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Found in Canada's beautiful Fraser Valley, Harrison Lake is the largest body of fresh water in southwestern British Columbia. Located 75 miles (120 kilometers) east of Vancouver, the lake and its hot springs provide a popular tourist destination. Surrounded by snow-capped peaks and fertile valleys, Harrison Lake offers the natural beauty of Sasquatch Provincial Park, the small-town atmosphere of Harrison Hot Springs, and an endless selection of outdoor sports.
Massive ice age glaciers carved Harrison Lake into what is called a freshwater fjord. Today the lake is still fed by Canada's Coast Range glaciers and inflow from the Lillooet River. Water leaves Harrison Lake (also called Lake Harrison) at the southern end of the lake where it enters the Harrison River, a tributary of the Fraser River. Within its 37 mile (60 kilometer) length are two large islands: Echo Island sitting at the southern end of the lake, and Long Island which has several small lakes within its six mile (9.5 kilometer) length. Around Long Island and the center of Harrison Lake, the depths can reach 916 feet (279 meters) giving Lake Harrison an average depth of 492 feet (150 meters). There are no dams on Harrison Lake, but there are numerous "run-of-river power stations" supplying energy to area residents.
Two groups from the Coast Salish First Nations, the Sto:lo and the Chehalis, first lived along the Harrison River and Harrison Lake. These people believed in the medicinal qualities of the lake's hot springs, giving the lake the name Lake Qualts or Lake Kwals (meaning "hot water"). Harrison Lake, named for Benjamin Harrison, a deputy governor of the Hudson's Bay Company, remained an isolated location until a mid 19th century gold rush placed Lake Qualts on the route to the Cariboo gold fields. By the 1860s the gold rush had peaked, and Lake Kwals itself became the attraction.
It was the healing properties of the hot springs, the lake's high mineral content and pristine mountain setting that opened Harrison Lake to resort development. According to Tourism British Columbia "water is sourced from two springs, the 'Potash' spring with a temperature of 48 dgrees C/120 degrees F and the 'Sulpher' spring at a scalding 65 degrees C/150 degrees F." Hot springs can be found at several locations around the lake, including Twenty Mile Bay and Port Douglas, but the majority of the springs are found at the southwest end of the lake near the community of Harrison Hot Springs. Here the hot spring water is piped into swimming pools (both public and private) where temperatures are generally cooled to about 90 degrees Fahrenheit (37 degrees Celsius).
Harrison Lake covers 53,799 acres, making it an excellent boating and recreational lake. Open to a variety of water craft you will find visitors enjoying pedal boats, sail boats, bumper boats, banana tubes, jet skis, power boats used for water skiing and wakeboarding, and windsurfing boards. Lake Harrison's many islands, inlets and coves offer kayakers and canoeists opportunities to explore the shore's waterfalls, sandy beaches and rocky cliffs. For those who prefer a bit more speed, jet boat excursions provide an exhilarating ride over the miles of sparkling water. Marinas found at the southern end of Harrison Lake offer boat and canoe rentals. Public boat launches are located in the Village of Harrison Hot Springs or along Harrison Lake's eastern shore in Sasquatch Provincial Park.
Such a deep lake is meant for trolling, although you will find anglers frequenting the shore for stocked mountain white fish. Cutthroat, Dolly Varden, and rainbow trout also populate Harrison Lake with an occasional salmon making an appearance. Entering the north end of Lake Qualts, the Lillooet River provides some of the best fly fishing in British Columbia. The river flows 90 miles (145 kilometers) from Lillooet Glacier to reach Harrison Lake and also carries salmon and trout. At the south end of the lake Harrison River runs for about 6 miles (10 kilometers) creating one of the area's largest salmon-producing tributaries before reaching the Fraser River. All five salmon species (Chinook, Coho, chum, pink and sockeye) spawn here. Continue on to the Fraser River and you will enter the fifth largest river system in Canada. For a more back country experience, local fishing outfitters are available to take Harrison Hot Springs visitors on excursions to remote mountain streams and lakes. Remember that anglers over the age of 16 are required to have a fishing license.
Sitting 33 miles (10 meters) above sea level, Harrison Lake is not among British Columbia's alpine lakes, but it is surrounded by a scenic outdoor playground. Covering five square miles (1,217 hectares) Sasquatch Provincial Park borders Harrison Lake's eastern shore, a short 15 minute drive north of Harrison Hot Springs. Multiple park campgrounds are available with the Green Point Day Use Area providing access to the Harrison Lake shoreline. ATVs and unlicensed motorbikes and vehicles are prohibited within the park where you will find canoeing, fishing, hiking and cycling topping the long list of activities. Water enthusiasts will continue to enjoy a series of "pocket" lakes also open for fishing. Hicks Lake, Deer Lake, Moss Lake and Trout Lake vary in size, boat restrictions, and amenities. Trails within the park take hikers past small lakes and large stands of birch trees said to be the home of Sasquatch. While hikers are not likely to sight the elusive beast, they are likely to see beaver, deer, bald eagles and a variety of water fowl.
Beyond the park and Harrison Hot Springs, the elevations rapidly rise. At 4,500 feet (1,372 meters) Hemlock's snow-capped peak towers near the southern end of Lake Harrison. Within the mountains you will find log cabins, town houses and condominiums overlooking Harrison Lake. When the snow falls, visitors to Harrison Hot Springs can add skiing, snowshoeing, snowboarding and cross-country skiing to their selection of outdoor activities. During summer months trails are open to mountain bikes and hikers.
If you take a scenic drive into the mountains, continue around the countryside and enjoy the Circle Mountain Tour. The drive is part of Canada's growing agri-tourism business. Depending on the season, the drive will take Harrison Hot Springs visitors past local arts and crafts vendors, fresh produce stands, farmer's markets, or annual community fairs and festivals.
If you have time for only one stop outside Harrison Hot Springs, drive about 50 miles northeast on the Trans-Canada Highway. Here the highway follows the mighty Fraser River through the steep walls of a narrow gorge named Hell's Gate. Stop at overviews or ride a tram for magnificent views of British Columbia's longest river as it swirls through a canyon only 115 feet (35 meters) wide.
The Village of Harrison Hot Springs provides the center of activity for visitors and residents of Harrison Lake. This community of about 1,600 people is known for its family-friendly atmosphere. Whether you enjoy winter skiing or summer water sports, mountain adventures or relaxing spas, Harrison Hot Springs is designed to meet your needs. Appealing little shops, intriguing art galleries, and a wonderful selection of cozy restaurants make Harrison Lake more than a destination. Select from vacation rentals including lakeside resorts, hotels, condominiums, mountain chalets, rural bed & breakfasts (B&Bs), or a growing number of real estate properties, and begin to savor treasured moments at Harrison Lake.
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