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Most people who visit Harrison Hot Springs will choose to stay at the Harrison Hot Springs Resort.

This is not just because the resort is the only place (other than the public pool) that gives you access to the hot mineral water springs, but also because it offers about 70% of the available hotel rooms in the town.

 
 
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The Harrison Hot Springs Resort and Spa

Earns a flawed (rather than four) diamond rating
 

The Harrison Hot Springs Resort is the leading and largest place to stay in the town, and the only place with the hot spring water fed pools.  As such, choosing to stay there becomes almost a foregone conclusion for many visitors.

Part three of a four part series on Harrison Hot Springs, BC; part one is an Introduction to Harrison Hot Springs, part two suggests where else to stay and eat, and part four offers suggestions on what to see and do.

 

 

The Harrison Hot Springs Resort is such an important mainstay of the town that we've chosen to devote a full web page entirely to discussing the resort - the hotel in general, its rooms, its restaurants, its spa and its hot springs.

While it suffers from imperfections, it is fair to say that it is a better than average property and that most people who accept it for what it truly is - rather than for what it claims to be - will be pleased with their stay.

The Harrison Hot Springs Resort & Spa

The 'best' place to stay, for most people when visiting the area, is the Harrison Hot Springs Resort.  Not only does this offer the best standard of accommodation, it is also the only place (other than the very unappealing Public Pool) where you can bathe in the hot spring mineral pools.

This exclusivity is reinforced by not allowing non-guests to visit their lovely pools (the indoor circular pool is pictured left).  You can't buy a 'day pass' or a 'pool pass', and it is difficult to, ahem, sneak in to the pools because access to the pools is controlled by requiring you to swipe your room key-card to get through the door into the pool area.

Quite apart from its positive features, it also controls the largest slice of rooms in Harrison Hot Springs.  In all respects, the Harrison Hot Springs Resort is the massive dominant tourism force in the town.  It has 337 rooms; the other two hotels of note have a mere 130 in total between them.  The resort is the major accommodation choice for visitors, it is the major employer, and it is one of the only two places where you can enjoy the hot springs, so for most people, like it or not, you'll choose to stay at the resort.

And many people do like it.  The hotel has built up a dedicated following over the years, and now has a long tradition of families returning on a regular basis.  Children who came with their parents are now bringing their own families.

As well as long time regular guests, the resort also enjoys a very stable workforce, and has some staff who have worked there for over 30 years.  Some guests request to stay in rooms that will be serviced by a particular housekeeper, and will ask for the same waiter in The Copper Room or in The Lakeside Cafe.

Unfortunately, the combination of being the dominant market force in town and the slightly 'inner circle' of long term guests and long term employees may sometimes make a first time guest feel a bit uncomfortable.

Non-guest experience

As a result, one starts off being slightly apprehensive about what to expect at the resort.  One can of course understand the commercial good sense in their hard line approach of restricting pool access to house guests only, but the unwelcoming attitude to non-guests can be seen in other areas as well.

For example, perhaps you might decide to go and dine in their 'Copper Room' upmarket restaurant that they are so proud of, and follow that up with an after dinner drink in their bar.  And then, before leaving the hotel, you decide to visit the restroom.  Sorry - no can do.  The restrooms opposite the bar are restricted to hotel guests only - you have to swipe your room's keycard to gain admission to the restroom!

Oh, and talking about the keycards, my keycard kept losing its data.  It was so bad that one time I got my card replaced, then went directly up to the room, but during the short distance and very few minutes, the card had already lost its information again, requiring another one of (in total) six trips to reception for card replacements (during the course of a two day stay).

I have to think I wasn't the only guest with that problem, because rather than being surprised and puzzled with the phenomenon, the staff at the front desk instead had a series of excuses why this was my fault not their fault ready to offer each time I returned.

Guest experience

One other thing that sticks in my memory.  I went to buy a cup of coffee at their coffee shop, and the person working there refused to charge it to my room unless I showed her the slip of paper I got when checking in to confirm I was a hotel guest.  I never keep those slips of paper, and no other hotel anywhere in the world ever demands to see it.  On rare occasion, when it becomes an issue, the hotel staff member will simply check my name and room number with the front desk or in their point of sale computer terminal, but in this case, the woman refused to do that and told me I had to go and get a new guest slip from reception before she'd allow me to charge a $1.75 coffee to my room (I had no cash in my pockets at the time).

One of the other guests present offered to buy me a coffee to save me the bother (lines at reception being often long), which made me feel rather like a homeless person, being given a cup of coffee by a well meaning stranger!

Talking about reception, the hotel is one of those that requires you to show photo ID when checking in.  A nasty little way of saying 'we don't trust you'.

Once last negative impression.  You have to pay to park your car at the hotel.  Okay - you might think this a trivial complaint, but in a town where land values are clearly far from sky high, being asked to pay C$5/night to park your car several hundred yards behind the back of the hotel, in a regular open parking lot rather than a covered garage of any sort seems a bit excessive.

On the other hand, while you're charged for parking your car, internet in the room is free.  As silly as it may seem, I'd actually feel better if the hotel offered free parking and instead charged the same amount (or more!) a day for internet access.

However, having expressed these negatives, happily there is actually a lot to like about the hotel.

Public Areas

The main public areas of the resort are set in the historic central building that was built in 1925, but you have no hint of the building's 80+ year age inside.  The interior is warm, welcoming and appealingly lush, without being garish or 'over the top', with lots of warm wood.

There is a nice bar, and lots of lobby space, some half a level up from the entrance lobby foyer.  The photo shows part of the foyer areas, including a giant bear dressed in a RCMP uniform.

Accommodation Choices at the Resort

As part of the 337 different rooms at the property, there is a massively confusing multitude of different room types to choose from.  Key issues to consider (apart from the cost of the room) would be things like how close the room is to the hot pools, and what type of view you get, whether or not you have a balcony, and room size.

There are five major areas of the hotel that you can first choose between, and then within each of these there are individual variations such as view, room size and standard of furnishings and fittings.

In possible order of quality/desirability, from least to most desirable, these different room areas are :

The rooms in the old historic building are perhaps the least appealing (but also sometimes the least expensive).  The rooms are the smallest of the various different areas, and are not air conditioned, but do have ceiling fans, and possess a slightly more dated (but in a nice way) feel to them than the more modern rooms in the other parts of the property.  However, they are also the best value rooms in the property, so if you're seeking the best price, these would likely be your choice, the same as they are for many other people.

Next up in quality would be the West Wing.  The rooms are slightly smaller than the West Tower rooms, and there are no balconies.

I stayed in the West Tower on the top (sixth) floor, and those rooms are probably the best rooms in the hotel (pictured).  They were tastefully furnished to a high standard, were comfortable and spacious, and had lovely views from the balcony out onto the lake.  The rooms on floors 1 - 5 are not as recently refurbished or decorated to as high a standard as on floor 6 (and of course, the views aren't quite as good either).  On the other hand, some of the ground floor rooms allow you to walk out of your room and directly to the pool, and that is a brilliantly convenient option.

There is also an East Tower.  The rooms in this block are further from the pool than the West Tower.

The East Tower is the newest accommodation block (opened in 1988) and has the largest rooms, plus balconies (pictured, left).

 

 

In addition to the regular rooms, there are also a few free standing cottages that are potentially pleasant during the summer, but which would not be nearly so nice in the colder/wetter months.  These cottages are also not air conditioned, and with not all windows having screens, cooling the cottage while keeping the bugs out could be a challenge.  They are fairly bare inside, but as a bonus, they are pet friendly, so if you're traveling with your dog, these would be a great place to choose.

Some people suggest you should avoid the rooms that overlook the pools due to noise concerns.  I didn't actually notice much noise from the pools while I was in them, but perhaps earlier in the day, and at a busier time of year, the children's pool might be conceivably full of noisy laughing shrieking children.  In any event, I'd rather look out over the lake than to the pool, which feels slightly voyeuristic and also reduces one's own privacy in return.

The hotel sometimes has internet specials, so check their website before booking.  I asked Ian Maw, their Director of Sales and Marketing, for tips on when to find the best values.  He replied :

We are always busier during school breaks (eg weekends, long weekends, school breaks, summer vacation and the Christmas - New Years period) because we are primarily a family product.

The best value is always midweek (Sunday - Thursday), especially in the low season months of November and December.  For seniors and those who do not work the 'traditional' work week, this is the time to come.

Dining at the Harrison Hot Springs Resort

There are four different dining choices at the resort, ranging from the self-proclaimed very grand Copper Room to breakfast buffets and bar snacks.

Not all four places are open for all meals, and some are open restricted hours outside of the main tourist season.  In the off-season, there is only one place for dinner most nights - the Copper Room.  Better plan on eating some of your meals outside of the hotel in such a case.

The Copper Room at Harrison Hot Springs Resort

This is an ostentatious restaurant and open for dinners only, seven nights a week.  It is located in a separate building at the back of the complex, and there are no views of note from the windows.

The Copper Room is an enormous and somewhat unattractive room, with tables arranged around and their seating facing in towards a central dance floor, with a place for a band at the center top of the room.  The (Monday) night I was there saw the room three quarters empty, and while it seemed that curtains could be drawn to partition it into at least three smaller areas and close off some of the empty space, for some reason this wasn't done and so instead of filling a smaller and more lively area, it was a large and mainly empty room.

The restaurant proudly imposes a dress code on dining patrons that is reminiscent of the 1960s or earlier.  These days most places are content to rely on the good sense of their diners, but this place imposes a dress code as part of its attempt to create a semblance of a very high class dining experience.

But, somehow, it fails in its strident attempt.  Instead of being impressed by an exclusive high class atmosphere and the gentility of the experience, I was instead dismayed at its artificiality, and somehow everything just felt wrong and out of place.  The ambience was wrong, the music was wrong, and while the food was good, overall I felt awkward rather than comfortable, and was pleased to hurry out of the room as soon as the food was finished.

It reminded me of some wedding receptions I've attended - large rooms with lots of tables and chairs all pushed closely together, and a forced feeling of joviality and conviviality that few of us really shared.

A four course Table d'hote dinner one night at the Copper Room is often included in the hotel's packages - one wonders just how much business the restaurant would receive if people were not being 'given' included meals there.

I dined off the full menu - pictured is a nicely presented and very well cooked piece of halibut with absolutely perfect asparagus and a nice sauce.

The music was 1960s/1970s 'lounge lizard' type music played by four musicians who happily treated themselves to generous length breaks.  On occasion some brave couples would get up and shuffle briefly around the dance floor.  I felt embarrassed for them, even though they seemed blithely unembarrassed themselves.

The dance floor itself was not your traditional hardwood floor.  Instead, in something that threatened to evoke memories of the disco era that are best forgotten by most of us, it was a series of backlit translucent light panels - all we needed was for the lights to start flashing around the squares semi-randomly in changing pastel colors, and a reflective mirror ball to start revolving and flashing in one's eyes above the dance floor, and the ambience would be complete (or, perhaps, completely destroyed).

Something I've never seen before is lampshades on the candles at each table.  That perhaps best signifies the Copper Room - it tries too hard to be something that it isn't, and fails in the attempt.

While the resort makes a big deal of its Copper Room restaurant, I think the overall experience would be greatly improved if they made less of a deal and allowed for a more casual and relaxed atmosphere, which would be much more in keeping with the ambience of the town and the vacation style most of us seek to experience there.  However, imperfections notwithstanding, this is probably the town's best eatery, and is also the most expensive one.

Main courses cost approximately C$30 - 40.  The food was good, but not outstanding, and was nicely plated onto distinctively shaped crockery.  A moderate wine list was offered, but, surprisingly, no beer was available on tap.

The Lakeside Cafe

This is a large dining room which primarily serves buffet breakfasts.  Many times your hotel stay may include buffet breakfast, and so you can expect to dine here in such a case.  It is located on the second floor of the east wing, and is fronted by a row of windows that look out and over to the lake.

The breakfast buffet was ordinary rather than special, and the hot items did not change from morning to morning.  No items were cooked to order.

An inefficient front desk at the cafe made for appreciable waits before one was seated, and instead of simply having a printed out list of guests/rooms with included breakfast, if you had an included breakfast you had to give the wait staff a provided voucher.

The Lakeside Cafe is also open for a la carte lunches, and for buffet dinners on Friday and Saturday nights (Italian theme on Fridays, Prime Rib on Saturdays for only C$22) and additionally during the week in peak periods.  They offer a la carte dinners as well as the buffet dinners.

Miss Margaret's

Reminiscent of a typical Starbucks, but with slightly more food choices, Miss Margaret's is located at one end of the hotel lobby.  I can't comment on the food because the server refused to allow me to charge even a C$1.75 to my room without showing her my hotel check-in receipt.

Islands Bar

A nice bar running along the front of the hotel on the east end of the main entrance foyer and on the upper ground level, this bar allegedly stays open until at least midnight, but may close sooner on the whim of the bar staff (11.30pm in my case), so if you're relying on a late night refreshment, it pays to check before visiting.

The bar is of an open design so you can be seated in the bar area even when the bar itself is shuttered.  Bar snacks as well as drinks are available.

The Healing Springs Spa at Harrison Hot Springs Resort & Spa

The Healing Springs Spa was opened in 2001, and offers both the traditional range of spa treatments plus also specific additional things to make use of the mineral water.  The spa is in a separate building and is accessed at the end of a distinctive walkway (pictured).

Their treatments range from the simplistic - soaking in a private mineral pool for 20 minutes with nothing else included, priced at C$55 for one person or C$65 for a couple, to the extensive - a five hour 'Grand Indulgence' for C$405.  One hour massages are about C$115.

Some treatments are for an individual and some are designed for a couple to share.

The interior of the spa features lovely woods and is warm and inviting.  People who visited the spa reported that the attendants and masseuses were all competent and friendly and seemed very pleased with their experiences.

The Healing Springs Spa is open seven days a week, and you should book the package you want in advance.

The Five Mineral Pools

The most distinctive feature of the hotel is, of course, its five mineral pools.  Water is piped from where it comes out of the ground (you can walk along the lakeside to visit the source, which is no more than a quarter mile away) to the five pools, and some water is 'donated' to the public pool in the center of the town.

The water that comes from the ground is too hot and so is mixed with regular water to adjust the temperature down to the mid/high 90s (Fahrenheit, about 35 - 37C).

Two of the pools are indoor pools - a circular pool (pictured) and a lap pool (at a cooler temperature of 85F/30C) in anticipation of you exercising in it), and they are in a lovely building with lots of beautiful wood beams that is shared with the Healing Springs Spa.

The other three pools are outdoors.  There is a lap pool, also at the cooler temperature, a family pool which is at about 90-94F (32-34C) and an adult pool at 96-100F (35-38C).

The adult pool isn't quite as salacious as its name may imply!  Swimwear is required; the adult concept merely refers to water depth and a preference for noisy children to be kept away.

The adult pool (pictured) in particular is beautifully set in bushy grounds, and is of a curving irregular shape, with covered boardwalks on one side, and sitting areas around it too.

It has a delightful ambience, especially in the evening, with mood lighting and misty steam rising from the water giving a sense of privacy, even in what is a fairly large pool.

Biological Safety

Keeping public hot pools safe and free of nasty bacteria is always a problem.  As discussed in the article on Sol Duc, one approach involves closing them for an hour at a time several times a day while the water is  rinsed out and replaced.  The problem with this approach is obvious - Murphy's Law mandates that when you most want to go in the pool, it will be closed for cleaning.

The resort has adopted a different approach, and is following the applicable local health regulations.  The good news is the pools are open all day long from early until late.  The bad news is that the sulphur content has been filtered out of the water before it gets to the pools (presumably to eliminate the smell), and chlorine has been added to keep the water free of bacteria.

The net result is a hot water pool, in a lovely setting, but with less of the mineral content remaining, and with the sulphur smell (admittedly an acquired sensation!) being replaced instead with a chlorine smell.

To me, part of a natural mineral hot pool experience is the smell.  That is lacking here - the only smell is the unappealing smell of chlorine, much as you get from any other pool.  This detracted greatly from my enjoyment of the pools, but perhaps you'll not be as bothered by this as I was.

Read more in Parts 1, 2 and 4

Be sure to read the information in the other parts of this series - part one is an Introduction to Harrison Hot Springs, part two suggests where else to stay and eat, and part four offers suggestions on what to see and do.

 

If so, please donate to keep the website free and fund the addition of more articles like this. Any help is most appreciated - simply click below to securely send a contribution through a credit card and Paypal.

 

Originally published 5 Dec 2008, last update 02 Jul 2017

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

 
 
 
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