’s still enjoyable. I really recommend visiting in Winter, but if you’re worried about road conditions it’ll still be an amazing experience in the Summer.