On the Harrison River, autumn paddling is perfect
Rivers don’t come much lazier than the Harrison, especially in fall. Long gone are the high waters that persisted well into summer. So, too, are the waves of visitors who packed the sandy strand that fronts the village of Harrison Hot Springs. Now through the end of October is the most rewarding time to go for a paddle along the river’s sheltered 18-kilometre length, which drains windswept Harrison Lake.
No canoe? No problem. When contacted recently by phone, Steve Patterson, owner of Killer’s Cove Boat Rentals, located on a dock moored at the town’s beach, told the Georgia Straight that his company’s canoes will be available until Halloween.
“Because they’re lightweight and easy to stow, canoes are the last things I put away,” he said. When asked about current conditions, Patterson remarked that he’d begun to see eagles returning. “They’re moving in from their summer feeding grounds to chase spawning salmon. I saw a few floating in the lake yesterday, so the fish are definitely back.”
That’s good news for local tourism operators like Susan Bohonos, who, along with her husband, Clint Thomson, runs the Echoes, a rustic three-cabin retreat on the banks of the Harrison River. Reached by phone, Bohonos told the Straight that much of their fall business comes from anglers drawn to Harrison Hot Springs for weeklong stays. “Unlike the summer, when most of our guests come from Vancouver, at this time of year we host groups of fishermen from England and Denmark.”
Clearly worried about this season’s prospects, Bohonos reflected that there had been no sockeye openings at all this year on the Harrison. “Usually, we have at least a one-week window,” she said. “From what I’m hearing, the big run we had three years ago seems like an anomaly. By now, I’m usually cleaning up dead spawners by the dozen every day from the beach in front of our property. So far, I’ve only found a couple of fish on the shore.”
Bohonos referenced a recently attended meeting of Salmon Stronghold, an ecological group set up to promote the protection of fish stocks in North American rivers. “My husband’s family has been on this waterway for 70 years. Although depleted, our salmon runs are still generally healthy. We want to keep them that way.”
No need for a fisheye lens to get an ultrawide perspective on the Harrison River. A canoe seat offers the perfect perch from which to make an informed appraisal. Judging from the abrupt manner in which forested slopes on both sides plunge downhill south from Whippoorwill Point at the village’s west side, this stretch of the river might almost be classified as a canyon, albeit a wide one, when compared with the broad channels that interlace the wetland formed farther downstream near the river’s entrance into Harrison Bay. There, Kilby Provincial Park offers an alternate launch site for those with their own watercraft.
Plan on four hours to paddle the entire river one way. Better yet, budget half that amount of time to explore downstream from the resort as far as the serene Morris Creek channel. Don’t expect to see much sign of human habitation along the way. When Bohonos arrived in 1997, there were seven family homes. By her estimate, that number has climbed to 15. “For being so close to Vancouver, this place is a jewel. September and October are much more welcoming months to paddle than June. The shorelines are shallower. That means it’s easier to spot wildlife like beavers and hawks. A reward for visiting now is that there are no bugs and good bonfire weather in the evenings—plus stargazing in the fall skies is better because of the earlier sunsets. Of course, there’s no light pollution from the city out here, which makes the stars shine even brighter.”
Doubt your paddling abilities? Patterson will gladly offer pointers in the shelter of the dock. A curious seal is bound to pop its head up to check things out. Although temperatures in the glacier-fed, 65-kilometre-long lake are always on the chilly side, once back on land there’s the welcoming prospect of a swim across the street in the municipal hot-springs pool. (Built and operated by nearby Harrison Hot Springs Resort, the public facility is far less costly and the odour of chlorine noticeably milder compared to the resort’s private spa.)
A lazy river and a hot spring: natural rewards don’t come much finer than that.
Access: Harrison Hot Springs lies 130 kilometres east of Vancouver in the north Fraser Valley and can be reached by a variety of routes. The quickest approach is via Highway 1 east of Chilliwack. Take Exit 135 and follow north on well-marked Highway 9 as it crosses the Fraser River, then twists and turns through Agassiz and on to Harrison Hot Springs. A slightly longer approach is via Highway 7, east of Mission, which passes through Harrison Mills (site of Kilby Provincial Park) near its intersection with Highway 9. For information on boat rentals, contact Killer’s Cove Marina, 604-796-3856, and visit the Killers Cove website. The writer visited as a guest of Tourism Harrison Hot Springs. For information on the region, see the Tourism Harrison website. For information on the Salmon Stronghold initiative, go to their website. Details on the boat launch at Kilby Provincial Park are on their website .