Miette Hot Springs, Alberta, Canada
It’s nine o’clock in the morning and the sweat is dripping into my eyes, as I grab a tree root to help me up the steep angle of the path. I haven’t had breakfast yet and neither have the mosquitoes that are making a connect-the-dots map out of me. As I finally gain higher ground and stand up, two things occur to me. One, the view is absolutely breathtaking and two, we’ll be away from the bugs at the Miette Hot Springs by noon. The Canadian Association of Hot Springs has three hot springs featured in its brochure, Radium, Banff and Miette. But, the one they feature on the cover is Miette and for good reason. Ever since reading about these hot springs some years ago, I’ve wanted to visit them and the constant rain in July finally drove me to it. If I was going to get drenched, I might as well be sitting in a hot pool while it happens.
The drive to Miette up Highway 99 to Jasper is a very different drive than the one from Calgary to Banff. Instead of driving through the parallel high mountain valley of the Calgary Banff corridor, the road to Jasper allows you to peer across and deep into other valleys. It was here along the Columbia Icefields route that the First Nations people used the passes to cross over into BC. The route is highlighted by a series of clear blue glaciers that cling to the mountains along the route looking like huge beads of water ready to fall over the lip of a stony cup.
Miette Hot Springs
The day we drove to Jasper was lightly overcast; the highway, the mountains and the sky were all similar shades of blue. It seemed as though we were driving underwater and the pines and fir trees were some strange kind of seaweed waving up to the surface. By the time we reached the Athabaska glacier, the clouds had lifted a bit and we were able to appreciate the retreat of the famous wall of ice. Unlike the glaciers that shine like blue glass in the higher mountains, this glacier looks like a crumbling snowbank at the beginning of spring with bits of black and grey peppering the surface. From the observation deck of the interpretive centre you can see people making the walk to the glacier’s base. At that distance, they are a black thread that dissolves into a powder of moving black dots as they reach the base. The visitors centre has a large exhibit documenting the history of the glacier and its ecology.
We were staying overnight at the newly built bungalow-style log cabins of the Pocahontas Lodge, about half an hour from Jasper. The cabins are built on the site of the coal mining town of Pocahontas. From 1910 to 1921 coal miners dug a living out of the mountainside until they were run off by mosquitoes. At least, that’s what I’m guessing. The rains this year have led to a huge bog on the west side of the highway, prime breeding grounds for mosquitoes as well as more likeable creatures like beaver and deer. The lodge has a series of trails around it, some more developed than others, with spectacular lookouts over the valley and a path to Punchbowl Falls. Be warned there are several challenging areas on the trail and we did manage to get somewhat lost. As we followed a small creek to find our way back, we came upon a deer having an early morning drink in the sunshine, and we stood and watched, not daring to breathe, while the small valley of wildflowers filled up with pale sunlight. For people who would rather not climb, the paved level trail near the parking lot has a nice short trail. It leads to the superintendent’s house, which is still standing, and to some old coal mine foundations.
What’s for lunch?
After a pleasant breakfast at the hotel, a half-hour drive up a winding road led us to the Miette Hot Springs. Along the way we were treated to the sight of a herd of mountain goats – very hungry, curious mountain goats as we found out when we rolled down the window to take a picture. They are not shy and came right up looking for snacks. When we got to the parking lot I saw the “Do not feed the Goats” sign which explained a lot. The hot springs first non-native visitors were the coal miners of Pocahontas. Apparently they used to come here when they were on strike. Perhaps another reason why the mine closed? Compared to Banff and Radium, these hot springs are outstanding. There are three pools, a shallow pool that is equipped with a handicap ramp, a deep pool, and a cold pool. The pools are open to the sky and wouldn’t you know it, it was a beautiful day when we visited. Trees cozy up to the side of the pools and you can lay back and see the tops of the mountains all around you. The water is a pleasant 40ï¿½C and there is plenty of space on the decks to lounge on if you get too warm. The facilities are well maintained and, as a bonus, there is a wonderful little restaurant with home baked goodies, and a flower-covered pergola right outside. We couldn’t resist buying a few of their chocolate chip cookies for the ride back to Calgary. A trip to Miette Hot Springs makes a perfect holiday weekend – just don’t forget the bug spray.